Look out Apple, Samsung, and just about every other smartphone maker out there, because Google’s coming for you with the Pixel smartphones. There are two, the Pixel and Pixel XL, and they run the very latest version of Android, look super, and have some exclusive features to make sure smartphone fans sit up and take notice.
One of Google’s prime directives with the Pixel was to tempt people who may be considering an iPhone away from Apple, and towards Android; but does it succeed? Like the Pixel there are two different iPhone models, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. They both look great, have many special features, and have made people sit up and take notice ever since the launch.
Inevitably, if you’re about to buy a new phone, these two will be on your list. The Pixel naturally goes up against the iPhone 7, so which one should you buy? Each phone has its own positive and negative points, and we’ve given them a thorough examination to find out which deserves your money.
The Google Pixel has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 inside, which is a small but significant update to the Snapdragon 820, seen in most major flagship phones released during 2016. It has since been superseded in Qualcomm’s line-up by the Snapdragon 835, used in phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S8, and the OnePlus 5. The 64-bit Snapdragon 821 has four cores and has a 10 percent performance bump over the already speedy Snapdragon 820, a 5 percent increase in graphical capabilities, is more energy efficient, and can use Quick Charge 3.0 for even faster battery recharging.
Apple doesn’t use a Snapdragon chip, and instead uses the A10 Fusion chip of its own design. Apparently it’s 40 percent faster than the A9, according to Apple, and it’s the first time the company has used a quad-core chip. Both chips utilize the multiple cores in a similar way, splitting the workload across them to reduce power consumption during easy tasks.
Our benchmark test of the Google Pixel using Geekbench 4 returned a 3,691 multi-core score, while the iPhone 7 score from Geekbench 4 return a multi-core score of 5,600. Discrepancies in benchmark results, especially when comparing two different operating systems, are to be expected; but does this make the Pixel a slowcoach? No, the Pixel is super fast and very smooth, due to impressive software optimization. This makes it interesting, because that’s also the Apple iPhone’s strength. It puts the two on a very even playing field in terms of performance, feel, and usability.
Elsewhere, the Pixel comes with 32GB or 128GB of internal storage, and doesn’t have a MicroSD card slot, sadly. The iPhone 7 adds a 256GB option to the list, so if masses of storage are important to you (and you can stomach the extra cost), the Apple phone has a slight advantage here.
This is ultimately going to come down to personal preference, but there are a few things you should keep in mind as you size the two up. The Pixel is made of metal, glass, and plastic. The glass panel on the rear provides the antenna with room to breathe, while the plastic sections recall manufacturer HTC’s Desire range of phones. It’s thin at 7.1mm and light at 143 grams.
For the iPhone 7, Apple has blended in the antenna breaks more than on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S, decluttering the rear panel, but keeping the camera bump. Google has avoided this by slightly enlarging the body itself. The iPhone 7’s body is made from aluminum, is 7.1mm thick, and a little lighter than the Pixel at 138 grams.
We describe the Pixel as being, “compact,” and comfortable to hold with one hand, while noting how good the two-tone finish looks and feels. However, we add in our review, “The design isn’t stunning, and the metal on the back doesn’t feel as high-end as the metal on the iPhone 7, but the device feels like it’s worth the high price tag, and it has a nice weight to it.” The iPhone 7 is extremely comfortable to hold, with wonderfully curved sides, and corners that nestle in the palm nicely.
Arguably, the Pixel looks a lot like an iPhone, but this doesn’t really bother us — both are great looking phones. Google gives you the choice of a white, black, or limited edition blue Pixel, and it’s the blue that really catches the eye. The iPhone 7’s jet black color was once is the limited edition showoffs should buy; but that has changed with the arrival of its Product (RED) edition, which looks stunning. However, for us it’s the regular matte black that’s the winner, as it neatly conceals the antenna lines for a smooth look.
Google’s phones have never been stunners, while the iPhone 7 has a class that the Pixel can’t quite match, supreme in-hand comfort, and a real premium build, which along with its lighter body and wider choice of colors sees it edge out the Pixel here.
Google has selected a 2,770mAh battery for the Pixel, complete with fast charging provided by the Snapdragon 821 and Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 feature. Plug it in using the USB Type-C cable and it should go from around 30 percent to 100 percent charge in just 15 minutes, according to our tests.
Inside the iPhone 7 is a 1,960mAh battery and in our review, we have seen 12 hours of solid use, and more than 40 percent left at the end of a day. There’s no fast charging though, and recharging the iPhone 7 will take longer than the Pixel. Neither phone has wireless charging as standard.
The iPhone 7 has stereo speakers, and audio performance is vastly improved over the iPhone 6S while the Pixel has a single downward firing speaker. However, the Pixel retains a 3.5mm headphone socket, while Apple forces you to use headphones with a Lightning connector or Bluetooth.
More battery capacity, faster charging, and a traditional headphone socket make the Pixel a clear winner.
Looking at the numbers, the Pixel should run away here. The 5-inch display is an AMOLED panel, therefore producing deep blacks and strong colors. It has a 1,920 x 1,080 pixel resolution and a 441ppi pixel density, is covered in protective 2.5D Gorilla Glass 4, and Google claims it has an excellent viewing angle with little decrease in brightness.
The iPhone’s Retina HD LED-backlit screen measures 4.7-inches, has a 1,334 x 750 pixel resolution for a 326ppi pixel density, and also a 2.5D piece of glass over the front. Although it has a lower resolution, it does still look great, but the Pixel’s AMOLED screen and higher pixel count will automatically make pictures, webpages, and games look better. It also works with Google’s Daydream VR headset, which is a big bonus.
