If last year's Pixel 6 was a leap, Google's new Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro smartphones are a small hop. At its Made by Google event in New York City today, the company unboxed its two new flagship phones, both of which feature small but welcome improvements—like Face Unlock as a secondary way to authenticate your identity, and a Cinematic Blur feature that adds a portrait-like look to video footage.
The pair of Pixels aren't the only hardware releases at the event. Google also offered up more details about the Pixel Watch, the company's first-ever smartwatch, which you can read more about here.
The Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro cost $599 and $899, respectively, effectively staying the same price as last year's Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro while still undercutting much of the competition. Here's everything that's new.
Two P's in a Pod
Both new Pixels keep the same overall look Google debuted last year with the Pixel 6, except instead of an all-glass camera bar on the rear, it's now mostly aluminum. (Great news, considering my Pixel 6's camera bar is currently cracked.) The Pixel 7 comes in colors named Obsidian, Snow, and Lemongrass, and the Pixel 7 Pro comes in Obsidian, Snow, and Hazel. The colors and finish are a bit more muted than last year's devices, which is a little disappointing, but they certainly look more luxe. The Pro model employs polished aluminum, and the standard Pixel has a matte finish.
Two changes I like? The Pixel 7 is a tiny bit smaller and lighter than the Pixel 6, with a 6.3-inch screen (versus 6.4 inches). The Pixel 7 Pro sticks with the same 6.7-inch screen size, but the display glass has less of a curve along the edges, which Brian Rakowski, vice president of product management at Google, says was a change made in response to customer feedback. The screen is still not completely flat like on the Pixel 7, though. Speaking of screens, the only major change over last year is screen brightness. Google says these screens get up to 25 percent brighter when outdoors (1,400 nits peak brightness).
There are no substantial changes to Google's battery life claims for these phones. The Pixel 7 has a smaller 4,355-mAh cell, which tracks considering its smaller size, and the Pixel 7 Pro has a 5,000-mAh battery—both of which are expected to last “beyond 24 hours" just like the Pixel 6 series. In my testing, last year's devices comfortably lasted a little more than a full day with heavy use, so you can expect the same here. These phones will charge up to 50 percent after 30 minutes of charging, which is slow compared to their peers. You can still recharge the new Pixels wirelessly too.
There's still an in-display fingerprint sensor, but it's not the only way to unlock the phone. Say hello to Face Unlock! You might remember that Google tried out this feature on the Pixel 4, but this new version is … worse. Yes, it can unlock your phone and can't be spoofed by your own photo, but because Google isn't using an array of 3D sensors like Apple uses for Face ID, Google's solution is not as secure. So while Face Unlock gives you a quicker path to your home screen, you can't use the feature to authenticate payments or to sign into banking apps—you'll have to use your fingerprint for those. It feels a little half-baked, especially since the Pixel 4's Face Unlock was more secure. “We're not trying to claim it's the most secure thing ever,” Rakowski says.
Pixel phones are known for their high-quality cameras, but it's difficult to say exactly how much better the cameras are on the Pixel 7 series over their predecessors without trying them out.
Both new phones feature the same 50-megapixel primary camera, and the Pixel 7 retains the same ultrawide lens, but the Pixel 7 Pro has a few tweaks to its other two cameras. The 48-megapixel telephoto now can hit 5X optical zoom, up from 4X, and the ultrawide has a wider field of view and features autofocus—which helps power a new Macro Focus mode for taking better photos of subjects up close. There's a new 10.8-megapixel front camera on both that's more “light sensitive," for better low-light selfies, but it's still a fixed-focus camera with no autofocus, unlike the iPhone 14.
Speaking of Apple, this year's iPhone has a new 2X zoom that delivers high-quality 12-megapixel photos by utilizing the center portion of the large 48-megapixel camera sensor. It's effectively giving you a new optical zoom level without adding an extra camera. Google has a similar approach, meaning the 2X zoom button on both new Pixels will net you a clearer 12.5-megapixel image by utilizing the center section of the 50-megapixel camera.
