The front is… not as elegant as the back. The Pixel 4 has a lopsided front design with a big top bezel and a smaller (but still there) bottom bezel. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it’s still a bit awkward looking. Google’s design still can’t compete with the better-looking phones out there, like the OnePlus 7 Pro or Galaxy S10, which is a shame, since Google charges just as much, if not more, than the competition while also offering lower specs.
Those awkward bezels surround a great-looking OLED display, and this year Google has upgraded to a 90Hz panel. The demo units were running early software and maybe needed a bit more tuning, but you could see the smoother animations start to kick in. Google mentioned that the display only hits 90Hz when it’s actually being used, and for stationary pictures it drops to 60Hz to save battery.
The top bezel is full of sensors, at least, allowing Google to do a full, iPhone X-style face unlock system with 3D sensing. This is something I’ll have to wait for a review unit to try out, but it’s a bit alarming not having a fingerprint reader of any kind. We have to unlock our devices dozens of times a day—why not have both fingerprint and Face ID?
Also in the top bezel is the Project Soli sensor. About that…Motion Sense with Project Soli—Not looking great
A very big deal was made about the Pixel 4 incorporating Project Soli, a miniaturized radar chip cooked up by Google’s “Advanced Technology and Projects” (ATAP) division. ATAP has an absolutely horrible track record when it comes to commercialization, but Soli is one of the few projects to have actually made it to market.
In the lead-up to Soli, Google demoed a technology that would discern extremely precise hand movements. Years ago, Google said Soli could detect “sub-millimeter motions at high speed and accuracy” and could detect things like tapping your thumb and index finger together for a virtual button press or rubbing the two fingers together to scroll or turn a virtual dial.
At this presentation, Google said the original Soli chip, while it was a breakthrough miniaturization of radar technology, was still not small enough to fit inside a smartphone and needed to be shrunk further. It seems like this extra shrink took a lot of Soli’s accuracy—and a lot of Soli’s appeal—away, and now it seems to be only capable of detecting big, hand-waving gestures instead of the fine “sub-millimeter” motions that were originally promised.
I’ll have to play with Motion Sense some more to get a better beat on it, but so far, the first impressions are not good. Take the skipping music or dismissing an alarm gesture, where Soli has you wave your hand across the sensor: Soli needs a BIG gesture to work. It’s not a flick of the wrist; it’s a bend of the elbow. You need to wave your whole hand across the phone in a very big gesture. I’ve yet to find a way to skip songs using Soli that feels quick or effortless. The gesture is so big that it’s a cumbersome, tiring, annoying thing to do.
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