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Student Village Academy Forums TECH AND GADGETS Pixel 7 and 7 Pro review: Google weaves its camera magic again

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      Pixel 7 and 7 Pro review: Google weaves its camera magic again

      Next-level smartphone cameras.
      By Alex Perry  on 
      All products featured here are independently selected by our editors and writers. If you buy something through links on our site, Mashable may earn an affiliate commission.
      Pixel 7 Pro surrounded by small objects

      There is no way to sugarcoat it: The camera on the Pixel 7 Pro is the genuine deal, no holds barred. I’ve never had more pleasure using a smartphone to take pictures.

      Thanks to its special telescopic lens and macro focus capability, Google’s Pixel 7 Pro can capture your subject flawlessly and without any hassle, whether it’s so far away that it’s literally on another landmass or so near that you can practically taste it. The new Tensor G2 technology that powers the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro cleverly employs software to perform tasks that the tiny smartphone lenses typically cannot.

      The Pixel 7 starts at $599 and the Pixel 7 Pro starts at $899 when they both go on sale on October 13.

      The two Pixel 7s may be considered a small disappointment because these Android phones are more than just portable cameras. The Pixel 7 series looks a much like the Pixel 6 line on the outside, with the exception of new textures for the camera bar and tweaks to the exterior color schemes.

      On the inside, that is also true. The Tensor G2 chip enables a few useful new AI call and voice messaging features, but the usability of these new Google flagships in daily life hasn’t altered significantly. And regrettably, the standard Pixel 7 lacks the best new camera features.

      Pixel 7 surrounded by lenses

      Because the Pixel 6s were excellent smartphones, that incrementalist strategy isn’t the worst thing in the world. The Pixel 7 series is probably not enough of an improvement for those who purchased last year (or earlier this year with the Pixel 6a) to warrant an upgrade. But if you’ve been holding onto an older Pixel—or even want to go from an iPhone to an Android—now might be the time to make the transfer, preferably to the Pixel 7 Pro.

      So long, two-tone color scheme

      Google Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro camera bars
      Google largely went with what worked on the Pixels 6 previous time around; there isn’t any Dynamic Island-like innovation on display here. It preserved the recognizable horizontal camera bar, which is located towards the top of the phone’s back and now has a fresh, more metallic appearance. Also nearly identical in size to their Pixel 6 predecessors are the two Pixel 7 smartphones. A tenth of an inch smaller than the Pixel 6, the Pixel 7 measures 6.3 inches, while the Pixel 7 Pro measures 6.7 inches. The Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro both have smooth refresh rates of 90Hz and 120Hz, respectively, keeping things the same.

      Having said that, even though I have quite acute eyes for that kind of thing, I can’t say that I really noticed the refresh rate difference after extensively using both phones for a few days. If you can avoid it, avoid making that feature of the 7 Pro a selling point.

      Every phone’s body is made of glass from front to back, thus I strongly suggest using a case to protect it. On softer surfaces, both of my Pixel 7s have slipped and fallen, which is annoying.

      The removal of the two-tone color scheme that made the Pixel 6 series so instantly recognisable to the general public is really the only significant physical change Google made this year. Each Pixel 6 had slightly distinct colors above and below the camera bar last year, which not only made the device stand out but also drew attention to the lens array. This time, the colors are consistent throughout the entire phone.

      Both the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro come in obsidian and snow hues, however only the Pixel 7 offers an exclusive lemongrass shade, and the Pixel 7 Pro offers a similar colorway in hazel.

      I dig the shiny metal texture of the camera bar on this year’s phones, but I super don’t dig the removal of the two-tone colors. Last year’s Pixels looked fun and quirky whereas this year’s phones just kinda look like…phones.

      Thankfully, what the Pixel phones can do is far more important than what they look like.

      Professional zoom

      30x zoom on Pixel 7 Pro
      30x zoom is just a button press away. Credit: Screenshot: Google

      The rear camera setup on the two new Pixel 7 phones represents the physical difference that is most noticeable. Along with a 50MP wide camera and a 12MP ultra-wide lens on the back, both phones have the identical 10.8MP selfie camera. The Pixel 7 Pro, however, sports a 48MP telephoto lens on the back, much like last year. But unlike the Pixel 6 Pro from a year ago, zooming in extremely on distant subjects has never looked this fantastic.

