Google unveils Pixel 4 with radar gesture control

Google showed off the phone at its Made by Google Event.

Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
Erin Carson covered internet culture, online dating and the weird ways tech and science are changing your life.
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Erin Carson
3 min read
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Google unveiled its Pixel 4 phone Tuesday at an event in New York City. 

It's the first phone to use a radar sensor to let users control it using gestures, said Google's Sabrina Ellis, via Motion Sense sensor. You'll be able to do tasks like skip a song or silence a call through gestures.

"It's one of the best ways to sense motion. It's precise, low power and it's fast," she said, also touting that Pixel 4 will have the fastest Face Unlock on a smartphone because the sensor can tell when you're reaching for your phone. It can also power down your phone when you walk away, or turn it back on when you come back.

Ellis also said Motion Sense can be turned on or off at any time. Speaking about privacy, she said that data from the sensor is processed on the Pixel and is never saved or shared with other Google services.

The Pixel franchise is critical to Google because it offers the company a chance to create a device that's become so critical to our lives. The company also looks to each new Pixel as a standard-bearer for the latest release of its Android operating system, which powers roughly four out of every five phones in the world. 

For the past few months, the internet search giant has been laying the groundwork for the announcement. In June, the company teased the square camera module on the back of the Pixel 4. A month later, Google released a short video of a woman using a waving gesture to control the device, along with a post about radar technology. 

The Pixel will also have a faster version of Google Assistant with a new interface, thanks to an on-device version of Google's language model that run on Google's data centers. You will also be able to decide how long you want your activity data to be saved to your Google Account. 

In addition, it will have a voice recording app, called Recorder, that works in real time, transcribing what you say even in Airplane mode. It uses speech recognition and artificial intelligence. So far, it only works in English but more languages are planned. 

Ellis also spoke about a new feature coming to the phone's OLED display: a 90 Hz refresh rate. The refresh rate adjusts depending on what you're doing to save battery life. The Pixel 4 will also come with 3 months of 100GB cloud storage from Google One.

The Pixel 4 will be available in three colors: Just Black, Clearly White and a limited edition Oh, So Orange. The phone comes in two sizes, (Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL).

There are computational photography improvements coming to the Pixel 4's dual cameras, as well. Aside from getting a second rear camera, there's Live HDR+ with dual exposure control, learning based white balancing, wider-range portrait mode (with improvements capturing things like hair and fur), and Night Sight with astrophotography.

Although Pixel phones always get attention by virtue of its association with Google, sales pale relative to rivals like the iPhone or Galaxy S franchise. On IDC's ranking of the top five smartphone companies, Google doesn't make the cut.

Overall, IDC also reported in July that shipments of smartphones sank globally 2.3% from last year. The report cited improved mid-tier devices as one possible reason for the decline, compared to pricier phones. In August, research from Strategy Analytics showed that the increase in prices could be leading people to hang on to their smartphones longer

The Pixel 4 will be available through every major US carrier and will be available to pre-order Tuesday, starting at $799 for a 64GB version. The Pixel 4 XL starts at $899. Both ship October 24.

Originally published Oct. 15, 7:38 a.m. PT.
Update, 7:50 a.m. PT: Adds additional information; 8:03 a.m. PT: Adds more details about phone features. 8:21 a.m. PT: Adds details on features. 

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