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.
Fortunately, the rumor mill is finally starting to churn in earnest now. Over the past month, we've been treated to rumblings about a complex front-facing camera array that will be used for iPhone-style depth-aware facial identification, as well as reports that the Pixel 4 will utilize an advanced radar sensor to read hand gestures in the air with incredible precision. Perhaps most shocking of all, Google event went ahead and published an official photo of the back of the phone months ahead of launch.
Latest Pixel 4 rumors (Updated July 19)
- The Pixel 4 may see a small RAM upgrade to 6 GB, up from the 4 GB in current models.
- One persistent rumor is that the Pixel 4 will rely on gesture-based controls that let you operate that phone without touching it. A 3D render of the Pixel 4 offers a hint that the phone's hardware can support such a feature.
- Google may have already tweeted an official picture of the Pixel 4 back in June, but that image only showed the phone's back. People are eager to see what the front looks like, and a render that popped-up last week must have given them quite a shock. Fortunately, the bezel-heavy render appears to be created by a Pixel fan and not Google itself.
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 United States a little more than a week later on Oct. 18. In other parts of the world, they hit shelves Nov. 1.
If Google follows a similar timeframe for the Pixel 4, we 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.
Mere days after a revealing 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 other side is still unconfirmed. 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?
A series of mockups, courtesy of leaker Steve Hemmerstoffer (who goes by the moniker @OnLeaks) and Indian tech blog PriceBaba, may offer some clues as to what the front of the Pixel 4 XL will look like. The two parties teamed up on renders in the spring that ended up being bang-on accurate concerning the back of the regular Pixel 4, so there's reason to believe their latest mockups are legitimate.
In these images, we can see the larger of the Pixel 4 variants may ditch the third generation's oversized notch, instead opting for a top bezel to house the dual front-facing cameras, the earpiece and potentially an extra sensor to the right of those lenses, potentially for Project Soli gesture recognition. The bottom front-firing speaker seems strangely absent, indicating Google may have repositioned it to the bottom edge, similar to the iPhone XS' stereo implementation.
If you'd like to get a sense of what the Pixel 4 looks like in everyday use, 9to5 Google posted pictures of what it thinks is Google's upcoming phone out in the wild. It certainly resembles the design we've seen so far, along with the fabric case that Google has released alongside previous Pixels.
Additionally, renders published by a website called IndiaShopps have surfaced, supposedly sourced from someone "close to the development team." The images show off a mint colorway that was actually rumored to launch with the Pixel 3 last year (though never did) as well as the front of the device, which looks to emulate the iPhone XS by making the bezel below the screen consistent with those of the sides.
However, there is an inconsistency in these mockups, as the rear camera lenses are positioned differently on the white device relative to the black and mint models. That, combined with the unknown nature of the publisher as well as the anonymous sourcing, call the leak's credibility into question.
New renders that popped up on SlashLeaks showed off a potential Pixel 4 with a prominent top bezel. It appears, though, that the image was just created by a fan and isn't official in any capacity.
Design is a subjective thing, and the Pixel 3's was 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 this go-around.
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.
We've got some physical proof that the Pixel 4 will support such a feature, thanks to a 3D render that features a hollow space on the top right of the phone. Phone leaker Hemmerstoffer speculated in a tweet that the space could house the radar components needed to recognize gestures.
Just a look at that mysterious hollow on top right inside of #Pixel4XL front panel.Knowing it's pretty deep nd seems to be no glass transparency, it's likely there to accommodate Soli Radar components IMO.Again, JUST AN ASSUMPTION based on that hollow location, size nd shape 😉 pic.twitter.com/2PzpdnToInJuly 13, 2019
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.
Performance and battery
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 4 GB of memory feels a bit pedestrian. We hope this is raised to at least 6 GB with the next model, as it would provide a nice boost to multitasking and launching apps from memory.
Apparently, Google might agree, as BGR has reported that the Pixel 4 will introduce 6 GB of memory onboard. That may not be on the same level as the 12 GB of RAM you get from some device makers, like OnePlus and Samsung, though it's better than no increase at all. Hopefully, while Google is at it, it'll make 128 GB of storage standard, too.
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.
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.