The Pixel 7 Pro camera just blew away the iPhone 14 Pro — here's why

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

Google wasn't shy during the Pixel event about calling out Apple and how Google got there first with many innovations while introducing the Pixel 7 Pro — even if it didn't mention the iPhone maker by name. We heard about how Google was first with an always-on display, a night mode for the camera and crash detection.

The message was clear. We beat you to the punch, Apple, and then you copied us. Well, you can now add one more feature to the "Google got their first" pile, one that the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max will likely envy. And that's a much more powerful zoom. 

The Pixel 7 Pro features a telephoto lens with a 5x optical zoom and up to 30x Super Res Zoom (digital zoom). The iPhone 14 Pro series maxes out at 3x optical and 15x for digital zoom, so Apple's new iPhone is literally far behind Google's new Pixel in this category. 

The Pixel 7 Pro also leverages computational photography via the Tensor G2 chip to achieve sharp-looking images at a range of zoom distances. The idea is to combine hardware, software and machine learning to achieve pro-level results.

Pixel 7 Pro zoom

(Image credit: Google)

To be fair, Google borrows a similar technique from the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max to achieve the 2x magnification. Google's Super Res Zoom feature crops a 50MP image down to a 12.5MP photo. Google then "remosiacs" the image to take the noise out of the photo. This particular feature is available on both the Pixel 7 Pro and regular Pixel 7.

If you're in between 2x and 5x, the Pixel 7 Pro takes a photo using both the telephoto camera and main camera, and the Tensor G2 chip aligns and fuses the two images together to create a composite photo. As you keep zooming in, the dedicated telephoto lens takes over at 5x and the Tensor G2 powers a new autofocus algorithm to ensure your pics look sharp. Even at 10x digital zoom Google claims that it can achieve a crisp 12-MP image. 

Google recognizes that as you zoom in further that hand motion starts to become a real issue, as it is on the Galaxy S22, Galaxy S22 Plus and Galaxy S22 Ultra. It can be quite hard to lock on your subject with those phones. That's where the Pixel 7 Pro's Zoom Stabilization feature comes in, which keeps your camera steady when going past 15x; it does this by identifying the subject in the viewfinder and stabilizing the camera on it. 

Pixel 7 Pro zoom stabilzation

(Image credit: Google)

From there, a new ML upscaler kicks in to provide more resolution to the image. Samsung's camera phones can lock on a subject but you have to press the subject on the screen, and it doesn't offer this kind of upscaling. 

There have been rumors that Apple is working on a periscope zoom lens, but that's tipped for the iPhone 15 Pro or iPhone 15 Ultra in 2023. 

To be fair, Google seems to be copying or at least borrowing a number of camera features from the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max. This includes Cinematic Blur for adding more depth of field to your videos while blurring out the background. (Cough, Apple was there first with Cinematic mode.) And the Active Stabilization feature for smoother action videos sounds an awful lot like Apple's Action mode video that just debuted on the iPhone 14 models.

The Macro Focus mode introduced with the Pixel 7 also sounds similar to the macro mode on the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro, as both Google and Apple utilize the ultra-wide camera for close-ups. But we'll have to see how Pixel 7 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro stack up when we use both cameras side by side. 

Photo Unblur

(Image credit: Google )

Google is certainly pushing the envelope further than Apple when it comes to editing photos. With Photo Unblur, for example, the Pixel 7 Pro promises to remove noise and sharpen images after they're taken no matter what camera was used — even the iPhone. 

Overall, the Pixel 7 Pro seems like it has a real shot to unseat the iPhone 14 Pro Max as our best camera phone, effectively doubling the maximum zoom range while promising shaper images in the process. And I'm pretty sure Apple's engineers will be paying close attention. 

Next: Google Pixel 7 — 5 reasons to buy and 3 reasons to skip.

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.

