Display Measurement

The display of the Pixel 4 is one of the phone’s main features thanks to the 90Hz refresh rate. As mentioned in the introduction, the displays on the Pixel 4 series this year is again dual-sourced between LG and Samsung. The regular Pixel 4 receives an LG panel, while the 4 XL that we’re testing and reviewing today, uses a Samsung display.

Android Q promised to have implemented a new iteration of Google’s colour management system, and for the first time, the Photos app is actually able to properly display wide gamut pictures. Unfortunately, it’s still a very limited system in apps as they cannot display differing gamut pictures side-by-side, so for example the thumbnail view is shown only in sRGB. Most importantly, Chrome by default still doesn’t support wide-gamut content as you have to force it in the engine settings, and this implementation doesn’t use the OS’s CMS handling.

We move on to the display calibration and fundamental display measurements of the Pixel 4 XL screen. As always, we thank X-Rite and SpecraCal, as our measurements are performed with an X-Rite i1Pro 2 spectrophotometer, with the exception of black levels which are measured with an i1Display Pro colorimeter. Data is collected and examined using SpectraCal's CalMAN software.

Display Measurement - Maximum Brightness

Starting off with the brightness, the Pixel 4 XL is relatively conservative as it peaks out at 438 nits in all scenarios. It’s again very odd here as Google can’t seem to make up its mind on whether it wants to offer an auto-brightness boost or not. Last year, the Pixel 3 only had it available in its Adaptive mode, whilst this year the Pixel 4 doesn’t offer it all, even though the display drivers actually has the high-brightness mode implemented. 

SpectraCal CalMAN

In terms of greyscale calibration and accuracy, on my unit things differed greatly based on brightness. At maximum brightness, the Pixel 4 XL was seemingly quite accurate with good colour balance and gamma reproduction. At our standard 200cd/m² measurement point however, things are quite worse. First off, all there’s a more notable colour shift towards greens on the unit which isn’t great. Following that, there’s also creeping issues with the gamma calibration as it’s non-linear and deviates a lot more from the 2.2 target. What this results in is some shades, especially at the higher levels, appear darker than they should be.

I’ve also noted and captured some sort of bug in the display behaviour; when I was measuring at minimum brightness, I encountered some really bad results. I’ve seen this mentioned by some other reviewers and the issue went away when I toggled the screen refresh rate. The odd thing though, is that I wasn’t able to immediately reproduce it afterwards and results on the new measurements were quite ok. The colour shift the phone took was extremely noticeable at the time the bug took place.

SpectraCal CalMAN
"Natural" Greyscale colours

Display Measurement - Greyscale Accuracy

In terms of dE2000, the biggest culprit to the average 2.29 result for me is the green tint of whites as well as the slightly off gamma.

SpectraCal CalMAN
sRGB Gamut

Display Measurement - Saturation Accuracy - sRGB dE2000

In the sRGB gamut, the Pixel 4 XL does well with a dE2000 of 1.71. The biggest issue again is a shift in the tones towards green, but also seemingly very slight oversaturation of all the tones.

SpectraCal CalMAN
Display P3 Gamut

Display Measurement - Saturation Accuracy - Display-P3

The Display P3 gamut performs a lot better. Here while the green tint is still present, the saturation levels are better and thus the Pixel 4 XL ends up with an excellent dE2000 of 1.17.

SpectraCal CalMAN

Display Measurement - Gretag–Macbeth Colour Accuracy

Finally, in the GMB test, the Pixel 4 XL ends up quite average with a score of 2.34 as it’s showcasing tones that are too dark, a green tint in the whites, with some hue errors for a few tones.

Display Conclusion – Good, but not A+

Overall, the Pixel 4 XL’s display characteristics beyond it’s 90Hz refresh rate are quite average. Whilst Google has been able to improve the calibration compared to what we measured on the regular Pixel 3 last year and the 2 XL the year before that, it’s still quite a bit behind what some other vendors are able to achieve. The display’s lower brightness is also a bit of an issue in direct sunlight as it lacks any kind of boost behaviour. Finally, the remaining characteristics such as viewing angles and sharpness are excellent, but that’s just generally a common characteristic of panels with these specifications.

The results today aren’t really a surprise to me given Google’s track record with the displays on the Pixel series, however it does stand in contrast to what the company was proclaiming at launch: “A+ rating Best Smartphone Display Awards” really doesn’t mean anything at all if, first of all, it’s a sponsored award, and secondly, if the measurements aren’t representative of a random production unit. Make of it what you will.

