I’m a huge fan of the Pixel ‘a’ series. Indeed, my first experience with Google’s own smartphone platform was the brilliant Pixel 4a.
That phone combined a crap-free Android experience, with great performance, and what quickly became my favourite smartphone camera system of all time. All for about £350.
Alas, I’ve never owned or even tried a regular Pixel. So, when Google offered to send me the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro to try out before the official release date, I jumped at the chance.
These are my initial impressions of Google’s latest flagship smartphones, and – yes, I’m normally an iPhone user, as you might know.
This could get interesting.
Price and positioning
You can pick up the regular Pixel 7 for just $599. That nets you 128GB of storage, and if you fancy upgrading to 256GB, you’ll need to find an extra $100.
This is already very compelling – particularly when you consider that the starting price of the iPhone 14 is £799 – for which you get the same 128GB of storage. In fact, if you go as far as 512GB, your shiny new iPhone 14 will set you back $1,099, which is a lot of money for a portable telephone.
It gets worse in iPhone Land when you turn your attention to the Pro lineup. The iPhone 14 Pro Max (which is the Pixel 7 Pro’s closest competitor) starts at $1,099 for the 128GB version and goes right up to a trouser-filling $1,599 if you opt for 1TB of storage.
So, the new Pixels are incredibly competitively priced. There’s no skimping, either – they feel iPhone-like in terms of build quality, have IP68 water resistance, and the Pro features lovely polished aluminium edges that scream “flagship”.
There’s not even that much to separate the Pixel 7 from the 7 Pro. The latter has a slightly bigger 5,000 mAh battery, but they both contain Google’s new Tensor G2 chip. However, the displays are different (I’ll get to that in a bit), and the 7 comes with 8GB of RAM versus the Pro’s 12GB.
Regardless, bar those Pro-only tweaks and the camera system (which I’ll also get onto soon), these are incredibly similar phones and, I think, positioned perfectly.
Good start, Google!
Displays and biometrics
The most obvious difference between the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro is the display size. The 7 features a 6.3” OLED panel, whereas the 7 Pro expands to an iPhone Pro Max-like 6.7” display (again, with OLED technology).
The 7 Pro also benefits from a variable refresh rate that goes right up to 120Hz. Although it’s worth noting that the 90Hz display on the regular 7 is no slouch at all, and in testing, I could barely tell the difference.
Let’s not forget at this juncture that the more expensive iPhone 14 still comes with a 60Hz screen.
Both Pixels are great in direct sunlight, but the 7 Pro is noticeably brighter thanks to an additional 100 nits of peak brightness. Oh, and they have always-on displays which have long been a speciality of Android devices.
A quick note on biometrics. For the first time, we get face unlocking on the Pixel, and – you guessed it – this is available on both the 7 and 7 Pro. It’s super-fast, but I always find myself opting for the fingerprint sensor instead, which resides neatly beneath the screen (that’s fast, too – there’s no Pixel 6-like waiting around). I wish Apple would adopt this technology and bring back Touch ID.
If you know me, you’ll know that I’m not about to throw a bunch of detailed battery testing benchmarks at you. Because I’d rather eat my own hair. Or what’s left of it, at least.
I’d much rather go on my experience of using these phones normally. That means a fair bit of web browsing, audio playback, the odd YouTube session, some photography and video work, and the inevitable doom scrolling on Twitter.
Under that load, both the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro are two-day phones. You could possibly squeeze a third out if you lean on the extreme battery-saver option (which Google suggests will net you up to 72 hours), but they also both support fast 30w charging if you find yourself in need of juice.
Two-day battery life is fast becoming the expectation for non-power users of the latest smartphones. The iPhone 14 Pro Max was my first experience of this, but every Android phone I’ve tried since has replicated its stamina. It makes a huge difference to the ownership experience and it’s partly the reason the allure of the iPhone 13 mini began to wane for me after a year of ownership.
The star of the show with these new Pixels, however, is the standby time, which is epic – presumably thanks to the efficiencies inherent within that new Tensor G2 chip. As a result, they are incredibly convenient devices to live with.
Did I mention that they also charge via USB-C? Because of course they do.
The camera system
Camera performance on smartphones is a very subjective thing. What I like may not be your taste at all, therefore the following opinions are just that – my own preference for photos. Please don’t shoot the messenger.
As noted earlier, I love what Pixel phones do with images captured via their camera system. It’s no secret that Google rarely updates the camera hardware in these devices, but they do spend an awful lot of time on the software powering it.
The Pixel 7 and 7 Pro share the same main 50MP 25mm main lens and 12MP ultra-wide. The 7 Pro takes things up a notch with the inclusion of a 48MP 120mm telephoto lens which, thanks to yet more software trickery, can pull out crazy 30x zoom tricks.
Both phones are capable of Google’s new photo ‘unblur’ feature which ensures all photos captured on the device are as sharp as possible. The algorithms and AI powering this unblur tech can also be applied to older photos taken on different cameras. It’s hit-and-miss in practice, but I did experience some success with older photos that contained marginally blurry faces.
Video-wise, they’re pretty much identical, and both support 10-bit HDR shooting and 4K at 30 and 60fps. Oh, and Google has finally taken a stab at its own cinematic mode which is… well, in need of some refinement, to be honest.
The biggest differentiator between the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro when it comes to photography is that crazy zoom lens and macro mode on the Pro – otherwise, they deliver the same perfectly contrasty clarity-slider-smashed images I’ve come to know and love.
To see exactly how the camera system on the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro performs, I’d recommend watching my full review on YouTube:
I love the Pixel 7 series. The camera remains perfectly tuned to my tastes, the build quality is fantastic, and the Android software experience is second to none.
When compared to the new iPhone lineup, they are also seriously tempting thanks to that aggressive pricing strategy, the iPhone-like… well, everything, and the fact that there’s little else in Android Land that can compete (bar the Nothing Phone (1), possibly).
Unless you’re welded firmly within the Apple ecosystem, I’d give either the Pixel 7 or 7 Pro serious consideration. The 7 Pro is for people who want a bigger phone and the absolute best of the best, whereas the Pixel 7 is the sweet spot for most people in terms of size, performance, camera capabilities, and pricing.
Oh, and if you want to spend even less, just get yourself the Pixel 6a. AT $399, that is an absolute bargain for a smartphone.