Pixel 7 and 7 Pro review: The best zoom lens in the game

There’s no beating around the bush: The Pixel 7 Pro’s camera is the absolute, bonafide, no-holds-barred real deal. I’ve never had more fun taking photos on a smartphone.

Whether your subject is so far away that it’s literally on a different landmass or so close that you can taste it, Google’s Pixel 7 Pro can capture it beautifully and with zero fuss thanks to its unique telephoto lens and macro focus feature. The new Tensor G2 chip powering both the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro intelligently uses software to do things that the tiny lenses in smartphones normally cannot. 

Both phones launch on Oct. 13, with the Pixel 7 starting at $599 and the Pixel 7 Pro starting at $899.


Google Pixel 6a shows that greatness doesn’t need to exceed expectations

These Android phones are more than just mobile cameras, though, and that’s perhaps where the two Pixel 7s could be seen as minor disappointments. Aside from changes to the exterior color schemes and a new texture for the camera bar, the Pixel 7 line is a lot like the Pixel 6 line on the outside.

That holds true on the inside, too. The Tensor G2 chip enables a few handy new AI features related to calls and voice messages, but the everyday usability of these new Google flagships hasn’t changed much. And, unfortunately, the regular Pixel 7 doesn’t have the best of the new camera features.

Pixel 7 surrounded by lenses

It doesn’t pack the same camera punch as the 7 Pro, but it sure is pretty.
Credit: Kyle Cobian/Mashable

That incrementalist approach isn’t the worst thing in the world because the Pixel 6s were great phones. If you bought in last year (or earlier this year with the Pixel 6a), the Pixel 7 line is probably a bit too modest an update to justify an upgrade. But if you’ve been holding onto an older Pixel (or even want to switch from iPhone to Android, as much as your blue-bubble-having friends would hate that), now might be the time to make the jump, preferably to the Pixel 7 Pro. 

Your Instagram feed will look way more fresh, at the very least.

So long, two-tone color scheme

Google Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro camera bars

Welcome to the age of metallic camera bars.
Credit: Kyle Cobian/Mashable

Ever seen a Pixel 6? Then you’ve basically seen a Pixel 7, except the older model was a little bit more fun.


Google Pixel 6 & 6 Pro Review

There’s no Dynamic Island-like innovation on display here — Google mostly stuck with what worked on the Pixels 6 last time around. It kept the signature horizontal camera bar (which has gotten a newer, more metallic texture) that rests near the top of the phone’s backside. The two Pixel 7 phones are also almost identical in size to their Pixel 6 counterparts. The Pixel 7 comes in at 6.3-inches (a tenth of an inch smaller than the Pixel 6) and the Pixel 7 Pro at 6.7-inches. Refresh rates are also unchanged, with the Pixel 7 rocking a smooth 90Hz and the Pixel 7 Pro rocking an even smoother 120Hz.

That said, after extensively using both phones for a few days, I can’t say I really noticed the refresh rate difference and I have pretty discerning eyes for that sort of thing. Don’t make that aspect of the 7 Pro a selling point, if you can help it.

Each phone’s body is covered front to back in glass and I would strongly recommend alleviating that with a case. I’ve had both Pixel 7s slip and slide on softer surfaces, which isn’t fun. 

Google Pixel 7 power button and volume rocker

There’s a shiny, glassy feel to every part of the Pixel 7 lineup.
Credit: Kyle Cobian/Mashable

Really, the only major physical change Google made this year is the removal of the two-tone color scheme that made the Pixel 6 line so easily identifiable in public. Last year, each Pixel 6 had slightly different colors above and below the camera bar, which not only looked unique but naturally drew the eyes to the lens array itself. This time around, the colors are uniform across the entire phone.

The Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro are both available in obsidian and snow colors, while the Pixel 7 gets an exclusive lemongrass option and the Pixel 7 Pro similarly gets a hazel colorway. 

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

By far the biggest hardware difference between the two new Pixel 7 phones lies in the rear camera array. Both phones share the same 10.8MP selfie cam to go along with a 50MP wide cam and a 12MP ultra-wide lens on the back. However, like last year, the Pixel 7 Pro has a 48MP telephoto lens on the back. Unlike last year’s Pixel 6 Pro, however, zooming way in on faraway subjects has never looked this good. 

