I pre-ordered a Pixel 4 (the non-XL model), intended as an upgrade from a Pixel 2. I received it last week – and sent it back a few days later, having not got on with it. Here’s what I found.

It was difficult to use one-handed

The device is a similar size to a Pixel 2. And yet, I found it much more difficult to use one-handed. I attributed this to a variety of factors:

  • the taller display, combined with the need to reach the very top and very bottom of the display to access certain functions
  • the loss of the rear fingerprint sensor, as a downward swipe on this brought down the notification drawer on older Pixels (negating the need to reach the top of the screen to access notifications when in an app)
  • the heavier weight, which, while only 19 grams more than my Pixel 2, is surprisingly noticeable

The touch gesture navigation does eliminate the need to reach to the bottom of the screen to go back in apps, but conversely it makes it more difficult to access side menus (called navigation drawers in the developer documentation) which are normally accessed via sideways swipes from the left and right edges of the screen.

It is possible to access such navigation drawers by diagonally swiping from the edge of the screen, or touching and holding at the edge of the screen and then swiping. However, those are both awkward or unreliable in practice, and don’t work with apps that don’t use native navigation drawers (such as a particular banking app I use). (Personally, I’d have liked the behaviour of swiping from the left or right edge of the screen to differ depending on the vertical position of the swipe.)

Most often, I use my phone one-handedly, so I found the difficultly in using it in this way a significant inconvenience. I also discovered that other phone manufacturers have solved this problem already.

Face unlock did not feel like a substitute for fingerprint unlock

I say this for a few reasons:

  • there are essentially no apps that support it
  • you still need to roughly hold the phone directly in front of your face, therefore it’s not always more convenient than a fingerprint unlock
  • while it works in the dark, your face still needs to be mostly unobscured (so, for example, not half on a pillow)

While the first point should improve over time, I’m not really buying a phone for a half-baked feature that may improve. I’d rather wait and buy the phone once those improvements materialise.

I had other gripes too

  • while the screen does go slightly darker in the dark than my Pixel 2, it was still brighter than I’d like when using the phone in bed, and I found myself using Twilight to further darken the screen at night
  • the battery life is still sub-par
  • the phone doesn’t come with unlimited original quality photo backup

To put it more generally: in day-to-day use, I preferred my Pixel 2. While the Pixel 4 does have some nice features, everyday use is more important than, say, astrophotography. It felt to me like the phone was a bit of an expensive experiment on Google’s part.

With it in hand, I couldn’t justify spending £669 on the Pixel 4, especially when my Pixel 2 is still working perfectly. On top of that, I did not enjoy using it, and it made my daily workflows more difficult. So, back it went.