Pixel 7 Pro
It’s always been baffling to me that Google, one of the very few juggernaut companies with enough resources and world-dominating presence to compete with Apple, has not been able to make something that competes with the iPhone. And it’s not like Google hasn’t been trying. The internet search behemoth has been making smartphones since 2016. But so far, Google Pixel phones are still a very niche device. According to data released by various research firms, Google sold 5 million Pixel 6 phones worldwide over a 12 month stretching from fall 2021 to fall 2022. I have been unable to find similar 12-month figures for Apple products, but the iPhone 13 sold 40 million units over “the holiday period” of 2021 alone.
The gap in sales has more to do with branding, consumer perception, product availability than actual product quality, because I tested the Pixel 6 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro thoroughly, and I don’t think anyone can objectively say one phone is “much better” than the other.
This year, Google made further refinements to the Pixel series, and the Pixel 7 Pro that I’ve been testing for two months is by far the company’s most polished and premium phone ever. But perhaps more importantly, Google also expanded global availability (in terms of market) and is clearly spending more on marketing within the U.S.
The result? The Pixel 7 Pro comes the closest to being a real competitor to the iPhone as any Google device ever has. It still has a long way to go, but this is major progress.
And as for the question “is the Pixel 7 Pro better than the newest iPhone”? I’d vote yes.
Pixel 7 Pro and Pixel 7.
The Google Pixel 7 Pro brings back the unique design language established by the Pixel 6 series, with a visually striking camera visor that runs across the back of the phone. This year, the camera visor is wrapped in aluminum (last year’s was glass) and blends into the aluminum frame that forms the skeleton of the phone. I think it looks great, though the metallic camera visor is very prone to scratches. Unless you use a case with a lip that wraps around the camera bar, scratches will happen, as it protrudes from the phone’s backside so much that it must rub against table tops.
The Pixel 7 Pro comes in three colors.
The front side of the Pixel 7 Pro is more conventional—yet another curved all-screen face with a small hole-punch housing a selfie camera. The 6.7-inch OLED panel is much improved over last year’s, which was too dim. This year’s maximum brightness reaches 1,500 nits, which is bright enough by 2022 standards. It is still, however, a clearly inferior display panel to the newest Chinese Android phones like the Vivo X90 Pro Plus, which has a more intelligent variable refresh rate and gets even brighter. Still, this is a nitpick from a technical point of view. For 99% of people, the Pixel 7 Pro screen will look impressive enough.
Pixel 7 Pro display.
The in-display fingerprint scanner underneath the screen is also improved over last year’s. Although the Pixel 6’s scanner was terrible, so this is just an upgrade from terrible to solid. Other Chinese phones have faster fingerprint scanners.
One of the specialties of the Pixel phones, beginning with the Pixel 6 series, is it runs Google’s own custom-built processor instead of relying on Qualcomm like most Android phones do. There are a host of advantages to building your own chip, including having more control over the entire development of the smartphone, and leads to superior hardware/software synergy. This is something Apple has been doing for years.
This second generation Google chip, named Tensor G2, is designed by Google to handle the company’s crazy smart artificial intelligence and handle machine learning tasks. To that end, it totally succeeds, allowing the Pixel 7 Pro to do real-time translation, voice dictation or image recognition entirely on the device, without needing a connection to the internet. But the chip is a bit inferior to Qualcomm’s best chip in terms of graphical prowess, so if you’re a heavy gamer, the Tensor G2 is noticeably weaker than Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 Plus chips. What this means is the phone will heat up faster, and you may notice some performance throttling if you are playing a graphically intensive game.
I don’t really play mobile games, so the weaker gaming performance doesn’t matter to me. However, I do notice that Tensor G2 is a beat slower than the best Qualcomm chips when it comes to things like rendering videos or launching apps, too. The Pixel 7 Pro is not slow, it’s just not the fastest phone around.
There’s a large 5,000 mAh battery that can be charged wired or wirelessly, though the charging speeds are slow compared to any recent Chinese flagship phones. But it doesn’t matter too much, because battery life on the Pixel 7 Pro is excellent. In my opinion, fast charging times don’t matter too much if the phone can last me an entire day’s use on a single charge.
There’s the usual stereo speakers and IP68 water resistance that one expects from a flagship phone now, and the haptics are excellent. Overall, the Pixel 7 Pro hardware is very polished and doesn’t have a glaring weakness like previous Pixel phones. All that, and I haven’t even talked about the main strength of Pixel phones—the optics.
The Pixel 7 Pro has a triple camera system.
Before I dive into the Pixel 7 Pro’s camera performance, know that the Pixel 7 Pro’s camera hardware can be considered strong, but not as bleeding edge as the latest Chinese flagship phones.
The Pixel 7 Pro main camera uses a 50-megapixel GN 1 lens with a 1/1.3-inch sensor size. The 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera of the Pixel 7 Pro sees an improvement, gaining a much wider field of view and ability to capture macro photos. There’s a 48-megapixel Periscope zoom lens that can pull off 5x optical zoom, though its f/3.5 aperture is a bit slow.
