Today’s smartphones are capable of things that we could have never imagined ten years ago. The processors on our little hand-held devices are extraordinarily powerful and the displays are bright and incredibly detailed. The built-in cameras are on par with top-of-the-line cameras of years past, and are capable of taking gorgeous photos and 4K-resolution video. Users can store an incredible amount of data on the tiny little hard drives, and receive internet from almost anywhere, at speeds that were unimaginable just several years ago.
Oh, yeah, and they make phone calls, too.
With such impressive features and specs on modern smartphones, people often overlook the original intended use for phones – to make phone calls. Although we use our smartphones for a host of different tasks, many of us still talk on them quite frequently, too. And, like every other feature, reception and call quality varies quite a bit from phone to phone. Let’s take a look at how the reception and call quality of Google’s Pixel line compares to that of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.
Google Pixel Call Quality
Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL are nice-looking phones, to be sure. However, many people believe the glass panel that covers half of the back of the phone to be an odd design choice. Known as the “shade”, Google claims the glass panel “creates a bold iconic element that gives the Pixel personality and character.” The shade makes the phone stand out from the sea of similar-looking phones on the market today, but it also serves another purpose – it supposedly improves antenna performance.
While it’s not clear at the moment whether the shade actually improves antenna performance or not, one thing is clear – by all accounts, the Google Pixel series offers incredible call quality. According to a recent review by AndroidPolice, the call quality of the Pixel that the reviewer had been using was “quite good.” The reviewer states that “the Pixel’s earpiece speaker is actually one of the best [he has] used, and even non-HD voice calls have surprisingly decent clarity,” adding that the earpiece speaker is “loud without being shrill.” The Pixel’s incredible call quality seems to be the consensus across the board – a reviewer from Forbes claimed that “Pixel and Pixel XL call quality is the clearest and most consistent I have experienced.” PhoneArena‘s review of the Pixel XL gave similar high praise – “Given the high-end radio hardware and software within the Pixel XL… it’s little surprise that when tasked with basic voice calls, the phone also excels.”
Also receiving high praise is the strong reception that the Pixel line maintains – even in areas where strong reception is generally unavailable. The same reviewer from Forbes received reception with his Pixel line in an area that no other previous phone had been able to – “these phones are the first I’ve ever used which retain signal in the notorious blackspot of my apartment stairs. For 10 years every phone I’ve tested (on the same network – Three UK) cuts off calls as I ascend and descend this dreaded staircase, but no more.” At least with this reviewer, the glass shade on the back of the phone did its job – “the Pixels won’t give you signal where there literally is none but they retain connections to weak signal better than any phone I’ve used. So if Google has to retain that odd half glass back in future generations to achieve this, then that’s 100% fine by me.”
iPhone 7 Call Quality
While the iPhone series has always been praised for its design, innovation, features, and consistent quality, call quality and reception have never been strong points for the line. The iPhone 4 release was slightly marred by the “antennagate” scandal, in which signal dropped dramatically when users gripped their phones in a certain manner. The scandal was so ubiquitous on the internet that it prompted Steve Jobs to rush out of a Hawaiian vacation to hold a press conference to address the issue – Apple eventually issued $15 settlement checks to many iPhone 4 users over the scandal. According to GSMArena, the iPhone 6 fared poorly in an antenna signal strength test when compared to other popular smartphones of the time. The iPhone 6s didn’t fare much better when compared to its contemporaries.
With the release of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, Apple re-designed the much-maligned “antenna lines”, placing them along the top and bottom edges of the device, but did it clear up the reception and call quality issues that many previous iPhone models faced?
It doesn’t appear as if that’s the case. Most reviews have been pretty harsh when discussing the iPhone 7’s call quality and reception. Even the most favorable reviews, such as Gottabemobile‘s review from October, describe call quality as ranging from “OK to great”. And there is no shortage of users across the internet complaining about poor sound quality during phone calls, with one user on Apple’s support forum writing, “It’s like the phone is hollow and the sound is coming from behind it.” While the latter appears to have come from a hardware issue, resulting in several users receiving replacement phones from Apple, other customers have flocked to social media complaining about dropped calls and reception issues. It wouldn’t be fair to say that these issues are widespread – most iPhone 7 and 7 Plus owners are very happy with their phones, but call quality and reception issues persist for some.
LTE Connectivity is also a very important factor when choosing a new phone – perhaps more so than call quality to some. While LTE Connectivity will likely rely more on your cell carrier than it will on the phone, both phones appear to have solid performance when it comes to LTE; however they both have their issues, as well.
According to PhoneArena, a small number of Pixel users have been experiencing issues establishing and maintaining a 4G LTE connection. The issue doesn’t appear to be affecting users in the United States, with carriers such as Claro in South America and Telus and Bell in Canada experiencing the most frequent issues. Google has acknowledged the issue, and is reportedly working on a software update that would patch it.
The iPhone’s LTE woes are a bit more complicated – and most of them stem from Apple’s decision to use two different modems in their iPhone 7 and 7 Plus devices. The phones containing modems made by Qualcomm, who has designed the modems for the past five iPhone releases, seem to provide solid, reliable performance. However, Apple is also selling phones with modems made by Intel, which, according to CNET, “don’t work on an older network technology called CDMA used by Verizon and Sprint.” Apple also warns on their website that “The iPhone for AT&T and T-Mobile does not support CDMA and will not work on Sprint or Verizon Wireless” – definitely something to consider for users that may look to switch carriers in the future. The lack of CDMA support isn’t the only downside to owning an iPhone 7 with an Intel modem – according to a recent test of LTE connectivity released by Cellular Insights, there is a substantial performance gap between the Qualcomm and Intel modems in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus phones. “In all tests, the iPhone 7 Plus with the Qualcomm modem had a significant performance edge over the iPhone 7 Plus with the Intel modem.” For users considering purchasing an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, Forbes has published a detailed guide on ensuring you’re purchasing a model with a Qualcomm modem as opposed to the inferior Intel modem.
Aside from the yet-to-be-resolved 4G issues in South America and Canada, the Google Pixel series doesn’t appear to have any issues with LTE connectivity. For users looking to purchase a Pixel or Pixel XL, the modems should be of no concern. As Forbes put it in a recent report, “the Qualcomm modem inside both Pixels also works with any carrier around the world, so there’s no issue in migrating your Pixel or Pixel XL to any network or even emigrating. A far cry from the current iPhone 7 modem scandal.”