Before the release of the iPhone 7, many complained about the lack of ground-breaking new features. There was no great re-design, and no new mind-blowing innovations like the introduction of Touch ID in 2013 or 3D Touch last year. Although there were several new colors available and some impressive internal upgrades – the processor, display, capacitive home button, etc. – the iPhone 7 pretty much looked like the iPhone 6s. So when the iPhone 7 was actually released, Apple made a big deal about the new features that were included. One of those features, a first for the iPhone line, is the addition of stereo speakers.
While the move from a single-speaker mono setup to a dual-speaker stereo was obviously a solid upgrade for the iPhone, Google did exactly the opposite in the design of the Google Pixel line. Both the Nexus 6 and the Nexus 6P, the unofficial predecessors of the Google Pixel line, featured dual front-facing stereo speakers. For some odd reason, however, Google decided to ditch the stereo speakers on the Google Pixel line, opting instead for a single, bottom-firing speaker.
While Apple is certainly proud of the new stereo speaker system – the speakers are even the focus of one of their most recent ads – how much better are they than the previous iPhone speakers? And on that note, is the Pixel’s single speaker that much worse than the speakers on the Nexus 6 and 6P? How do the iPhone 7’s speakers compare to the Pixel’s? Let’s take a look.
iPhone 7 Speakers
During the official release of the iPhone 7, Apple touted the new stereo speaker setup, which utilizes the bottom speaker found on previous models of the iPhone in conjunction with a speaker within the phone’s earpiece. Apple claimed during the release that it could produce double the volume and an improved audio range when compared to the speakers in previous iPhone models. While it’s unclear whether or not the speakers on the iPhone 7 are actually two times louder than the speakers on the 6s, it’s clear that they are an improvement. TrustedReviews describes the sound as “a lot fuller,” adding that “the iPhone 7 is loud – very loud… You can happily use the iPhone 7 to listen to a few tunes around the campsite without it being drowned out by the lightest breeze or a crackling fire.” TheVerge claims that the speakers are “much louder than before, and sound decent, with better treble performance in particular.”
Not only are the speakers louder, and a bit better sounding (in our opinion) than the speaker on the 6s, but the stereo performance makes watching movies and YouTube clips, as well as playing games, that much more enjoyable. 9to5Mac said of the iPhone 7’s new speaker system, “not only is the new iPhone louder, but its stereo sound will make supported music, movies, games, and TV shows sound even better than before.”
Although Apple’s phones never sit at the top of the list when it comes to speaker quality – those credentials usually go to HTC or LG phones – everyone seems to agree across the board that the stereo speaker system on the iPhone 7 is a vast improvement over the single speaker system in previous iPhone models.
Google Pixel Speakers
The general consensus of the Google Pixel’s speaker setup is not quite so favorable. As stated before, the Pixel’s predecessors, the Google Nexus 6 (manufactured by Motorola) and 6P (manufactured by Huawei), both had incredible front-facing stereo speakers. And although the Google Pixel and Pixel XL were both designed by Google, they were manufactured by HTC, widely known for their top-of-the-line stereo speaker systems in their flagship phones. So why does the Google Pixel series only feature one bottom-firing speaker?
There isn’t really a good explanation for the switch, but the fact that Google made the decision has made plenty of people unhappy. A recent review by AndroidPolice asked the same question that many Android customers had – “as to the single, bottom-firing speaker? Well, it’s not going to magically sprout into a front-facing stereo array, nor is it going to convince anyone that there was a worthy tradeoff made here.” Yet another AndroidPolice article, titled The 5 Worst Things About the Google Pixel and Pixel XL, echoed the same sentiment – “To say that we all probably miss the front-firing speakers from last year’s Nexus 6P and 2014’s Nexus 6 would not be untrue. Especially when even Apple now has at least one front-firing speaker. I’ll also say it seems a bit odd that a high-end phone built by HTC doesn’t utilize the 10’s stereo arrangement – one bottom firing, one front-facing, like the iPhone 7.”
Another common complaint about the speaker on the Pixel and Pixel XL – because of the placement of the speaker, many people find themselves muffling or even muting the speaker entirely with their hand while holding the phone. Another AndroidPolice reviewer points out his frustration with the odd speaker placement of the Pixel.
“Do you occasionally use your finger to balance the edge of your phone in portrait mode, or hold it by the bottom when viewing video in landscape? Well, if you have a Pixel, you will muffle the speaker this way, because its position is exactly where I find my finger or my palm rest when doing these things. And when the speaker is muffled, it’s basically inaudible – I’ve started a few videos thinking I had the volume turned way down only to notice my hand was just blocking the speaker grille.”
The problem is also quite evident while playing games, as pointed out by a number of YouTube videos such as this one – the placement of the lone speaker is certainly not ideal.
So there’s only one speaker. And it’s oddly placed. How does it sound, though? Well, the good news is, that single speaker is actually pretty solid. AndroidPolice described the quality of the speaker as “quite good”, going on to declare that it sounds “more natural and full” than the speakers on some other Android flagships, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and Motorola’s Moto Z. Android Authority said that the Google Pixel and Pixel XL boast “above average speaker performance,” and PCWorld even went to the trouble to compare the sound between the Google Pixel XL’s speaker and the stereo speakers of an iPhone 7. Although the reviewer stated that “neither phone is great,” the Pixel XL seemed to come out on top of the face-off – “There’s very little between the two phones in terms of volume and audio quality at the top, treble end. When it comes to bass performance, the Pixel XL is a little louder, punchier and more rounded.” Although there’s only one speaker, it helps to know that it’s a quality one.
That said, that single, mono, down-firing, oddly-placed speaker just can’t beat out the new and improved stereo speakers featured on the iPhone 7. These days, where earbuds and Bluetooth speakers are the norm for listening to music and media from your phone, a poorly-designed speaker system probably won’t be a deal breaker for most people. Nonetheless, the iPhone 7 wins out in this category.