Google Pixel 4 Early Impressions: Radar, Face Unlock, and the Camera

Google Pixel 4 Clearly White Held Afar
Justin Duino

Google announced the Pixel 4 last week at an event in New York City, and now that I’ve had it in-hand for a few days, I want to share some initial thoughts on the new features—the radar, Face Unlock, and the cameras.

Before we get into it, though, I want to clarify: this isn’t a full review. I’ve only had the phone for a few days and don’t think that’s quite enough time to write as thorough a review as I’d like. So instead, I’m opting for this compromise—some initial thoughts focusing on the phone’s new and interesting features.

This will be a bit deeper than my hands-on impressions with the phone, but still not deep enough to call it a “review.” These are simply the thoughts I’ve collected over the last few days and want to share before sitting down to pen the full review.

So yeah, let’s talk about it.

Google Gets Innovative Again

Google Pixel 4 Clearly White Top Bezel
Justin Duino

Back in the day, I owned nearly every Nexus phone that existed, and every Pixel device since the series launched, save for one: I skipped the Pixel 3. I’m generally a fan of the XL models, and the massive notch that had absolutely no reason to exist other than “well, the iPhone has one” was enough to make me give that one a hard pass. It was disheartening to see Google make a “me too!” phone just like everyone else.

But with the Pixel 4, ol’ Googly-poo went back to the drawing board and actually thought about what it wanted to do with the phone. So what we have now isn’t a “me too” phone, but an innovative and forward-thinking piece of hardware. It still has everything that Pixel-lovers, well, love about Pixel phones—namely, clean Android and a killer camera—but it’s also new, fresh, and different. Not just compared to Pixels of old, either—compared to the entire Android ecosystem.

The Bezel Makes it Better

Yeah, so the 3XL had that awful notch (and for the record, I’m not a “notch hater;” that one was just bad), and at first look, it would be easy to think that the Pixel 4 is a step backward because it has a full-length upper bezel. There’s this weird notion amongst tech enthusiasts that we’re supposed to absolutely hate bezels for some reason, but I don’t think anyone will disagree that the one on the Pixel 4 is actually useful.

That’s because under that bezel is all sorts of impressive tech. The first is a radar chip that is used for gesture control of the phone without having to touch it. This is the first time a radar has been incorporated into a phone, and Google had to do a lot of work to make it small enough to fit. While its use is still pretty limited, it honestly has the potential to be something rad—something truly useful.

Admittedly, the radar chip is mostly a novelty right now. You can use it to change music tracks or silence alarms just by waving your hand over your phone. When the phone is ringing, the radar will also detect when your hand is coming close and automatically lower the ring volume. But the radar isn’t just a neat way to do things without touching the phone—it also ties into another feature that’s new to Android: Face Unlock.

Google Pixel 4 Face Unlock Settings
Justin Duino

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Google Pixelbook Go Hands-On: I Can’t Wait To Buy It

Pixelbook Go
Justin Duino

Google announced gadgets and gizmos aplenty today at its annual Made by Google event, and as cool as the Pixel 4 is, the Pixelbook Go might be my favorite gadget that we saw today. It’s a seriously impressive piece of hardware.

At first blush, it may look like just another Chromebook, but that’s not it at all. It honestly seems like the return to Google’s original concept from Chromebook, though with a more modern twist. Everything the company has learned from its past Chromebooks (and Chrome OS in general) are fully realized in the Pixelbook Go.

While it may be easy to think of the Go as a sequel to the original Pixelbook, it’s really more of a lateral movement. Since it’s not a convertible (it doesn’t flip around into tablet mode), it just is what it is—a laptop for the user who wants a laptop. It still has a touchscreen, though, which is really a must on any modern laptop, but especially one that also runs Android apps.

Speaking of the display, Google has opted for a more traditional16:9 panel for the Go’s 13.3-inch display, a departure from the 3:2 format found on the Pixelbook and Pixel Slate. That’s likely to be a hit-and-miss choice from some people, but I personally think it makes a lot of sense for something that’s supposed to be a laptop and not a tablet. That said, most of the models are running at 1920×1080, which is a bit low compared to most modern machines. In my hands-on time with the Go, however, I couldn’t tell the difference compared to the Pixelbook. If you want to make sure you get the most Pixels you possibly can, however, there will be a version with a 4K Molecular Display available.

