Friday 31 March 2023

Google Pixel 7 vs Motorola Edge 30 Neo

I now have both of these devices in-hand and they're not incomparable in terms of physical size, so I thought I'd throw together some thoughts on the good and bad stuff about both, the pros and cons of each - particularly given that one is twice the price of the other! It might help someone out there deciding which might suit their needs.

The first port of call really needs to be that price difference. Both smartphones launched in the UK in the Autumn of 2022, the Moto at £349 and Pixel 7, £599. As I write, real-world prices, 6 months on, are usually £299 for the Moto and £499 for the Pixel, so the gap narrows a little, but for our purposes here, I'm still thinking of one being twice the price of the other. Just a quick note to say that I actually have the 256GB version of the Pixel 7 here, which is around £100 more, but the Neo is only available in a 128GB variant (at least, in the UK).

I have reviewed both of these phones separately in my Blog over the last 6 months, so do click through for a drill-down if you're interested in the nitty-gritty beyond comparisons. Motorola Edge 30 Neo and Google Pixel 7. I declared the Neo my Phone of the Year for 2022.

The screen sizes are a dinky 6.28" for the Neo and 6.3", Pixel. So very close indeed. The first thing that strikes me looking at them face-on is that the corners are 'rounded' on the Neo and very much 'squared off' on the Pixel (something that Google, based on current leaks, are fixing in the forthcoming 8-series). In practice, this means that the pixel is less comfortable in the hand with 'sharp' corners often digging in. Somehow, the smoother form of the Neo makes one-handed use, particularly, more pleasant.

Other than that, the Pixel is a shade taller, wider and fatter than the Neo, with substantially more weight into the bargain. It feels heavier in the hand (and pocket) by some margin. The Neo feels stealth-like in comparison. The Pixel's screen goes almost right out to the corners giving, technically, more content (if you count what might be in those corners in your apps and services). The Pixel also has slightly wider bezels all-round, for those concerned (and out with their millimetre measuring tools)!

To make the Pixel feel even more hefty, it has that huge camera 'shelf' across the back - the design language implemented by Google for Pixels since the 6-series (and looking like continuing until at least the 8-range). It is a 'lump' and again, by comparison, the much smaller 'island' on the back of the Neo makes the difference in bulk even more pronounced.

Part of the difference in weight is down to the fact that the Pixel is a glass/aluminium sandwich whilst the Neo has a plastic frame and back. TPU in place (as most will have) and you won't see it of course - so is the extra weight worth it, I wonder. Even if you do go naked, the metal can dent, glass can break but plastic will likely just bounce! Anyway, I do get the 'premium feel' aspect and how nice that is to enjoy one's object of desire! What you also get with the Pixel is a proper IP-rating for dust and water. The Neo? 'Splash and dust resistant' whatever that means!

The screen on the Pixel is an AMOLED one made by Samsung and the Neo, LG's pOLED. The Moto wins this one in manual and auto modes with more brightness and richer, saturated colours. Which is surprising as Samsung panels always seem to come out tops on Galaxy phones compared to others - perhaps they keep the best for themselves! I have noticed with various devices over recent times that, for me, the pOLED seems to be better than most. By the way, regardless of the 'edge' name, the Moto, and Pixel 7 have flat screens!

A quick word about box contents on purchase, followed by battery and charging speeds. Buying a Pixel 7, you get no charger in the box - only a SIM Card Tray tool, charging/data cable and adapter. You can charge the phone at a maximum of 20W, wired or Qi - whatever charging brick, pad or stand you use. The Neo has this licked mostly, with a TPU case and 68W fast charging brick in the box, plus cable and tools and so on - and you can charge the phone from 0-100% in about 35 minutes! The Pixel, the best part of a couple of hours. Usually not an issue for most (and you can get 50% in half an hour or so), but the Neo could, on a long day out (to a piggery, maybe), save your bacon!

The Pixel has a slightly bigger battery, but they're both good. They both perform well, too. In my tests, with average use, they are both two day batteries. The other thing that the Pixel wins on is reverse charging, for those who might make use of it, passing through power to other phones or peripherals. You can also utilise this for real pass-through with the Pixel with a cable plugged in from the AC and peripheral on the back, charging both. The Neo's Qi Charging is seriously trickle at 5W but it's absolutely fine for overnight use.

