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Opinion post by
C. Scott Brown
The Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL just landed. These are the flagship phones from Google in 2019 — well, at least when compared to the only other Google phones from this year, the mid-range Google Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL.
Despite the fact that we consider main line Pixel devices to be flagship phones, they usually don’t compare if you hold them up against contemporary flagships from other manufacturers in terms of specs. The Google Pixel 3 from 2018, for example, had a single rear camera while other devices launched that year had two or even three.
Pixel devices usually have less battery capacity than other flagships, too, and less RAM. In fact, most every spec you look at it in a Pixel device is probably not even close to “top of the line.”
One spec has been literally the same ever since the Google Pixel 2 landed in 2017: your choice between 64GB or 128GB of internal storage. In 2017, a 64GB storage limit was pretty good, with most other flagships matching it. But Google kept the same options in 2018 for the Google Pixel 3, and now it’s continuing the trend with the Google Pixel 4.
Related: Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL specs: Flagship features, but no powerhouse
Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy A50 — a 2019 phone that costs $350, or less than half of a Pixel 4 — comes with 64GB of storage. That device even has a microSD slot so you can add more if you need it, something the Pixel 4 lacks.
Even when the Pixel 3 launched with a 64GB starting option, there were a lot of negative comments in response. However, Google had an ace up its sleeve to help explain this: unlimited original quality Google Photos backups of every photo and video captured with the device.
Photos and videos are usually what take up the most space on the average smartphone, so Google’s decision to limit internal storage makes a degree of sense if this perk is included. If you can back up all your media to the cloud and not lose out on quality at all, you can just delete media from your internal storage and keep snapping away. Brilliant!
Google is taking away unlimited original quality photo and video backups for the Pixel 4, yet still keeping just 64GB of internal storage.
We learned not long after the launch of the Pixel 4 that Google is doing away with this perk. If you buy a Pixel 4, your photos and videos will still backup to Google Photos, but only at “high quality,” which is a compressed format. Literally every single smartphone in the world can do this for free, whether you paid $100 for it or $1,000, so this isn’t even a perk anymore.
Without unlimited original quality backups, the 64GB Google Pixel 4 — which costs $800 — is a joke. With the state-of-the-art computational photography of the Pixel line being the biggest selling point of the phone, half the reason people are buying the thing is to take photos. A shutterbug will easily fill that 64GB and then need to choose between one of three unattractive options:
- Go through and permanently delete photos and videos they don’t need to make room.
- Manually backup older photos to a PC or hard drive and then delete the on-device originals to make room.
- Pay Google to automatically backup media in the original quality and then delete on-device originals.
Obviously, that third option is what Google is hoping you’ll do. That’s why the Google Pixel 4 comes with a free three-month trial of Google One, a cloud storage service specifically designed for just that function.
It’s hard not to feel like Google is pulling a bit of a bait-and-switch here. The original Google Pixel came with unlimited original quality backups for life. The Pixel 2 and Pixel 3 have unlimited original quality backups, but with a time limit: January 16, 2021, and January 31, 2022, respectively. The Pixel 3a didn’t have the feature, but that made sense since the device starts at just $400. But now the Pixel 4 doesn’t have the feature — and it costs twice as much.
Related: Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL vs the competition
Google’s thought process for this is probably this: most Pixel 4 buyers will be fine with the “high quality” backups afforded by Google Photos for free, a few will be unhappy but pay for Google One backups, and a small minority will be upset enough to not buy the phone. If that ends up being true, then Google is likely OK with that.
For me though, I’m gravitating away from buying the Google Pixel 4 simply on principle. Why pay $800 for a phone when I can get better specs from cheaper devices from other OEMs? Why pay a premium for that fancy Pixel camera system if my photos and videos will be trapped in a tiny, non-expandable hard drive? Does Google honestly think Motion Sense is enough for people to buy a Pixel 4 over a Pixel 3a for half the price?
If anything, I’ll just buy a heavily-discounted Google Pixel 3 and take advantage of those free original quality photo backups for the next two years.
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