After four generations, billions of dollars, and celebrity camera-testers, Google should be at the top of its Pixel game. Instead, the general consensus is that the Pixel 4 is the worst handset Google has ever made.

It’s not for a lack of ideas. The Pixel 4 is packed with next-gen and forward-thinking features the likes of which no Android phone has ever seen. There’s a tiny radar chip that detects your motions. A new Assistant that responds faster than ever. And at long last, a true Face ID competitor.

It’s everything we want and expect from a Pixel phone, at least in theory. From day one, the Pixel phone has been a showcase for the latest and greatest AI, computational photography, and machine learning features, pushing Google’s software in fresh new directions while carving new avenues for Android.

There’s just one problem: The phone gets in the way. It’s not just the uninspired design. All of the problems with the Pixel phones—OLED burn-in, disabled microphones, smudgy screens, Bluetooth drop-outs—have stemmed from hardware issues. Some have been fixed through updates, others through manufacturing tweaks, and some never at all. At some point we need to admit: Google just isn’t very good at making phones.

pixel 4 display Christopher Hebert/IDG

The Pixel 4’s great ideas are overshadowed by its hardware issues.

But it is good at everything else. Without Google, our phones wouldn’t be nearly as smart or capable as they are. The Pixel is the epitome of that vision, a handset that encapsulates the essence of Android in the purest way. When Google Assistant launched on the Pixel phone, it was more than a Siri or Alexa imitator. It was a thoughtful reimagining of how we interact with our phones, and there’s still no better AI platform.

That’s a large part of the reason why die-hard Android users love the Pixel so much. It’s not just about getting a near-stock version of Android—any Android One phone will deliver that. The promise of the Pixel is marrying the best of Android with the most advanced hardware in an iPhone-like package.

But the Pixel has consistently fallen short. Its smooth, frictionless experience covers a multitude of design and engineering sins. The questions remains: Why should the Pixel experience be saddled with poor hardware?

Pixel not-so perfect

Way back in 2009 when it was retooling its mobile operating system to compete with the iPhone, Google could have kept Android for itself. But it saw the potential for greatness. While a single handset might be able to compete with the iPhone, an open-source project would give Android the kind of dominance and reach that Apple could never match.



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