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Google Pixel 7 review: best of the bunch?

Smaller Pixel benefits more from premium styling upgrade

Google Pixel 7 front

The middle child of the Pixel line has always needed to do a lot of heavy lifting. Not as wallet-friendly as the A-series, lacking the flagship hardware of the Pro, but still saddled with delivering the best of Android for the cash. Well, that must make the Google Pixel 7 the smartphone equivalent of a World’s Strongest Man contestant.

Google was already onto a good thing in the design department with last year’s Pixel 6, but has stepped up the styling that bit further for 2022, while improving the camera (regularly the best bit of any Pixel phone) and bringing the underlying hardware bang up to date. And all without upping the price. Given we’re struggling through a cost of living crisis, that’s an achievement in itself.

But let’s not forget it lands alongside a bigger brother. One with extra camera lenses and a screen that’s (on paper, at least) superior. Does it deserve your cash, or are you better off saving for the top-tier alternative?

Design & build: solid step up

The Pixel 7 is a streamlined take on last year’s Pixel 6, which was a dramatic a design overhaul compared to Google’s previous efforts. The familiar camera ‘shelf’ makes a return, only now it’s a single piece of metal that merges seamlessly into the frame. A matte finish helps fend off fingerprints a lot better than the Pixel 7 Pro’s polished one, although the same can’t be said about the Gorilla Glass Victus back. The shelf also collects dust quickly, so will want regular cleaning to keep looking box-fresh.

Our Obsidian review unit (otherwise known as black) is the most businesslike of the three colour choices. If you like your phones to make a statement, the Snow and Lemongrass versions (ie white and light green) are the better pick. Whichever you pick, there’s a noticeable step up in materials quality compared to the outgoing Pixel 6.

At 197g it feels substantial for what is a sensibly-sized phone, sitting comfortably in one hand thanks to curved rear glass and an ever-so-slightly rounded frame. It’s flat glass up front, unlike the Pixel 7 Pro; the side bezels are slightly thicker than its bigger brothers’ as a result, but curve haters will appreciate the lack of distracting reflections here. The whole thing is IP68 dust- and water-resistant, just like the Pixel 6.

The in-display fingerprint sensor makes a return, and is considerably quicker than last year. We wouldn’t say it’s the fastest around (ultrasonic tech still has the edge here) but it’s fast enough to skip the lock screen quicker than you could tap in a password. There’s also face unlocking, which is accurate enough, but can’t be used for contactless payments or logging in to banking apps.

Screen & sound: that hertz

By going with a 6.3in panel, Google has shrunk the Pixel 7’s screen size slightly compared to the Pixel 6 – but a 0.1in drop is tiny, and the screen bezels are slightly skinnier this time around, so the end result is still perfectly palm-friendly. Keeping the same Full HD-and-a-bit resolution means pixel density is a little higher, too.

The OLED display delivers outstanding contrast and inky blacks that make movies really pop, along with pleasantly vibrant colours that don’t lean too far towards unrealistic. Google has boosted brightness by 25% this year, meaning a peak 1400 nits – that puts it towards the top of the pile, with only Samsung, Apple and a few others able to best it. That means it’s perfectly usable outdoors, even in bright sunlight, and works a treat with HDR10+ Netflix streams.

It’s a shame Google has stuck with a 90Hz refresh rate, though. Sure, it’s a step up from standard and helps smooth out scrolling, but when even entry-level handsets are managing 120Hz it feels like the Pixel 7 is being artificially limited to give its bigger brother some breathing room.

On the sound front, a familiar two-speaker setup delivers a decent, if not outstanding performance. The earpiece doesn’t just high frequencies, but is a fair bit quieter than the down-firing speaker. The grilles either side of the USB-C port at the bottom imply two speakers, but there’s really only one lurking behind. Volume is still good though, and overall balance is on par with the pricier Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus.

Cameras: stellar snaps

Google has delivered some of the best smartphone snappers going since the Pixel range first landed, and the Pixel 7 doesn’t break that streak. But it does live in the shadow of its bigger brother, missing out on any kind of dedicated telephoto lens and not getting autofocus for its 12MP ultrawide camera. That means there’s no macro focus, and it relies on Super Res algorithms for anything stronger than 2x zoom.

Don’t be too disappointed, though: the 50MP main sensor takes consistently brilliant daylight photos, with superb dynamic range, luscious colours and oodles of detail. Shadows tend to be darker than you might get from a Samsung or Apple phone, which makes for slightly more dramatic shots, but results are always consistent and easy on the eye. HDR was rarely tripped up by direct sunlight, and also captured great tonal range in overcast conditions.

Low-light shooting is equally epic, with accurate colours and well-judged exposure that keeps noise to a minimum. It leans slightly towards the warmer end of the spectrum, and again goes heavy on the shadows, but the end results are more natural-looking images than the overly-bright shots seen from some rivals. Night Sight kicks in automatically and is considerably quicker than the previous generation, which means fewer blurry shots even when shooting on the move.

By cropping the sensor, it delivers equally good shots at 2x zoom, with no obvious over-sharpening. Super Res digital zoom can only do so much once you go beyond that, though. A 5x shot taken on the Pixel 7 looked notably less detailed than the same scene taken with the Pixel 7 Pro. Results are still usable, just not up to the same standard as a phone with dedicated zoom optics.

