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Pixel 7 Review: Slightly Better Phone, Same $599 Price

Editor’s note, May 15, 2023: While Google’s Pixel 7 is still a great phone, the new Pixel 7A is a better value. It’s $100 cheaper than the Pixel 7 and has many of the same features, such as a great camera with Google’s photo editing tools and the company’s Tensor G2 processor. Unless you really want a slightly larger screen and the battery share feature, which lets you charge compatible accessories on the back of the Pixel 7, we recommend going for the Pixel 7A instead. CNET’s original Pixel 7 review, which was published in October 2022, follows.

The Pixel 7 is a solid choice for those who want an Android phone with a moderately sized screen and a good camera at a reasonable price. It isn’t all that different from the Pixel 6, but that’s a good sign because it shows that Google stuck with the same winning formula it established last year, resulting in another well-rounded flagship Android phone that still undercuts Apple and Samsung on price.

With the $599 (£599, AU$999) Pixel 7, which launches on Oct. 13, Google largely focused on three major areas: Refining the phone’s design, expanding its camera capabilities and integrating more Pixel-exclusive software features. The pricier Pixel 7 Pro costs $899 and adds an extra telephoto camera and a larger 6.7-inch screen.

The Pixel 7 builds on many of the elements first introduced with the Pixel 6 and pushes them forward. It has a second-generation Tensor G2 processor that powers some new camera features. The design is similar to the Pixel 6’s, but with more of an emphasis on the camera bar. And once again, Google is leaning into Pixel-exclusive software features, such as the inclusion of its VPN service for free.

The Pixel 7 offers an excellent mix of features, camera tools and price. Battery life could be longer, and you’ll get an extra generation of Android OS software support by going with Samsung instead. But the Pixel 7 still manages to provide a lot of value for its $599 price.

Pixel 7 design is like a more polished Pixel 6

The Pixel 7 has smaller bezels than last year’s Pixel 6.

James Martin/CNET

The Pixel 7 has the same overall design language as the Pixel 6. Once again, the camera is prominently highlighted with a horizontal bar that stretches across the back of the phone. But the Pixel 7’s camera strip is made of metal instead of glass, which feels even more like a statement piece.

Google moved away from the Pixel 6’s two-tone design with the Pixel 7, which is instead blanketed in one color on the back. The Pixel 7 is available in snow (white), obsidian (black) and lemongrass (yellow). I’ve been using the lemongrass version, which feels like the most exciting color option of the bunch.

The Pixel 7 also has smaller bezels on the front, which gives it a slightly more modern and premium look than the Pixel 6. But the screen is a hair smaller, at 6.3 inches compared to the Pixel 6’s 6.4 inches. Still, it’s large enough to provide more screen space than devices like the Samsung Galaxy S22, iPhone 14 and Pixel 6A, all of which have 6.1-inch displays. The Pixel 7 feels like the right size for those who want a Goldilocks screen that’s big but not gigantic.

The Pixel 7 Pro (right) has a larger 6.7-inch screen compared to the 6.3-inch Pixel 7 (right).

James Martin/CNET

Google says the Pixel 7’s display reaches 1,000 nits of brightness and 1,400 nits of peak brightness, although I still found myself struggling to see it in bright sunlight in some situations. The Galaxy S22 lineup, on the other hand, impressed me with how bright their displays are.

The Pixel 7’s metal edges.

James Martin/CNET

Like its predecessor, the Pixel 7’s screen has a 2,400×1,080-pixel resolution, Corning Gorilla Glass Victus cover glass for durability and the ability to boost the refresh rate up to 90Hz for smoother scrolling and animations.

Pixel 7 cameras vs. iPhone 14 and Galaxy S22

The Pixel 7’s camera has some slight improvements compared to last year’s Pixel 6.

James Martin/CNET

The Pixel 7 has a 50-megapixel main sensor and a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera, similar to the Pixel 6. But Google says it’s made some behind-the-scenes changes that should improve the Pixel 7’s zoom quality.