Technically speaking, from a hardware perspective, the optics here are all a year or two older than what something like the Vivo X90 Pro Plus uses. That 1/1.3-inch sensor size of the Pixel 7 Pro, for example, pales in comparison to the 1-inch sensor used by the Vivo X90 Pro Plus (and Xiaomi 12S Ultra).
But the big question is, does this even matter? Because Google has always leveraged its best-in-class, scarily intelligent artificial intelligence to help produce superior images. And the Pixel 7 Pro mostly does pull it off.
Just look at the photo samples below. For the most part, the Pixel will always find perfect dynamic range and expose every light source perfectly, thanks to Google’s super smart machine learning algorithms examining the scene, snapping several images at different exposure points and then stitching them together for one perfectly exposed shot. All of this happens in real time, over the course of one second. Other phones can all do a version of this, but the Pixel consistently does it better than most phones.
Pixle 7 Pro ultra-wide camera.
Pixel 7 Pro main camera samples.
Pixel 7 Pro 2x zoom (left) and main camera (right).
I say most, because the Vivo X90 Pro Plus is indeed just as good at that, if not better. Throw in the superior hardware, and I’d have to say the Vivo X90 Pro Plus does top the Pixel 7 Pro in point-and-shoot photos. However, I think the Pixel 7 Pro wins second place easily in terms of smartphone cameras. Its camera capabilities are clearly better than whoever is in third place (I’d vote either Xiaomi 12S Ultra or Samsung’s S22 Ultra).
But it’s not just the cameras that benefit from Google’s super smart chip. There are so many other software features.
The Pixel 7 Pro runs Android 13 and it’s Android the way Google intended it to be. There’s minimal bloat—except the 12 Google apps you can’t get rid of—and the software is designed to be simple and easy to use. My gripe is it can often be too simple, lacking some of the more useful shortcut gestures that Asian Android phones offer. For example, in most Chinese Android phones, you can grab a screenshot with an easy three finger swipe gesture. On the Pixel, you must simultaneously press two buttons. It takes more effort, concentration, and time, to do this than a three finger swipe.
But the Pixel software is so, so smart. For example, the phone is apparently always aware, so it can identify music playing nearby on its own without prompt. Let’s say you’re sitting at a bar and you hear a catchy tune and want to learn more. The Pixel will have already identified the song and showing you artist name and track title on the phone’s Always-On Display.
As mentioned, the Pixel also can do real-time translation or voice dictation without needing access to the internet. Voice dictation is on every phone these days, but the Pixel is much faster and more accurate. Let’s say I’m speaking 50 words at a normal speaking pace. An iPhone or Samsung phone could dictate what I said at about 85-90% accuracy. The Pixel 7 Pro could do it at closer to 95-99% accuracy. That extra 10-14% in accuracy matters a lot if you’re sending important voice messages or emails via voice.
The Pixel can also intelligently show you contextual information on the homescreen, like show me my upcoming flight information, along with airport gate number, simply by scanning my Gmail account with my flight information. Other phones can do this if I set up the reminder widget; the Google Pixel phone does this automatically.
But this raises the question: is the Pixel too smart? The fact the phone is always listening to music around you can easily be misused. You have the option to turn all this off, but all of these features are on by default.
I choose to trust Google, so I’m okay with it, but I can see some people feeling uneasy about the degree to which the Pixel seems to do things on its own? If you are okay with it like I am, then the Pixel 7 phones are the smartest, most proactive phones on the market yet.
I’ve been using the Pixel 7 Pro for two months, and other than the aforementioned slightly slower performance when pulling off certain tasks, I’ve had no issue with the phone performance wise. Everything works as they should, from cellular connectivity in multiple continents to being a reliable work and media consumption machine.
Again, if you’re a heavy gamer and gaming performance is a high priority, then perhaps consider another phone from Samsung or Xiaomi, but otherwise, the Pixel 7 Pro performs very well. Battery life is great as mentioned—I can get about 15-16 hours of use on a single charge, which should be enough for most people.
The Google Pixel 7 Pro (white) faces stiff competition in 2022 and comes out on top.
With all of that said, the last bit of great news that pushes the Pixel 7 Pro to the top of my recommendations list is its price: the Pixel 7 Pro is priced at $899, which is not cheap, but it’s not as high as what Apple and Samsung are asking for their best phones. The Pixel 7 Pro at $900 is a better buy in my opinion than the $1,100 iPhone 14 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.
And Google’s increased market availability is great news for Google and the global phone scene. The device is now on sale in 17 countries, including some crucial new additions like India and Singapore. It’s still not available for purchase in some big markets like China, but for the most part, most of the English-speaking world, or high-spending Asian markets, can buy this device. And this is huge for Google to continue building momentum.
I recently wrote a year-end favorite phones list, where I had the Pixel 7 Pro in second place behind the Vivo X90 Pro Plus. I prefer the Vivo because of its slightly better cameras and better display, but that’s my niche preference. The Pixel 7 Pro has more intelligent software better suited for western audiences, and it’s a better overall purchase for most people as it has stronger software and after-sales support. For most people, I’d recommend the Pixel 7 Pro as the phone to get in 2022.
Pixel 7 Pro