The ultrawide sensor might have fewer pixels, but gets very close to the main lens for fine detail. Exposure, colour and dynamic range are all virtually on par, too. The edges are a little softer, but you’d only notice by peeking at pixels. It’s a shame it can’t double as a close-up lens like the Pixel 7 Pro, though. It also takes a step back from the main sensor when shooting in low light – but not a big one.

Google Pixel 7 camera samples BBC TV centre main sensorGoogle Pixel 7 camera samples BBC TV centre ultrawide

Creative types will love the Action Pan and Long Exposure motion modes, and the Portait mode does a decent enough job with convincing bokeh blur when sticking to 1x zoom, although it’s still caught out by loose hair and people wearing glasses. Face unblur has been improved this time around so moving subjects don’t ruin your shot, and Google’s Real Tone image processing delivers more accurate images when snapping a variety of skin tones.

Selfies from the 10.8MP front-facing camera are decent in bright outdoor settings, but soften up when you step inside. They’ll still do just fine for social media, though, and are a cut above anything in the price bracket below.

Performance & battery life: day tripper

The Pixel 7’s Tensor G2 silicon isn’t entirely home-grown, but was built to Google’s exacting specifications. It keeps the 2+2+4 arrangement of performance, medium and efficiency cores seen in the first-gen Tensor chip (a rarity in the phone world), but has had a few under-the-hood upgrades. Clock speeds are slightly higher, too.

It’s paired with 8GB of RAM, a Titan M2 security chip for hardware-level protection from cyber-nasties, and an AI-focused Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) that promises faster algorithm crunching than last year’s Pixel 6.

All that translates to perfectly responsive performance in daily use, with apps loading quickly enough, and no stuttering when multitasking. Benchmark apps will tell you this phone falls short of anything with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 CPU, but you wouldn’t know it while swiping through home screens or scrolling through social media apps.

It’s no slouch on the gaming front, either. The GPU is an upgrade over the one seen in the Pixel 6, and can comfortably handle 60fps in demanding 3D titles like Genshin Impact. Performance will dip over time as the chip heats up, but not nearly as much as some Snapdragon-powered rivals.

Considering Google has actually reduced the battery size compared to last year’s phone (4355mAh vs 4614mAh in the Pixel 6), it’s impressive that the Pixel 7 is actually more efficient while away from the mains. Expect about 14 hours of simple screen-on tasks like web browsing, or 18 hours of offline video playback – a great showing given its size. The Asus Zenfone 9 and Sony Xperia 5 IV are better performers, but you’d need a much bigger phone to last much longer. Either way you’re good for all-day use, and we found we could put off charging until the next morning rather than plug in at bedtime.

Charging isn’t the fastest at 30W, being left in the dust by the current crop of Chinese manufacturers, although it’s as nippy as any Samsung or Apple phone. Wireless charging makes a return for cable-free top-ups, too.

Software: unlucky for some

Android 13 landed a little earlier than Google’s newest hardware this year, but the Pixel 7 still arrives with a few exclusive goodies.

Buyers get the Google One VPN service included for free, and audio message transcription lets you read, rather than listen, to incoming voice clips in Google Messages. Clear calling, which reduces background noise while on voice calls, is in testing right now and should arrive in the coming months.

Otherwise this is Android at its most straightforward, with Material You theming colour-coding the interface to match your wallpaper and the redesigned media player always within easy reach in the notification tray. There’s zero bloat out of the box, with just Google’s app suite pre-installed.

Owners can expect a healthy five years of security updates, which is about as good as it gets in the Android world. Apple still holds the crown for long-term support, but Google is at least getting closer to catching up.

Google Pixel 7 verdict

Google Pixel 7 verdict

The majority of Android fans will be very happy with a Pixel 7 in their pocket. It takes fantastic photos, delivers punchy performance and lasts all day away from the mains. That it’s a fair bit cheaper than Samsung and Apple’s mainstream models is a big win, as is the fact Google hasn’t bumped the price over last year’s model. The small yet effective styling updates make a big difference too.

It doesn’t exist in isolation, of course. The bigger Pixel 7 Pro is a more accomplished snapper thanks to a dedicated telephoto lens, and the 90Hz refresh rate is out of step with the rest of the phone world. If your budget will stretch that far, and you don’t mind the a screen with curved edges, we reckon it’s worth the extra outlay.

For everyone else, though? There’s little else as well-rounded as this for £600.

Stuff Says…

Score: 5/5

The smaller Pixel steps up on camera quality and finally feels like a premium phone, while keeping price on its side. It still feels artificially held back compared to the Pro, though

Good Stuff

Same superb photography skills we expect from Pixel phones

Build is slicker than last year’s effort

No price increase for 2022

Bad Stuff

90Hz refresh rate limit feels arbitrary

Plays second fiddle to Pixel 7 Pro

Google Pixel 7 technical specifications

Screen6.3in, 2400×1080 AMOLED w/ 90Hz refresh rate, HDR10+
CPUGoogle Tensor G2 octa-core
Memory8GB RAM
Cameras50MP, f/1.9 w/ PDAF, OIS + 12MP, f/2.2 ultrawide rear.
10.8MP, f/2.2 front
Storage128/256GB
Operating systemAndroid 13
Battery4355mAh, 30W wired charging, 20W wireless charging
Dimensions156x72x8.7mm, 197g
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