How can two seemingly very similar phones be so different?
If you’ve read any of my stories recently, then you’ll know just how good I think Apple’s latest offering is. The iPhone 15 Pro Max has got so many things right this year, that for me, it is nearly the perfect phone.
But to make a full and informed decision I needed to be able to make comparisons against another flagship phone.
Earlier in the year I used my first ever Android – a Pixel 7 Pro- and liked it. So when the Pixel 8 Pro launched just one month after the iPhone 15 Pro Max – it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
But there are some striking differences between what appear to be two very similar phones.
The experience of buying a new phone is very different when you buy it directly from the manufacturer – and this year that experience has improved.
The iPhone 14 Pro was the first time I had bought a phone outright rather than having it supplied via a carrier on contract. With a cell provider the phone gets shipped and that is pretty much it. Apart from a few email campaigns you are on your own.
The best way I can describe buying directly from say Apple or Google is like buying a car from a main dealer as opposed to a second-hand non-franchised dealer.
Both Apple & Google look after you in the run-up to getting your new phone with emails suggesting you back up and get ready for the switch which is a nice touch. They both also let you know some of the new features and benefits you might want to explore so that you get the most from your new phone.
So far the experiences are very similar…
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iPhone 15 Pro Max or Pixel 8 Pro – the looks
It’s the oddest illusion – even though both of these phones have the Pro 6.7-inch screens the Pixel seems larger. The Pixel Pro is only fractionally taller but seems to have a much larger screen – it’s an odd illusion.
Part of that illusion could be the brightness. I thought that the 15 Pro Max was bright peaking at 2000 nits outdoors, but the Pixel smashed that with an eye-watering 2400 nits of max brightness. Surprisingly, outdoors in direct sunlight that extra bit of screen brightness makes a huge difference. Just when I thought 2000 nits was plenty bright enough…the goalposts get moved!
As pretty as the Pixel Pro 8 is and the Bay blue I have is gorgeous I still prefer the style and design of the iPhone 15 Pro Max. This is a very personal thing – but there are a few areas that win out for me on the iPhone.
Those new Titanium rails make a massive difference not only to the weight but more importantly to the sumptuous feel of the phone. It feels grippy and reassuring – and it also happens to be fingerprint-free as well – a bonus for sure. I’m also a huge fan of the curved design that Apple has used on the edges of the iPhone 15s this year. A small change which has made a massive difference to the comfort of using the phone over long periods – this is when you realise how simple design can be so effective.
Ironically, what I loved most about the Pixel 7 Pro was those same curves on the front glass, but this year Google has decided to square off the edges which to me is a huge shame. By comparison to my iPhone, it feels very harsh, sharp and not at all tactile. One bonus though is that my pet peeve from the 7 Pro has been fixed – the glossy back has been replaced with a matt glass and it feels way better because of it.
The camera bumps are one obvious area of difference – and I’m torn between the two.
The distinctive visor style of the Pixel Pro’s bump is quirky and unusual but also practical. Because the visor is the width of the phone it sits pretty evenly on your desk (both phones don’t have cases on) with very little wobble.
The camera bump on the iPhone 15 Pro Max just seems to get bigger and bigger every year. Not only do they sit proud of the phone body but because they are grouped in a corner the iPhone doesn’t sit well on your desk – but I prefer the the almost retro look of the camera layout on the iPhone.
Design is a very subjective and personal thing I know – but on balance, I prefer the route that iPhone has taken this year to Google’s Pixel Pro.
Although I didn’t set out to write a comparison story I could hardly write this piece without at least mentioning the camera comparison.
Putting to one side the ProRes log footage that you can shoot on the iPhone 15 Pro Max the Pixel 8 Pro is every bit the match of the iPhone in video quality. If anything I prefer the natural vibrancy that the Pixel Pro’s 10-bit HDR video throws out. It is so punchy.
Both phones give you the option to shoot in Raw and give you .5X, 1X, 2X or 5X lenses – and the results are both good. If you wanted me to say the Pixel was not as good or that there was a clear winner, I really can’t.
The Pixel Pro is good – there is possibly just a touch more clarity and colour depth to the photos shot on the iPhone and maybe a little less noise – but I am being picky.
Both phones give you great cameras for both photo and video – however the Pixel has a very lengthy shutter delay. I haven’t heard many people mention it but it’s a real issue – on my phone at least. I’m guessing that could be smoothed out with a future software update. With the iPhone, it is super quick with no delay at all.
Honestly, I can’t call this one – they are both quick.
In everyday use, I can’t think of what you’d need to throw at these phones to slow them up – we are spoiled with what both of these phones are capable of. Apple this year made quite a fuss about their ray tracing for high-end gamers which I guess is one area that the A17 Pro SoC would be pushed.
Both companies are using their own versions of chips inside these phones which is critical to gaining the best possible performance out of them – which brings me to the one BIG difference between these two phones.
It can be summed up in two letters and is the real point of this story – you guessed it – AI.
Love it or hate it
At the recent Google event, it was abundantly clear the route that they’ve decided to take with the Pixel – they are going to throw as much AI at it as possible.
It seems to me as if Apple and Google have two very different outlooks on their respective market positions – and I am very much focusing on the Pro phones in both lineups.
Apple has taken the word Pro to heart and has firmly gone after the creator market. Being able to shoot ProRes directly to an external SSD proves that. They want this phone to be used hard in a professional workflow. Yes, some AI is going on with the iPhone 15 Pro Max but Apple has chosen to be rather muted and quiet about it.
The same cannot be said for Google – they want to shout loud and proud from every rooftop about just how much AI is going with the Pro 8. And that is a decision you have to be happy with if you are going to go the Pixel 8 Pro route. The list of AI-enhanced options goes on and on – Magic Editor, Best Take, Photo Unblur, Face Unblur, Audio Magic Eraser, Video Boost and Night Sight. Then there is call screening and Speech to text…you see what I mean, the Pixel 8 Pro is all about AI.
If you buy a Pixel 8 Pro as your daily phone then you best be ready to take a step into an AI future. I love tech but some of what I’ve seen is a little unnerving.
I think for editing current photos that you have just taken AI may or probably does have its place. Where I struggle more though is with older photos – ones that you’ve had for years. For those images that already have memories attached to them, it just feels eerie and morally wrong to go changing them.
I tried it on a photo that I have had on my desk for about 20 years – all I did was remove a car that was in the background – I’d barely even noticed it before, but looking at the results made me uneasy – it just wasn’t right – clever, but not right.
Up to you
And that is where you have to make your choice – not so much Android versus iOS or Pixel versus iPhone but more the extent that you want AI involved on your device.
Sure you could buy the 8 Pro and ignore a lot of the AI toys – but what’s the point in that? You may just as well save money and buy the Pixel 8 instead. Apple is slowly and subtly tweaking and adding to the AI features on the iPhone in a very Apple-esque way. I mean have to believe that this is not the final iteration of Siri, don’t we?
Google on the other hand – I guess as the search engine side of their business depends on it has got to the front of the queue and has flexed as to how much they can do with the promise of more to follow. Coming in December are two features that are off-device. Video Boost and Night Sight will take videos you’ve shot, dust them liberally with Google magic HDR dust and return the enhanced versions to you in your Google Photo library.
I know AI is the future – whether I am ready to have it run my creative life and future memories just yet I am not so certain of though. The change is coming and we can’t hold it back, but for now, I think I am happier at least slowing up…
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