However, there is one thing in the iPhone 7’s favor, and that’s 3D Touch, Apple’s pressure sensitive system. Here, additional functionality can be accessed with a harder screen press, and it’s surprisingly helpful. It’s great with iOS 10, and promises to get even better with the release of iOS 11 later in 2017. The Pixel doesn’t have this feature. Despite this, it’s not quite enough to take the win away from the Pixel.
Let’s start with a spec shootout. The Pixel and the iPhone 7 both have 12-megapixel rear cameras. The Pixel has an f/2.0 aperture against the iPhone 7’s f/1.8 aperture, so it lets in a little more light, plus it has a quad-LED flash rather than the Pixel’s dual-LED. However, while both have phase detection autofocus, laser autofocus only comes on the Pixel.
Both have image stabilization, but only the iPhone uses traditional OIS, as the Pixel has a clever system that utilizes the phone’s gyroscope for smoothing out video. We’re big fans of the iPhone 7’s camera, although consider the iPhone 7 Plus to be the real winner, but we’re very impressed with the Pixel’s camera, too.
In our review, we put the Pixel up against the iPhone 7 Plus, saying, “With HDR+, the Pixel’s camera is on par with the iPhone 7 Plus, and Samsung’s Galaxy S8. In low-light scenarios, images are more colorful and brighter, but a little less sharp than the iPhone 7 Plus.” It’s a very similar story when comparing it to the iPhone 7, and the photos both phones take look superb. It’ll likely be a personal preference which one looks the best.
It should be noted that the Pixel also has free, unlimited full resolution photo storage in the cloud through Google Photos, while you’ll have to pay for extra iCloud space or full-res Google Photos storage if you own an iPhone.
Looking to external camera comparisons, well-respected camera testers DxOMark, gave the Pixel an 89 rating, the highest of any smartphone yet. The iPhone 7 isn’t far behind with 86 though. It’s a tight contest between the iPhone 7 and the Pixel here, and we’d argue that whichever phone you buy, you’ll be very happy with the pictures you take.
Unless these phones are securely wrapped up in a case, neither are going to come off well in the event of a nasty fall. Glass and aluminum bodies aren’t designed to withstand much shock.
It’s also worth mentioning that if you choose the jet black iPhone 7 and don’t wrap it in a case, expect it to gather up some scratches and scuffs pretty quickly. Apple knows the special finish is delicate, and recommends the use of a case.
Apple now edges ahead of the Pixel here, having made the iPhone meet IP67 standards of splash, water, and dust resistance. We’ve tested this out, and the iPhone happily continues working after taking a bath, something the Pixel is unlikely to do even with its basic IP53 protection.
Accidents happen, and if they involve the wet stuff, you’ll be glad it was the iPhone and not the Pixel underwater.
If design was a difficult category to judge, due to personal preference playing a considerable role, software is also subjective. Unlike pitting a phone like the Galaxy S8 or LG G6 against the Pixel, Apple is prompt and regular with its software updates, which matches how Google will react with its new Pixel devices.
The Pixel comes with Android 7.1 installed, the very latest version of the operating system, which can’t (and won’t) be found in this form anywhere else. The Apple iPhone has iOS 10. The two are very different, yet also quite alike. There are icons to tap, a virtual assistant to help — Assistant on the Pixel and Siri on the iPhone — and special messaging apps for both. On the Pixel, it’s Duo for video calls and Allo for chats, while on the iPhone there’s FaceTime and iMessage.
Downsides of Google’s operating system don’t really apply here. It’s going to get regular updates, there’s no messy user interface over the top, and you’re assured of the latest version for at least a few years yet. Apple treats the iPhone in the same way. There’s little to choose between them when it comes to app stores either, with both being equally well stocked with apps, books, movies, and more.
Wallets at the ready? They better be, because you’re going to have to open them pretty wide to get either one of these phones. Unlocked, without a contract, the Pixel will cost you $650 for the 32GB model or $750 for the 128GB, and it can be purchased directly through the Google Play Store. The iPhone 7 also costs $650 for the 32GB, $750 for the 128GB, and then $850 for the 256GB model. It can be bought through the Apple Store, either online or in a retail store.
Contract prices vary for the iPhone, but it’s available with each major carrier in the U.S., while the Pixel is a Verizon exclusive. This hurts the Pixel here. We don’t like being forced onto one carrier and many people buy their phones in stores. However, there is good news for the Pixel: You can buy it unlocked from Google and get the same month-to-month financing you get with the iPhone at carriers. We’d suggest not buying either phone locked to a network, or fixed into a contract, anyway. There are financing options available for both the Pixel and the iPhone 7 through Google and Apple respectively too. However, be aware if you choose an iPhone on AT&T or Sprint with financing through Apple, it’ll be locked to that network.
International buyers will also find it easier to buy an iPhone 7, with 25 countries on the list at launch, and more than 30 having been added since then. Others are coming in October. Google is only selling the Pixel in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and Germany at the moment.
Wider availability, more carrier options, and equal pricing sees the iPhone take this category.
It’s three category wins for the iPhone 7, and two for the Pixel, with three overall ties. It’s interesting to see where the iPhone 7 beats the Google Pixel, particularly because durability and price have long been problem areas for Apple, and winners for Android phones. Apple has turned that around with the iPhone 7. The Pixel has it beaten when it comes to display, battery, and the presence of a 3.5mm headphone socket.
Right now, because you can buy it in more places, with fewer restrictions, and it won’t stop working if it gets wet, the iPhone 7 has to take the win. Don’t dismiss the Pixel. It’s easily our favorite Android phone, and it’s easy to be beguiled by the excellent camera, clean and regularly updated Android.