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Google Pixel vs. Samsung Galaxy S7: Which 5-inch flagship is right for you?

google pixel vs galaxy s  phone
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Months of speculation and sky-high anticipation has finally come to an end. Google has taken the wraps off the flagship phones that’ll supplant last year’s Nexus smartphones as the premiere Android hardware experience. They’re called the Pixel and Pixel XL, in keeping with the Pixel branding that began with Google’s high-end Pixel Chromebook in 2014. The phones were manufactured by longtime Android phone maker HTC and they pack high-end specs that measure up to some of the best the competition has to offer.

Take the 5-inch Pixel, for instance. It’s the decidedly more diminutive of the two, but packs a processing punch. It’s crafted from a combination of machined metal and glossy plastic under which sits a 5-inch, Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) AMOLED screen. Powering the handset’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, and around its front and back are cameras with optical image stabilization and assisted autofocus. It’s running the newest version of Android, 7.1 Nougat.

Related: Forget the iPhone 7, next year’s smartphone from Apple will be one big screen

The Pixel packs a potent hardware/software combination that compares favorably to Samsung’s Galaxy S7, but admittedly not in all areas. The Seoul, Korea-based company’s former flagship features a waterproof design of melded metal and glass; a 5.1-inch Quad HD (2,560 x 1,440 pixels) AMOLED screen even today, seven months after its release, qualifies as one of the brightest and most accurate on the market; and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor. And that’s not all. It sports an impressive pair of shooters with phase detection autofocus and support for high-dynamic range, biometric sensors like a heart rate and blood oxygen sensor, and hardware support for  Samsung’s proprietary payments platform, Samsung Pay.

All that said, sussing out the better buy is a tougher call than you might expect. The Pixel’s price point is attractive, but so is the Galaxy S7’s display and support for Samsung Pay. The Pixel packs the newest version of Android, Nougat 7.1, but the Galaxy S7 packs features beyond those offered by default Android.

Which phone wins? The answer might surprise you.

Performance

Google Pixel

pixel-table-thumb-final

Galaxy S7

samsung-galaxy-s7-2

Size 138.3 × 67.1 × 7.1 mm (5.61 x 2.74 x 0.31 in) 142.4 x 69.6 x 7.9 mm (5.61 x 2.74 x 0.31 in)
Weight 5.04 ounces (143 grams) 5.36 ounces (152 grams)
Screen 5-inch, Full HD AMOLED 5-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED
Resolution 1,080 × 1,920 pixels (441 ppi) 2,560 × 1,440 (577 ppi)
OS Android 7.1 Android 6.0
Storage 32, 128GB 32, 64GB
MicroSD card slot No Yes
NFC support Yes Yes
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 Qualcomm Snapdragon 820/Samsung Exynos 8890
RAM 4GB 4GB
Connectivity 4G LTE, GSM, CDMA, HSPA+, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi 4G LTE, GSM, HSPA, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
Camera 12MP rear, 8MP front 12MP rear, 5MP front
Video 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 30 or 60fps 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 60, 720p at 240fps
Bluetooth Yes, version 4.2 Yes, version 4.2
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Other sensors Barometer, gyro, accelerometer, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor Barometer, gyro, accelerometer, proximity sensor, heart rate monitor
Water resistant Yes, IP53 rated Yes, IP68 rated
Battery 2,770mAh 3,000mAh
Ports USB Type-C MicroUSB
Marketplace Google Store Samsung Store
Color offerings Blue, silver, black Black, white, gold, silver, pink gold
Availability Verizon, Google Fi AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile
Price $650 $670
DT review Pending – Hands on here 4/5 Stars

The Pixel and Galaxy S7 may be cut from different manufacturer cloth, but on the silicon front, they share a thing or two in common. They have the same 4GB of RAM, and they’re comparable in terms of internal storage: there’s a 32GB Pixel and a 32GB Galaxy S7. They share accouterments like a fingerprint scanner, 3.5 mm headphone jack, dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2 in common.

But not everything’s the same.

The processors certainly aren’t. The Galaxy S7 packs Qualcomm’s quad-core Snapdragon 820, a powerhouse in its own right. But the Pixel packs a refinement on that silicon: the Snapdragon 821. Although it may not seem like a huge jump, it’s an advancement that’s anything but minor. The new Snapdragon promises a 10 percent improvement in power efficiency over the Snapdragon 820, and it’s capable of speeds up to 2.4GHz. When it comes to number crunching, preliminary benchmarks show that it’s quite the champ: the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, the first phone to ship with the 821 onboard, achieved 1,850 single-core performance in Geekbench. The Galaxy S7, meanwhile, reaches an average single-core and multi-core score of 1,789.