When zooming in at 2x, the Pixel 7’s 50-megapixel main sensor now crops into 12.5 megapixels in the middle. Google says the result should be similar to that of a 2x optical lens. The Pixel 7 can also zoom up to 8x digitally, representing a slight upgrade from the Pixel 6’s 7x zoom.

The Pixel 7’s 2x zoom is generally crisp and detailed, although in many cases the Pixel 7’s image looked just as good as ones taken on the Pixel 6, iPhone 14 and Galaxy S22. The photos below of an art exhibit at my local park are an example of this.

But in the couple of instances in which I did notice a difference, the results were impressive. Take a look at the photos of a sign in the park below, which was taken on each phone’s maximum digital zoom level. The Pixel 7 may not have the longest zoom (that honor goes to the Galaxy S22’s 30x digital zoom), but it certainly has the cleanest photo. And it’s definitely a tighter shot than the 5x digital zoom you’re able to get with the iPhone 14.

This skyline across the East River in this photo, which was taken at a 2x zoom, also looks sharper in the Pixel 7’s photo compared to the iPhone 14’s.

In other scenarios, the Pixel 7 generally held its own. Sometimes it produced a better photo than Apple or Samsung, and other times it fell behind both. The indoor portrait below was taken in dim lighting and isn’t as sharp or detailed as the iPhone’s, for example, although it’s on par with Samsung’s.

In bright daylight, the Pixel 7 captured a clear and detailed photo in Portrait mode that adequately isolates the subject in the foreground. However, I preferred the photos from Apple and Samsung, because they cast fewer shadows over the subject’s face.

But the Pixel 7 performs well in night mode photos and colorful photos taken in sunlight.

In the photo below, which was taken in an almost completely dark room, both the Pixel 7 and iPhone 14 produced fairly bright images with some detail. The iPhone’s photo is the best and the brightest, and it also has the crispest detail. But the Pixel 7’s photo is still sharper than Samsung’s and has more accurate color. Taking photos in night mode on the Pixel 7 is also a few seconds faster than doing so on the Pixel 6, although it essentially matches Apple and Samsung when it comes to shooting speed.

I also really enjoyed this photo of flowers at the park taken on the Pixel 7. Of the three phones, I think Apple did the best job of balancing color and detail while remaining true to the scene. But Google’s photo has more detail in the petals than the Galaxy S22, which I appreciate.

But what’s more interesting is one of the new editing features Google added to the Pixel 7. It’s called Photo Unblur, and it’s a lot like the Face Unblur feature that debuted on the Pixel 6 last year. The idea is that instead of just sharpening new photos as Face Unblur does, you can go through your photo library and fix lower quality photos that may have been taken on older cameras.

I couldn’t believe how well the Pixel 7 sharpened up this photo of me from nearly 10 years ago. Take a look at the photos below to see the difference.

In my experience, this feature works best on photos that are out of focus. If a photo is too grainy, because there just wasn’t enough light when the image was originally taken, there isn’t much Google can do about it.

Photo Unblur is a great example of the type of stuff I wish Samsung was doing more of, as I wrote in my review of the Galaxy S22 Plus earlier this year. It’s nice to see that Google is thinking about more than just image quality when it comes to photography upgrades.

As for video, one of the biggest additions on the Pixel 7 is a feature called Cinematic Blur. That should sound familiar to Apple users, considering the iPhone has a very similar feature called Cinematic Mode. This feature blurs the background of an image to make the subject pop more, just like Portrait Mode for photos.

The Pixel 7’s Cinematic Blur works well and is fun to use, but the iPhone’s made the scene look more natural. You can check out how these clips compare in the Pixel 7 video review embedded in this article.

Pixel 7 Real Tone and Guided Frame

Google says it improved the Real Tone algorithms on its new Pixels.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

Google is also making the Pixel’s camera more equitable with the Pixel 7, a continuation of the efforts it introduced last year. Google said it improved its Real Tone camera system with more than 10,000 portraits of people of color to further refine how Pixel phones render skin tones. Real Tone should also work better in dim lighting, the company said.

