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Beyond reading the blurbs of “higher peak brightness!” every year, people often wonder if there are any other tangible improvements in yearly display upgrades. Besides, if other outlets are reporting color reproductive claims that are “indistinguishable from perfect,” what more can they really improve upon?


Well, there’s a lot more to it than you may think.

For its displays, Google has historically leaned in on accuracy over vibrancy. This often upsets consumers coming from other brands that promote increased color saturation by default. Understandably, many people, in turn, might associate color accuracy with a lack of vibrancy, but the two are not mutually exclusive — Google has just been slow to demonstrate it. For example, Apple has mostly gotten away from the problem by wholeheartedly adopting wide color standards dating back to the iPhone 7. Now, all photos that iPhones capture are saved in the larger Display P3 color space.

To this day, most Android phones still only capture photos in the sRGB color space, which can only store colors with up to about four-fifths of the max saturation of P3. This isn’t all too significant in itself, but the head start entails Apple having wider support for more vibrant colors throughout its ecosystem. Nowadays, you can find vibrant P3 colors littered throughout iOS, including its default wallpapers, system UI, and many third-party apps; even its wallpaper color picker allows you to select colors outside sRGB, unlike the colors offered by Google’s Material You. This is plainly a level of color adoption that Android has yet to build.

And that’s just the start. There are many ways Google could still improve upon its Pixel display, so we put the new Pixel 7 Pro’s panel through the wringer.

About this review: The product in this review has been loaned out by Google. However, the company had no involvement in the contents of this article.

Google Pixel 7 Pro
The Pixel 7 Pro is Google's top-of-the-line flagship of the year, featuring the second-gen Tensor SoC, a 120Hz LTPO display, a telephoto sensor, and a bigger battery.
Google Pixel 7 Pro

The Pixel 7 Pro is Google’s best phone ever, with a refined, premium design and Google’s second-generation silicon — plus awesome cameras, as usual. 

Specifications

Display manufacturer:

Samsung Display Co.

Display type:

Flexible OLED, Pentile Diamond

Screen size:

6.71 inches

Screen resolution:

3120×1440 pixels (19.5:9)

Pixel density:

512 PPI

Pros Cons
  • Excellent peak brightness and improved brightness handling
  • Screen consumes abnormally high power at high brightness
  • Excellent color accuracy & precision, even at minimum and peak brightness
  • No ability to adjust white balance
  • Excellent shadow tone reproduction, especially in Natural mode
  • No Vivid color option for those that want more saturated colors
  • Significant improvements to HDR video playback through the entire OS
  • HDR10 tone mapping could use further improvement

Hardware & features: The same Samsung display

Samsung Display remains the premier OLED supplier for smartphones, so it’s no surprise that Google’s flagship maintains its sourcing. But what I didn’t expect is for Google to be using the same generation panel as last year’s Pixel 6 Pro, which could be considered dated at the time of its release. More specifically, the Pixel 7 Pro appears to be using the E4 OLED material set from Samsung Display — which is now nearly two years old — rather than the newer, more efficient E5 materials. This puts the Pixel 7 Pro’s OLED efficiency around at the same level as the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, released in 2020.

Google boasts a 25% increase in peak brightness for the Pixel 7 series compared to last year’s phones.

Luckily, the new Pixel’s display isn’t completely identical. In the Made by Google keynote, the company boasted a 25% increase in peak brightness for the Pixel 7 series compared to last year’s phones. There’s also an updated display driver that configures this change in brightness. Lastly, this boost fuels the Pixel 7’s next biggest change, which is how it plays back HDR videos.

Google Pixel 7 & Pixel 7 Pro HDR side-by-side

Unlike previous Android phones, the Pixel 7 Pro (right) can now view HDR videos within apps at the correct brightness, including picture-in-picture mode.

