For the first time, Android has its very own flagship in the form of the 5-inch Google Pixel and 5.5-inch Google Pixel XL. Technically, both phones are made by HTC, but Google has involved itself more in these two devices than any previous Nexus, including the 6P and 5X. You won’t even find any HTC branding on either Pixel; they’re Google through and through.
Naturally, we have to see how the Pixel measures up with the Samsung Galaxy S7 —widely considered to be the best Android phone available, especially since its Edge variant is our Editors’ Choice winner for best Android phone.
Design, Display, and Features
There’s no denying it, the Pixel looks more like an Apple iPhone 7 than any other Android phone, from the metal unibody and layout of its camera (absent the hump) to the antenna lines, bottom speakers, and the notably large top and bottom bezel on the front. But unlike the iPhone, the Pixel sports a fingerprint scanner on the back, set in the middle of a half pane of glass. You’ll also find a USB-C charging port on the bottom and a 3.5mm audio jack up top. The power button and volume rocker are on the right.
The Galaxy S7 is also a glass-and-metal phone, following Samsung’s premium design language. You have metal sides, a glass back, and a combined fingerprint scanner/home button on the front with a set of capacitive buttons on either side. Unlike the Pixel, the S7 also uses microUSB rather than USB-C. Ultimately, aesthetics are always going to be a matter of opinion, but it’s hard to argue that the S7 isn’t more symmetrical and put together in terms of its overall look. The Really Blue Pixel does look nice, though.
Despite the distinct design differences, both phones are roughly the same size. The Google Pixel measures 5.7 by 2.7 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 5 ounces; the S7 (5.6 by 2.7 by 0.3 inches) is a tiny bit heavier at 5.4 ounces.
Both phones should be fairly easy to use one-handed, but you’re likely to notice one big difference when looking at them. The 5-inch Pixel only has a 1,920-by-1,080 AMOLED display, which won’t be as sharp or rich as the S7’s 5.1-inch, 2,560-by-1,440 Super AMOLED panel. Their respective resolutions work out to 441 pixels per inch for the Pixel and a much denser 577ppi for the S7. Samsung is widely considered to have some of the best displays in the market, and it seems in this category the Pixel can’t compete. That said, 1080p should still be more than enough on a 5-inch phone.
Between the two phones, the major things the Pixel lacks are waterproofing, wireless charging, and a microSD card slot. By contrast, the S7 is IP68 waterproof, letting it survive for 30 minutes under six feet of water. It also supports wireless charging and can take a microSD card up to 256GB, albeit with Marshmallow’s adoptable storage feature disabled.
Processor and Battery
The Pixel is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor with 4GB of RAM, and comes with 32GB or 128GB of internal storage. The S7 is powered by the Snapdragon 820 and has 4GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage.
When it comes to performance, the S7 was blazing fast in our tests, scoring an impressive 123.993 on AnTuTu, which measures overall system performance. We’ll need to put the Pixel through its paces here at PC Labs, but due to its improved processor, less demanding display, and lightweight UI, we can reasonably expect the Pixel to perform better in benchmarks. In terms of real-world usage, though, both phones are fast and powerful.
Battery life is another factor that’s hard to determine without testing. The S7 has a 3000mAh cell under the hood, which lasted nine hours during our rundown test, where we set screen brightness to maximum and stream full-screen video over LTE. The Pixel has a somewhat smaller 2,770mAh battery, but compensates with a lower-resolution display, so we’re expecting a fairly good runtime. Both phones support fast charging.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 has the best camera of any smartphone on the market, including the iPhone 7. With a 12-megapixel rear-facing sensor with optical image stabilization (OIS), a fast-launching camera app, 4K video recording, and 5-megapixel front-facing camera, the S7 is known for taking crisp shots in most lighting conditions.
The Pixel has the potential to give it a run for its money, though. It comes with a fully redesigned camera, boasting a 12.3-megapixel rear sensor with laser autofocus and dual-LED flash, an 8-megapixel front sensor, and support for 4K video recording. Notably, it topped DxOmark’s ranking, scoring 89, which is a tad higher than the S7 Edge’s 88 (the S7 and S7 Edge share the same camera hardware).
During its launch event, Google emphasized that it spent lots of time and effort in perfecting the camera so the Pixel can take great shots in low light and other less-than-ideal settings. Despite the lack of OIS, it should also be capable of taking incredibly well-stabilized video by using its gyroscope. We’re still not clear on all the details, but we’ll definitely be doing a shootout between the Pixel and the S7 once we get our hands on it.
Software, Support, and Peripherals
Software is going to be one of the biggest differentiators between the Pixel and the S7. The Pixel runs a version of Android 7.0 Nougat, as Google intended, while the S7 is still on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, with plans to get the update at some point soon.
That means the Pixel provides the purest Android experience—free from bloatware, heavy UI layers, carrier pre-installs, and the sluggish updates that characterize most other Android phones, including the S7. There’s no doubt that Samsung’s TouchWiz UI packs in lots of useful features, like split-screen, glove mode, the always-on screen for notifications; but it also bogs down the device.
The Pixel is free of that, consisting of Google’s suite of apps. Even the Verizon-exclusive phones shouldn’t have any bloatware. Aside from aesthetics like round icons, Google is bringing useful features to Nougat, like Google Assistant, which takes Google Now to the next level by giving you a complete voice assistant powered by machine learning.
The one, huge selling point of the Pixel is the fact that it comes with 24/7 live customer support for the phone. There’s even a screen-share option to allow the agent to see your phone’s screen. The Pixel will also be first Android phone to get every new update. Google is leaps and bounds ahead of Samsung in this category so that’s an experience you just won’t get on the S7.
Both phones have dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC with Android Pay, and LTE band support for every major U.S. carrier.
Price, Availability, and Conclusions
The Google Pixel comes in three colors—Very Silver, Quite Black, and the limited-edition Really Blue—at a starting price of $649 for its 32GB model. The 128GB model is $100 more, at $749. It is available for preorder through the Google Store, Verizon, and Best Buy.
These prices are in line with most other top-tier phones, including the Galaxy S7. On T-Mobile and most other carriers, the phone is available for $689.99 for its 32GB model (the only capacity you can get in the U.S.). That’s actually more expensive than the base price of the Pixel.
Overall, while it’s true that the Pixel is more expensive than last year’s Nexus 5X, that’s because it’s intended to be. The Pixel is a phone that looks capable of going toe-to-toe with the S7 and iPhone 7. It comes with a newer processor, reliable updates, 24/7 support, Google Assistant, and what sounds like a seriously capable camera. If software is important to you, the Google Pixel is shaping up to be a great option for Android users. On the other hand, if you love beautiful screens and a rich array of features, the Galaxy S7 remains an excellent phone.