We remember a time in the not-too-distant past when picking a high-end smartphone meant you were probably in one of two camps: Apple or Samsung. That’s no longer the case. Google’s Pixel series came out swinging last year with a fresh new design, a brilliant camera system and some serious software smarts – expertly balancing style, performance and value. Now, there’s a new flagship on the block: the Google Pixel 7. Depending on whether you used last year’s model it will either feel like a revelation or induce a powerful sense of deja vu.

So, what’s new this year?

Like the iPhone 14 series this year, it has been refined instead of revamped – and at a glance, we admit that it looks pretty much identical to its predecessor. But there have been a few subtle changes, mostly under the hood, that make this the best version of the phone yet, especially if you’re a first-time visitor to Pixel world. It has a better camera system, longer battery life, updated design and face unlocking. We’ve been using the handset for more than a week – paired up with the sleek new Pixel Watch – and here’s the deets: it is without a doubt the king of the Androids if you want the best-of-the-best when it comes to screen quality, battery life and cameras.

Grand Designs

Naturally, the first thing you’ll notice about the Pixel 7 is that it looks a lot like the 6. There’s no way around it: the design hasn’t changed much this year – although the slightly more snug camera bump and sides are now made with a matte metal instead of glass. We like the look but can’t shake the fear that it will attract scratches – especially on the port if, like us, you find yourself fumbling around with a charging cable.

It’s great to swipe through our apps and menus smoothly. It feels high-end. You can change both the resolution and the refresh rate in the settings – and lowering them is a way of saving battery.

Killer Camera

If you were to list the reasons for buying a Pixel, we’d bet our pet cat that its camera system is towards the top. There’s a good reason its reputation is so good: this is a setup that just works, delivering great photos both day and night. You get a solid 50-megapixel (MP) main shooter, alongside a 12MP ultrawide that has an auto macro mode for taking extreme close-ups, plus a 48MP telephoto for zooming. If you’ll be indulging in selfies or video calls, there’s a 10.8MP lens on the front.

There’s nothing as fancy as the iPhone 14’s new Dynamic Island, but there’s no big notch, either. Still, we found the results from both devices to be very impressive – although the Pixel 7 has better zoom capabilities thanks to the 120mm telephoto lens (the iPhone 14 Pro has a 77mm telephoto).

Unlike the Pixel 6 Pro, you get a 5x optical zoom and a “super res” zoom of up to 30x. We got excellent results with bright, accurate colours so you won’t need to spend any time editing snaps before posting them to Instagram. Here’s a handful of shots taken on the cameras, and they haven’t had any post-processing or edits

We like the simple menu layout – you’ll choose between 0.5x, 1x, 2x, and 5x zoom and six modes (night, motion, portrait, camera, video and cinematic). On the far right menu you access Google Lens, which is used to translate languages from text on the fly via the camera – that’ll help with reading the bar or restaurant menu on your next holiday. Translating text and voices is speedy and accurate.

Most of the heavy lifting is done by the Android 13 software paired with the Tensor G2 chip, which you won’t find if you break open the earlier models. The processor in the new phones increases efficiency and performance – but also helps to power the suite of futuristic editing modes. The Photo Unblur mode is a new one. It cleans up messy images if your subject was caught moving – and it definitely sharpens a blurry selfie, but doesn’t completely salvage the image. Still, we love that the feature is built into Google Photos, so any photos saved in the gallery can be unblurred, even if they were taken on an older phone from your unruly university nights out.

Magic Eraser mode can be used to remove small unwanted details from photos, too, and it works just as well as the previous models. It’s very good at removing one or two people from your snaps, but don’t expect it to work on a crowd. The new Macro mode is another helpful tool (it automatically switches as you zoom into a subject) but we admit that it’s not always a feature we would probably use day-to-day. We were unimpressed with the cinematic video mode, which adds a blurry background to your recordings. We could unfortunately see very distorted edges around some objects in the clip. This could be fixed by Google magic in a software update.

Super Software

On the Pixel 7 series, Android 13 runs the show. It’s incredibly fast and clean – with no bloatware or unwanted apps in sight. The software gives you loads of control over app permissions and lets you add themed icons and resizable widgets to your main screen. We used one that displays the battery life of connected devices – so we could always manage the fuel in our phone, Pixel Watch and wireless earbuds.

Making a return for the first time since the Google Pixel 4 is face unlocking. It was mysteriously absent in recent years – and we welcome it like an old friend. It’s fast, but still not on the level of Apple’s Face ID. While you can scan your face to quickly unlock the screen you have to press your fingerprint for any banking or payments. Thankfully, Google has fixed one of the biggest issues with the Pixel 6, making a noticeable improvement to the under-screen sensor this time around. We didn’t have any trouble with the clever biometric unlock when tapping on our review unit.

The performance was always smooth, but we encountered some overheating when the phone was put under heavier strain – such as multitasking between apps at once, streaming or intensive gaming. You won’t need gloves, but you’ll feel it. As always, future support is strong on the Pixel series and you’ll get Android updates until October 2025 and security updates under the same month in 2027. Like the previous Pixels, the Google phone comes with car crash detection (take that, Apple).

Pixel Power

You’ll get a little over a day of battery life out of the Pixel 7 – but with the refresh rate and display resolution maxed out it’s likely to be a little less. We got ourselves into a nice routine of charging the smartphone and watch every night and accepted that the dream of a two-day battery wasn’t one that would come true. With daily use of playing Spotify during the commute to and from work, periodically checking emails, reading websites and watching videos, we got a day-and-a-bit. We don’t play lots of mobile games, but that will definitely be another major drain – as will live-streaming content from the likes of Twitch and YouTube.

We found that the battery would go from dead to 50% full in around 30-40 minutes with a 30W wall charger (yes, like other flagships these days there’s no adapter in the box, just the USB-C cable). The 7 also supports 12W Qi wireless charging, and you can extend the amount of fuel in the tank significantly using the Battery Saver mode. We found that it’s very helpful if you find yourself stuck without access to a charger. Just know that turning this on severely limits access to apps – we turned on the extreme mode at one point and were swiftly restricted from browsing our Instagram.

Should you buy the Pixel 7 Pro?

The Pixel 7 is our favourite high-end Android phone of the year. It’s a refinement of a reinvention – improving last year’s model by adding face unlocking, a shiny new camera bump and further enhancing some of the best portable cameras that you can have in your pocket. Yes, the Pixel 7 has many of the same features for less, and it’s not an instant buy for anyone with a Pixel 6 Pro, but aesthetically the 7 is one of the most head-turning handsets that you can pick up in 2022 – and it’s returned with the style and confidence of a smartphone that knows it’s good.

Pixel 7 starts at only $799. And it’s available in Snow, Obsidian and Lemongrass.