Last year’s Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro smartphones saw Google refresh its smartphone offering with a new design, a self-designed mobile chipset, and a flagship that could be directly compared to the iPhone and the Galaxy S handsets.
The Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro build on that promise and bring the vision into a little bit more focus. I’ve spent time with the two new handsets to get a better idea of the practical side of that vision of Google’s “intelligent phones”.
A glance at the Pixel 7 Pro and Pixel 7 smartphones will show that Google hasn’t made a huge number of hardware updates. As with any manufacturer with an annual update, the Pixel 7 family has picked up the expected bump in specs, but the overall design and ethos remain the same.
Thankfully we have a letter for this approach… “S”. To use the nomenclature of the arbiter of everything right and proper in the smartphone world, it would be far more accurate to call these handsets the Pixel 6S and Pixel 6S Pro. And just like Apple’s “S” cycle updates of years gone by the exterior design remains the same, and the processor inside is where the real magic happens.
Of all the specifications that are bumped up, the one that really matters is the system on chip, the second generation of the Google-designed Tensor Mobile chip
Much like the idea of a 6S update, the Tensor Mobile G2 is not a radical reworking of last year’s chipset but a refinement and a polish outside of the key areas. The CPU cores remain the same as last year (two X1 cores which are easily referred to as ‘the big ones’, two ‘medium’ Cortex A78 cores, and four ‘small’ Cortex A55 cores. There is a slight increase in clock speed in the medium cores, but everything feels familiar.
Where the chip gets a notable step up is in the GPU, the imaging DSP, and the modem, while the Google Tensor Processor (TPU) is labelled as ‘next-generation’. This is the aforementioned magic, because the TPU allows for much more efficient and faster machine learning and AI processes to be run on hardware rather than software for as much of the process as possible.
The Tensor Mobile system does not stand out in the raw power benchmarking because Google’s focus is less on the headline number and more on what machine learning and artificial intelligence can offer users through software. Better and smoother experiences are being prized over the va-va-voom potential.
Practically, users will see this and build up an affinity with this through Google’s camera app. There is something inherently understandable about taking a picture, circling something that you don’t want to be there (for example, a running dog on a quiet moonlit beach), and having it removed almost seamlessly by the software. Blurry pictures can now be fixed at the touch of a button. As long as the blurring is not ridiculously huge, the resulting image is of good quality.
You also have features that are ‘just there,’ including the Real Tone system built into the image processing. This reproduces “all skin tones beautifully and authentically” and, to coin a phrase, just works as does the likes of “Super Res Zoom” and image stabilization and the new addition of cinematic blur in the background of your videos.
Other areas will also benefit from having the Tensor chip in their smartphone, rather than the Tensor chips in Google’s cloud. You have numerous options for translating text and speech built in to the handset that run locally with no need for an external connection. Highlighting apps and content that you are more likely to want to see or use can be learned over time, and the data remains on your handset.
Over time this subtle learning process should tweak your phone closer towards your own style.
All of this shows Google putting more emphasis on its own software and how its own hardware designs, especially the Tensor Mobile G2, support the software. And in that process, perhaps sending a message out to its partners as well as consumers.
There’s a lot there for the geekerati to get excited about, there’s a lot there for the more technically focused to enjoy, and there’s a lot there for the smartphone ecosystem as a whole to consider. All of this is weakened if the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro fail to sell.
The Pixel 6 family shows that the appetite for a Google Phone is there. It’s not yet in the realms of Samsung, Apple, or a number of Chinese conglomerates, but the numbers are there. Both the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro will ship at the same price point as the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. To all intents and purposes, the 2022 Pixels are direct substitutes for the 2021 Pixels.
The biggest difference is in the camera bar. Now, the iconic raised bar still stretches across the back of the device, acting as a visual cue that this is a Pixel smartphone. Thanks to the length, there’s no rocking that you get with isolated camera islands on competing smartphones. There’s a switch of materials to aluminium away from the plastic and glass bar used on the Pixel 6 family.
There are some smaller tweaks to the two handsets. The Pixel 7 Pro has the same core specs, screen size, storage, and battery. The Pixel 7 is a touch smaller, which means it is shipping with a smaller battery (4335 mAh, down from 4600 mAh on the Pixel 6) and a slightly smaller screen (down 0.1 inches from the Pixel 6). It’s also worth noting that both screens can be up to 25 per cent brighter.
There’s a feeling of harmony between the various smartphone elements when using the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. The hardware complements the software, which complements the UI, which complements the hardware. Think of it as Google’s vision of a smartphone twisted into a circle. Be aware, though, that if you are expecting something outwit the Google model, you might find it a bit more of a culture shock (coming to Pixel from an MiUI-powered Xiaomi smartphone would be a bit of a ride). Thankfully this is not an Apple device, so you can happily bring in your own launcher, UI, customizations, and replace all of your default apps.
Emotionally these two handsets feel good. With the camera bar there is a distinct personality to the handsets. Thanks to several features that quietly use the Tensor technology, it’s easy to highlight why someone should buy this handset.
If you moved to the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro last year, the minor improvements in the specifications probably don’t warrant a replacement after just one year. But for those who decided to wait and see, the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro are an improvement over last year’s models at the same price.
Disclaimer: Google provided a Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro for review purposes…