Samsung Galaxy S7

Samsung Galaxy S7

Jessica Lee Star/Digital Trends

It’s worth noting that the ZenFone 3 Deluxe has the advantage of 6GB of RAM, of course. Given the 821’s theoretical advantage, though, the results are in line with what we expect.

What’s that mean in real-world terms? It’s difficult to predict, but in theory, apps should launch slightly faster, graphics-heavy websites should open more quickly, and lengthy documents (particularly spreadsheets) should load noticeably faster.

Related: Hands on: Google Pixel and Pixel XL

The advantage isn’t as clear when it comes to internal storage. The Pixel ships in two configurations, 32GB and 128GB, and while the Galaxy S7 doesn’t offer quite as much — it maxes out at 64GB — it offers consolation in the form of a Micro SD card slot. If you’ve got spare storage lying around or the money to buy some, the Galaxy S7 is the clear winner of that category.

The overall winner depends on your priorities. The Pixel has a slight processing advantage, true, but arguably falls short in the area of storage — it lacks the flexibility afforded by a Micro SD card slot. The Galaxy S7 misses on raw power, but provides a comparative abundance of storage options. If storage — and the possibility of expanding it down the line — is of the utmost importance to you, the Galaxy S7 is your trophy bearer. But if a (slightly) more powerful processor means the world, then the Pixel deserves your consideration.

Winner: Tie

Design

Design is inherently subjective — especially when it comes to something as personal as a smartphone. Some folks prefer glass. Others prefer aluminum. And still others would rather plastic. But not every specification is quite so binary.

The Galaxy S7, for its part, is a stunner of a smartphone. It’s a celebration of metal: The front and back’s made of reinforced Gorilla Glass and the middle’s a bezel of machined metal. It’s a bit more prone to fingerprints than, say, textured plastic, and in all likelihood prone to shattering if dropped particularly carelessly. But the gorgeous design makes those minor inconveniences largely worth putting up over.

The Pixel may lack the Galaxy S7’s dominating front and back glass panels, but it’s no shortage of aluminum and glass. The top half is covered in transparent shielding, the bottom half sports a metallic finish, and the back is made of a glossy material. It’s been described as a “cross between the Nexus 4 and [the] iPhone,” and that’s largely accurate: the Pixel is angular, relatively thin, and features a measurable amount of plastic similar to what is utilized in HTC’s Desire line of phones.

Google Pixel

Google Pixel

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Somewhat controversially, though, the Pixel’s screen bezels — especially the top and bottom — are quite a bit larger than those on some of its competition. That could be perceived as selling point — they provide a place to rest hands and fingers when using the Pixel in the landscape orientation — but a perhaps, too, a blight on an otherwise attractive design.

Related: Samsung Galaxy S7 review

Whether the Pixel bests the Galaxy S7 in terms of aesthetics is a matter best sussed out individually. Based on our time so far with the Pixel, though, we think it’s a gorgeous design that stands out in a crowded field of smartphone competitors.

Winner: Pixel

Battery

There’s a clear winner in terms of battery, and it’s not the Pixel. Samsung’s Galaxy S7 boasts a Lithium-ion power pack that’s ever-so-slightly larger in capacity than the Pixel’s supply: 3,000Ah versus 2,770mAh module. How much of a difference that 230mAh advantage will make in day-to-day use is difficult to say, of course, especially given the Snapdragon 821’s improved power efficiency. But it’s not too far a logical leap to assume that the Galaxy S7 will notch a win in the longevity department.

Charging is a different story. Both the Pixel and Galaxy S7 support Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 standard, which promises, in theory, charging to 80 percent of capacity in just 35 minutes. But the Galaxy S7 has an added advantage: wireless charging. While the Pixel supports USB Type-C, wireless charging is enough to cement a win for the Galaxy S7, even though it’s not a vital feature.

Winner: Galaxy S7

Display

The Pixel and Galaxy S7 may share the same display type in AMOLED — a colorful, saturated technology that generally exhibits impressive black levels — but the Galaxy S7’s screen has a far higher resolution than of the Pixel: it’s Quad HD (2,560 x 1,440 pixels), or double the resolution of the Pixel’s Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels). That confers an advantage in the area of pixel density. The Galaxy S7’s panel sports 551 pixels per inch versus the Pixel’s 441, which in real-world terms should mean sharper text, clearer images, and slightly more perceptible detail in high-resolution movies and video clips.

