The final verdict: Pixel XL vs iPhone 7 Plus
Is the best from Google enough to topple the best from Apple?
You’d think that with the untimely and rather explosive exit of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, the Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus would have a clear run at the premium smartphone segment for next couple of months, right? Not if Google has its way. With the launch of the Pixel range, the Internet giant enters the fragmented Android market with its own brand. Is the best from Google enough to topple the best from Apple, or is it merely a glossy wannabe?
With the iPhone 7 Plus, Apple skipped the aesthetic overhaul that it usually reserves for major version number changes, opting to kit the iPhone in two new colors—a glossy Jet Black and a classy matte finish Black—without deviating from the familiar form factor. Well, almost—there is the much bandied-about matter of the headphone jack (or lack thereof) and a new home button that vibrates instead of actually depressing in response to being clicked. The upside? Proper water resistance, something that the Pixel XL lacks, despite it taking a number of heavily inspired design cues from Apple. The Pixel offers a generic, almost underwhelming design, and the only saving grace is the neat two-tone finish on the rear. Compared to the iPhone’s stereo speaker setup, the Pixel has a single mono speaker, but it does pack in a headphone jack.
The Pixel XL has the upper hand in this department thanks to its quad-HD (2560 x 1440 pixel) OLED panel, which edges ahead of the full-HD (1920x1080) LCD panel on the iPhone by the slimmest of margins. If you like punchy eye-catching colours, you’ll prefer the Pixel…else, you won’t notice a significant difference between the two on a day-to-day basis. Also, bear in mind, the iPhone also packs in 3D Touch, Apple’s implementation of a pressure sensitive display which gives you access to different features and functions based on how hard you press the screen.
Both phones back top-of-the-shelf hardware (iPhone’s A10 Fusion processor with 3GB memory vs the Pixel’s Snapdragon 821 chip with 4GB of memory) for the price, so there isn’t a lot you can do to tax either phone past its limits. For everyday tasks, the Pixel XL and the iPhone 7 Plus will handle your apps, media and games without breaking a sweat. Where the Pixel noses ahead is courtesy the Android 7.1 Nougat software running on the phone. Google has optimised Android to run blisteringly fast on the Pixel, and the sheer speed and fluidity of the platform on the Pixel hardware sets a benchmark not only for Android phones but for the iPhone as well. Battery performance is comparable on both, with the Pixel having to power a higher resolution screen from its marginally beefier 3,450 mAh battery, while the iPhone with iOS 10 is rather efficient with its 2,900 mAh battery. While both phones lack wireless charging, the Pixel XL gets fast charging, so you can add about seven hours of life with just a 15-minute splashand-dash-charge. And as far as storage is concerned, both lack expandable storage but offer plenty of space with a 128GB model, with the iPhone going one step further with a 256GB variant.
The dual 12-megapixel lenses camera setup on the iPhone 7 Plus allows for some neat tricks, including actual optical zoom—a rarity on smartphone cameras—and a Portrait mode that delivers DSLR-like results of human subjects, slightly blurred backdrops and all. Coupled with the f/1.9 aperture lens and the optical image stabilisation, the 7 Plus stands abreast the Samsung S7 as one of the best snappers this year. Now, the Pixel XL camera seems weak on paper with no image stabilisation, but take it for a spin, particularly with its auto HDR+ mode turned on, and you’ll turn into a believer. Outdoor exposure and colour reproduction is brilliant on the Pixel XL, and the electronic software-based image stabilisation on video turns out slick, jitter-free video every single time. In low light, the Pixel turns out brighter images than the iPhone, but at the expense of graininess that creeps into the occasional shot. No matter where your shooting preferences lie, the camera performance on both phones is top-notch, and you couldn’t go too wrong with either.
iOS and Android 7.1 are both incredibly mature mobile platforms, and of course, if you’re a long-term Google/Gmail user, the Pixel XL seamlessly fits into your life, whereas if you’re surrounded by Macs and iPads, the iPhone joins the family just nicely, thank you. That said, Google Assistant is the Pixel’s secret weapon, as it’s the only phone to ship with Google’s voice assistant built-in. Once you get down to using it frequently, Assistant is incredibly useful, responding intelligently to your questions and bringing up relevant contextual information, such as movie times if you’re looking up information about a film. The conversational aspect of Assistant really stands out—say, if you’ve asked about the weather in your city, you can follow it up with a “and what about next week?” and it will intelligently understand you’re still talking about the weather! It’s also much better at actually finding answers for questions I posed to it, rather than merely directing me to a web search as Apple’s Siri’s wont is. As a bonus, Google is offering unlimited free full resolution backups for all your photos and video for all Pixel owners, a big step up from the anaemic 5GB of free storage you get when you sign up for a free iCloud account from Apple.
For a first-generation product, the Pixel XL is a remarkably sorted and well thought-through product, even if the design is entirely ho-hum. It packs in a great hardware-software experience, a snappy camera and even offers fast charging, a feature that is fast becoming a table stake for most buyers. There’s even a headphone jack for those of you slighted by Apple’s decision to drop the audio port from their latest phones. iPhone, on the other hand, maintains the edge in terms of overall polish and quality of apps, and let’s be honest, we’ve been far more conditioned to spend big bucks on Apple products than on Android devices, be it due to resale value or the inherent longevity of an iPhone. This is where the Pixel falters, in a sense, and the pricing—Rs 67,000 for the 32GB variant and Rs 76,000 for the 128GB variant—is significantly more expensive than the extremely well-regarded Samsung S7 Edge with none of the bells and whistles that Samsung packs in—a curved screen, sleek waterproof design, best in class displays and cameras. It almost feels like Google’s Pixel team decided to make a Google iPhone in every sense, pricing included, and priced itself out of contention as a result.