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.

I still feel that these functions and features would wow a non-tech person more so than someone who knows the difference between the very latest Qualcomm or MediaTek processor. On the other hand, it is disappointing to see that the 5nm manufacturing process has been used again, which does put the Tensor G2 at a disadvantage compared to the leading pack. Google does need to continue to improve performance levels on future chipsets, as there is no reason for the Pixel series to be left behind.

Camera

Pixel 7 camera

With regard to the camera, it’s still a solid dual-camera system that produces tack-sharp, contrast-heavy images. Image quality takes a step down with the ultrawide, but that is to be expected given the wider field of view and lower resolution.

The Google Camera app has been tweaked with new toggles and the addition of haptic feedback for zoom levels in the main camera UI. The most notable change found on the Pixel 7 camera is actually in the processing times for images and videos. At no point though did I feel that the Pixel 7 offered any drastic quality changes over the Pixel 6.

50-megapixel shots are still pixel-binned down to 12.5 megapixels, and disappointingly there is no full resolution or “Pro” mode for photography. Super Res Zoom has been improved, which is especially useful when you want to crop in at 2x and above. My advice would be to use this function sparingly as the digital crop cannot compete with the periscope zoom of the Pixel 7 Pro.

When taking Night Sight shots, Pixel 7 also has a new toggle that lets you choose the exposure length. This has been available on other devices but has a delightful Google-y animation here when taking long exposure images. Last year’s move to a much larger sensor has helped tremendously, and it seems that the tuning has improved.

The biggest outright upgrade to the camera system is the new 11-megapixel selfie camera found in the punch-hole. It’s not even just in stills where this makes a difference. All lenses now support 4K60 video, including the front-facer.

Processing times for images are still not quite instant in all situations. I have spotted the loading icon on more than a few occasions. It is less pronounced with most images being completed by the time you open up the image preview pane. Google claims this is improved with low-light shots, and it’s evident that it has improved here too.

Cinematic mode is the biggest new camera function to join the Pixel 7. This effectively adds fake blur effects to each frame of video. It’s limited to 1080p recording, and while the subject separation when taking Portrait mode stills is excellent, in video, the story is very different. Even with slow-moving subjects, you can clearly see a halo or cutout effect that is distracting and obvious.

For still subjects, it’s a bit better, but if smartphone manufacturers think they can replicate cinema camera effects with software, then we’re a ways off at this stage. I’m sure it will improve, but for now, I have to say that this mode should be avoided.

Video on Pixel has always been a strong suit. It continues this year with excellent OIS combined with similarly impressive EIS. HDR video recording is a nice inclusion, but I’m not sure many people will benefit from larger video file sizes without first having a screen that can output the content accurately. You can just playback on your phone though.

Battery

Pixel 7 battery

Dipping the battery by almost 10% from 4,614mAh to 4,355mAh is a risky play by Google. This decision was likely forced given the shaved device dimensions. I was especially concerned as the Pixel 6 was a two-day phone for me. I’m a fairly light user throughout a regular week and mainly use my phone more heavily in the evenings.

That said, even after a week, I’m left impressed with the longevity of the Pixel 7. By no means is it a battery beast, but it can withstand even my heavy days of usage without major issues. I’m regularly heading to bed with around 25-35% battery remaining. This includes mainly texting, Twitter, email, some Google Maps use, and short video calling on a regular day.

When deviating into gaming and recording lots of 4K60 videos, like on most Android phones, the battery percentage level can nosedive. However, the Pixel 7 has been a faithful companion during my review period. Maybe eventually we’ll see iOS-level lifespan as the Pixel series progresses. At this stage, it’s solid if a little bit behind the best in the business.

Google does list the Pixel 7 as limited to 20W when using the 30W-rated official charger. In our experience, it can vary from 18-20W when charging via cable. This means that charge speeds are far below other flagship phones in 2022. To go from 0-100% takes around 1 hour 30 minutes in our experience.

Face Unlock

Pixel 7 face unlock

Software-based Face Unlock is now available on the Pixel 7 as an extra security option alongside the improved fingerprint scanner. It’s not quite as secure as the Pixel 4’s 3D-depth camera but an “advanced machine learning model,” an improved wide-angle selfie camera, and Tensor G2 work together to bring Face Unlock back to Pixel.

Any worries you might have about speed are unfounded. The registration process is not extensive, as you lift your head and chin within the viewfinder to add your facial “print.” Once you have completed this process and activated the feature you’ll see a Dynamic Color-themed animation around the selfie camera to indicate that a scan is taking process.

Unlocking your device is super fast and slick. It certainly leaves the fingerprint scanner in the dust. That said, in difficult lighting conditions, it can fail, which is why you may prefer the fingerprint scanner. Google has limited Face Unlock to device unlocks. Your facial scans can’t be used to make purchases. For those, you’ll need to continue using the improved in-display scanner for confirmation.

Signal and reception

A major problem that faced many with the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro was the, at times, awful signal and connectivity. This would often mean slow loading times for web pages, drops in reception, call failures, plus much more.

I’m tentatively suggesting that I think this has been fully resolved with the usage of the new Samsung 5300 modem. Stable connections and solid connections are something I instantly noticed even despite living in an area with good cellular network coverage.

Verdict so far

Transitioning from the Pixel 6 to the Pixel 7 was one that I expected to be fairly uneventful. In actual fact, the upgrades here are almost enough to justify that jump from the previous model to the new version.

I was quite happy to call the Pixel 6 the best Google-made phone to date. Rolling that back, the Pixel 7 is better in almost every regard when you factor in what was deemed below-par or substandard on previous Pixel devices.

To put it simply: At $599, the Pixel 7 is an even better package this year than the Pixel 6 was back in 2021. All of the major bugs that were present with Android 12 seem to have been resolved, and the problem areas and sore points have also been addressed without major detriment to the end product. This is the new default recommendation for most people seeking a new Android phone.

You can buy the Pixel 7 today from the Google Store, Best Buy, Amazon, and other major retailers including carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Google Fi.

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About the Author

Damien Wilde

Damien is a UK-based video producer for 9to5Google. Find him on Twitter: @iamdamienwilde. Email: damien@9to5mac.com