Samsung Galaxy S7

Samsung Galaxy S7

Jeffrey Van Camp/Digital Trends

When it comes to display size, though, the winner is less clear. The Galaxy S7 packs a 5.1-inch panel, while the Pixel packs a 5-inch model — for all intents and purposes, roughly equal.

The Galaxy S7’s superior resolution nets it the overall win in the display category. We’ll have to dive deeper to determine which of the two handsets offer better color reproduction, brightness, and viewing angles, but until we get our hands on a Pixel review unit, Samsung walks away the winner of this battle.

Winner: Galaxy S7

Camera

Both the Galaxy S7 and Pixel take have outstanding camera chops, but one may have a slight edge.

The Galaxy S7 sports a 12-megapixel sensor with a f/1.7 aperture, phase detection autofocus, and optical image stabilization. It’s a great all-around performer: in the course of our testing, we were impressed with its ability to capture sharp images in the dark and illuminate areas many phones at its price point couldn’t. That said, the Galaxy S7’s shots are infamously oversaturated — if you’re hoping for natural color reproduction, it’ll probably disappoint.

The Galaxy S7’s front-facing shooter, meanwhile, is more than serviceable for the occasional selfie. It’s a 5-megapixel model with an f/1.7 aperture, and an excellent performer in nighttime and otherwise dim surroundings.

Related: Pixel phones, Daydream, Home — Oh my! Everything Google revealed at its Oct. 4 event

The Pixel’s cameras are the technically superior of the two handsets. Google’s flagship packs a rear-facing camera roughly the same megapixel count as the Galaxy S7, or 12.3-megapixel, with a higher aperture — f/2.0. The quality impressed analysts at research firm DxOMark: they bestowed the Pixel the highest rating they’ve ever awarded a smartphone.

Google Pixel

Google Pixel

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Software’s partially to thank for the Pixel’s performance. Smart Burst takes multiple snaps in milliseconds and automatically chooses the best. HDR Plus takes “clear, vivid pictures” in “challenging conditions.” The video stabilization may be best in class: thanks to a custom algorithm that samples gyroscope data 200 times a second and compensates for rolling shutter, videos turn out as smooth as butter.

The Pixel may eek out a win in the front-facing camera category, too. It sports an 8-megapixel shooter — a sensor far higher in resolution than the Galaxy S7’s 5-megapixel model.

All that said, it’s tough to tell definitely which would win in a shootout. On paper, the Pixel has the clear advantage, but myriad factors could influence those results. Short of a unit with which to shoot, though, we’ve got to rely on second-hand tests and hypothetical metrics. And given the evidence at hand, the Pixel’s the winner in the camera department.

Winner: Pixel

Durability

Whether the Galaxy S7 withstands drops and scratches better than the Pixel remains to be seen, but it’s objectively better at handling water. That’s judging by its IP68 rating, which indicates that it’s dust proof, water resistant, and can be safely submerged in up to a meter of liquid for 30 minutes.

The Pixel, by contrast, won’t hold up quite as well against the elements. It’s rated IP53, which means it’s guaranteed to withstand limited exposure to dust and “water spray less than 60 degrees from vertical” — in other words, the occasional spray from a wayward garden hose.

Since both phones have glass on the back, neither is terribly durable when it comes to falls onto pavement. The Pixel has less glass and more metal, so it should theoretically withstand drops better. The galaxy S7’s back glass is also curved, which means it is expensive to replace. The Pixel’s glass cutout may be hard to replace, too.

In this case, the Galaxy S7 wins on durability only because of water resistance. When it comes to falls, these two are pretty equal.

Winner: Galaxy S7

Software

While the Galaxy S7 and Pixel both run Android, the similarities run only surface deep.

The Pixel ships with the newest version of Android onboard, 7.1 Nougat, which confers myriad improvements over the previous generation. There are Launcher Shortcuts, which provide quick access to activities and settings menus within apps (pressing and holding a Google Maps icon, for instance, might include entries for turn-by-turn navigation to saved locations). A new split-screen mode lets you use two apps side by side. Notifications sport Direct Reply, a feature that allows you to respond to incoming messages from Facebook, Hangouts, and more from the tray.

That’s not all the Pixel is packing. The Pixel Launcher, the Pixel’s default homescreen, has a nifty a pull-up dock for quick access to apps. The Pixel tightly integrates the Google Assistant, Google’s eponymous AI-powered helper: pressing and holding on the home button summons an assistant that can perform tasks like playing YouTube videos, texting friends via WhatsApp, making restaurant reservations with OpenTable, and showing you photos you took last November.

