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article imageiPhone 7 or Google Pixel: Comparing the smartphone flagships

By James Walker     Oct 21, 2016 in Technology
Earlier this month, Google unveiled a smartphone that it hopes will begin to change the balance the power in the market. The class-leading Pixel is built to rival Apple's established iPhone 7. With each making similar claims, which is the phone to buy?
Apple launched the iPhone 7 in early September. The handset is an incremental refinement of last year's iPhone 6s and 2014's iPhone 6. Apple has improved the hardware performance, upgraded the camera and added new software capabilities to make the aging chassis more appealing to customers.
In contrast, Google's Pixel is something entirely new. The phone represents Google diversifying and becoming an all-out hardware manufacturer. As the first device to be designed and built entirely in-house by the company's engineers, the Pixel doesn’t have the same heritage as Apple's iPhone. Google trusts customers will value Android and its brand enough to warrant the purchase of a Pixel.
Design
The two phones have vaguely similar but separately distinctive designs. The iPhone 7's aluminium uni-body doesn't bring anything radically new to the table. It still uses the same basic chassis as the now two-year-old iPhone 6, albeit with a few minor alterations.
The iPhone 7.
The iPhone 7.
Apple
On the cosmetic side, the unsightly antenna bands on the rear have been moved to the top. New matte and "jet black" finishes have also been introduced. The design is aging well but is unlikely to convince an iPhone 6s owner to upgrade on its own.
For its part, the brand-new Pixel offers something brand-new, if a little uninspired. Google has aimed for a minimalist finish akin to that found on the iPhone. In practice, the Pixel looks more industrial though, sporting sizeable screen bezels and a two-tone back that's punctured by the phone's fingerprint sensor.
Apple has integrated water resistance into the iPhone for the first time this year. The Pixel goes without the feature, a conspicuous omission from a class-leading device. The iPhone is the device to pick if this feature is a must. Otherwise, it's down to personal preference which of the devices you'll prefer.
Performance
The Pixel is the first major phone to launch with Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 821 processor. It's one of the fastest Android devices ever created. Tests suggest the Apple A10-powered iPhone 7 is actually faster in everyday use, although in practice you're unlikely to notice any difference. iOS generally has the upper hand in responsiveness but Google has been working on streamlining Android N. Overall, both phones are at the very top of the market and won't let you down with sluggish browsing or choppy gaming.
Camera
Both Google and Apple and making bold claims about the capabilities of their flagship cameras. According to Google, the Pixel's 12.3-megapixel sensor is the world's best smartphone camera, as ranked by industry imaging test DXO-Mark. The company offers built-in gyroscope-controlled video stabilisation, instantaneous HDR and a shutter speed quicker than the blink of an eye.
Apple's worked on similar technology for the iPhone 7. It also has optical image stabilisation to remove motion blur and twitter. There's a new six-element lens and a wide f/1.8 aperture for low-light photos. On the iPhone 7 Plus, two cameras work in tandem for even better images. There's support for a 2x optical zoom and 10x digital zoom.
Apple claims its image signal processor makes over 100 billion operations per second, utilising machine learning to automatically enhance images. Google's algorithms are similarly complex though. Again, you're unlikely to be disappointed by either of the phones.
Virtual reality
As virtual reality is being billed as the next frontier of technology, an iPhone 7 and Pixel comparison wouldn't be complete without considering it. At present, only the Pixel supports virtual reality. Google's Daydream VR platform is integrated into Android for use with the company's Daydream View headset.
Google Daydream virtual reality headset
Google Daydream virtual reality headset
Google
Apple doesn't have its own virtual reality ecosystem at the moment. Although you can use third-party headsets, such as Google's Cardboard, with select apps, it looks like the Android-powered Pixel will have the most VR content available throughout its life.
Artificial intelligence
In a similar fashion to VR, artificial intelligence is being marketed as the "next big thing" for smartphones. With iOS 10, Apple improved its Siri digital assistant with a new range of proactive suggestions. Siri can now link to more apps, automatically schedule for you and prepare messages, maps and reminders before you actually need them.
While Siri's new features are significant, Google's new Assistant, introduced with the Pixel hardware, currently looks to be the more advanced AI. Although still in its infancy, Assistant allows you to have natural language conversations with Google, from anywhere in Android. It can access millions of pieces of information and is backed by external services, as well as Google's Knowledge Graph.
Other hardware
The iPhone 7 comes with Apple's proprietary 3D Touch pressure-sensing display technology. Some view it as a gimmick whilst others enjoy the quick actions it enables. Google doesn't have a rival yet, although it has added the ability for app developers to create long-press menus for home screen icons. If you want the full 3D Touch experience, you'll need the iPhone though.
The iPhone 7  which comes without a headphone jack  sent the company's shares falling late in ...
The iPhone 7, which comes without a headphone jack, sent the company's shares falling late in the week to a still market-topping value of $572 billion
Josh Edelson, AFP/File
There are differences in the accessory connectors of each device. On the iPhone 7, you'll be using the Lightning port for everything from charging to audio. Apple has controversially removed the traditional headphone connector. Whether this matters to you will depend on the devices you already own. The Pixel's USB-C port and 3.5mm jack is currently a more versatile solution for most people.
Software
While the hardware of the two phones is important, it's software that will be the defining factor in any iPhone or Pixel discussion. At this point, the traditional "iOS versus Android" discussions return, although they are more significant in this latest round of hardware.
Official press images of Apple s iOS 10  announced 13/06/2016
Official press images of Apple's iOS 10, announced 13/06/2016
Apple
The Pixel has its own Android launcher, Pixel Launcher, that comes with unique features not available on other phones. There's rounded icons, deep integration with the Google Assistant and a new look and feel including frosted glass panels. iOS 10 continues the same theme Apple started a few years ago with iOS 7. It's clean and minimalist, almost clinically precise in its execution.
Google is now following Apple's approach to smartphone development, building its own hardware to run its software. This is likely to pay-off over the long-term as it develops more Pixel-exclusive features. Aside from the presence of Google Assistant and Daydream VR on the Pixel, there's currently little that's likely to dramatically sway people into picking one platform though.
Conclusion
The Google Pixel is an all-new phone at a time when consumer interest in device launches is falling. Despite an extensive set of features and closer ties to Android and Google than ever before, the handset has to fend off the reputation of Apple and the most polished incarnation of the iPhone yet.
With Samsung seemingly out of the running for the foreseeable future, the contest between the iPhone 7 and Google Pixel looks to be even closer than anyone had predicted. While Apple is unlikely to lose market share overnight, Google's support of emerging technology like advanced AI and virtual reality could give it the upper-hand in the long-term. The consumer's choice will usually still be governed by the "iOS or Android" decision, although nobody's likely to regret buying either device. Both start at $649.
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