Android’s ‘default’ device gets meaningful upgrades

Google-Pixel-7.jpg

In terms of upgrades, the Pixel 7 has a few important improvements that round off the better of the two 2021 series handsets.

Why an initial review? 9to5Google was granted six days of early access to the Pixel 7 ahead of today’s review embargo, not nearly enough time to reach a final verdict. But with open sales set to begin on October 13, we’re sharing our thoughts so far on the Pixel 7, and we’ll be updating this review in the coming weeks with further thoughts on the smartphone. Follow us on Twitter so you’ll be the first to know when we publish our final verdict.

It’s the cheaper handset this year once again, and you still get a premium experience without the associated price tag. Some minor downgrades help make the Pixel 7 an excellent entryway into Android for many people wanting a premium experience without breaking the bank.

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Design

Google put the Pixel 6 on a diet when firming up the Pixel 7 design and chassis. The changes might not seem huge until you see the two devices side by side.

As someone who has used the Pixel 6 for a year daily, the difference when switching over to the Pixel 7 was more substantial than I had expected. Without a case, you can tell right away that the dimensions have been altered.

The screen is marginally smaller, but the trimmed bezels mean you’re only losing 0.1 of an inch of workable space, and it’s for the better in many respects. It feels very much like the Pixel 6a in the hand, which means “manageable” when compared to the still mammoth Pixel 7 Pro. It’s not quite as small, but it’s a happy medium between 6.1 and 6.7 inches.

Going from the Pixel 6a to a somewhat compact flagship makes for an appreciable build and materials upgrade. You can tell the difference between a “3D thermoformed composite back” (read: plastic) and a smoother, more solid glass one. That said, the weight difference — 6.3 oz. (178 g) versus 6.9 oz. (197 g) — associated with that materials upgrade is not that noticeable.

Related: Pixel 6a Review: Value-packed, Tensor-powered, and just in time for Pixel 3a upgrades

That said, I’m quite disappointed that the matte black side rails have been removed. This little touch helped add grip, but like an optical illusion, made the bezels seem much larger than they were on all sides of the device. The lack of contrast between the frame, the “Camera bar,” and the rear chassis color is less pronounced on the Pixel 7.

By fusing the metal side rails into the camera bar, the Pixel 7 feels more cohesive but less instantly identifiable to my eye with the loss of the black bar separator. It’s not a negative as Google has moved the camera section downward so that it aligns better with the 7 Pro this year. This combined with the size decrease and downward shift of the side buttons means that last year’s cases are incompatible with the new model. Reaching the power and volume keys is just a tad easier this time, which is great given the often ballooning size of smartphones.

Google is moving further away from the playful “Googley” colors that have helped distinguish the Pixel lineup since 2017, but the Lemongrass is striking in its own right. In certain lighting, it looks like a soft white with light gold sides – it’s a cohesive combination. If you care about fingerprints or smudges, this is the color to choose. It seems to hide blemishes and grime with aplomb.

I will applaud little touches like the color-coded charge port as inconsequential but important extra details that show Google is settling on a distinct device identity – for better or worse.

Display

At 6.3 inches I still would be hesitant to call the Pixel 7’s screen “small.” It is, however, an upgrade over the Pixel 6. It’s still capped at 2,400 x 1,080-pixel, but it’s clean, sharp, and the brightness has taken a step up that wasn’t necessarily an issue for me in the time I’ve used the previous generation. I’m not seeing any color shift or tinting issues on my own review unit. This was an issue some people encountered with the Pixel 6.

90Hz is still ultra smooth and consistent. Side by side with the 120Hz Pixel 7 Pro and you can see some differences, but overall Android 13 is slick. Google should be looking to upgrade to 120Hz at some point in the future. 1080p is absolutely fine at this size, but until then, a flat 90Hz screen will have to suffice.

The biggest and most important upgrade you’re wondering about – alongside the signal strength – is bound to be the in-display fingerprint scanner. I’m pleased to say that the upgrade is immense. While I personally found the Pixel 6 scanner reliable, it was quite slow compared to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S21 and S22. The speed increase is evident as soon as you’ve registered your digits.

Everything from the registration process to the placement in the Pixel 7 display remains identical to the previous model. It’s not clear if the Pixel 6a’s in-display scanner is being used this time, but the speed and reliability increase even with a cheap screen protector is obvious. Sure, it’s still by no means the fastest. It’s just improved and is more consistent, which is something that couldn’t be said for everyone last year.

Software and performance

Android 13 comes pre-installed on Pixel 7, and while for the most part, it is identical to the build found on previous generations, a few exclusive tweaks have been added to help differentiate the new devices. A number of these are set to come to older Pixel models over the coming months including Clear Calling.

Related: Android 13 hands-on: Here’s EVERY user-facing feature, function, and tweak [Video]

For the most part, determining speed and performance improvements in your favorite apps or just the main system view are hard to see. I sometimes think I can spot boosted performance as per Google’s own claims. Then I doubt myself as the Pixel 6 has never felt like a slouch in my opinion.

Everything I would ordinarily do on a smartphone is catered for, and even when I decide to play some mobile games, it’s a very pleasant experience. Even with upgrades, raw performance is still not a core tenet of Tensor G2, but the other benefits such as stupendously accurate voice typing and better processing times for images courtesy of the Pixel Neural Core feel very much like Google focus points ... Visit source 9to5google.com for more of, Android’s ‘default’ device gets meaningful upgrades.

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