Best premium smartphone, Android king, and the best camera ever on a smartphone: Google Pixel is getting all sorts of accolades. With the Note 7 now dead, Samsung doesn’t really have a new flagship for the rest of 2016. And the iPhone 7 doesn’t look much of an upgrade, except for maybe the matte black colour option which is gorgeous.
When it comes to flagship phones, cameras are a key defining feature. The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge is considered one of the best in the business thanks to its camera’s low-light performance. With the iPhone 7, Apple claims improved low-light performance thanks to a wider aperture and has made OIS standard. On the other hand, there’s the iPhone 7 Plus which offers a dual lens set-up, an option for DSLR-style Portrait/Bokeh mode. But Google Pixel and Pixel XL are topping all of this with their 12.3 MP lens and no OIS; these phones rely on EIS instead.
Personally, I have been an iPhone user since the time of 5c; my iPhone 6s has been my one and only device for photography on vacations, trips, and during coverage of technology events. And it has delivered in most cases. In bright sunlight and clear blue skies (something we are not going to see in Delhi anytime soon), the iPhone doesn’t have a competitor. On most of my sunny vacations, the iPhone 5c and 6s have managed excellent shots. And one of the reasons for upgrading or not upgrading to the next iPhone is always around the camera.
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But how does the new Google Pixel XL stand up to the iPhone 7 series? I’ve been using both phones extensively for the past couple of weeks. Honestly, both phones are pretty close to each other in terms of camera performance.
I have uploaded some of the comparison pictures below, but do note these have been resized for the web. Also, the iPhone 7 has a different colour profile (wide colour gamut DCI-P3) on the display, which means there is difference in how these pictures look on the actual phone compared to a desktop screen, regular mobile display, etc. I felt the difference when I had to crop/reduce image size for uploading on the web.
Personally, I’m not a fan of big phones, which is another reason why the iPhone 7, 6s, etc appeal to someone like me. But this particular vacation, I found myself constantly reaching for the Pixel XL, and ditching the iPhone 7. This is not to say the iPhone 7 doesn’t deliver in photos, it is just the Pixel XL comes very close thanks to the software wizardry that Google is doing with the phone’s camera.
While with the iPhone 7, I like that the colour tones are more muted, more natural, but there were moments where the Pixel XL left it far behind. In my daily use, the Pixel XL was much faster than the iPhone 7 when it came to focus and taking a shot; in the former’s case the post processing HDR+ takes a couple of seconds. For instance, the below shot of pictures are taken from a moving boat; the Pixel XL makes the sky a lot more blue, while the iPhone 7 has got the it closer to the natural colour when it comes to the lake water.
In low-light, the Google Pixel XL has a tendency to over-process some of the images, and yes they do look brighter, though once you zoom in on the edges, there is noise. The iPhone 7 goes with more muted colours tones, but that doesn’t mean it is missing out on details either.
In case of the bell photo, I could zoom in and still see the texture on the iPhone 7. On the Pixel XL, the picture looks much brighter and might appeal to most people, and the details like the scratches on the bell are much more clearly visible. In most low-light cases, I came to depend on the Pixel XL, even though some of the picture look a tad too bright.
Also both phones deliver quite well when it comes to taking macro-style shots in proper lighting. Again the difference comes down to the colour tones, though both capture sharp details.
So which is the best camera smartphone in the market out there? As iPhone 6s user, I’m yet to find a compelling reason to upgrade to the iPhone 7. I’m waiting to see what happens with the iPhone 8. But both iPhone 7 and Google Pixel XL are two of the best smartphone cameras in the market. The Pixel XL has a software advantage in low-light for those who love brighter, more vivid colour tones. In my mind, there’s no doubt the Pixel is the right competitor for the iPhone 7’s camera.