Although technically a feature of Android 13, the Pixel 7 Pro is the first Android phone to support the integration of HDR content with the app and system UI. This means that the Pixel 7 Pro display can show true brighter-than-white highlights without needing to hike the system brightness to blinding levels.

Essentially, the feature works by ramping up the display brightness in the presence of HDR content while at the same time proportionally reducing the pixel values of the rest of the UI, forming the illusion of specular highlights. The feature also directly addresses the general brightness issue that Android phones have with HDR videos, which often requires setting the display at max brightness just for the exposure to look correct.

Unlike previous Android phones, the Pixel 7 Pro can now view HDR videos within apps at the correct brightness

And strategically timed with this feature, Google added 10-bit HDR video recording to its newest phones, which play back seamlessly on the 7 Pro. Google also mentioned a partnership with Snap and TikTok to bring HDR video to those platforms on Android, which should help push the envelope for color management. Previously, apps only supported HDR playback in fullscreen mode due to nonexistent HDR blending, but Android 13 fixes this and allows for HDR viewing within an app’s content feed. Previous XDA Editor-in-Chief Mishaal Rahman actually found out about this feature as an upcoming Android 13 addition a few months ago, which you can read more about in his Esper blog.

Oppositely on the topic of color management, the Pixel 7 series still sadly only captures photos in the sRGB color space. And because of the lack of concern on the Android side, popular social apps like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or even Chrome still don’t support viewing wide-color images, all of which comfortably coexist in Apple’s ecosystem.

Lab testing: Brightness & power

Peak screen luminance vs. window size for various phones

Peak screen luminance vs. window size for various phones

The most defining advancement for the Pixel 7 Pro display, hands down, is its higher peak brightness. Google’s 25% brightness boost claim rings true across the board, placing it in line with the best of Android. Using light-themed apps, the 7 Pro shines just as brightly as the competition, while only being bested by the iPhone 14 Pro (though by a significant margin) when in dark mode or consuming fullscreen media.

The Pixel 7 Pro could reach up to 1620 nits, or about 1050 nits in light-themed apps, similar to other flagship phones.

From my testing, the Pixel 7 Pro could reach up to 1,620 nits peak brightness at a tiny 1% window size, not far off from the Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus and Ultra. Google claims the Pixel 7 Pro can hit 1,500 nits at a 5% window size, which seems modest since I could measure this at a 10% window size. Light-themed apps will have the display sit around 1,050 nits, similar to other flagship phones. HDR content is also capped at around 1,000 nits, with Google disabling the dynamic OLED brightness boost to improve color fidelity.

Peak screen luminance comparison for various phones

Peak screen luminance comparison for various phones

I definitely noticed a marked improvement over the Pixel 6 Pro when using the phone outdoors, and Google even lowered the ambient brightness needed to trigger high brightness mode (from 10,000 lux down to about 5,700 lux). There’s also a smooth transition when high brightness mode enables, and there finally appears to be granularity in its brightness depending on lux rather than being completely on or off after the breakpoint. The peak manual brightness also got a slight upgrade, from 500 nits to 600 nits.

Now for the bad part

Fullscreen luminance vs. display power chart for various phones

Fullscreen luminance vs. display power chart for various phones

What immediately stood out to me is just how much power the Pixel 7 Pro uses. At peak emission, its display alone uses up more than 6W of power, more than I’ve seen on any other phone. For comparison, the iPhone 14 Pro Max and the Galaxy S22 Plus can output about 1,100 fullscreen nits for the amount of power that the Pixel 6 Pro can output 800 nits (after normalizing screen area) — that’s almost a 40% increase in efficacy at peak brightness for using the latest OLED materials. Inversely, the Pixel 7 Pro requires 6.4W to output 964 nits, while the iPhone 14 Pro Max only uses 4.4W for the same output.

