Google Pixel 4 vs. Pixel 3: What difference does a year make?

The Google Pixel 4 is here and it has a lot to offer. The Pixel 4 sports a snazzy new design, a dual-lens main camera, and a front-facing camera capable of facial unlocking and air gestures. But last year’s Pixel 3 is also a great smartphone and it’s now available at a hefty discount. If you’re thinking about trying a Google phone, you may be wondering which one you should buy, or perhaps you’re thinking about upgrading to the new Pixel and want to know what the difference is. We’re going to dig into the details for you right here and explain what sets these two devices apart.

Specs

Google Pixel 4 Google Pixel 3
Size 147.1 × 68.8 × 8.2 mm (5.7 × 2.7 × 0.3 inches) 145.6 × 68.2 × 7.9 mm (5.73 × 2.69 × 0.31 inches)
Weight 162 grams (5.71 oz) 148 grams (5.22 ounces)
Screen size 5.7-inch AMOLED 5.5-inch AMOLED
Screen resolution 2280 × 1080 pixels (444 pixels per inch) 2160 × 1080 pixels (443 pixels per inch)
Operating system Android 10 Android 10
Storage space 64GB, 128GB 64GB, 128GB
MicroSD card slot No No
Tap-to-pay services Google Pay Google Pay
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
RAM 6GB 4GB
Camera Dual 12-megapixel and 16-megapixel telephoto rear, 8MP front Single 12.2MP rear, dual 8MP and 8MP front camera
Video 4K at 30 frames per second, 1080p at 120 fps, 720p at 240 fps 2160p at 30 frames per second, 1080p at 120fps, 720p at 240 fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0
Ports USB-C USB-C
Fingerprint sensor No Yes (back)
Water resistance IP68 IP68
Battery 2,800mAh

Fast charging

Qi wireless charging

2,915mAh

Fast charging

Qi wireless charging

App marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Network support AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon
Colors Just Black, Clearly White, Oh So Orange Just Black, Clearly White, Not Pink
Price $799 $499
Buy from Google Google
Review score Hands-on review 4.5 out of 5 stars

Performance, battery life, and charging

Pixel 4 and 4 XL Hands on" width="720" height="480" />
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Google Pixel 3 had the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor inside with 4GB of RAM, the Pixel 4 boasts this year’s Snapdragon 855 with 6GB of RAM. That means faster performance — we’re talking around a 20% bump in graphics and more than 30% in raw processing. The extra RAM also allows for swifter and smoother multitasking, so if you tend to have a lot of apps or games open, then you’ll feel the benefit with the Pixel 4.

Even though the Pixel 3 had questionable stamina and a tendency to give people battery anxiety, Google has gone with a smaller battery capacity in the Pixel 4. The battery has been downsized from 2,915mAh to 2,800mAh. There’s still fast wired charging via the USB-C port and support for Qi wireless charging. Efficiency improvements may have been made to squeeze more battery life from the Pixel 4, but the relatively low capacity is a worry.

Winner: Google Pixel 4

Design and durability

Google has come up with a new look for the Pixel 4, doing away with the two-tone glass and recessed fingerprint sensor on the back of the Pixel 3, in favor of a plain matte glass finish. The flush single-lens camera at the top left of the Pixel 3 has been expanded into a square module with rounded corners, which protrudes a little and houses the dual camera lenses and flash for the Pixel 4. Around the front, there’s a fairly large top bezel on both, but the bottom bezel on the Pixel 4 has been slimmed right down. The curved frame is a different tone from the body and retains the colorful, contrasting power button. It comes in black or white, but the “Not Pink” has been ditched for “Oh So Orange.” The big top bezel in the Pixel 4 houses the front-facing camera and a sensor array that enables the secure face-unlock function and the “Motion Sense” air gestures, which enable you to swipe and scroll by waving your hand near the phone.

These are both glass phones that require a case for drop protection. They also both have IP68 ratings, which means they can be submerged in water without worry.

Winner: Google Pixel 4

Display

Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL Hands on
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Not only is the display in the Pixel 4 slightly larger at 5.7 inches compared to 5.5 inches in the Pixel 3, it also boasts a higher refresh rate of 90Hz which makes everything look that little bit smoother. Both are high-quality OLED screens with deep blacks and vibrant, accurate colors, but the higher refresh rate makes a real difference, eliminating jerkiness when you scroll and swipe around.

Winner: Google Pixel 4

Camera

Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL Hands on
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Perhaps the biggest upgrade in the Pixel 4 is in the camera department. While the Pixel 3 just has a single-lens, 12.2-megapixel main camera, the Pixel 4 boasts a dual-lens setup that adds a 16-megapixel telephoto lens into the mix. The main advantage of the new lens is that it will enable you to zoom in from distance and still get a decent level of detail.

Around front, things are the opposite way around with the Pixel 3 boasting a dual-lens setup that pairs two 8-megapixel lenses, helping you capture wider selfies when you want to. The Pixel 4 has a single 8.1-megapixel lens, but it’s joined by a new sensor array that includes secure face unlock, which even works in low light, and the Soli radar chip, which is what enables Motion Sense so you can use gestures to scroll and swipe on your phone.

Winner: Google Pixel 4

Software and updates

Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL Hands on
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Android 10 with a Google touch is the slickest, most elegant version of Android you’ll find and you’ll find it on both phones. The software experience is going to be very similar, though the Pixel 4 has a few new tricks based on the hardware inside which we’ll deal with in the next section.

Naturally, both these phones run the latest version of Android and will continue to get updates and new software features from Google before other phones. They’re also guaranteed to get swift and regular security patches.

Winner: Tie

Special features

The Motion Sense camera in the Pixel 4 enables you to control your phone with a wave of your hand, so you can skip music tracks, or silence alarms or phone calls without touching the phone. It also switches on automatically when you’re close and turns off the screen when you walk away. The Pixel 4 has secure face unlock, too, so it will unlock the phone swiftly and easily as soon as it sees your face with no input required. The next-generation Google Assistant allows for better interactions and more natural conversations, so you can issue back-to-back commands without having to say “Hey, Google” again, but it will roll out to the older Pixel as well. Both support Active Edge, so you can squeeze your Pixel to launch the Google Assistant.

Winner: Google Pixel 4

Price and availability

The Google Pixel 4 starts from $799, just like its predecessor on release, but it’s worth noting that the Pixel 3 is now available for $499. Both phones can be purchased directly from Google and they’ll run quite happily on all the major carriers. The Pixel 4 is also available from all major U.S. carriers, and you can pre-order now; it starts shipping on October 4.

Overall winner: Google Pixel 4

It will come as no surprise that the Google Pixel 4 is better than the Pixel 3; it has more processing power, a more versatile and capable camera, and special features like Motion Sense and face-unlock. If you can afford it, we would definitely pick the Pixel 4. On the other hand, the smaller battery capacity is a disappointment, the design isn’t a major leap, and the software experience is going to be close. If your budget is limited, the Pixel 3 might be a better bet, and if you already have a Pixel 3 there’s nothing earth-shattering here that demands an instant update.

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