Pixel 2’s New “A.I. Powered Zoom” Still Can’t Beat the iPhone

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read

View this post on the largest screen you can to really see the differences in quality.

I’ll keep this one short and sweet because a few pictures speak a thousand words. Google rolled out Android 8.1 and a few smaller updates, including a new ability to use “A.I.” to enhance photos that use digital zoom. As someone who happens to own a Pixel 2 and iPhone 8 Plus, both on the latest releases, I figured it was high time to put this through the classic BirchTree Photo Battle1.

First off, here’s a shot at 1x zoom of each phone:

Both look pretty good, right? I like the color on the iPhone better, but they’re basically the same in terms of clarity.

Before we go to the iPhone comparison, let’s looks at the difference between simply stretching out a 1x photo from the Pixel 2 and using the new A.I.-enhanced zoom:

There’s a little difference here, but it’s not game changing. There’s definitely less noise, and it’s a slightly smoother image overall, so I’m totally happy to have this.

But you came here to see if Google’s A.I. prowess has caught them up to the iPhone with its zoom lens. For these, I maxed out the Pixel’s zoom and brought the iPhone to the same level2. Here’s the first comparison, from the exact same spot as the shot above.

In terms of clarity, the iPhone absolutely smokes the Pixel. Look at the text on the garbage can, the slanted roof, or the shingles on the roof in the background; everything is far clearer on the iPhone shot. Again, the color on the iPhone photo is way better and true to life than the Pixel.

Here’s one more:

This one may be a little harder for Google’s A.I. to manage, as the random patterns of the tree branches in the background make this harder to “guess” how to fix things. Here the iPhone really shows off how superior hardware (2 lens system) and solid A.I. (you thought Google was the only one doing this?) can work together to create something more usable. Just come on, this one’s not even close!

These are just a few pictures taken in daylight, and I don’t want to imply the Pixel 2 won’t pull ahead in some other condition3, so I want to get outside around sunset and try this again to see if the story changes at all.

But unless that sunset shoot has opposite result from this test, I’m still going to reach for my iPhone 8 Plus any time I think there’s even the slightest chance I’ll want to zoom in on something.

  1. First time this phrase has been used 😬 
  2. The iPhone goes to 10x zoom, and the Pixel goes to about the equivalent of 7x, so the iPhone shots are at 7x zoom. 
  3. Although the gap is so wide that I’d be shocked.