The Pixel 7 Pro’s total display power footprint is larger than I’ve seen on any other phone — about 21% larger than the Pixel 6 Pro’s, and about 47% larger than the iPhone 14 Pro Max

Furthermore, the Pixel 7 Pro display actually consumes slightly more power than even the Pixel 6 Pro at high brightness levels. What’s happening here is the Pixel 7 Pro is using higher display voltage states compared to the 6 Pro above 300 nits. Rather than adding a new voltage step, Google replaced the former 500-nit voltage state with one that can accommodate the new 600-nit maximum. Similarly, for high brightness mode, the previous 800-nit voltage state got bumped up to allow for 1,000 nits. Although this may seem short-sighted, this is expected since Google likely needs to factory-calibrate each voltage state individually.

If we evaluate the area under the curve to consider the luminance range of the display, the Pixel 7 Pro’s power-luminance area is about 21% larger than the Pixel 6 Pro up to the 6 Pro’s peak brightness. And compared to the iPhone 14 Pro Max, the Pixel 7 Pro’s power-luminance footprint is 47% larger up to its own peak brightness.

Of course, people don’t use their phones blasting all-white test patterns (or at least I’d hope not). You can expect these measurements to be a factor of about four-fifths when using light-themed apps, or down to about a 10th for dark-mode apps. But judging from these power measurements, you definitely want to limit the Pixel 7 Pro’s exposure to bright white-emitting scenarios. The screen is also prone to throttling down, exiting out of its peak brightness state after five minutes of activation.

Lab testing: Display refresh

Last year, I investigated the variable refresh rate (VRR) situation with the Pixel 6 Pro to see if its display really went down to 10 Hz. Many people were skeptical since Android’s refresh rate readout in the developer options only seemed to go down to 60 Hz when the screen was idle. However, Android’s refresh rate indicator does not show the OLED panel’s lowest operating refresh rate, partly due to how its variable refresh is implemented.

These Samsung panels have a variable refresh mechanism that operates at a much lower level, within the display driver, and is not exposed to the Android user space. Samsung Display’s VRR implementation is not the same as that found in typical gaming monitors, which can target any arbitrary refresh rate. The VRR found in Samsung’s HOP (“LTPO”) panels still works by switching between discrete refresh rate modes, like older implementations. But these VRR panels now incorporate a low-frequency drive (LFD) mechanism which operates the OLED driving rate at a fraction of the current refresh rate mode.

As an example, a 10 Hz driving refresh rate is achievable by operating the panel at a 60 Hz scanning rate, but skipping re-drives for 5 out of every 6 scanning intervals if the frames are the same. This is made possible by the OLED’s new oxide-driving TFTs, which have a leakage current low enough to pull this off without significant luminance dips.

Flicker spectrum charts for Pixel 7 Pro

Again, we find that the Pixel 7 Pro OLED does indeed go down to 10 Hz immediately when the screen is idle, but there are noticeable differences this year in how Google has configured the display driver. For those who are sensitive to pulse-width modulation (PWM), the Pixel 7 Pro stepped down its PWM frequency from 360 Hz to 240 Hz. I’m not sure what exactly warrants this change, but I’m not affected by such strobe effects.

There still remains the same low-light caveat with the minimum refresh rate as last year, which is also present in Samsung’s devices. In very dim conditions, when the screen is below 15% system brightness and the ambient brightness below 5 lux, the Pixel 7 Pro OLED will not ramp down from 120 Hz. This ensures you notice no flicker as the display switches refresh rates, which amplifies with low light levels. By forcing the screen to switch to and from 120 Hz and 10 Hz, I was able to notice a faint but undeniable difference in the brightness of dark patches near minimum brightness, so the limitation seems somewhat justified. What’s interesting is that this constraint does not occur when Smooth Display is disabled, and the panel switches between 10 Hz and 60 Hz as normal. But there still exists a flicker (although even more faint), so I believe this is either an oversight when bringing LFD to the 60 Hz mode, or Google decided the difference is minimal enough to let it slide.

