There’s a new battle between high-end Android titans. On one side is Samsung, the stalwart crown-wearer of the last couple of years. On the other side is… Google?
Where the Nexus devices were really phones designed and built by Google’s hardware partners, the Pixel is far more of an in-house Google device. It might be put together in HTC’s factories, but it’s got Google’s stamp all over it. Which might make it seem a little odd that it looks remarkably like an iPhone.
Still, this is a very intriguing high-end Android flagship option, but there’s a Samsung-shaped barrier in its way to success. Until the incredible bargain of the OnePlus 3, the Galaxy S7 ruled our best smartphones ranking, replacing the Galaxy S6 after about a year of its own reign. If you want the absolute best of the best, regardless of value, it’s the Galaxy S7.
Does the Google Pixel really give Samsung’s shining star a run for its money? Here’s our analysis, now that we’ve put the Pixel through an exhaustive review.
Design: Samsung vs… Apple?
There’s no denying it: the Pixel looks a lot like an iPhone from the front, sans the home button of course, and even from the bottom of the back. It flips the script up top on the back, however, switching the matte backing to a glossy surface and the fingerprint sensor.
That two-tone experiment is a nice tweak, although overall, the Pixel’s look is a bit uninspired, despite being a blend of metal and polished glass. It just doesn’t feel as premium as it needs to as this price.
Contrast that to the Galaxy S7, which is a lot more alluring and feels like a luxury device. It’s not a dramatic departure from the Galaxy S6, but the more rounded curves are nice, as is the curved glass backing. Also, Samsung’s phone is waterproof, while the Pixel is not. All told, score multiple points for Samsung here.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S7
Also Read › Google Pixel review
Screen: Quad or Full HD?
Samsung tends to win most smartphone screen battles these days due to the incredible clarity and colors of its AMOLED displays, but this one’s especially easy: the Galaxy S7’s 5.1in Quad HD display weighs in at a staggering 2560×1440 resolution, while the Pixel’s 5in AMOLED screen is just a 1080p panel (1920×1080).
For a five-inch phone, a 1080p display looks just fine – but Samsung’s screen is noticeably crisper, and the superior brightness and viewing angles of Super AMOLED give it an even stronger nod here. Honestly, it’s surprising to see a £600 Android phone without a Quad HD panel at this point, so the Pixel has an uphill battle against other flagships as well.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S7
Camera: Two shooters enter…
Until recently, the Galaxy S7 was our clear favourite for a smartphone camera. And you, dear readers, agreed with us: in a blind preference test, you gave the Galaxy S7 a slight edge over the OnePlus 3. Samsung’s 12-megapixel rear shooter, with its optical image stabilisation and f/1.7 aperture, is rather brilliant overall.
The impressive iPhone 7 Plus camera complicates matters a bit, and could give the Galaxy S7 a run for its money once we conduct a proper head-to-head test… but what about the Google Pixel? Well, DxOMark fired the first shot, and the imaging site gave the Pixel its highest smartphone camera rating ever: an 89.
Granted, that’s only one point higher than the Galaxy S7, which netted an 88 and was previously tied for the lead. The Pixel also has a 12-megapixel back camera, but there’s no optical image stabilisation and the f/2.0 aperture won’t let in as much light. In day-to-day usage, however, they both deliver remarkably strong photos.
The Pixel has especially fantastic outside exposure, for example, and the electronic stabilisation for video is an awesome perk. Is it better than the Galaxy S7’s camera, though? It’s too close to call, honestly, and members of our staff have their own preferences.
We’ll say this: if you buy either the Galaxy S7 or Pixel, you’ll have one of the two best Android phone cameras today – and you can’t go wrong either way.
Also Read › 5 of the best Samsung Galaxy Note 7 alternatives
Power: About the same
As very expensive flagship phones, it’s little surprise that both devices have some high-end components inside. On the Galaxy S7, you’ll get Samsung’s own blazing-fast Exynos 8890 processor in the UK, along with 4GB RAM. In the States, it’s Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 chip with 4GB RAM. Either way, the performance is about the same in our experience.
Meanwhile, the Pixel uses the slightly enhanced Snapdragon 821 processor with 4GB RAM, but the difference isn’t really noticeable in everyday use. Both phones run apps, games, and media without breaking a sweat, and multitask with the greatest of ease, and they’re both among the most powerful devices you can grab today. It’s even again here, in our estimation.
Perks: Galactic benefits
Both devices have mobile VR solutions: Daydream VR for the Pixel and Gear VR for the Galaxy S7. While Daydream might ultimately be the bigger VR platform in good time, the Gear VR has a couple-year head start with a solid array of early content to check out, plus the Quad HD screen is a big benefit when you’re slapping a display in front of your eyes.
When it comes to storage, the Pixel’s iPhone-like design has an iPhone-like weakness: no external storage. Samsung’s phone, on the other hand, lets you pop in a microSD card to expand upon the base storage of 32GB or 64GB. With the Pixel, you’re stuck with the 32GB or 128GB you begin with.
Even the battery on the Galaxy S7 is bulkier, at 3,000mAh vs 2,770mAh on the Pixel, although the higher-res screen of the Galaxy probably eats up that extra capacity over the course of the day. Both are strong all-day devices, however, with moderate use. And the Galaxy S7 also gives you wireless charging as standard, while the Pixel does not.
Seeing a trend? In some ways, the Pixel feels like a premium-priced phone without the kind of premium perks that Samsung has made standard for top-end flagships. All told, Samsung notches a big win in this broad category of bonus features.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S7
Also Read › Google Daydream View hands-on review
Verdict: Still Samsung
Consider us unconvinced by the Google Pixel’s value proposition, especially when matched up against the Galaxy S7. Both are £500-£600 devices, but the money-for-hardware equation seems a little off-balance for the standard Pixel model.
You get a lot more with the Samsung Galaxy S7, whether it’s screen resolution, premium design and build, wireless charging, microSD support, or waterproofing. Some elements are pretty even between the two devices, including overall camera quality and processing muscle, but those added perks really put the Galaxy S7 over the top in this particular showdown.
The Galaxy S7 is so great because it has all of those extra benefits, which help justify the price point for anyone willing to spend that much on a smartphone. A more apt comparison to the Pixel when it comes to features is the OnePlus 3, but given that phone’s £329 price point compared to the £599 for the Pixel, it hardly seems like a fair fight.
Google’s first in-house phone is interesting in many ways, but £600 worth of interesting? Not when you consider the competition. In this case, that kind of money is better spent with Samsung and the sterling Galaxy S7.
Overall winner: Samsung Galaxy S7