The Pixel 3 was our favorite Android smartphone to come out last year, thanks to its clever software, class-leading camera and understated design. That has us plenty excited to find out what Google is planning for the Pixel 4 later this year.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom’s Guide
Fortunately, the rumor mill is finally starting to churn in earnest now. In the last three days, we’ve been treated to renders reportedly based on actual schematics, a pair of CNC-machined mockups of the regular and XL models for case-making purposes and rumblings about a complex front-facing camera array that will be used for iPhone-style depth-aware facial identification.
And yet, none of those tidbits are as wild as what’s making the rounds most recently: a report that the Pixel 4 will utilize an advanced radar sensor to read hand gestures in the air with incredible precision, and without you needing to touch the display. Oh, and then Google decided to just skip the leaks and give us all a photo of the back of the phone anyway.
Latest Pixel 4 rumors: June 2019
Pixel 4 release date
The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL were unveiled on October 9, 2018 and the phones went on sale in the U.S. Oct. 18. The handsets were released elsewhere Nov. 1. If Google followed a similar timeframe for the Pixel 4, we might expect the phones to be announced Tuesday Oct. 8 and hit store shelves Oct. 17, which would be the following Thursday.
Leaker Evan Blass tweeted out an image of what’s reportedly Verizon marketing material which lists launch dates for major smartphones for the rest of the year. While the focus is on the iPhone 11’s late-September launch, there’s a listing for the Pixel 4 around the middle of October.
Well that was fast. Mere days after a new render of the Pixel 4 emerged, which included a prominent, rectangular camera bump on the back (much like the one the iPhone XS successor has been rumored to have), Google went out and confirmed the design on its Made by Google Twitter page.
While Google’s given us a good look at the rear of the phone, the front is still shrouded in mystery. The possibility of a secure Face ID-style system for biometric authentication may explain the lack of a fingerprint sensor on the back, though Google could also elect to embed an optical or ultrasonic scanner beneath the display. Either way, receiving an official design confirmation likely four months before the handset’s eventual launch is unprecedented; perhaps Mountain View was spooked by last year’s debacle?
Advanced gesture features
So far, most of the rumors surrounding the Pixel 4 to date have dealt with the device’s design. But Google may also be looking to seriously revolutionize smartphone interaction, thanks to its Project Soli initiative.
Introduced at Google I/O 2015 and developed by Google’s Advanced Technology and Products division, Soli incorporates a new-fangled radar sensor that can interpret motion at a distance with incredible precision, such that you’ll be able to make gestures in the air — like turning an imaginary knob, for example to raise the volume of music — and the device will respond appropriately in real time.
Soli was first linked to the Pixel 4 by a pair of reports from 9to5Google and XDA Developers. The report from the former simply states that the website has heard the technology will debut in the Pixel 4, but doesn’t name sources. However, XDA has uncovered code within the Android Q beta that refers to a new feature labeled “Aware,” mentioned in tandem with specific gestures, like “Skip” and “Silence.” Essentially, this suggests that Aware could be the blanket name Google will use for Soli-related functionality.
If Google can really pull off Soli in a reliable way, it’ll be a breakthrough for technological interaction. LG tried to achieve a similar goal through the use of a time-of-flight sensor in the G8 ThinQ, though the results were inconsistent, and the phone was often unable to read gestures unless the user was extremely precise in the placement and visibility of their hand in relation to the front-facing camera. Radar may allow Google to get around that limitation, but of course we won’t know for sure until we get to test the feature in the flesh — if it even sees the light of day to begin with.
The developer beta of Google’s Android Q software packs a lot of improvements, including better control over how you share your location, an estimate of remaining battery life, contextually aware settings menus and a faster-performing sharing sheet. Google is also seriously rethinking navigation for the second year in a row, with a new gesture-based system that more closely emulates Apple’s philosophy starting with the iPhone X.
Other highlights of Android Q include easier sharing of Wi-Fi passwords and camera enhancements. Plus, call screening has been improved. The Pixel 4 is all but certain to run Android Q out of the box, while the update will arrive for all previous Pixel handsets, including the just-released midrange Pixel 3a and even the first generation Pixel, late this summer or early in the fall.
What we want to see
Of course, we expect the next-generation Pixel to implement Qualcomm’s premium system-on-chip, the Snapdragon 855, as well as even better cameras. But such improvements are really table stakes for the Pixel 4, so we’re more interested in the ways Google could further differentiate the handset from its opposition.
One way to do that is through new forms of biometric authentication — either an in-display optical or ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, or 3D facial scanning akin to Apple’s Face ID. The Pixel 3’s existing rear-mounted fingerprint scanner works perfectly well, but it is one of the more dated aspects of the phone, and makes unlocking more difficult when the device is lying flat on a surface. Fortunately, it seems Google is planning to do something about that, if the latest rumors are any indication.
The Pixel 3 is no slouch, but as Android phone makers are continually beefing up their products with increasingly larger amounts of RAM, the Pixel 3’s 4GB of memory feels a bit pedestrian. We hope this is raised to at least 6GB with the next model, as it would provide a nice boost to multitasking and launching apps from memory. Additionally, it’s about time Google follow the lead of some other manufactures, like OnePlus, and make 128 GB of storage standard.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom’s GuideDesign is a subjective thing, and the Pixel 3’s is admittedly polarizing. Personally, I like the symmetry of the smaller model and find it very simple and clean, though others contend that the bezels — and especially the massive notch on the Pixel 3 XL — make Google’s latest flagships rather ugly and dated-looking. It would be great to see the company shake that perception with a slimmer, tighter aesthetic and perhaps even more exotic surfaces beyond glossy, painted aluminum and glass.
Some manufacturers are experimenting with stainless steel, ceramic, premium polycarbonates and new finishing procedures that allow glass to emulate the textural properties of other materials. Google has already exhibited a penchant for the unusual, with the Really Blue first-generation Pixel, the penguin-like Pixel 2 XL and the blush Not Pink option for the Pixel 3, so we’re holding out for even more bold colorways and novel exterior touches.
Finally, if there’s one particular area where the Pixel 3 could really use some help, it’s in the battery life department. The 2,915-mAh power pack in the 5.5-inch model is just a bit too small to accommodate stress-free everyday use. For that reason, we’d really like to see a bigger battery closer in size to the 6.3-inch Pixel 3 XL’s 3,430-mAh unit.