Google Pixel 7 review: hard to resist, but a bit of a risk

Man holding the Google Pixel 7 like a camera.

Google Pixel 7

MSRP $599.00

“The Google Pixel 7’s superb camera, long battery life, and great software experience are a winning combination — and the reasonable price makes it hard to resist.”

Pros

  • Superb camera
  • Long battery life
  • Eye-catching design
  • Vibrant screen
  • Years of software updates
  • Fantastic price

Cons

  • Slow charging
  • Software bugs
  • Poor gaming performance

You need to have confidence in your smartphone. I’m confident in my Google Pixel 7, as it has done almost everything I asked of it and sometimes even exceeded my expectations. However, there is some evidence my confidence shouldn’t be taken as proof that you’ll be equally as happy and confident in the Pixel 7 you buy. There is a cloud hanging over this otherwise excellent smartphone, but should it affect your decision to buy it?

Google Pixel 7 design and security

The Pixel 7 isn’t a design revolution compared to the Pixel 6, and that’s the best thing that could have happened. It gives Google a cohesive, recognizable, and attractive smartphone platform on which to build. Rather than drastically rework the shape, Google has refined it, making the visor-like camera module even more of a standout design element while changing the available colors so it doesn’t look exactly the same as last year’s phone.

The back of the Google Pixel 7, held in a man's hand. Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

I’ve been using the standard Obsidian black version, and although I often find black phones a little bland, the glossy finish on the glass back looks superb when paired with the matte gray camera module. More colorful Lemongrass and Snow versions are also available. The camera cutouts are larger than before, but aren’t an eyesore. I’m not so sure about the Pixel 7 Pro’s more outrageous camera module, but certainly the Pixel 7 is a modern-looking, subtly stylish, and suitably different-looking smartphone I’ve been proud to carry around.

At 8.7mm thick and 197 grams, it’s no skinny supermodel, and it feels very substantial in your hand, similar to the slightly shorter but similarly weighted iPhone 14 Pro. The smooth aluminum chassis and glossy Gorilla Glass Victus rear panel may look lovely, but together they make the Pixel 7 quite slippery. It does like to slide around on different surfaces, and it needs a firm grip if you want to use it with one hand.

The side of the Google Pixel 7. Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

There is one build quality thing that bothers me. At the bottom of the phone, the glass rear panel meets the chassis smoothly, with no obvious change when you run your finger over the join. Do the same on the top and the sides, and there’s a small lip that also varies in severity on either side of the device. It’s not a massive problem, but once you notice it, you always notice it.

There’s a fingerprint sensor under the display, and just like with the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, it can’t decide whether it wants to be fast and reliable or slow and irritating. It’s shockingly inconsistent, and no better than the previous version. Google’s advice of pressing the sensor for a beat longer than you may expect does help it unlock more regularly, but it by no means cures the problems. When it fails (which it will), you must use the PIN code, but the button layout is very widely spaced and almost impossible to press accurately when holding the phone with one hand.

The Google logo on the back of the Google Pixel 7. Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

A face unlock system has been introduced, and it works more consistently than the fingerprint sensor. But remember to flick the switch to bypass the lock screen when it sees your face. If you don’t, you have to either swipe the screen (which doesn’t always work) or press the unlock button to enter the phone — adding more unnecessary steps to the often lengthy process of actually starting to use the Pixel 7.

Google must have heard the complaints about the fingerprint sensor on the Pixel 6, and yet despite having a year to improve it without compromising on security, it’s still worse than almost every other phone available. It’s a shame as it’s the first thing you encounter after picking up the Pixel 7 and delighting in its excellent overall shape and design.

Google Pixel 7 camera

There are two cameras on the back of the Pixel 7, a 50-megapixel f/1.9 aperture main camera (the same one found on the Pixel 6) with optical image stabilization (OIS) and laser autofocus, plus a 12MP f/2.2 wide-angle camera with a modest 114-degree field-of-view. Video reaches 4K resolution at up to 60 frames per second (fps) and it supports 10-bit HDR. On the front is a 10.8MP f/2.2 aperture selfie camera.

The Google Pixel 7's camera module. Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Pixel 7’s main camera is wonderful, producing sharp, vibrant, balanced, and visually punchy photos in almost every situation. Point it in any direction, in any lighting situation, and there is a very high probability it will take a photo you’ll love. I adore that I don’t have to think twice about taking a picture, or worry that it’s going to be less impressive than what I’m seeing with my own eyes. In the Pixel 7’s case, the photo can look better than real life, due to the way it often deals with light and shadow.

There’s excellent consistency between the main and wide-angle cameras too, while Night Sight mode pictures bring out plenty of detail without sacrificing atmosphere or introducing too much smoothing. It can struggle when you try to get too close to a subject though, often telling you to move back so it can focus better, but when it does find the right distance, the results look excellent. The optical 2x zoom photos look decent, but can lack the color and great exposure seen with the main camera.

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The biggest disappointment is the selfie camera, which I find doesn’t always get skin tone right (despite Google’s efforts in this area) and can lack detail too. It’s not terrible, just inconsistent compared to the Galaxy Z Flip 4’s superb selfie camera and the iPhone 14 Pro’s ever-reliable front camera. The Pixel 7 does not have the Pixel 7 Pro’s Super Res Zoom and only digitally zooms into an 8x level, where digital enhancement is obvious.

Dig into the editing suite, and there are plenty of options to change your images, with many features relying on Google’s A.I., such as the ability to change the tone and look of the sky. The new Unblur tool sometimes works really well, but other times either unpleasantly smooths everything out, or seems to rearrange facial features in a rather terrifying way. Both the Long Exposure and Action Pan modes seen on the Pixel 6 series return too.

It’s one of the very best cameras on a smartphone at the moment, at any price.

Cinematic mode is the new video feature that blurs out the background around a subject. It’s only available on the rear camera and although I’ve not had many opportunities to use it, the effect is quite convincing. It’s not as truly “cinematic” as the iPhone’s similar Cinematic Mode as it doesn’t have the fancy refocus feature. It does feel quite gimmicky and I don’t know when I’d actually use it.

The Pixel 7 may not be quite so feature-packed as the Pixel 7 Pro, but it still takes fantastic photos, and I’ve found it fun to experiment with the different editing suite features. The main camera is one of the very best cameras on a smartphone at the moment, at any price, and unlike certain other aspects of the phone, I have true confidence in its ability.

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