The Pixel is powered by Google's Tensor 2 chipset and the Neo, a humble SnapDragon 695. Executing everyday tasks, you really wouldn't know though. Yes, of course, if you go shooting/editing video on-the-fly and getting into some serious heavy gaming (neither of which I do, outside of review-testing), then yes - you'll see the difference. Slightly! I say slightly, because even with this workload, the Neo does extraordinarily well. Playing heavier games than I normally would during testing and it keeps up just fine. Copying loads of files between the phone and PC, for example, yes, it processes a little quicker using the Pixel but really not that most folk would notice. They both have 8GB RAM which in both cases keep things ticking along with background tasks. The Neo makes use of its RAM partly to keep Motorola's Ready For working fluidly.

Ready For is Motorola's version of Samsung's DeX. And in some ways it's better than DeX. But for our purposes here, the comparison between the Pixel and the Neo shows that the Google system doesn't yet have any kind of Desktop Mode (though they have been talking about including it for years as the hardware would support it). So what we're left with is a big plus for me and Ready For for the Neo over nothing of the sort for the Pixel. There is a caveat though - unlike Motorola's implementation for it's more expensive models, it's not wired - only wireless. This means that you can't plug it in and there's no support for HDMI. However, with a good connection, Bluetooth, WiFi and Router, the Neo does the stuff as you'd expect. There is some latency with audio-in-video - but this is also the same trying to use the Pixel to share video from locally-stored data. All different with ChromeCast units and Cloud-based data of course, but locally stored, they're on a par with no cable. So a draw. Except that with Ready For, you do get a tailor-made front-end UI on the telly and PC, not to mention NexDock and similar productivity-based units and setups at your disposal.

Motorola's Peek Display arrangements are unique to their handsets and offer a UI which is quite brilliantly thought out, but with one major drawback. It's not truly always on. So a mark up for the Pixel here. But hold on. The Pixel's AoD is incredibly lily-livered! It's dull and dim and, yes, it might be always on (if you choose) but it's all but illegible in many lighting conditions. It's been so badly adjusted in the OS that unless you're under a bright light, you have to move it (to liven up the Lock Screen) to see (even) what the time is. Sitting on the arm of the sofa, watching the telly in the evening, I just can't see what it says. Which renders the point win for the Pixel here, lost again - if you can't see it in many light conditions, you might as well just have the clever Moto Peek system anyway - nudge, tap or lift for the same result!

I won't go right through the Peek Display system here again, as I have blogged about it many times before, but it's excellent. Why Google can't tweak the algorithms to make their AoD work well, I don't know. I suppose it's down to battery fears and potential complaints from users about that. But the battery on the Pixel 7 is so good anyway, it really wouldn't matter. (Samsung for the win here, incidentally, as their AoD is totally customisable with independently controlled brightness.) However, where the Pixel pulls one back is with Now Playing (when you can see it). It's their turn for something unique. Listening at all times for music that might be playing around you, searching the database, on device, for what it is and displaying it across the AoD. A fabulous feature about which I've been raving for years now!

One of the big wins for the Pixel is the always up-to-date software. OS updates and monthly security. This is where Motorola has an appalling record and it's a huge number of points to the Pixel in this department. Motorola (until very recent flagship-only handsets) have adopted an approach of monitoring usage. If they consider enough people are using their handsets they will plough R&D resources into keeping their software updated. If they don't see that usage, they just drop devices like a stone. Abandoned, pretty much. So those left holding the baby just have to buy a new phone (or live with a phone being out of date). The Neo has got no formal promises of any updates whatsoever. It's arrived on Android 12, in April 2023 it still has no Android 13 and, to be honest, nobody really knows whether or not it will get it - let alone 14 or beyond. Motorola let down their user-base with this attitude, concluding that most users don't even know what an OS or security update is - let alone be bothered about it. All the points go to the Pixel here. If we were scoring it'd be a ten-nil whitewash as the Pixel 7 has Android 13 (with Android 14 Betas available to all Pixel users) and bang up-to-date monthly security.

The Pixel software experience is probably one of the biggest differentiators between the phones here. Pixels can no longer be considered the Vanilla flavour of yesteryear, like phones still on the AndroidOne programme (Nokia being one of the very few left supporting that) but rather littered with all sorts of enhancements for the Pixel experience. Some you'll like, some you'll love, some you won't be able to do without once used! But also some you'll hate and which will annoy and irritate. It's a personal choice on all fronts and the user will have to make up their own mind. Fixed Launcher elements, for example, taking up space on the screen - Search Widget, At a Glance up-top, whether you like it or not. But then there's aforementioned Now Playing, clever tools in the phone's app integrating into the Google Assistant, smart stuff in Maps for navigation and readily-available information, Call Screening, Hold for Me, Direct My Call, Universal Search, assignable Quick Tap on the back of the phone, Google Recorder, Theming, personal safety stuff - there's oodles of it and more every quarter with Feature Drops, some of which are available outside of the Pixel lineup (eventually), much of it exclusive.

