Google Pixel 7 review: Putting the ‘smart’ back in smartphone
The arrival of the Google Pixel 7 was no surprise but now that it’s finally here you might question what’s new. Much like the fresh-off-the-line Apple iPhone 14, the Pixel 7’s headline changes are perhaps better categorized as iterative rather than revolutionary.
However, the decision to refine rather than revamp is not always a bad thing and it’s here where Google looks to impress. Further doubling down on the ‘smart’ bit of a smartphone, the Pixel 7 is Google’s cleverest flagship yet, but with minimal hardware changes, is it worth upgrading to?
Google Pixel 7 review: What you need to know
One thing for certain is that the Pixel 7 already has the iPhone 14 beat when it comes to internal upgrades. Where the iPhone 14 uses the same A15 Bionic chipset as the previous model, the Pixel 7 is powered by the new Tensor G2, the natural successor to last year’s first-gen Google Tensor chip.
It doesn’t lack key features, either. The flagbearer for Android 13 (the brand-new version of Google mobile OS), the Pixel 7 strengthens its camera capabilities, with improvements to low-light image capture, smoother video stabilization, and expanded facial detail capture. It does all this using a pair of rear cameras: a 50MP main unit and a 12MP, 123-degree ultrawide.
The small 6.3 AMOLED display on the front has a resolution of 2,400 x 1,080 (FHD+), refreshes at 90Hz, and supports HDR10+ video playback. And the phone also comes with 8GB of RAM with the choice of either 128GB or 256GB of (non-expandable) internal storage.
Google Pixel 7 review: Price and competition
With manufacturing costs spiraling and phone makers adjusting prices with every new release, Google is doing the opposite and isn’t asking for any extra money this year. Not only that but the Pixel 7 is one of the cheapest flagship handsets on the market, going for a mere £599 for the 128GB model and £699 for the 256GB version.
To put that into context, the iPhone 14, which didn’t earn a recommendation in our review, starts at a massive £849 – that’s £150 more than the Pixel 7. It’s not just Apple, either: the Galaxy S22 may have dropped in price in recent times but is still floating around the £650 mark.
Of course, there’s also the Pixel 7 Pro to consider. For the same price as the iPhone 14 (£849), this gets you an extra 5x telephoto zoom camera, plus a big 6.7in display with a higher QHD+ resolution and a faster refresh rate of 120Hz.
Google Pixel 7 review: Design and key features
The Pixel 7 has received a bit of a design overhaul for 2022 and now comes with a new “zirconia-blasted aluminum finish” that’s made from 100% recycled materials. Introduced in the Pixel 6, the horizontal Geordi La Forge-style rear camera bar reappears but it looks a bit different this year, with the two rear cameras now enclosed in a separate pill-shaped enclosure next to the LED flash unit.
The phone comes in a choice of three colors: Obsidian (black), Snow (white), and Lemongrass (a sort of pastel green). I was sent the Obsidian model for review, which you can see in the images throughout this review and it looks rather nice with its machined aluminum camera bar and glossy glass-topped rear panel.
Speaking of glass, there’s a protective layer of Gorilla Glass Victus on the front of the phone, which offers an extra degree of protection against drops and scrapes and the Pixel 7 is also IP68-rated against dust and water ingress.
Size-wise, there’s a lot to like here. It’s a smaller phone than most modern flagships, measuring 156 x 73 x 8.7mm (HWD), which means it’s the model you should buy if you have smaller hands or pockets – and it doesn’t weigh much, either, at 197g.
As I mentioned earlier, the base storage is 128GB or you can pay a bit extra for 256GB of internal space. Sadly, like last year, there’s no room for a microSD card to expand this and it lacks a dual nanoSIM slot. It’s also worth noting that Google doesn’t supply a wall charger in the box, providing only a 1m USB-C to USB-C cable and nothing else.
The Google Pixel 7 is rated at a maximum charging speed of 30W and, in my testing, I found it went from zero to 50% in just over 30 minutes. It also supports 20W wireless charging via any Qi-compatible charger and it can reverse power share with other devices such as the Google Pixel Buds Pro. It can’t charge the new Pixel Watch, though, since that devices doesn’t support wireless charging.
Google Pixel 7 review: Display
Given its lower price, it makes sense that the Pixel 7’s screen is both smaller and lower resolution than its more expensive Pro-branded sibling but there’s still a lot to like. The Pixel 7 has a 6.4in AMOLED panel with a resolution of 2,400 x 1,080 (FHD+), a 90Hz refresh rate and is also capable of displaying HDR10+ content – that’s much better than the iPhone 14’s display.
As for colour performance, there’s practically nothing at fault here. With the phone’s ‘Natural’ display setting engaged, colours look as good as can be with a measured Delta E (colour accuracy) average of 0.81 when tested against sRGB. The entire colour palette is displayed as it should be but, if boosted colour saturation is more to your taste, then you might find a little more joy with the “Saturated” display setting.