To put this to the test, I photographed some of my colleagues using the Pixel 7, iPhone 14 and Galaxy S22 and asked them which photo they liked best and why. When showing them the photos, I didn’t reveal which images came from which phone to avoid any potential bias.

Here’s what they had to say in their own words, which I’ve edited lightly for clarity. I also inserted the names of each phone into their feedback, since the images they reviewed were previously labeled as Phone 1, Phone 2 and Phone 3.

Theodore Liggians, Associate Social Producer:

“Compared to the rest, the Pixel 7 was the most neutral across the board. In low light, it maintains what you’d see with your eyes, which is not what you want your phone to do in low light situations. In low light, the Pixel 7 seems to take warmer photos to boost a subject’s color. Outdoors, it does a great job of maintaining the blues of the sky and avoiding a blown-out background. The lens flare is a distraction and doesn’t appear in the same image from the Galaxy S22, so I’m unsure if it’s a phone or user caused issue.

“The Galaxy S22 was the best in my eyes. If you didn’t know these photos were taken in low light, you would never know. In high exposure settings, like outdoors, the Galaxy S22 still manages to dial down the brightness and maintain the vibrance of a subject. The Galaxy S22 walks the tightrope of color balance and correction with perfection.

“The iPhone 14 seems as if it is boosting saturation more than trying to color correct in low-light and high-exposure situations. In low-light conditions it seems to flip flop between being too warm or being dull. In outdoor shots, colors seem deep and smoothed over by software – almost like an auto filter.”

Imad Khan, Senior Reporter:

“Overall, I like the photos from the Pixel 7. Outdoors, it did a good job of capturing the subject in the center while doing some blurring of the background. Of course, it’s not at the level of a real macro lens, but it is Instagram-ready. There is some lens flare, which does distract from the overall image. Indoors and in low-light situations, it does keep colors and textures accurate. Overall, the colors seem accurate and not saturated. HDR is also good.

“The Galaxy S22 also has excellent photos. The lens has a shorter focal length, meaning it pulls the center of the frame closer but also shows more of New York behind me. There’s still lens flare at the bottom and it seems that post-processing has smoothed over a part of my shirt. The wider focal length does elongate me a bit, and can look somewhat unnatural. But the low-light clarity is good. It’s still able to capture textures in my clothing.

“The iPhone 14 seems to be the brightest of all the cameras. There’s almost a glow around my head when out in the sun. Still, the focal length allows for good framing and the background has a more natural blur. It’s still very subtle as it’s still a camera phone. There’s still a lens flare, but this time it’s higher up on my body. Low-light photos look more muted than the first two. I can see a loss in detail and clarity. There’s more noise present. Indoor shots with good lighting look accurate and skin tones look good, although I think there’s some minimal skin smoothing going on.”

Lai Frances, Managing Social Producer:

“The Pixel 7 seems to be the most stable in terms of color for mixed lighting. A little bit too real, actually. The colors that pop out feel like the colors you’d see with your eyes. When it comes to low lighting, it’s impressive how it manages to lighten up the photo and keep the real tone. However, indoor lighting feels a bit blown-out when it comes to skin tone.

“The Galaxy S22 seems to be the most consistent in color across the board. Out of the three, this took the best photos no matter the lighting situation, and it’s quite impressive. The photos were crisp, the lighting worked, the subject (me), however, is OK. In other words, this camera would be the one to recommend.

“The iPhone 14’s outdoor photos were quite similar to the first two phones. But when it came down to low, mixed, indoor lighting the color tones tended to shift to either a warmer or colder side. The mixed lighting photo felt like it was losing contrast, while the indoor and low lit photos felt warmer compared to the whole batch of other shots.”

The Pixel 7 and 7 Pro also have a new feature called Guided Frame, which uses spoken cues to help people with blind or low vision take a selfie. This feature works automatically once you turn on Google’s TalkBack screen reader.

To test Guided Frame, I captured a selfie of myself and my husband sitting on our couch with my eyes closed. The phone accurately told me whether we were both in frame or if one of our faces was partially cropped out.