The Pixel 7 Pro OLED uses 250 milliwatts less power when idle at 10 Hz compared to when driven at 120 Hz — except for in very dim conditions

One of my other complaints with VRR implementation on the Pixel 6 Pro is that the OLED did not ramp down to 10 Hz when Smooth Display was disabled. This occurred, for example, when Battery Saver is enabled, which sometimes meant that the screen was actually taking up more power when idle than if it was disabled. I’m happy to see that Google mediated this with the Pixel 7 Pro, as I can verify that the screen now gets down to 10 Hz in Battery Saver mode. The Always-On display also goes down to 10 Hz as expected, regardless of lighting conditions.

In terms of power savings, there’s a substantial difference between active and idle. When resting at 10 Hz, the Pixel 7 Pro OLED uses 250 milliwatts less power than when driven at 120 Hz. However, the disparity isn’t really owed to the power savings of the 10 Hz idle state, but rather the steep price of running the display at 120 Hz.

When measuring the power discrepancy between 60 Hz and 120 Hz, the latter consumes an additional 200 milliwatts, while the savings between 10 Hz and 60 Hz is only about 50 milliwatts. And on the base Pixel 7, the difference between 60 Hz and 90 Hz is only about 70 milliwatts. Given these measurements, I believe Google could significantly improve its low-light battery situation by ramping down the display to at least 90 Hz when idle.

Lastly, one of the niche benefits of variable refresh screens is the ability to match the frame rate of films that run at 24 or 25 FPS. Sadly, regardless of the frame rate, the Pixel 7 Pro will only ramp down to 60 Hz, meaning that there will always be a mismatch between the content frame rate and display refresh.

Lab testing: Color gamut & Spectra

Color gamut and RGB spectrum charts for the Pixel 7 Pro

An OLED’s material set not only determines the general efficacy of a panel but also the color purity of its subpixels. All three emitters in the Pixel 7 Pro’s OLED match the spectra of a typical E4 panel, which is the same as last year’s phone. This is a shame since Samsung’s latest materials have completely upgraded the three emitters, significantly improving power efficiency while expanding the native gamut of the OLED. For the Pixel 7 Pro, its native gamut completely covers DCI-P3 while slightly surpassing it with the green and blue primaries.

Gone is the Boosted color mode introduced in the Pixel 2; Natural and Adaptive are now the only two options.

Gone is the Boosted color mode introduced in the Pixel 2; Natural and Adaptive are now the only two options. This feels like it’s been a long time coming since it’s been a redundant option since Adaptive mode’s addition. Contrary to what many people believe, the Boosted profile was not any more vibrant than the Adaptive profile — the two were pretty much identical in the Pixel 4 and 5, and with the Pixel 6 series, the Boosted and Natural modes were re-calibrated to a flatter tone curve, putting the Boosted mode somewhere between Natural and Adaptive.

Both color modes support Android’s color management system, which can render colors up to DCI-P3 if the app and content support it. In fact, both profiles are calibrated to Display P3 as their base, and the Pixel 7 Pro renders the entire Android UI with Display P3 as the default composition space (though apps still need to opt-in to display P3 colors).

Lab testing: Contrast & tone response

Like most phones and computer monitors, the screen on the Pixel 7 Pro is calibrated to a 2.2-gamma tone response out of the box in its Adaptive color mode. On the other hand, selecting Natural mode uses a different tone curve with lighter shadows, which is colloquially named the piecewise sRGB curve. When outdoors, the Pixel 7 Pro will massively boost the lightness of its shadows and midtones, ensuring that on-screen content remains legible in the sunlight.

Tone response charts for the Pixel 7 Pro in Adaptive mode

From my measurements, the Adaptive mode does an excellent job tracking close to a 2.2 gamma power, independent of content APL. But things can get a little troublesome near minimum brightness, and the calibration tracks a bit darker than usual. This can make shadow details a bit more difficult to make out. Even with perfect tracking, a 2.2 gamma power can still look too dark or crushed at very low brightness levels, so a good solution would be to lift the shadows at low brightness. But despite the steeper tone response, the Pixel 7 Pro is still capable of rendering black-gray with a pixel value of 1/255 in this mode, which is a huge improvement to what Google had prior to the Pixel 5.

