How Google's new phone compares with the Samsung Galaxy S7
Despite its problems with the Galaxy Note 7, Samsung still has the best Android phones on the market with the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge – but will the Google Pixel take Samsung’s crown? Here we examine the key criteria of each handset in depth to find out which comes out on top.
Both the Galaxy S7 and Pixel are pricey smartphones, and if that kind of expenditure makes you feel uneasy, you can at least comfort yourself with one thing: you'll get a good looking device.
Both handsets are a beautiful combination of metal and glass and are in the same ballpark in terms of size, at 5in for the Pixel and 5.1in for the Galaxy S7. While the Samsung Galaxy comes in black, gold, white, silver or rose gold, Google gently prods at the pomposity of rival manufacturers' grandiose colour titles with the more straightforward “quite black”, “very silver” and “really blue”.
Two more things to note from the outside. Firstly, both phones have fingerprint security, but they're located in totally different places. While Samsung opts for home button security on the S7, Google is placing theirs on the back of the handset – so it's a question of whether you prefer to unlock with your thumb or your index finger.
Secondly, Google incorporates a USB Type C charging port into their handset, while Samsung sticks with micro USB – probably for the last time. Whether this is a win for either depends on whether you value the faster speeds of the newer port over the convenience of micro USB cables being literally everywhere.
So overall on design, it comes down your preference for the charging port. Otherwise, we’ll call this category a draw.
Thankfully, this category is a little more clear cut – at least on paper. We should caveat this section by saying that there's more to screen quality than just resolution, and our review will get to the bottom of screen quality when we can put the Pixel properly through its paces.
That said, on paper, Samsung clearly has the upper hand here.
As mentioned above, the Galaxy S7's screen is marginally (0.1in) bigger than the Pixel's, but the resolution difference is huge: 1,440 x 2,560 to Google's 1,080 x 1,920. That means that while the S7 is packing 557 pixels per inch, the Pixel has just 424.
Now it's important not to overstate that, given most people will find a 1080p display fine on a screen of that size – and after all, most of our TV sets are still 1080p and we cope fine with those. However, if you're interested in virtual reality – either with the Samsung Galaxy Gear VR or Google's upcoming Daydream – then this stuff matters a lot more. In short: virtual reality involves having a screen magnified very close to your eyes, and under this kind of scrutiny, every pixel matters.
That means that this round goes decisively to Samsung unless Google really manages to surprise us when we test the Pixel in depth. But given Samsung makes some of the best screens in the business, we’re doubtful the Galaxy S7 will be beaten here.
Performance is quite a bit trickier to evaluate, because we’re comparing Samsung's own, very fast octa-core 2.3GHz Exynos 8890 chip against the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor in the Google Pixel. The Snapdragon 821 promises a 10% boost on its predecessor, the Snapdragon 820. As we haven't seen had any handsets with the new chip yet, it's hard to validate these claims, but it's likely the Pixel will be very snappy indeed.
Both handsets are backed up with 4GB RAM, so a dead-heat there.
If we were betting on the outcome, we’d put our money on the Google Pixel to be marginally quicker – not just because of the advances of the Snapdragon chipset, but because the new hardware combined with Google software is generally a recipe for buttery-smooth operation. But we won't know for sure until we get one in our labs.
Again, battery life is difficult to predict because there are so many variables.
We could look at the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Google Pixel batteries side by side and say objectively that the S7's is larger. And that's true: it's 3,000mAh compared to 2,770mAh – but it doesn't tell the full story.
There are two reasons to think that day-to-day use will see the Google Pixel bettering the Samsung Galaxy S7's already strong battery life: resolution and software. The resolution reason is simple: all those extra pixels in the Samsung Galaxy S7 have to be powered, so whenever your screen is on, the battery is working harder than the Google Pixel's.
Software is a little bit more speculative, but basically the argument goes like this: Google makes Android, and therefore any hardware it makes can naturally take advantage of the (newer) version of the operating system.
Given the Google Pixel uses a newer version of the S7's (American) chip, it's very likely that it'll have similar, if not slightly better, battery life. But as this is speculation for the moment, we'll hedge our bets and call this one a draw.
Google has a natural advantage here because it creates both the hardware and the software. Historically, Nexus devices have been first in line for Android updates and security fixes, unencumbered by the need to ensure device compatibility or carrier approval. This continues with the Google Pixel, which ships with Android N from its release date.
The Samsung Galaxy S7, however, is stuck on Android Marshmallow, with no current ETA on that sweet Android Nougat patch. Historically, Samsung isn't the fastest to update their myriad handsets, so we're betting on the second quarter of 2017.
Either way, the S7 doesn't have Android N right now, so Google wins out of the box.
It's always a little unfair to compare smartphone prices when one handset has been out for half a year, and the other hasn't even been released.
However, in terms of outright pricing, the Pixel is already slightly in front, with Google and JB Hi-Fi pre-selling the phone for $1,079, compared to the Galaxy S7’s price of $1,149.
It’s a different story if you want to buy on plan though. The Pixel will be exclusive to Telstra, with its cheapest plan $85 per month (for 1GB of data). By comparison, the Galaxy S7 is available on all major carriers and its cheapest 1GB plan is $55 per month (from Virgin).
The price of the Telstra plan may come down in the future – and the exclusivity deal may have a time limit – but the greater choice of available plans is likely to favour the Samsung phone for the foreseeable future. And as most people buy premium phones like these on plans, the winner on price is the Galaxy S7.
It's always hard to judge a phone that we haven't been able to thoroughly test yet – and especially when it's made by Google, who know a thing or two about getting the most out of Android, but anyone sitting on the fence between the two handsets should feel confident in biting the bullet and purchasing a Samsung Galaxy S7 now.
Not only does it have a higher resolution screen and similar specifications, but it's considerably cheaper to buy on a plan. We'd be surprised if the difference in specs manifests itself in a dramatic leap forwards by the Pixel.
There are reasons to hang on for the Google Pixel, of course. It's also going to be the first phone to run Google Daydream – the company's dedicated virtual reality application. It requires dedicated hardware, so the S7 will never get it – although it does, of course, have the Gear VR if you want to get hands on with virtual worlds.
And if you prefer to buy your phone outright – especially if you're the kind of person who wants the latest version of Android first – the Pixel could be well worth waiting for. Stay tuned for our full, in-depth review as soon as we’ve finished testing the new phone.