  • Chidude
    I would advise going to Reddit and searching for Pixel Bricked. Every model has many posts about Qualcomm chip failures at the 2 yo 3 year mark. So , if you factor in Costa per year of functional use, Samsung will win. I cannot recommend purchasing the Pixel Brick 7 any model.
    Reply
  • smartchange
    I don't think counting Reddit posts is necessarily a gauge for reality. And don't you know they don't use Qualcomm chips anymore? Tensor!
    Reply
  • Chidude
    Reddit posts are going to be more reliable than Google sponsored sites, and what's telling is how the bricking issue has been consistent across all Pixel models. Given how Google cared little for durability beyond 2 to 3 years on prior phones, I would probably wait 3 years to see how the Tensor does.
    Reply
  • smartchange
    Have you ever owned a Pixel? If so, please tell us your anecdote. What evidence, besides anecdotes from Reddit, do you have that "the bricking issue has been consistent across all Pixel models"? Could you please explain for us all what exactly you mean by the "the bricking issue"? And of course you know they are providing five years of updates. If they all break after two years, how will they continue to develop software for those devices? Finally, why is your opinion to wait something to be trusted, especially when you don't provide any credible reasons to support your assertion?
    Reply
  • Chidude
    Fair question. My experience is precisely the same as others have posted on Reddit. Fully charged Pixel 4xl, working flawlessly for a couple of years, updated to android 13. 3 days later, wake up, it's fully charged, alarm works as expected, android auto works as expected, connects to work wifi as expected, lay it down on desk, 2 hr later pick it up: Brick. Won't charge, won't respond to a known working pixel charger and charger cable. Holding down power 60+ seconds. Nothing. Hold down power and vol down, vol up... doesn't matter. It is a brick. Connect to computer at home, the Qcomm USB thing is seen in device manager but no driver exists that will let you access the memory in the phone. Did a "Find My Device" even after holding down the power button for a couple of minutes. It found it as well as it would find any brick: nada.

    This story is repeated numerous times across Pixel 3,4,5 models... and I have seen bricking posts on the 6 along with many problems with the 6, but I did not dive as deeply into those, admittedly. But gosh oh golly gee, I'm sure Google overnight changed their QA policies to magically make their quality so much better with the PixelBrick 6 and 7 after 5 iterations of prior PixelBricks. Most state the issue occurs after 2-3 years, so, if you have income to drop $800 every 2-3 years on a phone, buy this year's PixelBrick. Now, do the same sort of search for "Samsung Bricked" and the posts are far fewer. Heck, Android Authority had a separate article on the Pixel 3 Brick phenom. And yes, you're right. What good is 5 years of updates for a brick? It's not. I'll pass on Pixels. I have never, ever had a phone over the past many years that died like this... all gave warning signs and even then, did not brick so that I could still use them as webcams. No more PixelBricks for me. The Google employees posting here can continue to get them on their discounts, but I'll take a hard pass.
    Reply
  • COLGeek
    To offer a counter-point. I too have owned 3 different Pixels. Zero issues. About to receive my 4th one and expect it to be as good as the others.

    Previous Samsung user, never had any issues with those either. Just prefer the Pixel.

    I am certainly not a Google employee, nor do they pay me or provide any discounts.
    Reply
  • smartchange
    Chidude said:
    Fair question. My experience is precisely the same as others have posted on Reddit. Fully charged Pixel 4xl, working flawlessly for a couple of years, updated to android 13. 3 days later, wake up, it's fully charged, alarm works as expected, android auto works as expected, connects to work wifi as expected, lay it down on desk, 2 hr later pick it up: Brick. Won't charge, won't respond to a known working pixel charger and charger cable. Holding down power 60+ seconds. Nothing. Hold down power and vol down, vol up... doesn't matter. It is a brick. Connect to computer at home, the Qcomm USB thing is seen in device manager but no driver exists that will let you access the memory in the phone. Did a "Find My Device" even after holding down the power button for a couple of minutes. It found it as well as it would find any brick: nada.

    This story is repeated numerous times across Pixel 3,4,5 models... and I have seen bricking posts on the 6 along with many problems with the 6, but I did not dive as deeply into those, admittedly. But gosh oh golly gee, I'm sure Google overnight changed their QA policies to magically make their quality so much better with the PixelBrick 6 and 7 after 5 iterations of prior PixelBricks. Most state the issue occurs after 2-3 years, so, if you have income to drop $800 every 2-3 years on a phone, buy this year's PixelBrick. Now, do the same sort of search for "Samsung Bricked" and the posts are far fewer. Heck, Android Authority had a separate article on the Pixel 3 Brick phenom. And yes, you're right. What good is 5 years of updates for a brick? It's not. I'll pass on Pixels. I have never, ever had a phone over the past many years that died like this... all gave warning signs and even then, did not brick so that I could still use them as webcams. No more PixelBricks for me. The Google employees posting here can continue to get them on their discounts, but I'll take a hard pass.

    Oh. If I don't share your opinion, I must be a Google employee, huh? Your post looks a lot more like propaganda than mine. You are not credible at all.
    Reply
  • smartchange
    Chidude said:
    Reddit posts are going to be more reliable than Google sponsored sites
    Why? Do you believe everything you see on Reddit? Do you think there are no bots or shills on Reddit?
    Reply