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Pixel 4 and 4 XL rumors and specs: Launching Oct. 15 with Face ID-type gesture controls and orange color

Google's next flagship is definitely on its way. Keep tabs on the other rumors about the Pixel 4 and 4 XL.

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Last year's Pixel 3 and 3 XL.

Angela Lang/CNET

With Apple launching its iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max on Tuesday and Samsung already selling its Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus phones, it's time for Google to step up. Launching on Oct. 15, Google's next flagship phones, the Pixel 4 and 4 XL, are crucial for the company. True, Google's most recent phones, the midrange Pixel 3A and Pixel 3A XL, are doing well. Pixel sales doubled and the Pixel 3A continues to impress with its camera, and CNET editor Daniel Van Boom called it the most important phone of 2019.

But last year's Pixel 3 and 3XL didn't sell as well, despite their exceptional cameras and critical acclaim. This could be because the phones are exclusive to Verizon (though they work on other US carriers), plus the fact that people in general aren't buying phones as much as they used to. The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3XL phones are also expensive, unlike the Pixel 3A phones. There have been reported issues with the Pixel 3's performance too (although we at CNET haven't experienced them personally), and the company just settled a class-action lawsuit that will pay out $500 apiece to owners of the first Pixel phone.

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More than ever, however, we have a better understanding of what Google's next flagship phones will be capable of. On Aug. 7, the company released the sixth and final beta update for Android Q, now officially known as Android 10. In addition to software, Google unexpectedly "leaked" an official image of the Pixel 4 in June, and then later threw another curveball by releasing a video on YouTube about the phone's face unlock and motion-sensing capabilities.

The Pixel 4 and 4 XL will serve as Google's ultimate take on its mobile OS, which is also the most popular OS in the world, and the phones must stand out, not only from the Apple iPhone but other Android rivals, such as those from Samsung. Right now we are about a month away from its release, so in the meantime, read on to see what has been speculated so far and check back as we update this piece with interesting rumors as they arise.  

Confirmed: The Pixel 4 exists, has square camera setup

As mentioned above, the Pixel 4 is a real phone -- none other than Google announced that it's coming. Not only did the company confirm the name, but it included an image, which depicts multiple rear cameras encased in a square housing.

There was another, less official instance when Google confirmed the existence of the phone in April, when a Google employee commented on Google's Android Open Source Project. Buried in a thread about Google's memory error detection tool, and spotted first by 9to5Google, the comment refers to the Pixel 4 twice:

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A Google employee confirms the company is developing the Pixel 4.

Screenshot by Lynn La/CNET

In the comment, the poster writes, "The plan was to first deploy this on Pixel 3 and make sure that everything actually works. Then move on to Pixel 4 and so on. If I had a Pixel 4 device..." Though the thread doesn't go on to reveal anything else about the phone, at least we learned that it's called the Pixel 4 and that it's on its way.

Confirmed: We'll see it Oct. 15

On Sept. 16, Google sent out invites to its Pixel 4 event, scheduled for Oct. 15. This confirms what we already expected given that ever since the first Pixel launched in 2016, Google has released its flagship phones in October. The pattern usually goes like this: Google holds its I/O developer conference in May to go over the latest Android OS and software updates. Then in October it has another presser that highlights Google's hardware developments and introduces a new flagship running the Android version previewed in May. There have been curveballs -- for instance, this year Google unveiled the Pixel 3A and Pixel 3A XL in May. But it looks like this time around we'll see the Pixel 4 (and likely any smart home endeavors) in October.

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Google is hosting its next big product event in New York in October. 

Google

Confirmed: It will have face unlock and motion sensors

Face unlock and motion sensors were rumored back in June and confirmed by Google on July 29. The company released a video and blog post showing that the Pixel 4 will have a Soli radar chip. This will allow the Pixel 4 to have face unlock, which is similar to Apple's Face ID, and the feature will be secure enough to verify digital payments. The chip can also sense motion, and lets you "skip songs, snooze alarms and silence phone calls" by waving your hand in front of the phone. The technology was developed internally by Google's Advanced Technology and Projects team.

The feature is not unlike the LG G8 ThinQ and offers a glimpse into a touchless phone future. The FCC first granted Google approval to use Project Soli sensors in December 2018 for aircraft.

Confirmed: Pixel 4 in orange

Google confirmed that either the Pixel 4 or 4 XL will come in a new shade of orange, thanks to a huge billboard in Times Square. The advertisement, which is meant to drum up hype for the Oct. 15 event, shows the phone in its new color. This verifies a previous unofficial image posted on Chinese social network Weibo that showed a bright orange Pixel 4. Besides black and white, previous Pixel colors include blue, purple and pink. While I'm not a fan of this particular shade of orange, it definitely stands out from the crowd.