A key thing this year is an increase in overall screen brightness, particularly when viewing HDR content. Displaying a white square against a black background in the default video player app and using our display colorimeter, I found the Pixel 7’s HDR brightness peaked at a much-improved 974cd/m2 (compared to Netflix shows and movies will look quite a bit different this year.
Google Pixel 7 review: Performance and battery life
Google’s second-gen chipset, the Tensor G2, is exclusive to the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro. It still retains the 2+2+4 core cluster of the original Tensor but the maximum clock speed is now 50MHz higher at 2.85GHz. This translates to a slight improvement in multi-core processing, but not much else.
Running the Geekbench 5 CPU multi-core test, the Pixel 7 scored 3,309 to the Pixel 6’s 2,843: a generational improvement of around 16%. This score puts it within reaching distance of the Galaxy S22’s Exynos 2200 but the Pixel is still a long way behind the year-old A15 Bionic inside this year’s iPhone 14. The single-core result, meanwhile, is practically identical to the previous version.
There’s a bigger jump when it comes to graphics-related tasks but it’s here where the Pixel 7’s 90Hz display lets the side down a bit. As you can see, the smoother 120Hz refresh rate on the Galaxy S22 puts it on top of the leaderboard, with the offscreen GFXBench Manhattan test showing that the Pixel 7 is more than capable of reaching higher frame rates than the screen’s 90fps limit.
Where battery life wasn’t the Pixel 6’s strong suit last year, stamina is undoubtedly the star of the show in 2022. Boosting battery life by over four hours in our video rundown test, the Pixel 7 lasted 22hrs 43mins before needing a top-up. Google also says that if you enable the “Extreme Battery Saver” options in the phone’s settings, you could reach a massive 72 hours between charges.
Google Pixel 7 review: Android 13
The Pixel 7 is running the latest version of Google’s mobile OS: Android 13. There isn’t much to be said about the software side of things this year, aside from a new audio message transcription feature in the SMS app, but Google has promised at least five years of monthly security updates.
During the launch, Google also claimed that the Tensor G2 is “smarter” and “more secure” than last year, courtesy of improved on-chip AI and machine learning algorithms. The Titan embedded M2 security chip returns, too, and all Pixel 7 owners will receive free VPN access courtesy of Google One, although this wasn’t available at launch.
While we’re on the topic of security, it’s worth briefly mentioning that the Pixel 7 finally supports biometric face unlocking. The first Pixel phone since 2019’s Pixel 4 to use this unlocking method, its return isn’t entirely surprising: reports of the Pixel 6’s finicky fingerprint scanner were widespread last year.
Google Pixel 7 review: Cameras
Photography has always been the name of the game for previous Google phones and the Pixel 7 is no different. However, it’s a little odd that the hardware hasn’t really changed this year, with the 50MP, f/1.9 main camera returning alongside the 12MP, f/2.2 ultrawide sensor.
Google says the ultrawide pictures on the selfie camera are “improved” but doesn’t really go into much detail about what that means and in my tests the 10.8MP images looked the same as they did last year.
The company did mention that all cameras can now record at up to 4K resolution at 60fps, and this makes a huge difference to video quality, especially if you often record using the selfie camera. A new feature called Dual allows you to record video on both the front and rear cameras simultaneously, too.
Software improvements include an expanded photo unblur mode, including the ability to digitally improve blurry faces in pictures taken on your old phone in the Google Photos app. Night Sight shooting is also two times faster than before – this makes a huge difference when shooting in low light, taking just a second to capture an image.
Elsewhere, Google’s Real Tone facial skin tone algorithms perform better than they did with the previous generation and cinematic blur can now be applied in videos, applying fake shallow depth of field in footage at 24fps. Stabilisation has been massively improved across the board and you can now prioritise speech audio over background noise, which works well but is disabled at 60fps.
As for general image quality, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Pixel 7 is pretty much unchallenged yet again. Even in tricky lighting conditions, pictures are filled with intricate details, with a good use of HDR and subdued, natural, true-to-life colour reproduction. You get superb shots whenever you press the shutter and the best thing about all this is that you don’t have to fiddle with any of the settings if you don’t want to. Just aim the camera and shoot; that’s all there is to it.
Google Pixel 7 review: Verdict
At a time when the price of most goods is rising, the Pixel 7 comes as a welcome change. Its generational differences may be minor on the whole but the decision to charge the same as last year – and undercut practically all competitors – is the smartest move Google could have possibly made in 2022.
It’s not only the low price that proves attractive, however – there’s plenty else to like. The Pixel 7’s photographic smarts make it one of the best choices around for on-the-go Instagrammers and the huge battery life boost is a welcome improvement as well. If you want a flagship but don’t want to pay flagship prices, this is the phone to get.