Tone response charts for the Pixel 7 Pro in Natural mode

As discussed, the Natural mode follows a tone response with lighter shadows, which the Pixel 7 Pro precisely reproduces. Using Natural mode can help your screen look much easier on the eyes, especially in low-light conditions. This curve was the original intent of the sRGB color space specification, but upon implementation, it was simply easier to approximate the curve using a pure 2.2 power function. So although the piecewise sRGB curve is the official standard for display output, most consumer displays actually just use gamma-2.2 in practice.

Google’s decision to use the piecewise sRGB curve for Natural mode is controversial since it ultimately renders a flatter image for most casual content. Besides, if most monitors are adjusted to gamma-2.2, why not just stick to what most people are using? One issue is that many professional color-managed workflows still utilize piecewise sRGB, including photographers working with Lightroom and Photoshop. But the more crucial nuance is that most calibrated monitors are LCD rather than OLED, and the contrast for LCDs is much shallower near black. Calibrating an OLED to piecewise sRGB, in my opinion, is a good compromise to approach the near-black tone slope of an LCD if consistent tonal representation is of utmost importance.

Tone response charts for the Pixel 7 Pro in HDR10

Although in-line HDR playback was improved with Android 13, Google still has a few wrinkles in its HDR tone mapping. The Pixel 7 Pro still doesn’t tone map the display’s peak brightness toward the maximum content light level (MCLL) of the content being played. In simple terms, none of the Pixel phones fully utilize their peak brightness for HDR content. For example, the Pixel 7 Pro can only reach up to 780 nits for HDR content mastered for 1,000 nits, which is most of them. The rest of the panels’ brightness is reserved for pixel values that the content never even uses. Incorrect tone mapping like this may often result in contours and loss of detail in bright regions.

The way that Google tone maps HDR10 content with system brightness is also not ideal. Above 50% system brightness, the Pixel 7 Pro will always target the ST.2084/PQ curve, which is intended for viewing in a dark room. In fact, HDR10 video is completely identical between 50% and 95% system brightness, and the peak panel luminance only increases above 95% system brightness. This means that HDR10 content will appear relatively dim at high brightness levels. Below 50% system brightness, the Pixel 7 Pro scales the overall exposure of HDR10 content, which should be the intended behavior for the entire brightness range. In the future, I’d like to see Google continue to scale the video exposure past 50% system brightness so that HDR content can be enjoyed in brighter settings.

Lab testing: Color accuracy & precision

Grayscale spread charts for the Pixel 7 Pro

Starting with white, the Pixel 7 Pro absolutely nails its calibration. Its white point hugs close to D65 throughout its entire brightness and grayscale range, with only a minor hiccup at max brightness. All gray points are measured within their circle, which on the chart represents the threshold for color difference noticeably. What’s most impressive is its tight calibration at minimum brightness, where shifts in the hue of gray are most perceptible.

But alas, I can’t conduct a proper display review without pointing out the elephant in the room: Even if these OLEDs measure accurately to a specific white point, it does not mean that they visually appear identical. I brought up this point in my last Pixel review, and I will continue to do so until these companies provide solutions to this problem.

The fact of the matter is that current methods of color measurement don’t provide a definitive assessment for color matching. As it turns out, the difference in spectral distributions between OLEDs and LCDs creates a disagreement in the appearance of their white points. More precisely, the color of white on OLEDs will typically appear yellowish-green compared to an LCD display that measures identically. This is known as metameric failure, and it’s been widely acknowledged to occur with wide-gamut displays such as OLEDs. The standard illuminants (e.g. D65) have been defined with spectral distributions that match closer to that of an LCD, which are now used as reference. For this reason, an offset towards magenta is needed for the white point of OLEDs to perceptually match the two display technologies.