Moving below the screen is a user favorite from the Pixelbook: the keyboard. The Go’s keyboard is largely the same as the Pixelbook, except now it’s even quieter. The trackpad is also very similar, but it’s a bit larger and features rounded edges instead of the square profile found on the Pixelbook. The Go is very much about refinements.

The Pixelbook Go's keyboard
Justin Duino

Before we get to the Go’s innards, though, I want to quickly talk about the bottom of the device: it’s kinda weird. It’s a textured/ridged bottom that definitely makes it easier to hold and carry, which is the whole point. Google told us that the number one way most laptops get broken is by being dropped, so this is there to help prevent that. And really, if you don’t like how it looks, you’ll never see it when you’re using the laptop anyway.

On the inside, the Pixelbook Go is still quite interesting, because a lot of its components mirror what’s found in Google’s Chrome OS tablet (the Pixel Ste). All models have 8th generation Intel Core processors, along with at least 8 GB of RAM (even in the base model) and a minimum of 64 GB of storage. The sweet spot seems to be the Core i5 model with 16 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage, but I can also see how that would be overkill for a lot of users.

If you’re looking for the meat and potatoes for the Pixelbook Go, here it is: this is a killer Chromebook. I’ve been using the Pixelbook as my main laptop for over a year and I’ve had no reason to want to change to anything else…until now. The Go is sleeker, lighter, faster, and, dare I say it, sexier. I can’t wait to get one.

The bottom of the Pixelbook
Yeah, I’m not sure about that texture? Justin Duino

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Hands-on with the Pixel 4: Damn, Google

Pixel 4
Justin Duino

Google unveiled the Pixel 4 (among other things) today at a press event, and it’s the best, most powerful, forward-thinking Pixel to date. I was able to spend some time with the phone after the event, and man, it’s so good.

The Pixel 3 XL was a pretty polarizing device, mostly because of the huge and completely unnecessary notch. The good news here is that the notch is gone on the Pixel 4 and Google is making use of the bezel along the top of the device by absolutely packing it with new tech. Like, new tech—not just “new to Pixel” tech.

I’m talking, of course, about Project Soli and the Pixel 4’s new radar chip. This new chip detects motion near the phone, allowing you to do things like skip tracks or dismiss alarms by simply waving your hand over the phone. But that’s not even the real value in the radar chip—the best part is that it’s part of the Pixel 4’s Face Unlock feature that lets you unlock your phone just by looking at it.

This isn’t Google’s first attempt at letting users unlock their phones with their faces, of course—-Face Unlock has been around for a long time. But here’s the thing: it used to be, well, bad. Like, unusably bad. It could be fooled by a picture and it really wasn’t secure at all. It was a gimmick.

But Face Unlock on the Pixel 4? Nah, man. This ain’t your grandma’s face unlock (lol, does your grandma even know what face unlock is?); this is new. This is Google take on Face ID, which, let’s be honest here, is pretty badass. But I might argue that Face Unlock on the Pixel 4 is badasser. To use it is to love it, believe me.

Pixel 4's camera hump
Justin Duino

And that’s a good thing, because the fingerprint reader is gone—no in-display jankiness, and the Pixel imprint sensor on the back is no more. I know that’s going to be a hard hit for some of you, but trust me, it’s for the best. Face Unlock is the truth.

That also makes for a cleaner overall aesthetic. The back is flat and smooth…for the most part. There is the big ol’ camera bump to house the dual rear shooters—a 12 MP main camera and 16 MP telephoto lens—but otherwise, it’s just a seamless piece of glass. The Clearly White and Oh So Orange units have a “soft touch” glass back, while the Just Black model is polished and shiny. They all look really good in person, though the contrasting color around the camera module takes some getting used to on the White and Orange models.

