After more than a two-year hiatus, Google’s flagship Pixel smartphone has returned to the Indian market, hot on the heels of Apple’s latest iPhone launch. Google made a bold claim with the Pixel 7 series, which includes the Pixel 7 Pro — that they’ll be the best smartphones you can buy this year. Not the best Pixel, not the best Android phone, the best phone. Period.
It’s a tall claim coming from a company that has had a rocky start in its hardware ambitions. But it shows that Google has a lot riding on the new Pixel 7 Pro, which is the absolute best that Google can offer today.
Like Pixel phones before it, the Pixel 7 Pro also has one thing going for it — the fact that it looks different from every other smartphone on the market. It retains the overall design aesthetic of the Pixel 6 or 6a series, but there’s a thick metallic bump on the back that holds the three cameras on the back.
However, neither the Pixel 7 Pro nor the Pixel 7 are really ‘compact’ devices, which is something I personally miss from older Pixel phones. Even without the metallic strip on the back, the new Pixels are thick and wide devices, and they feel like glass slabs in your hand. In that sense, the Pixel phones have a very Samsung Galaxy S Ultra-esque feel in your hands. They’re quite clearly premium, but cumbersome to carry around.
Even the smaller Pixel 7 isn’t particularly suited for single-handed usage, but then again, with Apple dropping the ‘Mini’ from its portfolio this year, single-handed usage may finally have become a thing of the past anyway.
Speaking of Apple, however, Google’s continuing its tradition of putting software and artificial intelligence (AI) over everything else. The camera has a ‘cinematic blur’ feature, which really works the same way as Apple’s cinematic mode for video. In this mode, the software tries to determine what the subject is and blurs the background automatically.
On paper, it gives your videos a dramatic look, but it’ll be a while before both Google and Apple perfect this mode. The Pixel 7 Pro’s version also fails in crowds and for the most part, it really takes an experienced video hand to make anything out of this feature.
The Pixel 7 Pro’s cameras have other similarities with Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro too. Like the iPhone, the 2X zoom mode crops a 12MP photo out of the main sensor’s image. The camera also has preset modes for up to 5X zoom, and you can go further.
But Pixel phones really aren’t about the camera anymore. They’re about Google’s new Tensor chip, a second version of which is fitted in the Pixel 7 Pro and Pixel 7. All the camera’s software is powered by the new chip, and you can tell that Google really cares about the software, because the camera will prompt you to update the app if there’s one pending when you’re clicking an image.
The Tensor G2 chip is supposed to make everything faster, and it likely does too. But that difference is hard to tell. I switched to the Pixel 7 Pro from a Pixel 6a, and all of this phone’s AI features are just as fast as its predecessor.
Google Assistant still comes up at a moment’s notice. In fact, at times, I found the Assistant trying to speak to me even when the phone was in my pocket, and I uttered the word ‘Google’ while speaking to someone else. As I said in the Pixel 6a review before this, these AI features are far from perfect, but with the Tensor chips and new Pixels, Google’s proving that it’s getting closer and closer.
The Pixel 7 Pro has all of the really futuristic software features — Live Translation, Magic Eraser and what not. When these features work, you feel like this is what the future should be like. I should be able to talk to a foreigner where both of us speak our native languages and the phone seamlessly translates everything. But we’re just not there yet.
Like the Pixel 6a, or most Pixels before it, Google’s making a promise with these phones — that AI will one day rule your smartphone. But the software promise is a somewhat difficult one to bank on. Add to that the fact that Google doesn’t exactly have a dependable history in hardware, and no one would blame you for being iffy about buying a Pixel 7 Pro.
However, at ₹84,999, the Pixel 7 Pro is striking a decent price point as far as flagships go. I prefer this camera to a Samsung Galaxy Flip 4. Most flagships today seem to be first adopter devices. Afterall, the iPhone’s Dynamic Island won’t really be useful for at least a year, and Samsung’s foldables have a long way to go before they become ‘functional’ devices. The Pixel 7 Pro makes a promise too, at a more affordable price than an iPhone or Samsung’s top phones.
If hardware issues don’t emerge months down the line, the Pixel 7 Pro is certainly one of the best phones on the market, even if it isn’t ‘the best’.