For comparison, here’s the Pixel 7 Pro white point when color-matched to my calibrated LCD:

Whitepoint color measurement of the Pixel 7 Pro when color-matched to a calibrated LCD monitor

Whitepoint color measurement of the Pixel 7 Pro when color-matched to a calibrated LCD monitor; a prime example of metamerism failure.

Ultimately, Google just needs to offer RGB color balance sliders to appease all camps. If the company is going so far as to modify its reference tone curve to a niche specification, it can go a step further to satisfy the purists. Now on to the rest of the colors.

sRGB color accuracy charts for the Pixel 7 Pro in Natural mode

P3D65 color accuracy charts for the Pixel 7 Pro in Natural mode

Natural mode’s remaining colorimetry is also excellent for both sRGB and P3D65 colors. One flaw is that near minimum brightness, red tones are somewhat undersaturated and shifted toward orange, and are actually more accurate in Adaptive mode. HDR10 color accuracy is also nothing to write home to, but nothing to complain about, either. At peak brightness, the Pixel 7 Pro also slightly boosts color saturation to combat some gamut reduction due to glare; it’s subtle and not overdone, unlike Samsung’s Vision Booster. Overall, Google did a great job with color accuracy, and the Pixel 7 Pro’s colors are very true to the company’s intent.

Final thoughts: How is the Pixel 7 Pro’s display?

Many people have high hopes for Google’s hardware, myself included. But for those chasing after bleeding-edge specs, the Pixel line often prescribes a relegated offering compared to the likes of Apple or Samsung. On that front, I’m happy to say that the practical differences have never been more minuscule.

The Pixel 7 Pro produces colors that are true to the creator’s intent

To be perfectly clear, the Pixel 7 Pro is second to none when strictly speaking about on-screen quality. It produces immaculate colors that are true to the creator’s intent, with the effective brightness to match the other top dogs. This consistency spans the entire luminance range of the panel, making the Pixel 7 Pro great to look at both outdoors when trying to capture sunny photos and while winding down near bedtime. And with its improvements to how Android handles HDR content, the Pixel 7 Pro is well-equipped for the HDR revolution.

Google Pixel 7 Pro

Google has chosen to tune its screens to be accurate-only, and I’m all for it. There has been no other such vendor on the Android side, as they all succumb to cranking up color saturation out of the box to stand out. Apple is the only competing company that doesn’t take this approach, so I’m glad to finally see another company taking this risk.

But this approach carries the connotation that the company knows best; which we know isn’t always true. It’s almost the antithesis of Android’s entire culture, though at this point, it’s important to understand that Google is just another player in the game, and this is how it’s choosing to play ball. In Google’s case, I believe it’s a calculated risk to push the boundaries of color management throughout the platform. However, I still wish it offered options for the decisions it can’t always get correct, such as the screen white balance or tone response curve.

Finally, I can’t not talk about what a battery hog this screen can be. When all else is the same, the Pixel 7 Pro screen seems to be doing so at a much larger power footprint than the competition. Last year’s phone wasn’t too impressive either battery-wise, so it’s awry to see this screen using up even more juice.

It ultimately comes back to hardware at the end of the day, and Google just makes due the best that it can with the parts the company decides to use. The result is an outstanding display experience that comes at the cost of a different aspect of the total phone’s package.

Google Pixel 7 Pro
The Pixel 7 Pro is Google's top-of-the-line flagship of the year, featuring the second-gen Tensor SoC, a 120Hz LTPO display, a telephoto sensor, and a bigger battery.
Google Pixel 7 Pro

The Pixel 7 Pro is Google’s best phone ever, with a refined, premium design and Google’s second-generation silicon — plus awesome cameras, as usual. 



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