Even as Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro gets more capabilities, the Pixel 7/7 Pro remains unrivaled in picture-taking.
The world of Android looks different than when I started focusing on this platform over ten years ago. Gone are the days of Google focusing on its developer-centric devices, allowing other manufacturers to compete for the top spot. If you look around the U.S. market, Android seems to have developed a homogeny akin to that of Apple’s iPhone. If you’re choosing a flagship Android smartphone, it’s now between Google and Samsung—maybe OnePlus if you’re sick of the status quo and know an alternative exists.
The Google Pixel exists as a specific flavor of Android, just the way Samsung’s rolled with it all this time. You’re not getting a stock version of the operating system anymore: you’re getting a version of Android made in Google’s image, complete with Material You stylings and exclusive feature drops. The idea is that if you choose this path, you have perks. Pixels now include robotic help with customer service via Direct My Call and AI magic for unblurring old photos. They also include the most up-to-date software updates directly from the steward of the operating system itself.
This is an excellent strategy for Google to convince buyers that it’s the right path. But I can’t help feeling like it’s a devolution, because it’s introduced a new type of fragmentation to an already disparate platform. The Pixel smartphone series exists to showcase Google’s prowess in AI processing, so it’s tuned with a batch of specially-made features. But that leaves other Android users in the dust, since those abilities are only usable with the hardware inside Pixel phones.
Let’s make this clear: if you’re looking at the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro as your next smartphone, it’s because you want the camera capabilities—not the exclusive software features. I’ve been on a non-Pixel device for the last two years, and the thing I missed most was not the ability to have Google answer my phone calls—a feature still limited to Pixel devices—but its camera algorithms. The Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro are still the best smartphone cameras for under $1000.
Is the Pixel 7 your kind of vibe?
To be honest—and this is not a slight on the designers of the Pixel smartphone, who I’m sure gave their heart and soul to reconfiguring the Pixel’s overall design—I’m not a fan of the Pixel’s stylings of late. The camera bar is a better solution than the awkwardness of a side-camera array, which leaves the phone crooked when it’s lying down, but the rest of what’s going on just isn’t vibing with me.
That said, I am enjoying the Pixel 7’s color options more than last year’s Pixel 6/6 Pro, making the rest of the design more palatable. The Lemongrass colorway on the Pixel 7 is a gorgeous lime in person, while the Pixel 7 Pro comes in Hazel, which looks like a grown-up green. The camera bar has also eschewed the blackout look for brushed aluminum, and the camera sensors are more pronounced as modules within the bar. Like the iPhone 14 Pro’s rear camera square, the idea is to immediately draw your attention to the camera capabilities of the device.
Annoyingly, the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro are still as slippery as ever. I had to catch both the Pixel 7 Pro and Pixel 6 Pro from sliding off my desk once I started writing this section, indicating not much has changed. If you buy this phone, get a case immediately—something with more grip than the naked phone offers.
From the front side, the Pixel 7 and Pixel 6 look virtually identical. The 6.3-inch display on the Pixel 7 and the 6.7-inch display on the Pixel 7 Pro take up most of the chassis, with thin bezels around the frame. It’s well-paired with Material You, and you can see Google’s design language shine through the package. The side power and volume buttons protrude and are easy to press, even with a case.