Not to be left out though, the Neo has a bunch of cards up its sleeve as well to enhance the Moto software experience, most of which can be used or not used, unlike the Pixel's launcher items. Attentive display, their own Theming, unique gestures like chop-chop for torch or twist-twist for camera and so on. One of my favourites is the notification light around the camera island which can be set to flash and pulse when they are incoming. With a TPU in place, this smartly finds itself around the edges of the phone so it's visible even with the phone laid down on its back. In both phones there are oodles of software tweaks to help the user but I guess the points must go to Pixel here as the depth of Google's are far-reaching and many exclusive.

Connectivity is solid in my tests on both the phones, from cellular, data, calls, WiFi to GPS and NFC. All solid, so points shared. Security arrangements call another draw I think as they both have on-screen optical fingerprint scanners and face-unlock. In my tests here I found that there's nothing much to choose between them. The fingerprint scanner is marginally faster on the Neo, but the face-unlock snatches it back for the Pixel - Moto's system is particularly troublesome during set-up with full face beards!

During the above-mentioned drill-down reviews I spoke about the sound coming from both of these phones' speakers and now, some time on, I don't think that my view has changed. The output from the Pixel 7 is not on par with (even) the Pixel 6a and neither of them are as good as what comes out of the Neo here. It would seem that Moto have used some components and/or software to really push the boundaries here, especially at full volume, which they've not even used for their current flagship phones. The sound is louder and of better quality than the Pixel 7, for sure, though most people not nit-picking would be happy with the Pixel for causal use in relatively quiet environments. Points to the Neo here though.

In a points reversal, we come to cameras, as you might expect, with Google's AI software processing and clever manipulation with all sorts of tools in the bag at the users disposal. The Pixel's main shooter, on paper, is not as capable as the Neo's. Same is true of the wide-angle pair. In fact, you have to get down to the video recording in order to see a technical advantage as the Pixel shoots 4K and the Neo, 1080p. But as we know, with Google, the magic is sprinkled on during that AI/processing. You can see it in action, take a shot, watch it work and make an ordinary shot, special. The algorithms are quite amazing at times, regardless of venturing into other tools like Magic Eraser, Night Sight and more. Having said all this, the Neo's camera set-up is perfectly good enough for the vast majority of people, takes a wildly amazing close-up/macro shot and Moto's camera app has its own bunch of tools. There's much fun to be had with both, but yes, for anyone wanting to push boundaries on what photos can be grabbed from a smartphone, the Pixel takes the biscuit.

I think I've only mentioned price and value-for-money once in all this, but this is where I started. The Neo is roughly speaking half the price of the Pixel 7 and represents terrific value. The Pixel 6a comes closer on price with the Neo, and you then get all the Pixel special stuff and software support going forward - but you don't get wireless charging, 68W charging with a charger supporting that in the box or that glorious pOLED screen. But back to the Pixel 7 and yes, it does feel more substantial in the hand than the Neo - but the Neo feels cute and much more ergonomically friendly.

The pros and cons listed here and discussed reflect one thing really - that the Neo is terrific value for money in comparison with the Pixel 7 but it depends on what you value in the process. For me, the big draws of the Neo are fast charging, size and shape, Peek Display, great sounding speakers, Ready For - and the Pixel 7, always up-to-date software (with a long, long guaranteed support window), being able to try out all the new Android features first and yes, even though I don't care much about cameras on phones, even I can't deny that it's fascinating to watch the magic tools at work.

Is it worth double the money? For me, no. I'd be very happy with the Neo. There's no perfect phone. Probably never will be. There will always be personal pros and cons, irritations, likes and dislikes, so people just have to research well, read up and make a choice. I can say that from my time with smartphones, Neo and Pixel are two holes which you can really get sucked into. There's a great draw with both. Google's world of Pixel and Motorola's world of Edge are both charming and fairly addictive.

You can support what I do here in my blog by using my Amazon Affiliate link if you're thinking of buying either of these phones by clicking this link (and shopping as normal). It costs you no more and I get a small clawback in order to use Amazon to get in the next review device. Thanks
Images from GSMArena's great 3D Sizing tool - check it out!

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