The Pixel 4 has a 5.7-inch 1080p panel, while the larger XL model packs a 6.3-inch 1440p display. Both are using Google’s new “Smooth Display” feature, which will push the refresh rate “up to 90 Hz.” Having used 90 Hz displays on both the OnePlus 7 Pro and 7T, I can tell you that this is something that you want, but I’m slightly bothered by the “up to 90 Hz” wording. That indicates that the display doesn’t always run at 90 Hz, but somehow intelligently manages when it bump the refresh rate and when to bring it back down.

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The IK Multimedia iRig Micro Amp is the Perfect Practice Rig for Guitarists

iRig Micro Amp
Cameron Summerson

If you’re a guitarist who longs for the perfect practice rig, you need to do yourself a favor and look at the iRig Micro Amp by IK Multimedia. It’s an ultra-portable solid-state amp that packs a big punch.

Little Amp, Big Sound

The iRig Micro Amp is a tiny little thing, measuring just 5x8x6.5 inches in its entirety. It has a 4-inch speaker and 15 watts of total power when powered by an optional 9-volt power supply or 7 watts of power with six AA batteries. Either way you go, the power is on you—neither the batteries nor the power adapter is included. The good news is that I was able to use a regular power adapter from a pedal to juice it up, which is convenient. For what it’s worth, it also worked fine with the power supply on my pedalboard.

The iRig Micro Amp's control layout
Cameron Summerson

On its own, the Micro Amp has three channels—clean, drive, and lead—along with a shared three-band EQ (bass, mid, treble) and dedicated volume and gain controls. Like most little amps, it features AUX-in for playing along with external sources and a headphone out for late-night jam sessions. Oh, and get this—it has a cab out on the back. Yeah, you can hook this little bastard up to a full 4×12 cabinet (or any other cab) if you want. That’s nuts!

The iRig Micro's speaker out and AC input The iRig Micro's battery bayThe iRig Micro’s speaker out, AC input, and battery bay. 

Much to my surprise, all three channels sound good right out of the box. The cleans are very glassy and smooth (even with normally harsh pickups), the drive channel offers very usable dirty tones for gritty rock rhythms, and the lead channel boosts the gain to provide a metal tone that I honestly wasn’t expecting. With the gain knob at about 3 o’clock, you can get some pretty devastating tone (for a 4-inch speaker, anyway) that should be able to hang with the heaviest stuff you want to play, especially just for practice.

Amp Sims Provide Maximum Versatility

The excellent bundled tone is really just a bonus because the Micro Amp’s real benefit is the fact that it pairs up with an iOS device, Mac computer, or Windows PC to leverage popular amp sims like Amplitube or Jamup. Once connected to an outside source, the onboard controls are totally disabled, save for volume.

The iRig Micro Amp with Amplitube running on an iPad
Cameron Summerson

And that’s where the Micro Amp really shines. When paired up with an external source running whatever amp sim you prefer (IK Multimedia designed the Micro Amp with Amplitube in mind, but it works fine with other apps) the sky is pretty much the limit. If you already have a bunch of custom amps and presets designed in your amp sim, you can break them out of the headphones or monitors and easily take them with you wherever you want. Theoretically, I guess you could even gig with it using the Micro Amp’s cab out, though I’m not sure anyone would really want to do that. (I’m sure someone does.)

At this point, you can damn near make the Micro Amp do what you want out of it—tweak your tone in the software, and the amp will respond accordingly. I mean, it’s just working as a speaker at that point anyway. But that’s really what I think is cool about the Micro Amp: sure, it’s just the speaker being driven by software, but it’s a well-tuned speaker for this sort of application. It just sounds so damn good for such a bitty little thing.

For comparison, I have Boss Katana head (which is such a killer modeling head on its own) that has a pair of four-inch speakers for standalone use, and the Micro Amp absolutely crushes it in terms of sound quality. The Katana is a monster through my 2×12 cab but sounds like crap on its own. I originally got it so I could use the head as a standalone practice setup at night, but I hate the tone of the tiny speakers so much I never use it without the cab. The Micro Amp is the perfect solution for practice—it’s small and not incredibly loud, but most importantly, it sounds great. I don’t care if I’m just practicing—I don’t want to play with garbage tone. Ever.