      This time, Google used Tensor magic to increase the maximum zoom length of the Pixel 7 Pro to a stunning 30x. For comparison, the iPhone 14 can only be magnified by 5x, whereas the iPhone 14 Pro can do it by 30x. The Samsung Galaxy Fold 4 and other recent Android smartphones could both zoom that far, so that last figure alone isn’t very groundbreaking. When you zoom in very closely on a topic, computational improvements take place in the background that yield significantly sharper images than the Galaxy Fold 4 was able to.

      To test this, I took a sojourn into Brooklyn’s Domino Park on the East River waterfront, which has a gorgeous view of the Manhattan city skyline. From the pier, you can see One World Trade Center far, far in the distance. It’s about six miles by road, according to Google Maps. Using 30x telephoto zoom on the Pixel 7 Pro, you can see the top of 1WTC clear as day from an entirely different landmass. It’s unbelievable.

      One World Trade Center in 30x Pixel 7 Pro zoom
      I was standing on a different island from the one this building is on. Wild. Credit: Alex Perry/Mashable

      Let’s try a different example. The tall building in the center of the photo on the left has something written at the very top, which is nearly impossible to make out unless you press your eyes against the screen. Don’t do that, by the way.

      But if we zoom in with the Pixel 7 Pro’s telephoto lens, we can make out the writing (which is sadly just the building’s address) as if we were right next to it. This is simply one of the more remarkable things I’ve seen in a smartphone camera system in a long time. You can take crystal clear photos from miles away using the Pixel 7 Pro.

      One South First non-zoomed in picture

      Far out. Credit: Alex Perry/Mashable
      One South First zoomed in picture

      Close up. Credit: Alex Perry/Mashable

      Another unique function available just on the Pixel 7 Pro is dubbed “Macro Focus.” This is not really novel for smartphones because even entry-level models like the Moto G Stylus 5G from a year ago have macro lenses. The goal is to physically position the phone close to a small subject, like a growing flower, to achieve a sharp, focused photo. The Pixel 7 Pro is far more classy about macro photography than other phones, like the Moto phone, which restricted it to a separate setting in the camera app. Macro focus will begin to automatically when you put the phone close to your subject and use the default camera view at 1x zoom.


      That’s how I got this shot of these berries on a plant near my home. Looks great, doesn’t it?

      Pixel 7 Pro macro focus on berries
      Clear as can possibly be from centimeters away. Credit: Alex Perry/Mashable

      The Pixel 7’s camera is nice, too

      The Pixel 7 Pro’s camera array is really one of the best I’ve ever seen in a smartphone and is worth the $300 price hike if you can afford that. Fortunately, it’s not like the regular Pixel 7 is some mediocre camera in its own right. The cheaper Pixel can still hold its own against other great smartphone cameras.

      Portrait mode is obviously back and still wonderful. Both Pixel 7 phones can quickly snap great-looking portrait shots while letting you adjust the depth of field effects with some simple sliders in the editing menu. However, I never really felt the need to do that. The shots I took looked excellent right from the jump.

      Scarecrow in portrait mode

      Very autumnal. Credit: Alex Perry/Mashable
      Beach volleyball sign at park in portrait mode

      Not quite as autumnal. Credit: Alex Perry/Mashable

      Google’s trademark Night Sight feature is back, too, and it’s been sped up so the average Night Sight shot now takes just two or three seconds to process. It’s able to bring the finer details out in dark shots without blanketing the frame in what looks like artificial light. In other words, Night Sight doesn’t make nighttime shots look like they were taken during the day. If you want to photograph the seedy urban underbelly of your city at night Michael Mann-style, you can do that.

      Bicycle without night sight

      Too dark. Credit: Alex Perry/Mashable
      Bicycle with night sight

      Just right. Credit: Alex Perry/Mashable

      The biggest new photography feature that’s exclusive to both Pixel 7 phones is the “photo unblur” tool. It purports to do exactly what the name suggests: take your blurry photos and make something nice out of them. Simply open a photo in the Photos app, tap Edit, and you should see Unblur as one of the available tools. That opens a slider that goes from 0 to 100, with 100 being the sharpest possible image it can produce.



      Unfortunately, I had a hard time getting photo unblur to make real, transformative differences to photos I took. It worked great on a prefab photo at Google’s initial hands-on event last week, but under most real-world circumstances, photo unblur made blurry photos only slightly less blurry.