Confirmed: Pixel 4 'coming soon' to Best Buy

Even though the phone hasn't officially launched yet, sellers are getting ahead of the game. US retailer Best Buy has its own splash page for the Pixel 4, saying that it's "coming soon," and posting an image of the phone's back. Though it's not a photo, the image shows Google doing away with the two-tone glass shade. The back of the phone is now one single solid color. A video leak spotted by Slashleaks and 9to5Google also shows the back of the phone as a solid slab of black.

Likely: Pixel 4 has one front-facing camera

Back in June, supposedly a Pixel 4 was spotted in the wild by a tipster for 9to5Google showing that the phone had two front cameras (like the current Pixel 3) and a large "forehead." But Google's sketch of the Pixel 4, which was used to show where the Soli radar chip was located on the phone's front-facing array, also showed that the phone had a single front-facing camera. 

We're unsure why Google would drop the second wide-angle camera from the phone, as it was useful on the Pixel 3 for taking wide selfie shots. Seeing how Google can render portrait photos with just one lens, perhaps the Pixel 4 will be capable of taking standard and wide-angle shots using just software. Google declined a request for comment.

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Likely: Pixel 4 will run Android 10

As with past Pixel phones, the Pixel 4 line will be one of the first -- if not the first -- phones to run Android's latest OS. Up until this year, Google OS names were alphabetical, and the upcoming update was temporarily known as Android Q. We know now that its official name is Android 10 and it will reportedly have a systemwide dark mode, new permissions features, improved facial recognition and enhanced security.

Rumor: Pixel 4 may launch on Sprint

For the past few years, the Pixel phone has launched with US carrier Verizon, even though it worked on other networks such as AT&T and T-Mobile. But a leaked photo of the Pixel 4 posted by XDA Developers shows the phone running on Sprint's network. Though Sprint is the country's fourth largest carrier, it is due to merge with T-Mobile soon. Being sold by more carriers instead of just one would also expand the Pixel's availability, which may have previously hurt sales.

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Could the Pixel 4 have a 90Hz display like the OnePlus 7 Pro?

Juan Garzon/CNET

Rumor: Pixel 4 may have a 90Hz display

Perhaps joining the ranks of the OnePlus 7 Pro and the Razer Phone 2, the Pixel 4 may be equipped with a 90Hz display according to 9to5Google. That means that while most phones have a refresh rate of 60 frames per second (put in another way, in 1 second the display refreshes 60 times), the Pixel 4 would refresh at 90fps. 

From our time reviewing phones with 90Hz displays, we can attest that actions like scrolling through webpages and apps do feel more fluid, and it'd be an exciting feature to have on the Pixel 4.

Rumor: Pixel 4 XL may have thick bezels

An alleged photo of the PIxel 4 XL shows the phone looking pretty similar to the Pixel 3 XL. It has a large display and thick bezels at the top and bottom, and it shows a homescreen that says, "Welcome to your new Pixel." 

Rumor: Pixel 4 XL is a good gaming phone?

A purported video of the Pixel 4 XL, running nearly 6 minutes long, shows the phone performing as a decent gaming phone. Posted by a Vietnamese tech blog called ReLab, the video shows the phone with a white design, matte-black edges and an orange power button. In addition to the aforementioned 90Hz display, other specs include a 6.23-inch, a 1,440p screen and a 3,700-mAh battery.

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Rumor: Pixel 4 XL could also have two back cameras

While previous Pixel XLs launched with just a single camera on the back, leaked photos posted on (once again) SlashLeaks indicate that the Pixel 4 XL may have two rear cameras. Google has typically relied on its camera software to do things like taking portrait photos that other phones require multiple rear cameras to accomplish, so it's interesting that Google may possibly add another. The same leaked photos also show the phone with the aforementioned hole-punch display.

Rumor: Pixel 4 might have improved dual-SIM capabilities

The Pixel 4 may have a feature that would allow a user to switch between two functioning phone lines. This is an update from the previous Pixel 2 and Pixel 3 (and their larger counterparts the Pixel 2 XL and 3 XL). Those phones have a standard SIM card slot and an eSIM. While you could have two numbers provisioned for the device, you could only talk, text or use data on one line, while the other remained inactive. In other words, only one SIM could be activated at a time.

But the Pixel 4 would be able to have two active SIMs. If either is being used to make a call or text, however, the other line won't be able to take calls or text for the time being. This is similar to how the new iPhones and other Android phones operate.

Originally published March 8.
Updates, May 26: Adds info about Pixel class-action lawsuit; June 6: Adds Google employee confirmation and Skinomi renders; June 12: Adds Google first-look info; June 26: Adds additional rumors, including Project Soli; July 30: Adds Soli radar chip and single front-facing camera confirmation; Aug. 11: Adds 90Hz display rumor; Sept. 2: Adds Sprint carrier rumor; Sept. 13: Adds Best Buy confirmation and other rumors; Sept. 18: Adds official launch date and confirmed orange color.