Wear and tear is an inevitability with any tech product. Smartphones are especially vulnerable, given that we carry them around and use them every day. But a disconcertingly large group of Google Pixel 4 XL owners have found that their devices are aging in quite a strange and potentially dangerous way.
Within the last several weeks, a number of threads have surfaced on Reddit (opens in new tab) as well as Google's own support forum (opens in new tab) from various Pixel 4 XL owners, with reports of the glass back of the XL model specifically lifting off the device's chassis. The testimonies are frighteningly similar, as users claim that the gap created between the glass and the handset's body is wide enough to wedge a fingernail in. Android Authority (opens in new tab) first reported the phenomenon.
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At first, the culprit seemed unclear; it could've been something as benign but frustrating as a lack or improper use of adhesive. But it turns out the cause may be much graver than that.
A response in one such Reddit thread (opens in new tab), from a user who claims to be a uBreakiFix employee, suggests that the Pixel 4 XL model in particular is prone to battery expansion, due to "brittle" battery connectors that often fail. "It is a major issue with the 4 XL series and I don't understand why Google is not supporting it properly," the message reads.
Another commenter (opens in new tab) who also reportedly works at uBreakiFix, says that they "saw a 4 XL with the battery connector issue just last week." They also add that they've never noticed a standard Pixel 4 suffer from this problem, which may explain why every user's complaint pertains to the larger Pixel specifically, and lends credence to the theory that the connectors particularly in the XL model are to blame.
For what it's worth, Tom's Guide has a Pixel 4 XL, and we haven't encountered this problem. Of course, we primarily use the phone for testing camera phones and Android apps, so it doesn't face the stress of daily use and frequent charging.
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as if Google is responding swiftly or effectively to this issue yet, according to online forums. Some Pixel 4 XL owners who have had their devices replaced under warranty by Google are claiming that their new phones are falling victim to the same affliction (opens in new tab). We've reached out to Google for clarification the situation and will update this story with anything we hear.
It looks to be a messy situation for Google, who, it must be said, has certainly been here before. There were the class-action lawsuits for the LG Nexus 5X's bootloop issue, and the Huawei Nexus 6P's battery woes — those were Google-branded phones prior to the launch of the Pixel line. Then, once Google started manufacturing its own Pixel devices, there was the first-generation model's faulty microphone, which also became the focus of another class-action settlement.
However, glass extricating itself from a device due to an expanding battery would be the worst oversight yet. Swollen batteries are more prone to combustion, and though we stress that we haven't come across any reports of exploding Pixel 4 XL devices at this time, the nature of the phenomenon doesn't instill confidence.
Back in May, Google CEO Sundar Pichai infamously admitted to The Verge (opens in new tab) that "hardware is hard." It was perhaps a cute way of diffusing problems that a company of Google's size, with all its resources and expertise, should be able to overcome. Unfortunately, hardware doesn't look to be getting any easier for Mountain View.