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Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro hands-on: The start of Google's walled garden

Shortly after Google fully unveiled the new Pixel lineup, I went hands-on with both the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro.
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer

Google just wrapped up its hour-long Made By Google event where it announced the Pixel 7, Pixel 7 Pro, and the Pixel Watch, which relies heavily on Fitbit for health and fitness features. 

Once the keynote ended, those in attendance were given a chance to go hands-on with the new phones and wearable -- and so I did. 

In a demo area like this, it's hard to get a lot of quality time with any new products. Everyone's trying to do the same thing; get a quick feel for whichever device is in front of them without feeling pressured to hurry up and move on to the next thing. 

But, in my short time with the Pixel 7 and the Pixel 7 Pro, I did notice a few things. The first of which was… 

The Pixel 6 and Pixel 7 have similar, but different designs

At first glance, it could be easy to mistake last year's Pixel 6 for the Pixel 7 and the other way around. The designs are similar, but there are some telling differences. For instance, the camera bar on the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro is now metal, not glass, and wraps around the side of the phone instead of abruptly stopping on the edges. 

Pixel 6 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro

The Google Pixel 7 Pro (left) next to the Pixel 6 Pro (right). 

Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

The Pixel 7 Pro's camera bar also has an extra circular cutout for the third camera, which makes it easier to spot the 7 Pro over the 7 from across the room. 

But the most noticeable design change I found when handling either model is how much lighter the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro feel compared with last year's crop. It's funny: On the flight to New York, I was using the Pixel 6 Pro and made a remark to myself about how heavy it felt compared with the iPhone 14 Plus

More: Google Pixel 7 Pro vs. Pixel 6 Pro: Should you upgrade? 

Here's the kicker: The Pixel 7 Pro (212 grams) actually weighs slightly more than the Pixel 6 Pro (210 g). I know I wasn't alone in this observation as I heard a few other reporters make the same remark about the change in weight. 

The Pixel 7 Pro's camera setup is going to be fun, if…

... Google nailed the camera features. 

The demo area wasn't the best environment to test out Google's newest smartphone cameras, so take my anecdotal experience as just that -- anecdotal. 

The new Super Res Zoom feature on the Pixel 7 Pro, which can dial into 30x, appears to be actually usable, unlike Samsung's Galaxy phones and their Space Zoom feature

With dedicated zoom options ranging up to 5x optical zoom (not to be confused with digital zoom), it's easier to get up close to a sign, menu, or person from across the room. Of course, I'll need some time with both phones to test the new camera chops, but camera experience is something that Google takes a lot of pride in -- the amount of time spent talking about it during the keynote was telling enough -- and I'm sure the experience will be fantastic. Or, at least I hope it will be. 

Hand holding a Pixel 7 with widgets and icons matching its wallpaper

The Google Pixel 7 in hand. 

Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

There's also a new cinematic blur video mode on the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro. I took a few seconds to test it out, and it looked great. You can switch between the foreground and background object -- adding or removing blur to or from either one in the process -- with just a tap, or by moving the camera and letting it automatically make the adjustment. Google is clearly going after the iPhone's Cinematic mode with this one. 

Also: Pixel Watch vs Galaxy Watch 5 Pro: Did Google just beat Samsung?

The return of Face Unlock to the Pixel line

The Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro have under-display fingerprint sensors, but the headlining biometric is Face Unlock, which makes a comeback here after two Pixel generations. The two features are not treated as equals, however. Google says the fingerprint sensor is a more secure verification method, so it's reliable enough to use for logging in to, say, banking apps. Face Unlock, on the other hand, exists as a quick and seamless way to unlock your phone. When it's triggered, there's a small light ring that beams around the front-facing camera, which is a nice touch. 

The quick demo I saw of someone unlocking the Pixels was exactly that -- quick. The light would turn on, the phone would unlock and that's all there was to it. 

Rick Osterloh speaking in front of big screen of Google products

Google's Rick Osterloh presents the latest Pixel family. 

Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

Google's betting on a complete experience

You can order the $599 Pixel 7 and $899 Pixel 7 Pro right now, with deliveries starting next week on Oct. 13. My biggest takeaway from the event was that Google really wants you to buy into its ecosystem this year. The search giant turned hardware company finally has all of the parts and pieces for a complete Google ecosystem thanks to the Pixel Watch and the Pixel Tablet. The former arrives next week, while the latter won't ship until next year (I'd bet on a May release, around Google I/O). 

Google's often had a leg up on Apple when it comes to software and services. But in the last few years, Apple has leveled that playing field, leaving Google to catch up with its own hardware and not rely on its partners to tout and move its various platforms forward. 

I'm intrigued by the thought of living inside Google's walled garden of software, services and hardware, just to see how it compares to Apple's experience.

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