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Google Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro review: better and better

They’re not quite the super-helpful, ultra-intelligent phones that Google wants them to be, but the latest Pixel devices are more competitive than ever

The Pixel 7 and 7 Pro feel like fully realized, more refined versions of the phones Google launched last year. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro marked a new chapter for Google’s mobile devices, with a bold new design and a brand new processor. They were ambitious, often great devices with a few rough edges. Google hasn’t completely smoothed them over in this iteration, but it has created a pair of phones that feel like worthy competitors to the iPhones and Samsung Galaxies of the world. They’re what the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro should have been: a year late, but better late than never.

At the top of the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro’s spec sheet is Tensor G2, the second version of the chipset Google introduced last year, and it powers several of the devices’ refinements. There are some updated speech recognition and calling features, but Tensor G2’s most impactful contributions to the Pixel experience are in the camera app. There are some other hardware-related improvements, too, like the long-overdue addition of face unlock. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a worthwhile quality-of-life enhancement compared to the sluggish in-screen fingerprint reader on the Pixel 6.

In this new Tensor era, Google has a different idea about what a smartphone should be: intelligent and helpful, easing the pain of mundane tasks like calling customer service. This execution isn’t flawless, but it’s an improvement. At their best, the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro are capable of truly impressive feats. The Recorder app’s live transcription — a Pixel-exclusive feature made spookily good by Tensor — is so reliable it’s become an essential tool for my work. And when the Pixel camera is good, it’s really good. 

Other times, the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro stumble, turning in results that just don’t match up with Google’s lofty vision. The much-touted Magic Eraser tool to remove unwanted elements from the background of an image has yet to really impress me, and this year’s Photo Unblur feature is equally underwhelming. There’s room for improvement in a lot of departments, but the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro are better than their predecessors in some small yet significant ways.

The hardware
Not much has changed about the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro’s screens. The 6.3-inch OLED on the Pixel 7 is a smidge smaller than the 6.4-inch Pixel 6 (with no change in resolution), but it’s still capped at a 90Hz top refresh rate. The Pro model continues to offer a huge 6.7-inch 120Hz display with slightly smoother scrolling and animations. Google says they’re both 25 percent brighter in direct sunlight — I have a hard time seeing the difference between the Pixel 6 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro at peak brightness, but in any case, both the 7 and 7 Pro are comfortable to use outdoors in bright conditions.

Big screens make for big devices, and even with the Pixel 7’s slight downsizing, both it and the Pixel 7 Pro look and feel like big phones. They use the same design language introduced with the Pixel 6 series, including that attention-grabbing horizontal camera bar. I’m still not fond of it, but this year’s treatment is a bit more refined. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro went for a more playful look, with bolder colors contrasting heavily against a black camera bar. 

This time, the colors are softer, and the camera bar is either polished or matte aluminum, depending on whether you pick the 7 Pro or the 7. It’s a little more grown-up-looking, like the Pixel 6 got a mortgage and a fuel-efficient family car, and I like it quite a bit. My hazel-colored 7 Pro review unit looked right at home next to the fancy-ish beige-colored clutch I took with me on a night out. I can’t say the same about the Pixel 6 or 6 Pro.

The protruding camera bar does tend to collect lint if you’re the kind of person who lives throws their caseless phone in the bottom of a dusty bag. Most sensible people will put a case on, which is a good life choice — the glossy back panels and slightly curved sides make both phones a little slippery in the hand. That said, they’re not terribly uncomfortable without one. The bottom of the camera bar can act as a little ledge slash Pop Socket so it can rest on top of my index finger while I’m using it. It’s a little too high to do that for too long, but if I’m fiddling with it one-handed, it’s actually kind of helpful.

The 7 and 7 Pro have all the other usual trimmings of flagship status: they’re IP68-rated for robust water and dust resistance, and they support 30W fast wired charging. To get the fastest wireless charging speeds, you’ll need Google’s $79 second-gen Pixel Stand charger; with it, the Pixel 7 gets 20W charging, and the 7 Pro supports 23W. Otherwise, they support a perfectly serviceable 12W rate with standard Qi chargers. There’s no charger in the box (those days are over), but at least there’s a physical SIM tray. There’s also support for one eSIM, and it is possible to transfer one over from an iPhone, albeit with at least one call to customer support. Ask me how I know. (Both phones also support dual SIM if you use the physical and eSIM at the same time.)

The Pixel 7 and 7 Pro include two methods for biometric unlocking: fingerprint and face. Face unlock is a new addition this year, likely to address complaints that the Pixel 6 series’ under-display fingerprint scanner was too slow. Google has also done some work on the fingerprint scanner — company spokesperson Alex Moriconi tells The Verge that the sensor has a “30% latency improvement” over the one on the Pixel 6 series, and it does feel a beat faster to me. 

It’s still an optical-type scanner that briefly flashes bright light where the sensor is located under the screen to read your fingerprint, which is a little jarring in a dark bedroom. In any case, I set up face and fingerprint unlock on both the 7 and 7 Pro, and between the two, the phone would unlock quickly enough that I never felt frustrated — not the case with the sluggish fingerprint reader on the 6 and 6 Pro. Unfortunately, Moriconi tells us that Google has no plans to bring face unlock to the Pixel 6 series. Bummer.

via theverge

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