Probably Don’t Use it For Gigging Though

Read the remaining 7 paragraphs

The IK Multimedia iRig Micro Amp is the Perfect Practice Rig for Guitarists

iRig Micro Amp
Cameron Summerson

If you’re a guitarist who longs for the perfect practice rig, you need to do yourself a favor and look at the iRig Micro Amp by IK Multimedia. It’s an ultra-portable solid-state amp that packs a big punch.

Little Amp, Big Sound

The iRig Micro Amp is a tiny little thing, measuring just 5x8x6.5 inches in its entirety. It has a 4-inch speaker and 15 watts of total power when powered by an optional 9-volt power supply or 7 watts of power with six AA batteries. Either way you go, the power is on you—neither the batteries nor the power adapter is included. The good news is that I was able to use a regular power adapter from a pedal to juice it up, which is convenient. For what it’s worth, it also worked fine with the power supply on my pedalboard.

The iRig Micro Amp's control layout
Cameron Summerson

On its own, the Micro Amp has three channels—clean, drive, and lead—along with a shared three-band EQ (bass, mid, treble) and dedicated volume and gain controls. Like most little amps, it features AUX-in for playing along with external sources and a headphone out for late-night jam sessions. Oh, and get this—it has a cab out on the back. Yeah, you can hook this little bastard up to a full 4×12 cabinet (or any other cab) if you want. That’s nuts!

The iRig Micro's speaker out and AC input The iRig Micro's battery bayThe iRig Micro’s speaker out, AC input, and battery bay. 

Much to my surprise, all three channels sound good right out of the box. The cleans are very glassy and smooth (even with normally harsh pickups), the drive channel offers very usable dirty tones for gritty rock rhythms, and the lead channel boosts the gain to provide a metal tone that I honestly wasn’t expecting. With the gain knob at about 3 o’clock, you can get some pretty devastating tone (for a 4-inch speaker, anyway) that should be able to hang with the heaviest stuff you want to play, especially just for practice.

Amp Sims Provide Maximum Versatility

The excellent bundled tone is really just a bonus because the Micro Amp’s real benefit is the fact that it pairs up with an iOS device, Mac computer, or Windows PC to leverage popular amp sims like Amplitube or Jamup. Once connected to an outside source, the onboard controls are totally disabled, save for volume.

The iRig Micro Amp with Amplitube running on an iPad
Cameron Summerson

And that’s where the Micro Amp really shines. When paired up with an external source running whatever amp sim you prefer (IK Multimedia designed the Micro Amp with Amplitube in mind, but it works fine with other apps) the sky is pretty much the limit. If you already have a bunch of custom amps and presets designed in your amp sim, you can break them out of the headphones or monitors and easily take them with you wherever you want. Theoretically, I guess you could even gig with it using the Micro Amp’s cab out, though I’m not sure anyone would really want to do that. (I’m sure someone does.)

At this point, you can damn near make the Micro Amp do what you want out of it—tweak your tone in the software, and the amp will respond accordingly. I mean, it’s just working as a speaker at that point anyway. But that’s really what I think is cool about the Micro Amp: sure, it’s just the speaker being driven by software, but it’s a well-tuned speaker for this sort of application. It just sounds so damn good for such a bitty little thing.

For comparison, I have Boss Katana head (which is such a killer modeling head on its own) that has a pair of four-inch speakers for standalone use, and the Micro Amp absolutely crushes it in terms of sound quality. The Katana is a monster through my 2×12 cab but sounds like crap on its own. I originally got it so I could use the head as a standalone practice setup at night, but I hate the tone of the tiny speakers so much I never use it without the cab. The Micro Amp is the perfect solution for practice—it’s small and not incredibly loud, but most importantly, it sounds great. I don’t care if I’m just practicing—I don’t want to play with garbage tone. Ever.

Probably Don’t Use it For Gigging Though

Read the remaining 7 paragraphs