Google has some improvements with Super Res Zoom for the Pixel 7 Pro too. When you pinch in and zoom into a photo without using the telephoto camera, you're digitally zooming in, which usually delivers lackluster details. Super Res Zoom, which debuted on the Pixel 3, uses machine intelligence to clean up the image for a sharper, better photo. It's even better now, as Google says the process fuses images from the telephoto and the primary camera to produce clearer photos in between optical zoom modes (between 1 and 5X zoom). This process continues as you go past the telephoto camera too, utilizing the full 48-megapixel resolution to net you much sharper images whether you're at 10X zoom or 30X zoom.
The new Tensor G2 chipset powering these Pixels (more on this later) allows for faster Night Sight photos, so you should expect fewer blurry shots in low light. Google says the Pixel's Real Tone camera feature, which automatically tweaks the image processing for people with darker skin for more accurate results, is tuned to be even better this year thanks to a broader dataset—especially when paired with Night Sight in low light.
There's a new feature called Guided Frame, which will help visually impaired people take selfies, using audio cues in the camera app. And there's also a Pixel 7-exclusive feature in Google Photos called Photo Unblur—this will let you “unblur” old photos, specifically faces, no matter what camera you used to capture them.
On the video side, Google says it has generally improved the image stabilization on the new Pixels, but these phones can now also shoot in 10-bit HDR (and at 24 frames per second), which should give your footage a broader range of colors. Don't forget the new Cinematic Blur mode, which is effectively what Portrait mode is for photos, but for video. You get a nice blur effect around a subject, though we'll have to see how well it stacks up against Apple's Cinematic Video.
In today's presentation, Google didn't spend too much time talking about how much its new Tensor G2 chip has improved over its predecessor. The chipset has a few upgraded cores and a new graphics processing unit, but we'll have to run some tests ourselves to see how much more of an upgrade it is when it comes to handling graphically intensive games. It's the next-generation Tensor Processing Unit in the G2 that's helping to boost tasks that use machine learning, like the aforementioned 2X speed improvement to Night Sight photos.
This new second-gen TPU also enables a new feature: voice message transcription. Now when someone sends you a voice message, the Android Messages app will automatically transcribe it on your device so you don't need to play it back to get the content of the message. Unfortunately, it won't work on third-party apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.
Also, this wouldn't be a new Pixel phone if it didn't come with a new way of managing voice calls. Google's Direct My Call function now will show up immediately whenever you call a top toll-free number, like your airline or insurance company. Instead of having to listen to a robotic voice going through a menu, the menu options will appear on the screen as soon as the call starts, and you just tap the one you want. Google is able to do this, the company says, because it has programmed its concierge-like Duplex phone call service to periodically dial these popular 1-800 numbers and cache the current menu options.
Google's Recorder app is also getting a small update: It can now differentiate between multiple speakers in a captured recording, adding labels for different speakers. After it's processed the recording, you can add each speaker's name manually and the app will update the whole transcript to properly identify each speaker in the text. Finally, the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro will exclusively come with a Google One VPN out of the box, no Google One subscription required. (Google says the VPN service will arrive on the web in the future, though it's been saying this for more than a year.)
These Pixels will get five years of security updates and, unfortunately, only three OS upgrades—below par for the Android world these days. Preorders start today, and the phones go on sale on October 13. Google says it will also keep selling the Pixel 6 until it goes out of stock. It's worth noting that the first crop of last year's Pixel 6 phones had several major bugs out of the gate. Folks who bought a Pixel 6 at launch had to wait months for Google to resolve the issues via software updates. Rakowski says Google's test suite has gotten a lot more robust.
“We have a lot more things that we're checking," he says. ”I think we're a lot smarter on what things people encounter in different situations, in different geographies. I feel good about everything that we learned from last year, which comes into this product too. Quality has been a big focus for us this year."
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