(Pocket-lint) – Although Google sits at the heart of all Android phones, it hasn’t been in the smartphone game as long as many have. Google doesn’t have the heritage of Samsung or Apple, it’s still a relative newcomer in the smartphone game.
With the launch of the Pixel 6 Pro in 2021, it felt like Google was taking the segment more seriously, putting out a phone that felt like it wanted to be a flagship device, unlike some of it’s more affordable phones under the old Nexus brand.
But with that, Google’s pricing might make you think twice. Compared to flagship phones from those aforementioned brands, the Pixel 7 Pro is more affordable. So can Google cut it at the top?
The experience of the Pixel 7 Pro is very much like that of the Pixel 6 Pro. There are tweaks to the software that you’ll mostly find in the Pixel 6 too, so if you’re an owner of the older phone, there’s only a couple of things that might tempt you to upgrade.
The camera is still what defines this phone, taking it a step further than previous Pixel devices by extending the range of the zoom and giving access to closer macro shots too. The additions to the video don’t quite realise their potential, especially when it comes to sharing that HDR video.
Ultimately, the Pixel 7 Pro is built on the solid foundation of the Pixel 6 Pro and we didn’t want much to change: there’s plenty of power, a great display, the battery life is good enough – and the camera wraps everything up into a neat bundle.
Pixel 7 Pro
4.5 stars – Pocket-lint recommended
- Camera performance
- Great display
- Clean software experience
- Competitive price
- Not many changes from Pixel 6 Pro
- HDR sharing limited
- Face unlock limited
Design and build
- 162.9 x 76.6 x 8.9mm, 212g
- IP68, Gorilla Glass Victus
It’s clear that the Pixel 7 Pro is a second act. This phone is the same size, shape and almost the same overall design as the Pixel 6 Pro. Pick it up and if you’ve held the older device, it will feel instantly familiar.
Indeed, familiarity will be a theme, because as you get to use this device you’ll find it acts and behaves just like the Pixel 6 Pro too – and that’s no bad thing. We loved the Pixel 6 Pro and used it regularly since its launch as a daily driver, so you can probably guess where we’re headed with this review.
The big change is around the rear of the phone, with the camera bar now a solid metal section, lovingly polished on the Pro to make it stand apart from the matte finish on the regular Pixel 7. Otherwise, the only real change to the Pixel 6 is that the buttons on the right-hand side now sit a little lower – meaning that cases from the old device fit, but the buttons don’t align.
IP68 protection remains, cementing those flagship credentials, while the use of Gorilla Glass Victus, front and back, aims to provide scratch resistance. We’d recommend a case for this phone, because it is a fingerprint magnet, but also to provide a more secure grip, as it can be a little slippery, not helped by its overall size.
There are stereo speakers built into the frame, which offer great performance with plenty of volume, but they don’t quite reach the performance of something like ROG Phone 6 Pro, while the only physical connector remains the USB-C.
A new approach to security
- Face unlock
- VPN for Google One
The fingerprint scanner lives in the display and it’s very much like the implementation on the Pixel 6 Pro. We’ve never had a problem with it, but if you find it slow, registering your thumb of choice more than once will often deal with it.
Google has now also implemented a face unlock feature. This isn’t really new, because we saw face unlock on the Pixel 4 with the Soli chip – and there’s no shortage of face unlocking options on other Android devices.
Google’s solution works pretty well, making it easier to get into your phone just by looking at it. We tried opening it with photos and with eyes closed, but those attempts to bypass the system failed, as did wearing glasses or a mask. So it’s not as insecure as some systems have been, but it’s only for device unlocking.
That’s a bit of a shame really, as it doesn’t get anywhere near replicating the offering of Apple’s Face ID, but it can do some useful things, like if you’ve used the quick camera launch function (which normally locks you out of the gallery), then it will quickly unlock when it sees your face, meaning you don’t have to use the fingerprint scanner.
The same applies if you want to swipe into the quick settings – you can basically head straight there and the phone will unlock, so getting to controls is faster.
So it’s an addition, but not one that really changes the experience to any great degree – and lacking the ability to use face recognition as a biometric sign-in for apps is a bit of a shame.
Another interesting addition on the security side is VPN for Google One. This will be coming as an update in the future, so we haven’t tested it, and is designed to encrypt your browsing to protect you further.