Pixel 7 performance and battery life

The Pixel 7’s front camera now has face unlock.

James Martin/CNET

The Pixel 7 runs on Google’s new Tensor G2 processor, which is mainly used to power some of the new camera features mentioned above such as Photo Unblur. Performance seems in line with what you’d expect from a flagship smartphone; scrolling around the interface generally feels smooth and apps launch quickly. The fingerprint sensor also seems faster than the Pixel 6’s, which is a welcome improvement. I haven’t noticed any bugs or hiccups like those that previously impacted the Pixel 6 around the time of its release.

You can also unlock the Pixel 7 with your face, unlike the Pixel 6. But Google cautions this feature isn’t as secure as using a PIN or the fingerprint reader, since it relies primarily on the Pixel 7’s front-facing camera. As such, the company is positioning it solely as a means of unlocking your phone rather than authenticating purchases.

Apple’s Face ID, by comparison, projects thousands of invisible dots to create a depth map of your face (and can be used to authorize Apple Pay). The good news is that face unlock does seem to work quickly on the Pixel 7. It usually recognizes my face almost instantly.

Battery life on the Pixel 7 is long enough to get through a day. But you might want to pack a charger if it’s going to be a long day and you plan on using battery-intensive features often. When I left the high refresh rate setting turned on, switched off adaptive brightness, had the Now Playing song recognition feature turned on and left the always-on display active, I got a little more than 15 hours out of the Pixel 7 – which is enough to get through a full workday and then some.

Turning many of those features off boosted battery life by about an hour on a similarly busy day. But battery life will always fluctuate depending on how and when you use your device. On days when I was less active and spent most of my time at home or at the office, I still had roughly 30 to 44% of my battery capacity left by the time I went to sleep.

Pixel 7 software

The Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro (pictured) run on Android 13.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

The Pixel 7 runs on Android 13, but Google also infused its Pixel-specific features throughout the operating system. Just like on previous devices there’s Wait Times, which estimates how long you might be on hold when calling toll-free numbers, and Hold For Me, which prompts the Google Assistant to wait on hold for you.

But Google added some new features into the mix as well. Pixel 7 and 7 Pro owners will get access to Google’s virtual private network, or VPN, for free. You would usually have to subscribe to the premium tier of Google One, the company’s digital services bundle, which costs $10 per month. That feature is coming later this year, so I wasn’t able to test it, but you can read more about Google’s VPN here.

Other software improvements include speaker labels for Google’s Recorder app, audio message transcriptions and the ability to transcribe automated menus when calling toll-free numbers right away, rather than having to wait.

Google also promises five years of security updates for the Pixel 7 lineup and at least three years of Android OS upgrades. That’s not bad, but Samsung pledges four generations of Android version updates in addition to five years of security updates.

Pixel 7: The bottom line

The Pixel 7 Pro (left) and Pixel 7 (right).

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

The Pixel 7 is a continuation of the Pixel 6, offering a good combination of useful features, solid camera technology and the right pricing. It comes after Google tried a few different strategies to make its Pixel phones stand out over the past several years.

The Pixel 4, for example, had a motion-sensing radar system to enable faster unlocking and touchless gestures. But it never caught on. Google then simplified the Pixel 5 by removing this radar system and focusing more squarely on the camera. The Pixel 6, however, seems to have set the direction that Google intends to stick with for the foreseeable future by adding features that take advantage of its Tensor chip.

That said, there are some improvements I’d like to see in the Pixel 8, particularly around battery life. Samsung also beats Google when it comes to Android software generation support, display brightness and the sheer magnification level of its camera zoom. However, the Pixel 7’s zoom is impressively clear at its maximum level, and features like Photo Unblur help the Pixel’s camera continue to stand out.

Overall, the Pixel 7 packs a lot of value, especially for $599, making it a strong choice for Android fans upgrading from a phone that’s more than two or three years old.

Google Pixel 7 specs vs. Google Pixel 7 Pro, Apple iPhone 14, Samsung Galaxy S22