I know it’s only October.
I know I’ve not tried every single smartphone released in 2022.
I know I remain an iPhone user by default, simply because of the ability to copy and paste things between Apple devices.
But I can say, hand on heart, that my absolute favourite smartphone of the year is the Google Pixel 7 Pro.
Today, I’ll explain why.
Too many phones
There are more smartphones out there than I have the time, inclination, or budget to review.
I love the fact there’s an abundance of competition to keep the likes of Apple and Samsung on their toes, but I often wonder how consumers are expected to sift through the wealth of options.
There are, of course, regional favourites. For instance, you’re unlikely to spot many Xiaomi devices in the wild in the UK, but they’re everywhere in India.
There’s also the crazy niche stuff, like Asus’ ROG lineup, which adds matrix colour displays, Cyberpunk styling, and even active cooling for the best possible handheld gaming experience. How many people are asking for that?!
These middle-of-the-pack brands play an important role alongside the established behemoths whose devices have been welded into the national conscience for many years. But they don’t excite me, I’m afraid. At least, not as much as one of those behemoths that appears to be doing everything possible to drag me away from Tim Cook’s walled garden.
Damn you, Google!
The Pixel 7 Pro winning combo
Simplicity wins, always. Particularly when it comes to technology.
Smartphone innovation has peaked; it’s practically impossible to buy a crap phone these days. More importantly, very few of us have the time required to wade through specs, features, and detailed camera comparisons.
How many times over the last couple of months have you seen someone tweet two identical-looking photos from two different smartphones and ask you to pick your favourite? Who cares? There’s barely anything in it.
Spend above £300 and you’re pretty much guaranteed to be happy with your purchase – that’s all that matters.
Google knows this. It’s why the Pixel ‘a’ series is such a barnstorming device. The Pixel 4a completely rewrote the script for me when it came to budget smartphones, and the Pixel 6a cranked the dial even further.
They’ve gone far beyond that, though. Until recently, I hadn’t ventured beyond the aforementioned ‘a’ series; I’d never held – let alone used – a regular Pixel phone.
That changed when I was sent the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro to review ahead of their official launch date this month. And I fell in love, immediately – particularly with the 7 Pro.
The Pixel 7 Pro gets a lot right, but there are two aspects that it absolutely nails: price and camera performance.
The latter arrives with little fanfare. Sure, Google always spends a fair chunk of its time on stage detailing the photographic smarts they’ve managed to pack into the latest Pixel phones, but they barely touch upon the hardware that’s being used. That’s because it hasn’t really changed over the years – they’ve simply honed in on what they’re clearly very good at, which is the billions of software calculations performed with each click of the shutter.
As for price, this is the one element of the Pixel 7 Pro that you cannot ignore. In the UK, it starts at £849 for the 128GB version and comes with some generous, Samsung-like trade-in options for your old device. If you’re quick enough, you’ll even get the option of a free Pixel Watch or Pixel Buds Pro, too.
The fact that this phone also features an attractive design that’s just as well made as the iPhone is the icing on the cake – as is the fact you’re getting the purest version of Android (which is on a level par with iOS in every conceivable way these days).
Competing with the iPhone
The Pixel 7 Pro’s closest competitor from Cupertino is the iPhone 14 Pro Max which starts at £1,199 for the 128GB model. That’s £350 more expensive than the Pixel 7 Pro – a difference which is, ironically, just £49 shy of the Pixel 6a’s starting price.
What do you get for that? Well, you get an iPhone at the pinnacle of its design, capabilities, and position within Apple’s ecosystem. It’s a work of art, built like a tank, features one of the best camera systems on the market, and it’s a joy to use.
But it is £350 more expensive than the Pixel 7 Pro which is just as good.
In an era where we’re all facing rising bills, economic turmoil and, in the case of the UK, absolutely zero ideas about what our government is going to do next (or who’s going to be running the show), that price difference means more than anything.
Apple has quite rightly been panned recently for raising its prices across the board. What has always been an expensive brand in which to invest your hard-earned is fast becoming unattainable for many people. More importantly, the question of why one should buy Apple stuff when there are so many interesting alternatives is arriving far more readily within the comments sections of my YouTube videos.
Apple isn’t doomed – they still have more money in the bank than most companies (or countries) would know what to do with, and each of their sales categories is a mammoth business in its own right. But the Pixel 7 Pro is a sledgehammer blow for the iPhone Pro lineup, I’m afraid.
There are three other smartphones which have really impressed me this year.
The first is the Nothing Phone (1). At just £399, it sits firmly within the budget bracket and you get an awful lot for your money. Cheekily iPhone-like in its design and with those ultimately pointless yet interesting lights to keep you entertained for the first hour of use, it’s a breath of fresh air. I miss using mine regularly (the one disadvantage of flip-flopping between Android daily drivers each week).
Then, we have the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4 which is an utterly wonderful device. This is simply because it folds up into tiny a little square that you can neatly tuck into your pocket and then flick open (with admittedly a little too much effort) whenever you need to check in on your digital life. It’s pointless, cool, and discussion-worthy all at the same time.
Beyond the Pixel 7 Pro, the Flip4 is probably the Android phone to which I’ll return most often over the next few months, purely because of its comparative size to the iPhone 14 Pro Max (carrying around two large phones isn’t much fun) but also because it’s deeply interesting.
Lastly, a notable mention for the Sony Xperia 5 IV. Stupid name aside (come on, Sony!), this curious, weirdly tall, camera-focused smartphone is a lot of fun to carry around. I have absolutely no idea how to review it, and I’m not convinced anyone really wants me to, but the fact the camera app essentially turns this phone into a mini DSLR is, again, interesting.
Apple is never going to sell a flagship iPhone for less than £1,000. We’ll never – or, at least, not for a very long time – witness the birth of a foldable iPhone.
Mark my words – Tim will never, ever allow an iPhone with a light show on its rear casing to escape from the design lab. In fact, I doubt they’ve even given that one a go.
This isn’t a problem for Apple. It won’t consign them to the history books, nor will it slow down the tidal wave of cash that pours into their offshore bank accounts every day. But it does make them less interesting, and for me, that’s an issue.
The Pixel 7 Pro can have my unofficial and completely unscientific Smartphone of the Year award because its two most interesting traits are the most important for regular consumers.
What do we want? Value and the ability to capture memories beautifully, please. Simple stuff. Google’s efforts in both of those areas will take some beating, I’m afraid.