Google Pixel vs Samsung Galaxy S7: the weigh-in

Can Google beat the biggest Android maker at its own game?

There's a new battle brewing between the high-end Android titans. On one side is Samsung, the stalwart crown-wearer of the last couple of years. On the other side is… Google?

Where the Nexus devices were really phones designed and built by Google's hardware partners, the Pixel is far more of an in-house Google device. It might be put together in HTC's factories, but it's got Google's stamp all over it. Which might make it seem a little odd that it looks remarkably like an iPhone.

Still, this is a very promising high-end Android flagship option, but there's a Samsung-shaped barrier in its way to success. Until the incredible bargain of the OnePlus 3, the Galaxy S7 ruled our best smartphones ranking, replacing the Galaxy S6 after about a year of its own reign. If you want the absolute best of the best, regardless of value, it's the Galaxy S7.

Can the Google Pixel really give Samsung's shining star a run for its money? Here's our early take based on the specs and an initial hands-on.

Design: Samsung vs... Apple?

There's no denying it: the Pixel looks a lot like an iPhone from the front, sans the home button of course, and even from the bottom of the back. It flips the script up top on the back, however, switching the matte backing to a glossy surface and the fingerprint sensor. That two-tone experiment is a nice tweak, although overall, the Pixel's look is a bit uninspired.

Contrast that to the Galaxy S7, which is a bit more alluring. It's not a dramatic departure from the Galaxy S6, but the more rounded curves are nice, as is the curved glass backing. Also, Samsung's phone is waterproof, while the Pixel is not. All told, score multiple points for Samsung here.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S7

Screen: Quad or Full HD?

Samsung tends to win most smartphone screen battles these days due to the incredible clarity and colors of its OLED displays, but this one's especially easy: the Galaxy S7's 5.1in Quad HD display weighs in at a staggering 2560 x 1440 resolution, while the 5in LCD Pixel screen is just a 1080p panel (1920 x 1080).

For a five-inch phone, a 1080p display ought to look just fine – but Samsung's screen is noticeably crisper, and the OLED benefits of deeper blacks and stunning contrast should give it an even stronger nod here. Honestly, it's surprising to see a £600 Android phone without a Quad HD panel at this point.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S7

Camera: Two shooters enter...

Until recently, the Galaxy S7 was our clear favourite for a smartphone camera. And you, dear readers, agreed with us: in a blind preference test, you gave the Galaxy S7 a slight edge over the OnePlus 3. Samsung's 12-megapixel rear shooter, with its optical image stabilisation and f/1.7 aperture, is rather brilliant overall.

The impressive iPhone 7 Plus camera complicates matters a bit, and could give the Galaxy S7 a run for its money once we conduct a proper head-to-head test… but what about the Google Pixel? Well, DxOMark has already weighed in, and the imaging site gave the Pixel its highest smartphone camera rating ever: an 89.

Granted, that's only one point higher than the Galaxy S7, which netted an 88 and was previously tied for the lead. The Pixel also has a 12-megapixel back camera, but there's no optical image stabilisation and the f/2.0 aperture won't let in as much light. We're a little dubious that it can really outperform the Galaxy S7 in day-to-day usage, but this could be a close showdown. Until we can use the camera extensively, we're calling this one even.

Winner: Draw

Power: Still processing

As very expensive flagship phones, it's little surprise that both devices have some high-end components inside. On the Galaxy S7, you'll get Samsung's own blazing-fast Exynos 8890 processor in the UK, along with 4GB RAM. In the States, it's Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 chip with 4GB RAM. Either way, the performance is about the same in our experience.

Meanwhile, the Pixel uses the slightly-enhanced Snapdragon 821 processor with 4GB RAM, but we doubt the difference will be dramatic. If you see a slight speed bump with the Pixel, it could also be due to Google's stock Android Nougat 7.1 instead of Samsung's TouchWiz skin-slathered take on Android.

Ultimately, however, both should run apps, games, and media without breaking a sweat, and multitask with the greatest of ease. We'll put them through a more thorough showdown once we have them side-by-side, of course, but for now it's a draw.

Winner: Draw

Perks: Galactic benefits

Both devices have mobile VR solutions: Daydream VR for the Pixel and Gear VR for the Galaxy S7. While Daydream might ultimately be the bigger VR platform in good time, the Gear VR has a couple-year head start with a solid array of early content to check out, plus the Quad HD screen is a big benefit when you're slapping a display in front of your eyes.

When it comes to storage, the Pixel's iPhone-like design has an iPhone-like weakness: no external storage. Samsung's phone, on the other hand, lets you pop in a microSD card to expand upon the base storage of 32GB or 64GB. With the Pixel, you're stuck with the 32GB or 128GB you begin with.

Even the battery on the Galaxy S7 is bulkier, at 3,000mAh vs 2,770mAh on the Pixel, although the higher-res screen of the Galaxy could eat up that extra capacity over the course of the day. Still, the Galaxy S7 also gives you wireless charging as standard, while the Pixel does not.

Seeing a trend? In some ways, the Pixel feels like a premium-priced phone without the kind of premium perks that Samsung has made standard for top-end flagships. All told, Samsung notches a big win in this broad category of bonus features.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S7

Initial verdict: Samsung's fight to lose

Consider us slightly unconvinced by the Google Pixel so far. We're excited to spend more time with the handset and think the upscale specs of the Pixel XL might make it the one to buy (much like with the iPhone 7 Plus), but the money-for-hardware equation seems a little off-balance for the standard model.

You seem to get a lot more with the Samsung Galaxy S7, whether it's screen resolution, wireless charging, microSD support, or waterproofing. Some elements are pretty even between the two devices, but those added perks really put the Galaxy S7 over the top in this particular showdown.

We'll revisit the comparison once our Pixel review units arrive, but for now, we'd be surprised if the Pixel packs enough of a punch to unseat the Galaxy S7 as today's most feature-packed Android phone.