GPU Performance Battery Life - Average To Meagre
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  • watzupken - Tuesday, November 12, 2019 - link

    To me, the great Android experience is basically negated by poor battery life, QC and high price on the Pixel 3 and 4 series. Battery life for a mobile device is an essential requirement which this fails bitterly for a flagship phone. I agree it's a very gimmicky phone. It's rare to see reviewers being so harsh in their conclusion, but I feel Google really deserved a harsh wake up call and not be half hearted when they design a product.
  • nostriluu - Tuesday, November 12, 2019 - link

    I really think the author missed the point of the Pixel series. They are about Google's machine learning based smarts, which are well ahead of other providers. I plan to buy a Pixel 4 for the on-device transcription feature alone, though other features, not related to the the up-to-dateness of its SoC, are making me hesitate.
  • kaesden - Thursday, November 14, 2019 - link

    the one benefit of this phone vs a samsung, is getting a clean Android install without a bunch of bloatware installed on it by either samsung and/or the carrier's image, which allows for timely updates rather being 1-2 years behind all the time. However i dont see this as a compelling 'upgrade' from a pixel 3 at all.
  • BabelHuber - Friday, November 15, 2019 - link

    I think that this review is a bit too harsh.

    I agree that the Pixel 4's battery is a bit too small, but the 4 XL should have sufficient capacity.

    The Pixel 3a XL I have lasts 3 days under light use and more than a day under heavy use, in fact I never was able to deplete the battery within a day before I came home, even when it was late in the eveing and used the phone excessively.

    So with a bit worse battery runtime, the 4 XL should still be fine, perhaps except of the most extreme use cases.

    I have played around with both the 4 and 4 XL and they both are very snappy and the face unlock works as advertised. It's not enough improvement for me to upgrade, though.

    When we skip all the fancy gimmicks, there are a lot of pros for the Pixels:

    - Bootloader unlocking and re-locking with fastboot, no crap like KNOX or warranty void
    - Very easy to apply updates even when rooted
    - Pixel users get new features first, like Google Lens
    - Timely, monthly security updates (at least for 3 years)
    - First to new Android versions via Google's beta channel
    - Still a very good camera (in my opinion)
    - The best software. I know this is subjective, but I e.g. cannot stand Samsung's or LG's launchers, phone apps, contacts etc.

    The software features are the main point for me personally. I don't give a rat's a$$ about bezel sizes, popup cameras or slightly better screens, but I want the newest software and being able to easily root the thing.

    Other people might put mnore emphasis on things I don't care for, but for me Pixels are the best.
  • MooseNSquirrel - Sunday, November 17, 2019 - link

    Agree. The actual experience of owning and using the phone matters more than opinions about marginal differences in specs.

    Ive had the Pixel 3 since release and its great, especially the camera. Battery life is fine.

    Frankly any of these top phones are great, regardless of who makes them. I just refuse to buy into Apples annoying walled garden and so will never own an Iphone.
  • Hubert Satheesh - Monday, November 18, 2019 - link

    Well if Astrophotography and Soli radars are gimmicks, what about forced touch for 6s? I just remembered about the glowing tribute to force touch when it was launched in 6s in Anandtech. It praised how it's going to be the future of touch... only to be discarded by Apple a few yrs later as it was not practically useful. Though astrophotography is not a common occurence brushing it aside as gimmick makes one wonder whether theres an inherent bias towards anything Google and being lax on Apple!! Going by the same yardstick, the reviewer makes noise about pixels low display brightness. Now how many of us practically use our phone in bright sunlight to want that? Do we really need levels abouve 800 and 1000? So practicality is not the issue in most cases. As much experience and features a phone can pack, its better. If not you, someone will be benifitted by it. However it's of crucial importance for the pixel team to read such reviews as they are out of touch with reality. It's as if the team is living under a rock!! It's interesting to see how chineses OEMs with limited budget, resources and know how, easily surpass the mighty google in hardware and software design. Google needs a serious introspection.
  • tranceazure1814 - Thursday, November 21, 2019 - link

    When you can buy a OnePlus 7 standard model with snapdragon 855 and 256gb of UFS 3.0 and 8gig of ram and android 10 oxygen for 300 pounds,with far better battery life and decent camera why would you pay for a pixel 4
  • coronafelix - Tuesday, August 25, 2020 - link

    Really odd camera review, zero testing when it comes to subject focusing or how the cameras deal with actual subjects. Which makes sense considering the narrative mostly focuses on samsung's 'advantage' in dynamic range. (I do agree with their advantage there, but they have weaknesses as well). I think more categories needed to be tested for all cameras..
  • TheinsanegamerN - Thursday, October 1, 2020 - link

    It looks like a much better phone then the pixel 4, but for $700 I'd expect a headphone jack and at least a 5000 MaH battery, or no headphone and 5500+MaH. I've given up on google ever using SD cards again.

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