Last year Google made a big change to its phone line with the introduction of its custom-designed Tensor chip. By focusing on increased AI and machine learning performance, the company was able to create more advanced apps and features for its handsets without needing help from the cloud. And now with the launch of the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro alongside the Tensor G2, it feels like Google is deepening the marriage between its hardware and software.
On the outside, Google is using a similar template to what we got with the Pixel 6 with a couple of notable tweaks. On the Pixel 7, you get a screen made from Gorilla Glass Victus, while in back, there’s an even more pronounced camera bar that now extends seamlessly from the phone’s frame across the width of the device. This should provide some added durability while still allowing the device to lie flat (well, mostly) on a table.
Similar to last year, the finishes of the two phones vary slightly between models, with the Pixel 7 getting a brushed aluminum look while Pixel 7 Pro gets a shiny, polished chassis. That said, while the Pixel 7 Pro’s design is supposed to feel a bit more premium than its cheaper sibling, I actually kind of prefer the matte look on the standard Pixel 7. And for what it’s worth, I think the Pixel 7 has slightly more fun colors as well, with options including snow, obsidian and lemongrass, compared to the slightly more sedate snow, obsidian and hazel paint jobs on the 7 Pro. And while I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice this, I still can’t shake the feeling that the back of the Pixel 7 looks like a character from Among Us. So depending on your tastes, the Pixel 7’s design could be very hit or miss, but I’m enjoying it so far.
One notable change for the Pixel 7 specifically is that with a 6.3-inch 90Hz OLED screen, it’s actually a tiny bit smaller than the outgoing Pixel 6, which feels like a small win for compact phone fans. It’s not so much that it feels like a huge difference compared to the previous model, but it might be just enough to make the device feel a bit nimbler, especially if you don’t have huge hands.
As for the Pixel 7 Pro, Google opted for a 6.7-inch 120Hz display. However, I must say it’s kind of hard to tell the difference in refresh rates even when you’re holding them side-by-side. And while it doesn’t show up on a spec sheet, the Pixel 7 Pro’s glass is 20 percent flatter, so there’s a bit less distortion around the edges of the screen. Both phones get the same 10.8MP front-facing camera, though it still has a fixed focusing system, which is a relatively minor inconvenience compared to the true autofocus system on the iPhone 14’s selfie shooter.
Around back, Google is using a familiar 50MP main cam alongside a 12MP ultra-wide shooter. But when it comes to photography, perhaps the biggest camera upgrade is the new 48MP 5x telephoto zoom on the Pixel 7 Pro. Not only is it longer than the Pixel 6 Pro’s 4x lens, Google also redesigned the way the camera pushes in to capture more detailed images throughout the phone’s entire range.
Similar to before, from 1x to 2x, the 7 Pro uses the 50-MP main sensor to take short-distance shots, and then crops as needed. But from 2x to 5x, the phone fuses images from both the main and telephoto lenses to create a more detailed composite. Then between 5x and 10x switches completely over to the zoom cam, with Google using pixel binning to reduce total resolution down from 12MP. And then above 10x, the phone uses full-res crops from the telephoto cam before the phone hits its full 30x magnification. I know this is all extremely techy, but the end result is a much smoother zoom experience across and more detailed shots that look better than anything I’ve seen from practically any other phone. That said, I’m going to want to do some more testing before I make any final judgments.
Some of the new camera software also looks impressive. There’s a Cinematic Blur feature for video that adds a soft bokeh to the background of your clips while still supporting full 10-bit color with HDR. And from what I’ve seen so far, it looks great, as if you’ve been using a much more expensive camera. And for more general use, Google says it has upgraded the Pixel 7’s image stabilization and noise correction as well.
Meanwhile for photos, Google says the Tensor G2 helps improve the Pixel’s Face Unblur tool and speeds Night Sight processing by up to 2x. There’s also a new Photo Unblur feature that can sharpen pics regardless of when it was taken or what camera they came from. Google says all the processing for Photo Unblur is done locally on the phone and, in a brief demo, some of the results were so good they were kind of hard to believe.
But that’s the best and worst thing about Pixels, because now that their hardware and software are so intertwined, it’s difficult to really get a sense of how they perform after only a brief hands-on. And that’s before we talk about other more niche features like faster menus for Direct My Call and the ability to transcribe audio messages into text, which I hear is popular in Europe, but less so in the US. Both the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro felt snappy and the phones’ high refresh rate displays made switching between apps feel super smooth. That said, it’s still up to Google to avoid any bugs or issues with future software updates like we experienced on the Pixel 6.
So for now, what I will say is that I’m definitely digging the Pixel 7’s tweaked design. Cinematic Blur makes videos look great and, as someone who loves telephoto lenses, I can’t wait to see what I can do with the 7 Pro’s new 5x zoom. And perhaps best of all, with the standard Pixel 7 retaining the $599 starting price (or $699 on Verizon for one with mmWave 5G), upgrading to Google’s latest flagship costs less than its competitors.
Follow all of the news from Google’s Pixel 7 event right here!