This week, we met the Pixel, a smartphone designed and developed entirely by Google. It's an impressive device, inside and out, and early reviews made a point of highlighting features like the crisp display, sturdy design, impressive battery life, and the Siri-like Google Assistant.
As with any newcomer to the smartphone market, the Pixel's photo-taking abilities naturally underwent a fair bit of scrutiny. The 12.3 megapixel camera is fitted with an f/2.0 aperture and 28mm lens, which captures stupendous images that look even better on the phone's 1440p resolution.
We got our hands on the new Pixel, and tested it head-to-head against the new iPhone 7. There are many variations to consider during a test like this, perhaps the most important of which is the screen you're reading this post on. Results will vary depending on whether you're reading on a laptop, OLED screen or retina-display. While both cameras perform well in a variety of conditions, the results were still somewhat surprising.
General Use [iPhone, Left - Pixel, Right]
During standard, everyday use, the nuanced details would not be so apparent between Apple and Google's newest smartphone cameras, especially not to non-photographers. Even on a DSLR, the difference between the iPhone's f/2.0 aperture and the Pixel's f/1.8 aperture is very difficult to discern. Under regular conditions, either phone is going to produce a strong image.
Low Light [iPhone - Left, Pixel - Right]
In poor lighting conditions however, the iPhone's f/1.8 aperture makes a really big difference against the Pixel's f/2.0, which just can't take in enough light to produce a decent image in this dimly lit environment. On the right, it's clear to see the Pixel's image is far more grainy, whereas the iPhone image on the left is more smooth.
HDR [iPhone - Left, Pixel - Right]
The Pixel's wider lens shows more of an abnormal aberration on the right, but in HDR mode we can see more details in dark areas as well as light areas. The iPhone is not able to pull as many details from the cloudy sky. It's worth nothing that the Pixel's standard setting is HDR, generally producing more balanced images.
Flash [iPhone - Left, Pixel - Right]
Not that the flash would really be a deciding factor for any prospective buyers, but the Pixel's enveloping flash on the right comes across more naturally, highlighting colors accurately, and doesn't really look like a phone flash at all. The iPhone image does, however, look like a phone flash, and more shadows are visible on the laces, while the whole shoe is slightly washed out. The iPhone flash acts more like a spotlight, creating a vignette effect on the image.
Crop [iPhone - Left, Pixel - Right]
Dynamic range is slightly better with the Pixel, and dark spots are shown in better detail, while in the iPhone photo, certain shadows aren't shown accurately. On the zoomed image in the second slide, text is more easily visible and details are more crisp. This is thanks to the Pixel's 12.3 megapixel camera, whereas the iPhone is fitted with a 12 megapixel setup.
Front Camera [iPhone - Left, Pixel - Right]
The Pixel's front-facing camera has a slightly bigger focal length, allowing for wider selfies. As far as tones, the Pixel produces a slightly truer color than the iPhone.
Depth of Field [iPhone - Left, Pixel - Right]
There is no clear winner here, both the Google Pixel and Apple iPhone 7 produce artfully bokeh'd images with a crisp foreground and blurred background, bringing the viewer's eye to the front of the image. As far as a pocket shooter, the Apple iPhone 7 and Google Pixel both exhibit strong results in a variety of conditions.
In general, both phones are equipped with top-of-the-line cameras, and any differences are largely negligable. If you're looking to snap an image of your sneakers for Instagram, either choice would produce crisp results. If you're really picky, the Pixel produces only slightly more detailed images and seems to have a more natural flash, while the iPhone is going to be a better choice for taking photos in low light. For many, the crucial factor may in fact come down to software. If you're an Android user, the Google Pixel seems like an inviting choice, but it's doubtful that Apple fans would be enticed to turn to the dark side.