Last year’s Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro smartphones saw Google refresh its smartphone offering with a new design, a proprietary mobile chipset and a flagship that could be directly compared to the iPhone and Galaxy S handsets.
The Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro build on that promise and bring vision into a little sharper focus. I spent time with the two new handsets to get a better idea of the practical side of this Google “smart phone” vision.
A look 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 took the expected bump in specs, but the overall design and ethos remain the same.
Luckily we have a letter for this approach… “S”. To use the nomenclature of the arbiter of all things 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’ series updates of years past, the exterior design remains the same and the processor inside is where the real magic happens.
Of all the specs on display, the one that really matters is the system-on-a-chip, the second-generation Tensor Mobile chip designed by Google
Like the idea of a 6S update, the Tensor Mobile G2 isn’t a radical overhaul of last year’s chipset, but a tweak and polish outside of the core areas. The CPU cores remain the same as last year (two X1 cores which are conveniently referred to as “the big ones”, two “medium” Cortex A78 cores and four “small” Cortex A55 cores. There is a small increase in clock speed on the medium cores, but everything is familiar.
Where the chip steps up significantly is in the GPU, display DSP, and modem, while the Google Tensor processor (TPU) is billed as “next-gen.” This is the aforementioned magic, because TPU allows much more efficient and faster machine learning and AI processes to run in hardware rather than software for as much of the process as possible.
Tensor Mobile doesn’t stand out in the raw power benchmark because Google focuses less on the number of headlines and more on what machine learning and software-based AI can offer users. Better and smoother experiences are valued over dynamic va-va-voom.
Practically, users will see this and form an affinity with it through Google’s camera app. There’s something inherently intuitive about taking a photo, circling something you don’t want to be there (a dog running on a quiet moonlit beach, for example) and having it removed almost seamlessly by the software. Blurry images can now be corrected at the touch of a button. As long as the blur isn’t ridiculously huge, the resulting image is of good quality.
You also have features that are “right there”, including the Real Tone system built into the image processing. This reproduces “beautifully and authentically all skin tones” and, to coin a phrase, works just like “Super Res Zoom” and image stabilization and the new addition of cinematic blur to the background of your videos.
Other regions will also benefit from having the Tensor chip in their smartphone, instead of Tensor chips in Google’s cloud. You have many text and speech translation options built into the handset that run locally without the need for an external connection. Flagging apps and content you’re most likely to want to see or use can be learned over time, and the data stays on your handset.
Over time, this subtle learning process should adapt your phone more closely to your own style.
All of this shows that Google is putting more emphasis on its own software and how its own hardware designs, especially the Tensor Mobile G2, support the software. And in the process, perhaps sending a message to its partners as well as consumers.
There’s a lot for geekerati to get excited about, there’s a lot for the more technically focused to enjoy, and there’s a lot for the smartphone ecosystem as a whole to consider. All of that 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 realm of Samsung, Apple or some Chinese conglomerates, but the numbers are there. Both the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro will ship at the same price as the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. For all intents and purposes, the 2022 Pixels are direct replacements for the 2021 Pixels.
The biggest difference is in the camera line. Now, the iconic raised bar still extends across the back of the device, acting as a visual cue that this is a Pixel smartphone. Thanks to the length, there’s no fumbling with individual camera islands on competing smartphones. There is a change in materials to aluminum away from the plastic and glass bar used in the Pixel 6 family.
There are a few minor tweaks to the two handsets. The Pixel 7 Pro has the same basic specs, screen size, storage and battery. The Pixel 7 is a touch smaller, which means it ships with a smaller battery (4335 mAh, down from 4600 mAh in the Pixel 6) and a slightly smaller screen (under 0.1 inches from the Pixel 6). It’s also worth noting that both screens can be up to 25 percent brighter.
There’s a sense of harmony between the various smartphone components 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. Keep in mind, though, that if you’re expecting something that goes beyond Google’s model, it might feel like a bit more of a culture shock (coming to the Pixel from a MiUI-powered Xiaomi smartphone would be a little convenient). Luckily this isn’t an Apple device so you can happily bring your own launcher, UI, customizations and replace all your default apps.
Emotionally these two headphones feel good. With the camera line there is a distinct personality to the headset. Thanks to many functions that quietly use Tensor technology, it’s easy to point out why one should buy this headset.
If you moved to the Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro last year, the slight improvements in specs probably don’t warrant a replacement after just a 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.
Denial of responsibility: Google provided a Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro for evaluation purposes…