Google’s Pixel lineup of smartphones have always been about the company’s vision of how Android was best intended to be experienced, but they’ve never been the sort of smartphones to sell at the scale of Google’s Android partners like Samsung or OnePlus. In India particularly, Pixel devices have been noticeably absent, with Google launching the Pixel 3/3XL way back in 2018 and entirely forgoing the premium flagship Pixel 4, 5 and 6 series and only the budget 4a and the 6a making their way to Indian shores.
All that’s changed this year, with Mountain View surprisingly launching the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro to India alongside their US debut, at reasonably competitive pricing (given Google’s past track record). Will the four-year absence make our hearts grow fonder, or have loyalties wandered so far off with other brands to not leave the new Pixels with a fighting chance?
In a sea of sameness that is smartphone design these days, the new Pixels instantly stood out as being uniquely Pixel in design, more so since the previous generation Pixels never launched here officially. The distinctive camera band on the rear, still somewhat inspired by Robocop’s visor, is now in body-matched aluminum, polished on the Pro and in a matte finish on the standard Pixel 7 and one that merges seamlessly into the aluminum frame. Gone was the two-tone finish of the Pixel 6 series, replaced with a single-color Gorilla Glass Victus rear panel of which one found the Lemongrass colorway on the Pixel 7 rather fetching.
Both phones looked and felt premium in the hand, but the smaller Pixel 7 is definitely the easier one to handle with the smaller dimensions and the matte finish frame – the less-than-ergonomic dimensions and the polished frame on the 7 Pro means it’s a slippery customer at the best of times.
The smaller size on the Pixel 7 affords it a smaller 6.3-inch full HD+ AMOLED screen compared to the higher-resolution 3120 x 1440-pixel 6.7-inch screen on the Pixel 7 Pro, and other than the difference in refresh rates (90Hz vs 120Hz), both panels look great, offer deep blacks and vivid colors and ample brightness to enjoy high dynamic range (HDR) media on OTT streaming services. The 7 Pro gets a curved screen on both sides, which sometimes has the unintended side-effect of registering accidental touches, so if you’re the sort who abhors curved screens, the flat Pixel 7 is the one you should look at. The bezels on the 7’s display, in particular, are noticeable, but Gorilla Glass Victus protection and IP68 dust and water resistance means extra durability. You get face unlock via the front camera, but the fingerprint sensor is often faster to use and way more secure than face unlock, which could potentially be fooled by a good enough photograph.
Google eschewed the Qualcomm-Mediatek brigade last year with the switch to its own Tensor chips, and the Pixel 7 lineup has the latest Tensor G2 at its heart, with 8GB of memory/128GB of storage on the 7 and 12GB/128GB on the Pixel 7 Pro. In everyday use, the performance is smooth and free of hiccups or lags, and apps opened quickly, and animations were smooth, although one did notice that the devices would heat up a bit over extended gaming periods or during the initial setup. Gaming on CoD Mobile and Asphalt 9 allowed one to push graphics settings to the maximum level, while on a more demanding game like Genshin Impact, the occasional frame drops occurred. It’s no pushover, the Tensor G2, but you should keep your expectations in check, particularly if you’re switching from a recent flagship device with a top-tier Snapdragon or Apple A-series chip. Google’s chips seem to hold their own for practically any task most folks would expect from their smartphones, but they just don’t have the same level of performance headroom as you would expect from a similarly priced device from Apple or Samsung. Battery life on the 5000mAh battery on the 7 Pro and the 4355mAh battery on the Pixel 7 is decent – one could last the better part of the day unless the workload involved a lot of shooting videos, map navigation and the like. Charging speeds are slow at 30W on wired and 20W/23W on wireless on the 7/7 Pro, and the phones take nearly an hour and a half to charge, which is noticeably slow for 2022 flagships.
Where these phones lack in pure horsepower, they more than make up for it in software features and an absolute lack of bloatware of any kind…although some might wish for more customization capabilities around themes, icon packs and lock screen customization. The real-time voice transcribing in the Recorder app continues to amaze at its accuracy, Magic Eraser (erase unwanted people from photos), Now Playing (offline detection of any music that’s playing) and Live Translate work like magic, and the marquee ‘Photo Unblur’ feature unblurs photos and brings the subject back into focus in Google Photos, even those that weren’t taken on a Pixel to begin with!
Of course, the real reason many consider a Pixel above all else is the camera performance…rather, just how much Google ekes out from commodity camera hardware using its AI/ML prowess. In terms of hardware, the Pixel 7 features a 50-megapixel main camera and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide (and a 10.8-megapixel selfie shooter), and the Pixel 7 Pro additionally gets a 48-megapixel telephoto shooter with 5x optical zoom. Taking this optical zoom and Google's Super Res Zoom image processing, the Pixel 7 Pro can go all the way till 30x zoom while the Pixel 7 is limited to 8x, and while this is significantly lesser reach than the 100x zoom on the Samsung S22 Ultra, the Pixel 7 Pro’s results at 10-20x are very usable and bested only by the Samsung.
Image quality is as one has come to expect from Pixel cameras – sharp, detailed and dialed back on noise, but with warmer tones and a contrasty, slightly underexposed nature that are pure people pleasers. That portrait mode remains the best in the business, detecting the edges of subjects (strands of hair, the odd flower petal) and intelligently blurring out the background with that creamy bokeh. Night Sight (night mode) processing is noticeably faster, yielding steadier and completely usable shots in conditions that would handily trip up other premium flagships. On video, the new feature is Cinematic Blur mode which, much like the iPhone’s Cinematic mode, add a soft blurriness to the background of your video clip to create a more cinema-like look. Results are well, hit or miss, depending on the scene – in some cases, it gets the blurriness on point, while others the blurriness is applied unevenly as you pan the camera around.
At Rs. 59,999 and Rs. 84,999 for the single 128GB version of the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro, the phones landed at price points that will tempt buyers to forgo spending more on a Samsung or an iPhone Pro variant, although that single 128GB variant may be a dealbreaker for some. One has also to keep an eye out for potential hardware issues and the ever-looming aspect of Google’s limited service centers, should things go south. Plus, these are not performance-first phones, instead they show just how far a software-first approach can take you… and the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro excel in these terms.
Also read: Google Pixel 7 review: Time to change the winning formula?