Related: Everything you need to know about Android 7.1 Nougat and the Pixel Launcher

The Pixel ships, too, with a Google Photos benefit: every photo you take with the Pixel uploads to Google’s cloud storage service. Google’s new text and video messaging apps, Allo and Duo, come pre-installed. And there’s an app that provides 24/7 live customer care — if you encounter an issue, you can reach a support agent via chat and even share your screen to let the agent see what you’re seeing. You’ll also get instant software updates to the latest version of Android, and with them, much needed security patches. That’s a huge win for the Pixel.

Samsung Galaxy S7

Samsung Galaxy S7

Digital Trends

The Galaxy S7 isn’t without software exclusives of its own. It’s running a customized version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow with Samsung’s bubbly, colorful TouchWiz interface atop it. It sports a mode that lets you record gameplay, a highly customizable Do Not Disturb mode, and battery-saving features galore.

There are a few diamonds in the rough. Take Samsung Pay: by leveraging a hardware component known as MST, or magnetic secure transmission, Samsung’s app is able to emulate a debit or credit card swipe on standard magnetic readers — even those which don’t support Android Pay or Apple Pay. And there’s Samsung+, a loyalty app which gives Samsung fans access to exclusive perks and deals. It also offers live customer service, much like you’ll see on the Pixel.

The Galaxy S7 may pack an impressive range of features, but it will never get timely updates to the latest version of Android, and it takes too long to get much-needed security patches. Samsung has one of the worst reputations in the industry when it comes to software updates. The Pixel is the exact opposite. Much like Apple’s iPhones, it will get instant software updates. If security updates matter to you, the Pixel is the one to buy.

We’re going to have the software win to the Pixel. Not only is it running the latest version of Android, but it sports an abundance of Google’s latest and greatest.

Winner: Pixel

Pricing and availability

Neither the Galaxy S7 nor the Pixel come cheap.

In the U.S., the Galaxy S7 starts at $670 unlocked. It’s available from Samsung’s web store, Amazon, eBay, and brick-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy, Sam’s Club, and Target.

The Pixel, by comparison, is a lot harder to nab stateside. In terms of wireless carriers, it’s available exclusively through Verizon and Google Fi, Google’s eponymous wireless service. Otherwise, it’s available unlocked from the Google Play Store. We recommend you buy it unlocked from the Play Store, so you’re not locked to a carrier for two years. Google even offers financing.

Galaxy S7 Pixel
Verizon $672 or $28 per month for 24 months $650 or $27 a month for 24 months
T-Mobile $640 or $27 per month for 24 months
Sprint $650 or $27 per month for 24 months
AT&T $695 or $23 for 30 months
U.S. Cellular $620 prepaid; $672 or $28 for 24 months); $200 with 2-year contract
Unlocked $670 in full $650 or $27 a month for 24 months

Worth noting: Google’s throwing in a free virtual reality headset for those who pre-order the Pixel. Sprint is providing “eligible buyers” the choice of a free Gear VR and $50 content bundle or free Samsung 256GB memory card.

Related: Everything you need to know about Google Assistant

The Galaxy S7 undoubtedly wins the availability category. The Pixel has the unfortunate distinction of being a Verizon exclusive in the U.S. — short of shelling out for an unlocked model or opting for monthly financing, you won’t see it on competing networks anytime soon. That’s certainly not the case where the Galaxy S7’s concerned.

Winner: Galaxy S7

Winner: Pixel (for now)

It’s always a challenge to compare a brand-new, top-of-the-line phone with an aging competitor (the Galaxy S7 came out in the spring, believe it or not). But in this case, the comparison’s an apt one: the Pixel, as the smaller and less generously endowed of Google’s two new HTC-made smartphones, contrasts Samsung’s former flagship in unexpected ways.

The Pixel packs a more powerful processor and ostensibly superior cameras, but falls short in the areas of display and battery. The Galaxy S7’s screen not only packs twice the amount of pixels in a roughly the same amount of space, but a larger battery, too.

That said, there’s software to consider. The Pixel packs quick access to the Google Assistant, free cloud-based photo storage, and the promise of frequent software devices far into the future.

In the end, it comes down to what you prioritize. If you can actually see the difference between 1080p and Quad HD (most people can’t), if you need a water resistant phone, if you’re all set up for wireless charging, if you want expandable storage, and if you don’t mind never getting timely software updates, the Galaxy S7 is the one for you.

However, if you care about timely software updates, if you want Stock Android, if you hate glass phones, and if you really want to use Assistant to the max, buy the Pixel.

Technically, the Galaxy S7 wins in this spec war, but we’d say the Pixel wins the software war, and when it comes down to it, we think software is more important.