Google has employed Tensor sorcery this time around to up the Pixel 7 Pro’s maximum zoom length to a whopping 30x. For reference, the iPhone 14 only goes up to 5x, while the iPhone 14 Pro hits 30x. That latter number alone isn’t revelatory, as other recent Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy Fold 4 could also zoom that far. The real magic here is the computational upgrades that happen in the background when you zoom way in on subjects, which produce much clearer pictures than anything the Galaxy Fold 4 was capable of doing.

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

The Pixel 7 Pro also has one other exclusive feature called “Macro Focus.” This isn’t especially new to smartphones, as even budget handsets like last year’s Moto G Stylus 5G had macro lenses. The idea is that you can physically place the phone very close (like, centimeters away) to a small subject like a budding flower and get a clear, focused shot. While other phones like that Moto handset relegated macro shots to their own option in the camera app, Pixel 7 Pro is much more elegant about it. Simply use the default camera view at 1x zoom, place the phone close to your subject, and macro focus will automatically start up.

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

I generally feel that if you’re going to get a Pixel 7, you should get the 7 Pro. The zoom lens and macro focus features are just too much fun to ignore. I’m not a photographer by any means. I write professionally because words are the easiest way for me to express myself. But even with that being the case, all of my Pixel 7 camera testing, especially with the Pro, was tremendously fun. 

The Pixel 7 wasn’t quite as much of a treat, as it can only zoom in up to 8x and has no macro features. Don’t get it twisted, though; it’s still a great smartphone camera. It’s just not the greatest smartphone camera.

More similar than different

Aside from the major camera differences, both of these phones are functionally the same. Sure, the Pixel 7 only has 8GB RAM compared to the Pixel 7 Pro’s 12GB, but I never noticed a major performance deficit of any kind when moving from one to the other. The only other significant advantage the Pro has specs-wise is the addition of a 512GB storage option on top of the 128GB and 256GB options found in the Pixel 7.

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

The Pixel 7 line comes with Android 13 pre-installed, though there’s nothing new or surprising to find here since the newest Android build rolled out to other Pixel phones in August. The “Material You” interface aesthetic that graced the Pixel 6 has been enhanced, with the wallpaper and icon color palette expanding from four colors to 16. Go ahead and press and hold on your home screen to browse all the options.

Personally, I got overwhelmed by all the colors and just picked something at random. It’s not like my eyes see color correctly anyway. Android 13 also lets you choose different default languages for different apps rather than assigning one uniform language to the whole phone, which is a nice feature for multilingual users.

Still, when it comes to the daily routine of checking Twitter, listening to Spotify, texting your buds, and anything else that falls under the tried-and-true pastime of “looking at your phone instead of doing work,” you won’t find much here that sets the Pixel 7 apart from the Pixel 6. The new Tensor chip makes both phones run incredibly fast, producing absolutely zero performance hiccups that I could detect, but that was the same on the Pixel 6 line. 

As for battery life, I got around 26 hours (including sleep time) with Pixel 7 Pro and around 22 hours on Pixel 7. Both phones are rated for 24 hours of battery usage and both more or less delivered on that promise. 

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.

True as that is, I still feel that the Pixel 7 Pro is an incredible phone that is well worth an upgrade if you’ve been sitting on an older Pixel or Android phone for a few years. It’s all about the cameras; the telephoto lens produces stunning 30x photos and macro focus brings out the best in tiny objects like flowers and raindrops. It’s merely a nice bonus that you get a bit more RAM and storage with the 7 Pro. 


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That’s not to say anything negative about the Pixel 7, which is a fine phone in its own right with well-above-average cameras and high octane performance. I just don’t feel that it’s different enough from Pixel 6 or even Pixel 6a to warrant the upgrade. At $599, the Pixel 7 certainly has a more agreeable price than the $899 Pixel 7 Pro, but if you want a cheaper but still kinda new Pixel, just get the $450 Pixel 6a instead. 

If you do decide to go Pro, you’re going to have the dopest social media photos in your friend group. I guarantee it.


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