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Google Pixel phones are special, and even without the kind of access they get to the latest Android software, there's a lot to be impressed about what they're capable of doing. Still, they're not for everyone, and a serious shopper will want to go in eyes-open about some of their bigger limitations.

Modern smartphones, Pixels included, can take some utterly stunning photos. While some phones might overwhelm you with lots of complicated settings, I am not a professional photographer. So, when I’m taking photos for myself, I like the good-old point-and-shoot way of photography, where the phone does all the heavy lifting for me. All I’m required to do is frame the shot I want (besides getting the person to pose properly) and tap the shutter button. And that’s how a lot of people expect to take their photos.

For that kind of use, Pixel phones make for perfect companions. You simply aim the camera, and the phone takes care of everything else. My trusty Google Pixel 6a has been doing just that for me, for a while now. I know its performance will be consistent enough to rely on it to give me the best shots each time — unlike many budget phones that struggle with consistent performance. Pixels have also been able to capture my family’s brown skin tone more accurately, which is always appreciated.

I’d pick a Pixel phone for snapping photos over everything else, any day.

That’s the reason I carried my Pixel 6a on my recent trip to the mountains to escape the harsh North Indian summers. And as unfailing as ever, the phone captured some beautiful shots of the snow-capped mountains in the distance and those blue skies teeming with gray and white clouds — a sight that’s sadly getting rarer by the day in our polluted cities. These photos from the Pixel looked better to my group's eyes than those taken with my travel mate's iPhone 13. I’d pick a Pixel phone for snapping photos over everything else, any day.

Yet, the Pixel 6a ended up being just a spare handset on the trip, as I didn’t find it impressive enough to be my primary phone. And that is the Pixel’s biggest drawback, even with all the good things it has going for itself.

I carry a OnePlus 11 as my daily driver, which, despite a few shortcomings, is a much better overall smartphone than a Pixel (and not just the 6a) when it comes to things that matter most to me. A lot of that credit goes to the silicon beating under the hood: the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is a superior processor to the Tensor chips Google’s been using on its recent handsets. That impacts not just raw software performance, but also a lot of other aspects that contribute to the modern smartphone experience.

The Galaxy A54 next to the Google Pixel 6a

Tensor chips are maybe as well known for their AI and ML capabilities as they are for inheriting the worst traits of Exynos chips. When my SIM cards were in the Pixel 6a until late last year, the cell reception was the poorest I had ever seen on any phone — even Wi-Fi signals were weaker in comparison to other phones in the same room. So, for traveling through the countryside, where reception is already sporadic, taking a chance with the Pixel didn’t make much sense.

Tensor chips are maybe as well known for their AI and ML capabilities as they are for inheriting the worst traits of Exynos chips.

And it isn’t like Google has done wonders with the second-gen Tensor G2 on the Pixel 7 series. Sure, current Pixel flagships use a newer modem, but it performs well mostly in areas with good cellular coverage. There are numerous user reports of these handsets struggling to get you proper reception or sometimes find a network at all when not in the most favorable conditions. Meanwhile, Qualcomm’s X70 modem inside the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 fares much better in the real world, both in terms of cellular connectivity and internet speeds.

Tensor often needs to overexert itself for basic stuff like providing you with a proper network connection, which usually results in excess heat and poor battery performance. As previously mentioned, my Pixel 6a wasn’t connected to a cellular network nor was it used for taking videos. But taking a few photos still heated it up enough that it had to pause Google Photos backup for a good half hour before it could cool down enough to resume. The OnePlus 11, on the other hand, was connected to 5G and had its Wi-Fi hotspot enabled but didn’t break a sweat even in direct sunlight.


The Pixel 7 series hasn’t made significant strides in this regard either, unfortunately. The Tensor G2 continues to have the tendency to warm up even with light load like scrolling through social media, and getting uncomfortably hot on 5G or while gaming. When the phone heats up, it starts limiting what you can do while it tries to quickly cool down, like restricting camera operation and throttling the processor. If this cycle repeats frequently, it could conceivably affect battery health in the long run. Things get especially dicey when ambient temperatures reach 45°C (or 113°F) during the summer months here, making Pixel phones practically unsuitable for humid subtropical climates.

Pixel phones aren’t the most efficient around to begin with, and their battery life takes a further toll when they also have to struggle with cellular reception and heat management. My phone dying when I need directions from Maps to navigate an unfamiliar road is just the last thing I want. I just cannot trust the Pixel to last long enough outdoors when running on 5G (or even 4G, for that matter).

We often praise Google Pixel phones for their unmatched software experience and outstanding camera performance. I will absolutely stand by those accounts — Pixels are truly remarkable camera phones, without a doubt. But it’s also true that camera quality only takes you so far, and a lot of other — and important — factors contribute to a complete smartphone experience. I’d much rather use a handset with only a slightly better than average camera, but that accomplishes the very basic job of being a good cell phone, lasts at least a full day with a mix of Wi-Fi and 5G, and doesn’t turn into a hot pan at the drop of a hat.


Unfortunately, none of the Pixel phones launched so far meet those requirements. And that’s what’s keeping me from switching back to a Pixel phone, even though I miss all the exclusive software niceties and would love to have a Pixel as my primary shooter. Hopefully, the upcoming Pixel 8 series will be able to change my mind and convince me to make the switch. But until then, I’m happy prioritizing a more reliable overall smartphone experience. If you want the same, you won't go wrong with any of the top Android handsets rocking a Qualcomm processor — in case you find yourself in the same boat as me.