Half a year later, the Pixel 7 Pro is a smart smartphone that isn’t a lot wiser

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I revisited the Google Pixel 7 Pro half a year after it launched to see if it’s any smarter. It is — but not exactly in the ways that Google wants it to be.

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Google Pixel 7 Pro sitting with rear panel facing up on a grey knitted textured background.

The Pixel 7 Pro isn’t much smarter than it was at launch, but not for lack of trying.

It was a fairly unexciting conclusion. When I reviewed the Google Pixel 7 Pro last year, I walked away with the impression of a phone that was a bit better in some important ways but wasn’t quite the superintelligent, time-saving device that Google claimed it was. It was just a good smartphone, not a smarter smartphone.

But that was over six months ago, and one of Google’s selling points for its Pixel line is how its devices continue to gain features and smarts over time. Then there are things like Direct My Call — a feature that transcribes automated phone tree menu options — which get better as more people use them, so they’re not always at peak potential right at launch.

For all of these reasons, I thought it was worth revisiting the Pixel 7 Pro in between the regularly scheduled programming of Hot Foldable Summer. What I’ve found — and I’m sorry to disappoint with another predictable conclusion — is a little more of the same. Some things got a bit better, but for the most part, the things I liked about the Pixel 7 Pro the first time around are the things I like now.

It’s not for lack of smarts. More often than not, the limitations it faces are a result of the dumbness of the world around it and the systems that it must work within. And then there’s the world itself: it hasn’t stood still in the last six-plus months, either. As the Pixel attempts to block or smooth away some of the nuisances of daily life, the rest of the world wises up and finds new ways to bother us.

Take Direct My Call as an example. It debuted with the Pixel 6 series, but the Pixel 7 Pro introduced a new version of the feature where it sometimes shows the phone tree menu options on-screen before they’re spoken. That’s a really clever way to save a few seconds of time, and it works well with a few major toll-free numbers that Google suggested I try with it. But even now, I still can’t get it to work with the places I regularly call, like my pharmacy or PetSmart.

Thinking that there might not be enough Pixel owners calling Bartell’s pharmacy regularly, I tried Walgreens and ran into a different problem: a robot. Rather than present you with a list of options to choose from, Walgreens does that cute thing where it asks, “In a few words, tell me how I can help,” or something to that effect. The Pixel 7 Pro is no help here, at least not now. I’m sure in the future, our phones will employ robots to talk to the other robots for you, which is truly the dream — robots all the way down and all — but at the moment, I still have to yell “talk to the pharmacist” into my phone without the benefit of special tech features.

Then there’s the spam. The Pixel 7 Pro is good at detecting and blocking spam calls, but not so much for texts. While testing the phone again, a couple of scam texts with fake Instagram password reset requests made it through unscathed. They were convincing enough that I questioned for a second whether someone was trying to access my Instagram account, but as best I can tell, that wasn’t the case. In that instance, all I needed was a good old-fashioned instinct to never trust anyone calling or texting me from an unusual number — not a fancy spam-detecting feature.

That wasn’t the only time that it turned out to be smarter to use my head than rely on my phone to outsmart the rest of the world. The Pixel 7 Pro is generally a good travel companion. It’ll put your flight info in At a Glance, and you can easily add your boarding pass to Google Wallet — I was searching the Delta app for an “add to Wallet” option, but as it turns out, all you need to do is take a screenshot, and it will generate a pass you can add. Clever.

Where that system falls down is when other things change — namely, my gate. I was confidently walking from security toward the gate on my digital boarding pass when I glanced at a screen nearby. It seemed funny for there to be another Delta flight to JFK leaving at the same time as my flight. Turns out, that wasn’t the case; my gate had just changed, and the boarding pass in my wallet hadn’t updated. I couldn’t see a way of refreshing the pass itself, so I opened the Delta app, refreshed the page, and there it was: my new gate confirmed. I would have walked clear across the concourse wasting minutes — minutes! — of time that I could have spent ordering a latte if I hadn’t happened to glance at a board.

Google Pixel 7 Pro sitting on a marble table top with rear panel facing up.

Google Pixel 7 Pro sitting on a marble table top with rear panel facing up.

The Pixel 7 Pro’s best features are the ones that have been around for a while, quietly improving year after year.

To be clear, all of the complaints I’ve lodged here amount to minor nuisances at best. But those are the kinds of little daily discomforts that the Pixel is designed to take the sting out of, and it falls a bit short. It’s successful in other ways, and I don’t want to overlook them. I also tested Clear Calling when it was released in January, and it works really well to act as a kind of noise cancellation when you’re talking to someone who’s in a loud environment.

And I’m basically hooked on the Recorder app — it records briefings and calls for me and transcribes them with surprising accuracy on-device. When I want to check on a specific quote or a number, all I have to do is search for it, and I’ll find the right point in the recording so I can re-listen. It saves me tons of time, and I know I’m not alone because any time Recorder is mentioned in a room full of tech journalists, we all nod knowingly.

More familiar features like Magic Eraser really didn’t impress me at first, but lately, I’ve seen more and more instances where it does a very convincing job of removing people from the backgrounds of photos. I used the 2x crop zoom and the 5x telephoto camera in a dark theater just last night and got surprisingly good photos of performers onstage across the room.

Most of these features aren’t exclusive to the Pixel 7 Pro or even the Pixel 7 series — Recorder dates back to the Pixel 4 — and Magic Eraser isn’t even exclusive to Pixel phones. But they’re the kinds of Google-smarty-pants features that really impress me, even if they aren’t exactly the surprising, delightful new tech features that Google’s always promising. They’re things that the company has been iterating on year after year, eventually getting good enough that you notice yourself using them more often. That’s where the Pixel 7 Pro is at its best, and I think it will remain that way even as we inevitably see an onslaught of new AI-driven features in the next Pixel phone this fall. If nothing else, I’m hoping for a robot that will talk to the other robots for me. That’s gotta be on the way, right?

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge

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