This story was updated on August 29th. Update below.
Apple’s iPhone 14 isn’t the only 2022 smartphone with battery issues. Google’s Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro have been plagued by overheating and rapid battery drain complaints in the last couple of months, too.
It all kicked off after the June security patch update, which appeared to leave hundreds of Pixel 7 owners with overheated phones and shorter battery life. Redditor’s complained that the Pixel 7’s power pack was rapidly draining—even when idle—with one describing it as “unbearably bad” after the update. Pixel 5 and Pixel 6 owners also had similar complaints. Google didn’t respond to my request for comment about this at the time.
Google’s next update, the July security patch, included a fix for “general improvements for charging, battery usage or thermal performance in certain conditions,” according to the release notes. This seems to have improved the issue for some, but continued the problem for others.
One of the top trending posts on the Google Pixel product forums right now is about excessive battery drain after the July update, with 565 people (up from 511 two days ago) saying they have the same issue.
A battery related megathread on the Google Pixel subreddit has over 150 responses, with many complaining about excessive battery drain after the July patch. One even said they’d consider leaving Android all together because of this. In another Reddit post about what people want to see in the upcoming Pixel 8, the top voted comment, from a Pixel 7 owner, is a wishlist of battery improvements.
It’s not entirely clear what’s happening with the Pixel 7’s power pack. Lithium-ion batteries naturally degrade over time and we are close to one full year since the Pixel 7 launched, which could be behind the complaints.
But I noticed problems with my Pixel 7 Pro’s battery life back in May—seven months after launch—and the fact that there was a sudden deluge of complaints after two updates is a cause for concern. The size of the battery on the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro aren’t the issue (4355mAh and 5000mAh respectively). The 7 Pro’s battery is larger than the one in the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5, which so far lasts longer and has to power an additional screen.
The Pixel 6 Pro had similarly unpredictable battery life. Whether it’s an efficiency issue related to the new Tensor chipset, or an unexpected quirk from a software update, this is clearly an area Google needs to focus on for the upcoming Pixel 8.
I feel like I type this sentence once a year, but Google has a history of device defining problems. The Pixel 6 had a frustratingly unreliable in-screen fingerprint scanner, the Pixel 5 had a “screen gap” (video below), the Pixel 3 had memory management problems and the Pixel 2’s display had a blue tint.
I didn’t mention the Pixel 4 in that list because it was one of the few Google releases that was nearly flawless. And while I doubt the company will bring back the 3D face unlock feature that made it one of my favourite smartphones, this is the final urgent tweak that’s necessary for the Pixel 8, because Google has nailed almost every other area.
The Pixel 7 Pro’s camera takes the best shots in the industry, the design is premium, as is the increasingly refined stock Android experience. The quarterly feature drops are a nice way to keep the phone fresh and the unique AI-powered picture editing and phone call features are genuinely useful. I hope the Pixel 8 borrows some of the Pixel 4’s magic because better battery life is a fundamental feature and it appears to be the only thing holding the Pixel line back right now.
August 29th update: 9To5Google just published an interesting story on the future of Pixel 8 updates. The report states that Google is planning to extend how long the new handset is supported by software updates and security patches. It claims that the Pixel 8’s promised OS support will surpass Samsung’s update policy and “meaningfully match the iPhone.”
Samsung recently extended support for its latest smartphones, including the Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Fold 5, with four years of OS updates and five years of security patches. Apple famously has long software support for its products, which get between five and six years of updates. As 9To5Google points out, the iPhone 6S is still receiving security patches eight years after release. But if Google does decide to give the Pixel 8 six years of security patches and OS updates, it will be a first for an Android smartphone.
This could also have a positive impact on battery life. Users started complaining after the June update, with some fixes for potential issues coming a month later in the July release. We will have to see if there are more on the way, but Google promising to keep devices updated should mean these issues won’t be glossed over as new phones arrive. This also gives Google more time to make Android work as efficiently as possible on its homegrown Tensor chip, which might be a reason behind the battery life and overheating problems.
Even though there are complaints, and even some lawsuits, Apple handles rolling out its latest updates to older devices extremely well. This is thanks to the company controlling both the hardware and software, which means it can optimise for different devices, rather than take a one-size-fits-all approach that most Android manufacturers have to deal with. Google is now able to do this too because of the Tensor chipset.
This has long been an issue with Android releases that have short OS support: they’re replaced and forgotten about a year or two later by the manufacturer. There is of course no guarantee that this will solve the complaints users have about suddenly shorter battery life. As the 9To5Google report points out, we don’t have details on this new policy yet and how it will be implemented. But combined with rumours about a bigger battery in both Pixel 8 units, this is good news.