- 6.7in AMOLED display, 120Hz
- 3120 x 1440 pixels, 512ppi
The display on the Pixel 7 Pro hasn’t changed a huge amount from the last phone: it’s the same size, the same design and the same resolution as the previous device, so the experience is pretty much the same too.
However, the Pixel 7 Pro now has the option to switch the resolution from the native 3120 x 1440 pixels, to 2340 x 1080 pixels. This is a common option on other Android devices, often designed as a power-saving method.
However, this doesn’t appear to be fully supported in all apps, as opening Call of Duty Mobile saw it open in a 1080p window instead, presenting an option to tap an icon to reload in full screen. Tapping that did move it to full screen, but then in the reloading process it reverted to 1080p again and the cycle repeated ad infimum.
Whether this is a bug or software compatibility option we don’t know, but it’s easily solved by returning back to full resolution and never looking back.
The display on the Pixel 7 Pro is brighter than the Pixel 6 Pro, with a peak of 1500 nits. That will boost outdoors viewing in direct sunlight, but it will also boost the HDR experience – and we’ll be talking about that a little more in the camera section of this review.
The downside of increased brightness is increased battery drain, so you might want to keep that in check.
Overall, however, the display doesn’t let the side down and gives you a nice, large, play space for all your content.
- Google Tensor G2, 12GB, 128/256/512GB storage
- 5000mAh battery, 23W charging
Powering the Pixel 7 Pro is the new Google Tensor G2, which, by Google’s own admission, has been designed to better power things like the new machine learning solutions for the camera and other functions like speech processing. Google seems to be empowering the smart functions that the phone offers rather than chasing raw performance.
That’s similar to the Pixel 6 Pro, which didn’t really compete with Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, for example, but still managed to offer a great experience. If anything, it was warming during load that was the drawback of the original Tensor, and the slightly increased battery demands from working the phone hard.
Having put plenty of time into gaming during the time we’ve had the phone, it’s clear there are some real-world gains from the Tensor G2, it doesn’t get as readily hot, but you will find some heating which you’ll feel through that camera bar. We still find that battery is quickly taxed when pushing more intensive actions – like gaming or when using the camera for any great period of time.
Google has aligned the camera performance with G2, saying that it powers things like faster Night Sight, although we believe that Night Sight gains will be coming to Pixel 6 too, so those aren’t solely hardware dependent.
Is this phone faster than the older device? Incrementally, it seems, based on the time we’ve been testing the phone, but it’s not the fastest phone out there. It feels, for the most part, much the same as the Pixel 6 Pro in daily use.
What the Pixel 7 Pro tries to present is a smarter option. It’s not just about raw power, it’s about a degree of refinement in that experience. For some, that might not make any sense, with one of the latest Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 devices likely better suiting your needs. At the same time, there’s a lot to be said for the price of the Pixel 7 Pro, which is attractive.
The battery life on the Pixel 7 Pro also doesn’t make any big steps forward and won’t quite keep pace with some of the other flagship devices on the market right now. Google also hasn’t chased the fastest charging, with 23W wired and wireless charging. There’s no charger in the box and while the wired charging is below-average speed, the Pixel Stand does at least provide fast wireless charging, but you’ll have to buy it separately.
In our testing, the Pixel 7 Pro will make it to the end of the day, but as we’ve mentioned, extensive camera use and hard gaming will stress it. If you’re chasing battery savings, it’s also worth turning off always-on display, because that will slowly drain the phone when it’s doing nothing at all. Leave those things to one side and you’ll get better overall performance to see you from dawn to dusk.
- Triple camera system:
- Main: Main: 50MP, 1/1.31in, 1.2μm, f/1.85, OIS
- Ultrawide: 12MP, 1.25μm, f/2.2, OIS, AF
- Telephoto: 48MP, 0.7μm, f/3.5, OIS, 5x optical, 30X Super Res Zoom
- Front: 10.8MP, 1.22μm, f/2.2, FF
Google’s Pixel family of devices are synonymous with photography. Not because of outrageous resolution or gimmicky features – ok, maybe a couple of gimmicks – but because of the simplicity it offers. It’s designed to point, shoot and pretty much get a great result in any situation.
Google was one of the first companies to really push the message about computational photography (alongside Huawei, remember them?) and with the Pixel 7 Pro, there’s more of a focus on the machine learning enhancements than there is on the physical changes to the camera.
