What does Google need to do next to keep up?
The dust is now starting to settle on last week’s iPhone 15 event.
After the event, people like myself start to pull back the layers and take a deep dive into what went on. Although Apple also released a new Apple Watch Series 9 and a Watch Ultra 2, most of the attention was naturally on the iPhone 15 series of phones.
My 15 Pro Max is arriving in a few days. I wrote last week about what I am looking forward to most on that phone but it has also led me to think about what Google’s Pixel 8 Pro needs to do to keep pace with or even outshine Apple’s flagship phone.
Earlier this year I had my first experience using the Pixel 7 Pro – and I was impressed…very impressed. It felt premium, quick, and responsive and the cameras were as good as I had used outside of those on an iPhone. The Pixel 7 Pro was my first take on Android and left quite a mark.
But as I wait to get hands-on with my iPhone 15 Pro Max, the Made by Google event is only a few weeks away and there are a few areas which I think will fall under the spotlight once Pixel 8 Pro is showcased & then released.
iPhone 15 & Pixel 7 Pro – battery & processor
This is one of the perennial problems of all high-end smartphones – we all want more battery life. Power is king!
When I was using the Pixel 7 Pro earlier this year, battery life was one of the few areas that it seemed to struggle to keep pace with my iPhone 14 Pro – and the bad news for Google is that the iPhone 15 is set to get even better in that department this year.
On paper, the battery in the Pixel 7 Pro is already larger at 4,422mAh compared to the iPhone 15 Pro Max battery of 4,323mAh, but sometimes the figures don’t tell the full story.
Apple is in the enviable position of being all in-house – they make the processor for their phone so everything is optimised and with the A17 Pro the efficiency bar promises to be raised even higher this year.
The Pixel’s G2 Tensor chip although technically designed by Google, has its roots firmly bedded in Samsung’s Exynos chips. The phone runs notoriously hot and the battery life was poor when I was using it. Bearing in mind it wasn’t my daily, so I wasn’t streaming music to the car or using it for maps etc. the phone just drained battery power way too quickly.
Although there is talk of a new Tensor chip coming it is still a long way off – we’ll have to wait until 2025 before the chip gets any meaningful upgrades. That has to be of some concern for Google and it will be interesting to see what stop gaps they can put in place between now and then to tide them over.
iPhone this year finally got a decent bump in RAM jumping from 6GB to 8GB but that still falls way behind the Pixel’s 12GB RAM – although the RAM may be more efficiently used on the A17 Pro chip than that troubled G2 Tensor chip.
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This year thanks to the USB-C port (more on that later) you can now charge AirPods or even another iPhone with your iPhone but it still doesn’t have true wireless reverse charging which of course the Pixel Pro does.
While iPhone 15 are all Qi-2 certified this is rumoured not to not be coming to this year’s Pixel 8 Pro which seems odd.
And the Pixel doesn’t win out on fast charging either – with both managing 0-50% in around 30 minutes with the correct 20W or 30W charging bricks.
So unless Google pulls something out of the bag it seems that the iPhone may beat it on both battery life and convenience too.
I am looking forward to checking out the form factor of the new iPhone 15 Pro Max.
Surprisingly it will be my first large iPhone so I’m hoping to be wowed by that gorgeous 6.7-inch OLED display, thin bezels and curved edges. Although my current iPhone is a Pro the 6.1 inch screen feels tiny. All the other phones I’ve tested this year – the Pixel 7 Pro, the Nothing 2 and even the Samsung Flip all had bigger screens – and I’m a guy who likes that extra real estate.
The screen on the Pixel was a stunner and in virtually every respect was the match to my iPhone. They both offer 1600 nits of max brightness, HDR and both have a 120Hz refresh rate for crazy quick and seamless scrolling. And from almost any angle content looks great on both displays.
iPhone this year has gone the titanium route which has meant a bit of weight saving has gone on. The weight of the current 14 Pro Max is 240g but thanks to that new titanium frame that will now drop down to 221g but the Pixel 7 Pro only weighs 212g so it is still lighter.
