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Pixel 4 hands-on—Thumbs up for 90Hz, thumbs down for Project Soli

NEW YORK—Google’s big hardware event wrapped up yesterday, and, after a brief session with the Pixel 4, I’m back to report my initial findings. It’s a phone.

The feel of the Pixel 4 varies greatly based on the color. The black version is the most boring, with a regular glossy, greasy, glass back. The orange and white versions are where things get interesting, though. These have the whole back covered in a soft-touch material (which is still glass) that looks and feels great. It’s reminiscent of the soft-touch back that was on the Pixel 3 but with a number of improvements. First, you can’t dent it with a fingernail. It feels a lot stronger and tougher than the Pixel 3 back, while still being soft and grippy to the touch. Second, it doesn’t seem to absorb and show fingerprint grease at the rate of the Pixel 3 back. It’s interesting that the orange and white versions get this soft-touch treatment, while the black version gets a glossy back. The black version is the one with so many problems with the soft-touch coating last year.

The white version, in particular, looks great from the back. It has an alternating white-and-black color scheme: the sides have a grippy black soft-touch coating, the back is a brilliant white, and the square camera bump is black. It’s a lovely color scheme. The Google “G” on the back is the only thing that doesn’t get a soft-touch coating. There is actual depth to the G, making it seem like it was masked off when the soft-touch coating was applied, leaving it inset on the phone back, exposing the colored white glass.The front is… not as elegant as the back. The Pixel 4 has a lopsided front design with a big top bezel and a smaller (but still there) bottom bezel. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it’s still a bit awkward looking. Google’s design still can’t compete with the better-looking phones out there, like the OnePlus 7 Pro or Galaxy S10, which is a shame, since Google charges just as much, if not more, than the competition while also offering lower specs.

Those awkward bezels surround a great-looking OLED display, and this year Google has upgraded to a 90Hz panel. The demo units were running early software and maybe needed a bit more tuning, but you could see the smoother animations start to kick in. Google mentioned that the display only hits 90Hz when it’s actually being used, and for stationary pictures it drops to 60Hz to save battery.

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