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Google's Pixel 4 has new color and tricks like transcribing in real time

Edward C. Baig, USA TODAY

Google never kept it much of a secret that it would unveil the Pixel 4 and Pixel XL smartphones at a media event in New York City on Wednesday. And now that Google’s latest flagships are about to go on sale, all the usual smartphone suspects – yes, I’m looking at you Apple and Samsung – have now weighed in, leaving it up to consumers to determine this fall’s winner.

On the surface and pending hands-on tests, the newest Google hardware stacks up handsomely against the newest iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones. Pixel 4 ($799-up) and Pixel 4 XL ($899-up) have 5.7-inch and 6.3-inch displays, respectively, with fast (90Hz) refresh rates. 

Google is using machine learning to seemingly improve what has already been a Pixel strength: photography. And as the first phone with a radar sensor – that’s what Google is claiming anyway – you can use motion gestures to control the device.

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Google's new Pixel 4

Cameras

Both models have dual rear cameras, included a 2x telephoto lens, housed in square configurations on both. But software is also critical, and Google is applying machine learning to help you better approximate what your final shot will look like, based on what you see in the viewfinder. 

Machine learning also helps portrait mode, as well as Pixel’s impressive dim-light Night Sight technology. That feature is so improved, Google claims, that you’ll be able to capture the Big Dipper in fine detail, through a long exposure new "astrophotography" function. (For the really best shots, you’d still need a tripod).

Google Pixel 4 design.

Meanwhile, via the aforementioned radar sensor and a feature Google calls Motion Sense, a mere wave of the hand can silence incoming phone calls, snooze alarms, or let you skip to the next track in a playlist. You can even wave hello or use a tickle gesture with Pikachu, part of the Motion Sense-powered Pokémon wallpaper that is available on the device.

Facial recognition

Google also uses Motion Sense for its version of facial recognition, which like Apple’s FaceID, lets you use your mug to unlock the device. Google claims its approach is faster, although how fast and accurate it will turn out to be remains to be seen.

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Pixel colors

Aesthetically, Google is raising a question: Is orange the new black? That’s because “Oh So Orange,” in limited quantities is one of the new colors Google is offering. No need to fret if orange isn’t your favorite hue, however. You can also choose among more traditional “clearly white” or “just black” models.

Gone is the visor design on the back of prior Pixels that was frankly getting tired. Other details worth noting: The phone water-resistant and is among the first to run Android 10, the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system. Alas, there is no standard headphone jack.

Wireless carriers and 5G

And Google, like Apple, has decided to hold off on producing a next-generation 5G handset for now – no surprise since 5G coverage is so limited still and adding 5G would add to the price of phone.

Google has opened up the Pixel to all the major U.S. carriers this time around. Prior versions only were available initially as Verizon exclusives.

Exciting new feature: Transcription

The Recorder app inside the Pixel can transcribe conversations. You can search for key parts of the recording later.

Also among the new features in the phones is one that has me especially jazzed: a Recorder app that can transcribe words in real time, a potential boon for students attending lectures, businesspeople in frequent meetings, and – journalists conducting interviews. You can search transcriptions for the parts of the recording that are most relevant. It even works in airplane mode.

In the coming days, we’ll put the new Pixels through the test.

Email: ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow @edbaig on Twitter

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL: New phones challenge Apple, Samsung