I loved the tactile feel of the Pixel 7 Pro – it’s a beautiful phone to hold. The only problem I found was that it tended to be a little slippy. The polished reverse although gorgeous to look at and hold could maybe have a less polished finish to it – a matt or frosted reverse could look great.
And on that point, Google should think about doing something to differentiate between non-pro phones and pro phones. For that extra money, I think there needs to be some design cues that make the pro phone pop and stand out.
While the new iPhone has its slimmest ever bezels, that wrap-around almost infinity screen on the Pixel 7 Pro will take some beating – that was one of the design elements I loved the most.
This has been a massive problem for both phones.
Although the Pixel has had USB-C forever, the data transfer speeds from its USB 3.2 Gen 2 port have attracted more than its fair share of complaints and criticism over the years with many users complaining of slow and ponderous transfer speeds.
Apple has finally addressed data transfer though with a very clever move. Although they didn’t give us the promised Thunderbolt 4 port what they did instead is allow you to record direct to an external SSD. If that works, which I will be testing, then that is genius!
With Pixel 7 Pro able to record 10-bit HDR video it is capable of producing some very chunky files – maybe they should think of following Apple’s lead here. Sometimes imitation is not a bad thing if it’s the best answer. But, if they want to go their own way, how about a Thunderbolt 4 port on the Pixel Pro? I speak from painful experience that working with 50GB or even larger video files on a phone presents a real problem.
Although Apple got it right with the SSD option, they got it very wrong on the cable front. The cable in my £1200 iPhone 15 Pro Max is only a 2.0 USB cable. That is outrageous! These pro phones cost so much that we should be given a cable that can live up to the promised 10Gbps transfer speeds.
So oddly with this drive to save on e-waste and have one cable for everything, over the weekend I had to buy a new cable (and SSD) to make sure I would be able to tap into all the power the port had to offer.
Apple is chasing a very small niche of users with the 15 Pro Max in particular and I’m not sure if that is a road that Google will want to follow down.
How many people will ever want to shoot in Log or utilise the Academy Colour Encoding System I’m not sure – but it’s clear that Apple is trying hard to position this Pro Max very much at Pro users and creators.
As I mentioned earlier, the cameras on the Pixel 7 are fantastic. With so few spec differences between these two phones, on paper at least, Google is going to have to be creative to make sure they keep pace.
They both have 5x optical zoom, similar ultrawide lenses and front-facing cameras. Both can shoot 4K video in 30 and 60 FPS – although it might now be more practical to use on the iPhone thanks to the SSD feature.
A win for Google though is its editing suite. With functions such as the magic eraser and unblur the tools you have onboard with the Pixel are staggeringly comprehensive. Apple has caught up a little now that you can add or change the portrait effect after the fact, but even so, the winner has to be Google when it comes to photo editing tools.
I wonder if Google has any shocks up its sleeve with the camera on the Pixel 8 Pro?
The Pixel phones have always been more keenly priced than Apples – which has been to their advantage.
This year, the only price hike that Apple made year-on-year was to the Pro Max which now starts at £1199 but with 256GB of storage. A similar spec’d Pixel would only cost £949 – but there have been a whole host of rumours saying that Google is going to raise their prices this year. How much is unclear, but given the economic climate and general slowdown in global smartphone sales – if they can hold off putting up prices at the October event it may pay off for them in the long run.
As much as I’m looking forward to Friday and getting my hands on my 15 Pro Max I’m also looking forward to 4th October and the Made by Google event. Whilst the iPhone 15 Pro Max is a hell of a content-creator beast the Pixel Pro 8 may end up being not that far behind.
Competition is always a healthy thing and if Google can add some sparkle to their already impressive phone then Apple’s party could be ruined a bit quicker than they would have wished for.
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