I just tested Google Pixel 7’s Photo Unblur feature — here’s how well it works

Pixel 7 Pro hands-on
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Both the Google Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro boast plenty of impressive features. But near the top of that list is Photo Unblur, a new photo-editing tool that can turn blurry photos into something you're happy to post and share.

Photo Unblur is powered by the new Tensor G2 chip that's inside the latest Pixel 7 models. As such, the feature is currently a Pixel 7-exclusive, and figures to remain so for the foreseeable future. You won't find Pixel Unblur among the Pixel 7 features slated to come to the Pixel 6 via upcoming software updates at the moment.

Google Pixel 7 Photo Unblur feature

(Image credit: Future)

The Pixel 7's Tensor chip leverages machine learning to take blurry photos and clean up the images, similar to how the Magic Eraser feature introduced last year could easily remove distracting people and objects from your photos. Photo Unblur has been added to the Google Photos app on the Pixel 7 as a photo-editing tool — when you select a blurry shot in Photos, Photo Unblur appears as a suggested tool more often than not, making it even easer to clean up your blurry shots.

Perhaps the best thing about Photo Unblur is that you're not limited to fixing blurry photos that you shoot with the Pixel 7. Any photo stored in the Photos app is fair game, so long as you're accessing that app on one of Google's latest Pixels. That means photos shot by completely different phones — even iPhones — can be fixed, too.

Photo Unblur sounds good on paper, but how does it work in practice? To find out, I took some of my old, blurry photos and put the new feature to work cleaning them up. I also asked my Tom's Guide colleagues to send me their blurriest photos so we could see how well this Pixel 7 feature works.

Here's what I discovered when I had the chance to test the Pixel 7's Photo Unblur feature.

Outdoor shot in shadows (iPhone 5c)

I took this snapshot of my daughter seven years ago — so long ago, I was still carrying the iPhone 5c around. Her face is covered in shadows cast by one of the felled tree trunks at Sequoia National Park, but more to the point, she's also out of focus, either because she kept moving or my hands shook or some combination of the two.

Photo Unblur clears up her face so that her features are now perfectly in focus. The trade-off is that her facial features have become very smoothed over, giving her an almost doll-like appearance. Here, the shadow works in my favor because it disguises the excesses of the unblur effect while significantly clearing up the area around her face.

Group shot, indoors (iPhone 3G)

Photo Unblur can apparently handle photos from even older phones, as this shot of my daughter and two preschool pals was captured by an iPhone 3G if the image's metadata is to be believed. The faces of all three girls feature varying degrees of blur — my daughter is most in focus, while the girl on the far left is quite blurry.

Photo Unblur does a bang-up job here, sharpening the faces of all three young ladies, especially the girl in the middle. You get some aggressive face-smoothing again, especially with my daughter and her friend on the left, but that's a decent trade-off for a picture this clear.

Group shot, animals (iPhone 13 Pro Max)

If kids don't stay in one place when you're trying to photograph them, animals are even less cooperative. And that's the problem with this photo of some Oxford Sandy and Black pigs that my colleague Richard Priday took with his iPhone 13 Pro Max. Let's see if Photo Unblur can huff and puff and blow some of the blurriness out of this picture of three little pigs.

The answer: It sort of can. There's no change on the pig in the middle, but the one on the right comes into sharper focus with the Unblur effect, particularly around the snout and the eyes. Alas, the pig on the left merely gets a sharper snout, but not much else. My guess here is that Photo Unblur works best when it can concentrate on a specific area rather than multiple subjects spread cross the width of the picture.

Animal shot, outdoors (iPhone 11)

The value of applying the unblur effect in one specific area is on display in this photo from fitness editor Jane McGuire. It's a pretty striking photo featuring a dog in a wintery field with soee lovely pink and purple clouds in the sky. But unfortunately, our four-legged friend is ever so slightly out of focus.

The improvement once we tap into Photo Unblur is subtle, but it's there. Focus around the dog's nose, and you see better focus — not significantly better, but improved enough that the shot looks better than it did before.

Night shot, outdoors (iPhone SE)

So far, most of our unblurred photos have been captured in favorable lighting conditions. Not so this photo of my daughter during an oddly lit holiday celebration. She's completely blurry, as the camera on the original iPhone SE struggled with the dark setting.

This is, by far, my favorite example of what Photo Unblur can do. My daughter's face becomes clearly visible once the Blur effect works its magic. There's also none of the over-smoothing we see in some of the other photos, though the right side of her face is a little washed out. Given the challenging lighting, though, the way her face is illuminated doesn't look entirely out of place. This is a vastly improved photo, thanks to Photo Unblur.

Indoor shot, distance (iPhone 12 Pro Max)

Senior editor Henry T. Casey supplies this photo of wrestler Rey Mysterio shot at a distance indoors. The original photo looks pretty decent, actually, though it's probably not as sharp as it could be. Perhaps that's why Photo Unblur had such minimal impact on the shot.

Oh, there's some improvement — Myserio's t-shirt is now more legible. And to my eyes, his forearms appear a little sharper in the unblurred photo. But for the most part, the Pixel 7's feature has concentrated on clearing up one area of the photo, and it's not necessarily the area you would hope to see come into focus.

Indoor shot, low-lighting (Galaxy S22 Ultra)

Staff writer Malcolm McMillan's concert shot was taken under similar conditions to the Rey Mysterio shot — it's indoors and shot at a distance (though that's rarely an issue for the Galaxy S22 Ultra). The lightning, however, is much more unforgiving.

Photo Unblur improves the shot a little bit, though you'll have to zoom in to see the effect. The guitarist's face becomes a lot more visible in the dim lighting after we used the Unblur effect; the lead singer to the left is essentially untouched.

Action shot, indoors (Pixel 4a)

I don't think I have to explain what's wrong with the original photo of senior editor Marshall Honoroff demonstrating his taekwondo technique. Marshall's just a blur of movement. Surely, the Photo Unblur tool can clear that up a little, especially considering that this photo was captured by one of Google's own devices, a Pixel 4a.

Alas, it didn't matter, in one of the true disappointments of our Photo Unblur testing. Marshall remains as blurry as before, with his face and arms especially out of focus. I had hoped Photo Unblur might at least clean up the area around his face, but the only thing that appears sharper is the logo on his shirt.

Photo Unblur testing: Outlook

I noticed a few things when testing the Photo Unblur feature on the Pixel 7 that seemed to suggest some common themes about this Tensor-powered capability. For starters, we seemed to get the best results with photos captured by older phones. That's likely because mobile cameras have improved so much in recent years, but with older devices, there's a lot more to fix, so you're going to notice Photo Unblur's impact more.

We also got our best results with people when they're facing the camera — we tested a number of photos not included in this article featuring side views of faces where there was no discernible effect at all. That's especially true of any photos involving animals — when the majority of an animal's face is facing the camera, the better job Photo Unblur does of cleaning things up.

Lighting doesn't seem to have an impact on Photo Unblur's effectiveness. In fact, some of the best improvements came in low-light shots. The lighting can also help cover up the over-smoothing of faces that seems to be a side effect of Photo Unblur.

Having used Photo Unblur, I've come to realize that it's not a silver bullet for all blurry shots. Some photos are beyond saving. But the feature is effective enough and it's easy to use Photo Unblur to improve older shots. Even after this testing, Photo Unblur remains my favorite Pixel 7 feature.

Next: I love the design of the Pixel 7 Pro — except for this one thing and the Google Pixel 7 Pro fixes the biggest Pixel 6 Pro problem.

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.