5 features I’d like to see in Google’s Pixel 4 smartphone

The back of the Pixel 4, confirmed by Google. Google

Leaks about Google’s forthcoming Pixel 4 smartphone are abound, even though the phone isn’t due to land until October. The company recently gave up on secrecy by tweeting a picture of the design. It shows the back, which appears to be black glass with a square camera module at the top left (with two cameras) and no rear fingerprint sensor.

While it looks as though the two-tone design is going to be retired, there’s little indication what else the Pixel 4 might bring. I was a big fan of the Pixel 3, but it certainly had its flaws and the Pixel 3 XL was marred by that ugly, deep notch. It feels like Google is a step behind in the design department, so the new look is welcome, but there are a few other changes and improvements I’d love to see in the next Pixel phone.

Better battery life

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The battery life of the Pixel 3, and to a lesser extent the Pixel 3 XL, was disappointing. I still get battery anxiety on a night out with the Pixel 3, and it has been known to die on me before I can get to an outlet. Daily charging is an accepted annoyance with most phones, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Bigger phones obviously have more space for bigger batteries and tend to last longer, but even smaller handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S10 and Apple iPhone XS outlast the Pixel 3.

Google needs to do better with the Pixel 4 and I’m confident it will. The Pixel 3a and 3a XL have far more stamina than the Pixel 3 and 3 XL, so it’s obviously on the radar for the company. Hopefully, the Pixel 4 will pack a much bigger battery and use it more efficiently.

Camera improvements

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Smartphone photography has soared to new heights in recent years and we expect each new model to offer improvements. A major element Google’s tweet reveals is the square camera module, resembling Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro. It appears to house two camera lenses and possibly a time-of-flight sensor as well. The Pixel 3 is our pick for the best camera phone, and it achieved that win with a single lens main camera and software smarts. Imagine what Google can do with more hardware.

A larger image sensor for even better low-light performance would be nice. Huawei has blown us away in this department and, while Google’s Night Sight is good, there’s room for improvement. Even more enticing is the prospect of a second lens, perhaps a telephoto lens for zoom or a wide-angle lens to enable us to cram more into a shot. Who doesn’t want greater versatility? If there really is a time-of-flight sensor, it would enable accurate depth mapping, which could also allow for things like enhanced augmented reality.

It would be nice to see a bigger focus on video, too. Samsung’s latest phones offer 4k HDR support, for example. While stabilization is solid, videos shot on the Pixel 3 do not look as good as the videos you can get with a recent iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy phone. There’s a lot of room for improvement.

Faster charging

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Google supports USB-C Power Delivery which allows wired charging at 18W. As fast charging standards go, that’s a little disappointing. In fact, it’s among the slowest for Android flagships. I’d love to see faster charging in the Pixel 4. Some of the best fast chargers go up to 45W and beyond. Safety is obviously a concern, but if you look at the speeds Huawei and Oppo are achieving, there’s a lot Google can do to increase charging speed.

The Pixel 3 also supports fast wireless charging at 10W, but sadly Google decided to nerf third-party Qi wireless charging pads, limiting them to 5W. Only the Pixel Stand actually charges the phone at top speed. There is a certification program for accessory manufacturers, but even after more than half a year since the phone’s launch, Belkin seems to be the only third party to have made a wireless charger for the Pixel 3. As much as we like the Pixel Stand, Google shouldn’t be doing this: The Qi standard is widely used, and the Wireless Power Consortium certifies chargers, so they’re perfectly safe. I don’t see any good reason you shouldn’t be able to get maximum charging speed from your existing chargers.

It would also be good to get faster wireless charging speeds in the Pixel 4, as other manufacturers have increased support to 15W.

Smoother and brighter display

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The display in the Pixel 3 is sharp, with good color accuracy, but my biggest gripe is that it doesn’t get bright enough to clearly see it outdoors. Bumping the maximum brightness of the screen will go a long way on the Pixel 4.

That’s not all I want to see change with the screen: the new wave of gaming smartphones has sparked a bump in refresh rate that’s starting to slip into the mainstream with phones like the OnePlus 7 Pro. It boasts a 90Hz refresh rate just like the Red Magic 3 and the Asus ROG phone, while the Razer Phone 2 and iPad Pro kick it up to 120Hz. Most phones and tablets, Pixel 3 included, have a standard 60Hz refresh rate. The increased refresh rate makes a tangible difference to how silky smooth everything feels, provided the software is optimized for it. There’s also less blur or lag in games and virtual or augmented reality content.

I’d love to see Google get on board with this trend in the Pixel 4, especially in light of its big gaming plans with the Google Stadia service, though we may need 5G before we’ll be able to enjoy the full potential.

Even smarter A.I.

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It’s largely the A.I. smarts that make Google’s Pixel phones stand out from the crowd. Beyond the camera, I love features like Now Playing — which uses on-device machine learning to tell you what song is playing in your surroundings — and Call Screening, which screens calls so you don’t have to answer a robocall. Not to mention Duplex, which helps book reservations at restaurants and salons without much effort from you. We already know the next generation of Google Assistant will debut on the Pixel 4, bringing rapid responses and continued conversation options with a deeper understanding of context — and without you having to repeatedly say “Hey, Google.”

The preview at Google I/O was exciting, but Google has probably saved a few surprises for the Pixel 4 unveil, so hopefully we’ll see some enticing new possibilities to makes our lives easier.

Wrapping up

There’s no real chance we’ll see the return of the audio jack (though the Pixel 3a surprised us) or MicroSD card support, the perennial toppers of many Android owner’s wish lists. We may see more color options, more RAM seems likely, and we hope Google retains the stereo front-facing speakers, though slimmed down bezels might make that tricky. Whatever the Pixel 4 brings I’m excited to try it out.

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