Indeed, if we’re comparing the Pixel 6 Pro and the 7 Pro, the camera hardware is essentially the same. The Tensor G2 has more power to dedicate to the ISP to run those advanced features, while the big changes are a new telephoto lens offering 5x optical zoom and autofocus on the ultrawide camera.
Starting with the latter, this is really designed to power the new macro mode. This isn’t super macro like some phones, instead just meaning you can focus when you’re 3-5cm away, so you can get a little closer to detail. When you are close to a subject, you’ll see the macro icon appear and the lens switches. It works well, but it’s not a huge game changer as it only really gives you a couple of centimetres over the main camera.
The more important change is the new lens on the telephoto, as well as the new algorithm Google has developed to power Super Res Zoom. This has always been impressive, but there’s a marked difference between the Pixel 7 Pro and the Pixel 6 Pro. Of all the things in these two devices, we’d say that it’s at the far end of the zoom where we notice the biggest difference.
It’s ably assisted with stabilisation and many of the shots taken through the zoom range offer plenty of detail and are perfectly usable.
As has long been the case with the Pixel camera, the 7 Pro offers great shots in pretty much all conditions, leaning towards the saturated, so those skies look a little bluer than they really are, but giving very satisfying results – perfect for sharing your best life on social media.
Night Sight is now more dynamic, offering two different modes. You can keep it fast, or you tap on the icon and adjust it to “max” which is slower but gives better results, with up to a 6-second exposure. This does feel like a new system, still giving great results, but certainly the faster setting will give you those shots with less waiting around.
Night Sight works on all cameras and continues to offer some of the best low-light performance with minimal fuss.
Cinematic Blur is a new addition and one that needs to be used with caution. As you’ll see in our video below, when the camera doens’t know what to focus on, it doesn’t work very well, but once it has a subject to focus on (and it works best with people), it looks a lot better. But once you move out of frame, it will return to a messy mixed focus experience.
The other addition is 10-bit HDR video capture. This is designed to give you brighter and more colourful video and you can certainly see the difference when played back on the Pixel. The brightness seems to ramp up when you start playing anything you’ve captured in HDR – and it’s marked as HDR in Google Photos too.
But at the moment it doesn’t seem as though you can benefit from that on other devices. It doesn’t seem to sync through Google Photos as HDR, so viewing on another device it appears as SDR. It also didn’t appear as HDR when casting. So it looks good on the phone, but at the moment, that seems to be all it’s good for.
There are other elements to the camera, or rather Google Photos, like the addition of Photo Unblur. This forms part of the editing options alongside the likes of Magic Eraser, allowing you to clean your photos up. Photo Unblur is really just a sharpening tool, but you can apply it to any photo you have, not just from this camera.
The Pixel camera remains one of the most satisfying and dependable to use. Ultimately, if you have a Pixel in your pocket, you know you’ll be well served whatever you want to capture.
Software and updates
- Android 13
- 5 years of updates
One of the big attractions of a Pixel phone is that you’re front of the line for updates – and you’ll get quite a lot of updates for the Pixel 7 Pro. Google is promising 5 years of support for the phone, which is up there with the best.
It launches with Android 13 and although many will call this stock Android, we’ve moved well beyond the point of it being a stock experience. The advantage is that there’s no bloatware, not even LinkedIn sneaking through the back door – just Google’s own services.
This is a great platform to start from, but Google offers many other tweaks to the phone to give it some character. There’s a lot of talk about Material You, but we can’t say it’s our favourite theming approach on phones and it’s generally available on rivals anyway. Out of the box, yes, Samsung phones offer more options, but Google is really about doing clever stuff.
The big leaning here is towards AI and ML solutions to everyday problems. We’ve seen that through things like Guided Frame, which helps visually impaired people take selfies, and through translation, which Google wants to introduce seamlessly at all levels.
Things like digital wellbeing – including a new feature to detect snoring and coughing during sleep – add depth to the experience that Google is presenting.
The Pixel 7 Pro is an incremental improvement over the excellent Pixel 6 Pro with real gains made in the camera experience, especially at the far end of the zoom. As a flagship device, the Pixel 7 Pro is aggressively priced, offering a complete experience. The camera still leads the way, supported by a great display, enough power and sufficient battery life. Being at the front of the line for Android updates is just the cherry on top.
Writing by Chris Hall.