Google Pixel vs Samsung Galaxy S7
It’s hard to say what was the most important event of the year 2016 in smartphones, but Google’s direct entry in the phone market with its Pixel lineup of phones that replaced the enthusiast-minded Nexus series was certainly one of them.
With the Google Pixel, the search giant is entering the Android phone market that it itself helped establish. And there, it will compete with the big guns, and when it comes to those big boys in town, the Samsung Galaxy S7 is the biggest of them all.
A few months after the launch of the Pixel, we want to share our experience with two of the most accomplished high-end Android phones out there, point out their specific advantages and shortcomings, as well as the little and big differences that might make you choose one over the other.
The glass and metal Galaxy S7 is a statement of style, while the Google Pixel features solid build quality in a more subtle way.
Samsung, a company once criticized for flooding the market with uninspiring plastic phones, has changed tremendously in the past couple of years, and its latest Galaxy S7 is in fact a trend-setter in modern phone design. A beautiful glass sandwich with a metal frame, the S7 has evolved to feature subtle curves that make picking it up from a table and handling it in the hand easier and more pleasant than earlier Samsung phones. Unfortunately, the glass surfaces of the phone are also ones to attracts a ton of fingerprints and glass - as beautiful as it looks - is also prone to shattering, and to costly repairs.
The Google Pixel, on its part, is a surprisingly well-made first-generation device. It features a more practical (meaning less prone to shattering and not getting stained with fingerprints) aluminum body with a distinct glass accent in the top half. Pictures don’t do it full justice: on images it appears a bit thicker than it is in real life, and once you hold it, you appreciate the slight curve around the edges on the back. This makes it much easier to pick up the phone from a table, and just a more comfortable in-hand fit. We also love the heft of the Pixel, it feels just right: the phone is not too light, nor too heavy, very well balanced.
In terms of size, it seems almost as if Samsung and Google copied from the same book: the phones are nearly identical in terms of physical size.
Both phones have a fingerprint scanner: the Galaxy S7 has it on the front, while the Pixel - on its back. If you haven’t used a back-positioned fingerprint scanner before, it definitely takes some getting used to and feels a bit less practical, especially when you want to quickly check something when your phone is lying on a table and you can’t just tap a button, but you have to actually pick up the device to get to that rear-positioned finger scanner.This is much easier with a front fingerprint reader. For all else, both fingerprint scanners are fast, but we find the one on the Pixel more accurate and a bit snappier, as we get misreads a bit too often on the Galaxy S7.
On the bottom, there is a microUSB port on the Galaxy S7 and a USB-C port on the Pixel. The one on the S7 feels decidedly outdated: you have to check the right way to plug in a cable every time, while with USB-C on the Pixel it’s much simpler.
Both phones also sport a good ol’ 3.5mm headset jack and both feature a single, bottom firing speaker that you can easily muffle with your hand when watching videos / listening to music in landscape orientation. Not a big deal, but something to keep in mind.
The S7 also has one cool feature that the Pixel lacks: water protection with an IP68 rating (meaning the phone can be submerged in up to 5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes).
Two gorgeous AMOLED screens.
The S7 features a 5.1” display, while the Pixel goes with a 5” screen, but in reality the perceived difference is even bigger: on-screen buttons take up some 6.6% of the screen on the Google Pixel, which means that when the on-screen buttons are on (which is most of the time), you will only be able to see 4.67 inches of usable space on the Pixel. The Galaxy S7 uses traditional buttons below the display, so the usable screen space amounts to the full 5.1 inches of the screen.
The Galaxy S7 sports a 1440 x 2560-pixel resolution, while the Pixel runs on a 1080 x 1920-pixel display. Both use a Pentile matrix, and yes, the S7 is the sharper one of the two, but it’s also true that this is a difference that is really hard to notice in real life: at a regular viewing distance, one can hardly notice much of that difference in sharpness.
Both phones use AMOLED technology. This is interesting to see particularly on the Pixel: it shows the way Google sees things going in the future. Samsung is of course manufacturing AMOLED displays, and has been using and improving the technology for years. The advantage of AMOLED is that pixels can be controlled individually: you can turn individual pixels off, which results in perfect blacks and brings excellent contrast rates on the two.
In terms of actual image quality, these are two of the best screens around. Bright and with lively colors, images and video come to life on the two.
The S7 defaults to punchy, slightly overblown colors that many people like. For photography enthusiasts and color perfectionists, the S7 also comes with an sRGB color mode (sRGB is the color standard that is universally accepted globally for pictures and video). You switch to this mode by going into Settings > Display > Color mode > Basic.
The Pixel also defaults to over-saturated colors as Google targets the NTSC color gamut. It’s not perfectly-balanced, but it does look good to the casual observer. If you want a color setting that corresponds to the industry-standard sRGB color gamut, you can switch to it in settings as well.
In terms of brightness, the Galaxy S7 goes up to 484 nits, while the Pixel reaches 398 nits (the higher - the better), but while the S7 has a special mode that boosts that brightness outdoors on a sunny day, the Pixel lacks such a mode, which makes it a bit harder to see in direct sunlight. At night, minimum brightness drops down to 1 nit on the Pixel and 2 nits on the S7. It’s important that phone displays can go to those low levels, as at night even a slight increase in brightness results in eye fatigue and a worse experience.