      They looked a little better, but I wouldn’t call them social media worthy.

      Pixel 7 unblur at 0

      Unblur off. Credit: Alex Perry/Mashable
      Pixel 7 unblur on

      Unblur on. Credit: Alex Perry/Mashable

      In overall, I believe that the 7 Pro is the better option if you’re going to purchase a Pixel 7. It would be a shame to overlook the exciting features of the zoom lens and macro focus. In no way am I a photographer. Since words are the simplest form of expression for me, I write professionally. However, even with that in mind, I had a great time testing the Pixel 7 camera, especially with the Pro.

      Given that it has no macro functions and can only zoom in by 8x, the Pixel 7 wasn’t quite as exciting. But don’t misunderstand; it’s still a fantastic smartphone camera. Simply put, it’s not the best smartphone camera.

      More similar than different

      Both of these phones have the same functionality aside from the significant variances in the cameras. Although the Pixel 7 only has 8GB of RAM as opposed to the Pixel 7 Pro’s 12GB, I never saw any kind of significant speed loss when switching between the two. The inclusion of a 512GB storage option above the Pixel 7’s 128GB and 256GB variants is the only other notable improvement in terms of features.

      Just as the two Pixel 7s are similar to each other, they’re also very similar to the Pixel 6 line in everyday functionality. There are some little new AI-driven features, though. For instance, you can use a newly updated feature called Direct My Call to get an instant graphical UI readout of the automated menu options when you call toll-free 1-800 numbers. Google recommended we try Home Depot, Costco, State Farm, and a couple of other services, and sure enough, a little menu of numbered options immediately popped up, thus negating the need to listen to the automated spiel.

      Google Pixel 7 direct my call
      Much, much better than using a phone dialer to navigate a menu. Credit: Screenshot: Google


      Android 13 is pre-installed on the Pixel 7 series, but this is nothing new or unexpected given that other Pixel phones began receiving the newest Android code in August. The Pixel 6’s “Material You” interface look has been improved, and the icon and wallpaper color palette has increased from four to sixteen. Press and hold the options you want to look at on your home screen.

      Personally, I became disoriented by the sheer number of hues and chose something haphazardly. I mean, my eyes already have color vision issues. Additionally, Android 13 allows you to set several default languages for various apps rather than setting a single language as the default for the entire device, which is a convenient feature for multilingual users.

      However, you won’t find anything here that distinguishes the Pixel 7 from the Pixel 6 when it comes to the everyday routine of checking Twitter, listening to Spotify, texting your friends, and anything else that falls under the tried-and-true activity of “looking at your phone instead of doing work.” Both phones operate remarkably quickly thanks to the new Tensor chip, with no performance glitches that I could notice—but that was also true with the Pixel 6 series.

      Regarding battery life, I obtained about 26 hours with the Pixel 7 Pro and about 22 hours with the Pixel 7. Both phones had a 24 hour battery life rating, and they both more or less lived up to it.

      Go Pro or go home

      Pixel 7 Pro surrounded by toys
      The Pixel 7 is fine, but the 7 Pro is the one to get. Credit: Kyle Cobian/Mashable

      The latest additions to Google’s Pixel line don’t bring much in the way of surprise. After six years of producing its own in-house phones, Google knows what it’s doing. And since last year brought a total redesign and a new custom chip, it’s only natural that this year’s Pixel offering is more iterative than revolutionary.

      Although that is true, I still believe that if you’ve been using an earlier Pixel or Android phone for a while, the Pixel 7 Pro is a fantastic phone that is well worth an upgrade. It’s all about the cameras; a 30x telephoto lens generates magnificent images, and a macro focus enhances the beauty of even the smallest objects, like raindrops and flowers. The fact that the 7 Pro comes with a little bit extra RAM and storage is only a great bonus.

      That’s not to say anything bad about the Pixel 7, which is a great phone in and of itself with performance that can’t be beat and cameras that are miles above average. Simply said, I don’t think it differs enough from the Pixel 6 or even the Pixel 6a to merit an upgrade. The $599 Pixel 7 is undoubtedly more affordable than the $899 Pixel 7 Pro, but if you’re looking for a less expensive but still somewhat new Pixel, opt for the $450 Pixel 6a.

      You’ll have the best social media photos in your friend circle if you opt to go pro. I make that promise.

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