The Google Pixel 7 Pro is a smartphone none the wiser

It was a rather unexciting result. When I reviewed the Google Pixel 7 Pro last year, I came away with the impression that the phone was slightly better in some important ways but it wasn’t the ultra-smart, time-saving device that Google claimed it was. It was just a good smartphone, not a smarter smartphone.

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

For all of these reasons, I thought it worth revisiting the Pixel 7 Pro in between regularly scheduled shows for Hot Foldable Summer. What I found – and I’m sorry to disappoint with another predictable result – is a little more than that. Some things just got a little better, but for the most part, the things I loved about the Pixel 7 Pro the first time around are the things I love now.

Not because of a lack of intelligence. More often than not, the limitations he faces are a result of the stupidity of the world around him and the systems within which he must operate. And then there’s the world itself: it hasn’t stood still in the past six months. While the Pixel tries to prevent or eliminate some of the annoyances of everyday life, the rest of the world is waking up and finding new ways to annoy 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 phone tree menu options on the screen before you speak it. It’s a really smart way to save a few seconds of time, and it works well with a few of the major toll-free numbers Google has suggested you try with. But so far, I’m still not able to work with places I call regularly, like the pharmacy or PetSmart.

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I tried Walgreens and ran into a different problem: a bot

Thinking there may not be enough Pixel owners who call Bartell’s pharmacy regularly, I tried Walgreens and ran into a different problem: a bot. Instead of offering a list of options to choose from, Walgreens does this cute thing where it asks, “In a few words, tell me how I can help,” or something to that effect. The Pixel 7 Pro isn’t helping here, at least not now. I’m sure that in the future our phones will employ bots to talk to other bots for you, which is really the dream – bots all the way and all – but for now, I still have to yell “talk to the pharmacist” into my phone without taking advantage of the features own technique.

Then there is spam. The Pixel 7 Pro is pretty good at detecting and blocking spam calls, but not so much for texts. While testing the phone again, some phishing text messages with fake Instagram password reset requests passed unharmed. They were convincing enough that for a second I asked if someone was trying to access my Instagram account, but as best I can tell, that wasn’t the case. In that case, all I needed was an old-fashioned instinct to never trust anyone calling or texting me from an unusual number — not a great spam detection feature.

All I need is an old fashioned instinct

This wasn’t the only time using my head turned out to be smarter than relying on my phone to beat the rest of the world. The Pixel 7 Pro is generally a good travel companion. It’ll put your flight info at a glance, and you can easily add your boarding pass to Google Wallet—I was looking in the Delta app for the “Add to Wallet” option, but as it turns out, all you need to do is take a screenshot, and it will create a boarding pass that you can add. Maher.

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Where this system falls is when other things change – namely my gateway. I was walking confidently through security toward the gate on my digital boarding pass when I looked at a nearby screen. It seemed funny to have another Delta to JFK flight departing at the same time as mine. Turns out, that wasn’t the case. My gate has just changed, and the boarding pass in my wallet hasn’t updated. I couldn’t see a way to update the card itself, so I opened the Delta app, refreshed the page, and found: My new gateway is confirmed. I would have walked clear across the hallway wasting minutes – minutes! – From the time I could have spent ordering a latte if I hadn’t looked at the blackboard.

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

To be clear, all of the complaints I’ve made here amount to minor inconveniences at best. But these are the kinds of small, everyday annoyances the Pixel is designed to eliminate, and they fall a little short. It’s successful in other ways, and I don’t want to overlook it. I also tested Clear Calling when it was released in January, and it works well enough to act as a kind of noise cancellation when you’re talking to someone in a noisy environment.

I am basically addicted to Recorder – it records my briefings and calls and transcribes them with amazing accuracy right on the device. When I want to check out a particular quote or number, all I have to do is look it up, and it will find the right point in the recording so I can re-listen. It saves me a lot of time, and I know I’m not alone because any time a recorder is mentioned in a room full of tech journalists, we’re all nodding on purpose.

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

Most of these features aren’t exclusive to the Pixel 7 Pro or even the Pixel 7 series — Recorder goes back to the Pixel 4 — and Magic Eraser isn’t limited to Pixel phones. But it’s the kinds of Google-smarty-Pants features that really impress me, even if they’re not exactly the flashy, amazing new tech features Google always promises. They’re things that the company has been repeating year after year and eventually got good enough that you’ll notice that you use them more often. This is where the Pixel 7 Pro is at its best, and I think it will stay that way even as we inevitably see an onslaught of new AI-driven features in the Pixel phone coming this fall. If nothing else, I’m hoping for a bot that will talk to other bots on my behalf. This must be on the way, right?

Photo by Allison Johnson/The Verge

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