Leakers might have just given us a first-look at the Google Pixel 4 (and I think I hate it)

Why would Google hurt me in this way?

The Pixel 4 might not have the same chunky notch found on the Pixel 3 but the Google's newfound alternative might be way worse.

In case you missed it: a series of renders posted online by screen protector manufacturer Skinomi have suggest that this year's Google Pixel flagship (not to be confused with the cheaper, mid-tier Google Pixel 3a) will tout a Samsung Galaxy S10-style hole notch in place of a traditional one.

Now, Google themselves have officially said nothing about the leak nor the existence of the Pixel 4 (if it's even called that) at all - so there's no way to know for sure if this info is accurate. However, assuming it is for a minute, let's allow ourselves to lapse into despair. 

Bear with me here: Google's Pixel phones are more than just normal smartphones.

Similar to Microsoft's Surface hardware, Google's Pixel phones represent Android as a platform. They show off what a pure, unfiltered relationship between software and hardware can look like. They're often pitched as "Android as it was intended" or "the Apple of Android" due to the ultra-polished software and clean design that sets the Pixel phones apart from most other Android smartphones.

People don't just like Pixel phones because they're better, they like them because they look different to pretty much everything else out there. Even if those differences are often only skin deep or relegated to software. Previous Pixel phones have done a great job of standing out among the crowd.

The circular hole-notch seen in the leaked renders could be seen as a sign that this year's Pixel hardware are going to be even more iterative and....boring than previous generations.

I mean, don't get me wrong. The Pixel 3 and 3 XL are some of the best Android phones you can buy right now but the issues they rectified are all omissions and holdovers from the previous generation. The water-proofing, wireless charging and wide-angle lens on the Pixel 3 make it a markedly better buy than the Pixel 2. But now that Google have implemented those more-obvious fixes, it's not super clear where they should go next.

Nevertheless, the incorporation of the circular hole-punch notch (or The Hole, as some call it) feels like it might be one of the worst things that Google could pull from the competition. Having conquered its own challenges, Google are now seemingly-embracing the drawbacks of other brands - presumably to give themselves problems they can solve with the Pixel 5.

As I said in my review of the Galaxy S10, "I've never been much a notch-hater but the experience of using the S10 really helped me sympathize with their plight in a way I previously hadn't."

"At a glance, the visual profile of the S10’s screen is super different to what's come before -  which I like - but the notch here is a little too conspicuous for my liking. Samsung do smartly sidestep any UI issues by making S10s notification bar chunkier but then that poses the question of how much extra screen space you’re really getting here. You can always disguise it by blacking out the top bar of the display but, again, it begs questions about whether or not the pros outweigh the cons here."

"Fundamentally, the S10's circle-notch feels like a compromise that almost isn't worth it. To be clear: all notches are compromises but the advantages of this particular notch aren't readily apparent over the other more established options. There’s no 3D Face Unlock here and the extra screen space rarely feels worth the irregular dimensions you have to work around."

We all know that circle notches are the devil's work
We all know that circle notches are the devil's work

If Google's next generation of Pixel hardware look to embrace this design quirk as a point of differentiation, it almost-certainly means embracing many of these same issues.

We've still got a fair few months before Google officially announce their 2019 flagship and we find out for sure whether it'll feature a circular screen-cutout and probably about half that amount of time before demo units find their way into the hands of Russian bloggers. Still, if the renders are accurate, this year's Pixel hardware might well be far less consequential than that of prior generations - and that's a disappointing possibility to dwell upon.

Google's Pixel hardware has really pushed other Android brands to up their game in recent years. In both the flagship and mid-tier markets, they've set a strong example. If Google is getting lazier or more iterative on those fronts, their competition is probably gonna follow suit - and that's probably bad news for consumers.

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Fergus Halliday
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