Google’s Pixel 8 is one of two new smartphones from the search giant and Android maker and the successor to last year’s superb Pixel 7. As you’d expect, it brings a series of improvements, but this year, the upgrades are more in the experience, making it feel like a pathway to a dedicated AI computer that also happens to be able to make calls, send texts and take photos.
At least, that’s my key takeaway, having tested the Pixel 8 since it was announced at the October Made by Google event in New York City alongside the Pixel 8 Pro and the Pixel Watch 2.
I’ve also now found myself debating whether or not I should make the jump back to a smaller smartphone on a daily basis. The new design, performance, and camera chops make for an impressive piece of kit – here’s how I’ve found it.
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Google Pixel 8
Google’s Pixel 8 features a tweaked design, brighter and faster display, increased performance and a new camera system that’s also smarter. You’ll find plenty of AI features throughout the entire experience, even if it’s scary at times, making the Pixel 8 a worthy option for anyone looking for an Android phone.
- Excellent new design
- Brighter, faster display
- Face Unlock works everywhere now
- Great cameras
- Slow charging speed
- Face Unlock can struggle at night
- Is there such a thing as too much AI?
A well-rounded design
I’ve always been a fan of Google’s unique design approach to the Pixel lineup. Of course, it’s still a rectangular slab of glass like any other premium smartphone, but there has always been an aspect that sets the Pixel family apart from the competition – and that’s the camera bar on the rear.
This feature started with the Pixel 6 and stuck around for the Pixel 7 – now it’s present in the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro, making them instantly recognizable as part of the Pixel family. However, Google has also tweaked the main design this year by rounding off the corners of the phone, doing away with the box-like design that we’ve seen in the last few years.
The end result is a phone that looks and feels smaller than it is, making it easier to hold and use, even with one hand. It also has the side effect of making any boxier designs, such as the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro or even the S23 Ultra, instantly feel outdated.
Indeed, the Pixel 8 is slightly smaller than last year’s Pixel 7, measuring 150.5 x 70.8 x 8.9mm and weighing 187g. By comparison, the Pixel 7 measures 155.6 x 73.2 x 8.7mm and weighs 197g.
Of course, the smaller size also means the display has shrunk down just a bit as well. The Pixel 8’s display measures 6.2 inches, compared to the Pixel 7’s 6.3-inch display, but it would be hard to notice unless you have them side by side.
On the right edge of the phone is where you’ll find the volume controls along with the side button that’s used to wake or lock the phone, while along the bottom is a USB-C 3.2 port capable of 30W charge speeds and transferring data.
On the back of the phone is that recognizable camera bar, which houses a 50MP main camera and a 12MP ultrawide camera. There’s also a hole-punch10.5MP front-facing camera centered horizontally along the top of the display for dealing with selfies and video calls.
The Pixel 8 comes in three different colors: Hazel, Obsidian and Rose. Personally, I’m a big fan of the new baby-blue Bay color for the Pixel 8 Pro and would have loved to see Google offer that color option in the standard Pixel 8.
Still, the Pixel 8’s design is arguably the best that Google has released yet, all thanks to the culmination of subtle tweaks and changes, while still ensuring it is instantly recognizable as a Pixel.
A new display
Making its debut with the Pixel 8 is Google’s Actua display, while the 8 Pro boasts a Super Actua display. For the Pixel 8, that marketing name translates into a 6.2-inch OLED display with a resolution of 1,080 x 2,400 with a variable refresh rate of 60–120Hz – up from the Pixel 7’s refresh rate, which capped out at 90Hz.
This improved refresh rate is great news for those who frequently game on their phone, but it should even make a difference when you’re scrolling through your social feeds or long web pages by offering a smoother experience.
The Pixel 8’s display also has increased peak brightness compared with its predecessor, going up from 1,400 nits to 2,000 nits – and this is arguably the bigger and most impressive upgrade this time round. It makes it much easier to see in direct sunlight or bright environments, and I definitely noticed the display being easier to see when using it outdoors during testing.
The increased brightness only adds to how great the screen looks. The display’s color saturation and overall clarity are on par with what I’d expect from a flagship-calibre phone, with blacks and darker colors looking as deep and nuanced as you’d want them to.
Of course, the Pixel 8 has an always-on display for showing you the current time, date and weather conditions (thanks to the new lock screen options), as well as any pending notifications.
Performance and battery
The Pixel 8 uses Google’s latest processor, the Tensor G3, supported by 8GB of LPDDR5X memory and either 128GB or 256GB of storage. However, as with previous Tensor chips, Google isn’t touting an increase in performance or even really talking about performing gains from this at all.
In fact, Google doesn’t even list the number of cores or clock speed for the Tensor G3 on the Pixel 8’s technical specification page. That’s nothing new for Google’s Tensor processors, though – it’s exactly how the company has approached its own processors since the first Tensor chip made its debut in the Pixel 6.
Instead, Google’s show of performance is touting various AI features and gains. For the Pixel 8, that means new camera and photos app features, such as Best Take or Audio Magic Eraser. These allow you to swap out individual faces from multiple pictures of a group photo or remove a specific background noise from a video, respectively. I’ll cover those two features in more detail in a minute, but let me just say this now: they’re incredibly impressive when they work.
But performance does matter, even if it’s not something that Google directly talks about, and over the last week, the Pixel 8 hasn’t let me down yet. I’ve used a lot of the new AI features, of course, but I’ve also spent a lot of time bouncing between my most used apps, checking email Slack messages and doing some light gaming in Asphalt 9 – and the Pixel 8 hasn’t felt under pressure once.
Historically, in benchmark testing, Google’s Tensor chips have been outperformed by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon or Apple’s latest A-series processor. I do not doubt that we’ll see the same in benchmark scores in the coming days and weeks to show the same. But what’s impressed me the most about the Pixel lineup over the last few years is that they’ve never felt slow or underpowered. And the Pixel 8 delivers that exact experience.
As for battery life, Google touts “beyond 24 hours” of battery life for the Pixel 8 thanks, in part, to its 4,575 mAh battery. Over the last week, my days have typically lasted 16 hours or so, and I’ve yet to run the Pixel 8’s battery from full to empty. I usually ended the day with between 25 per cent and 40 per cent of a charge left, with most of the days closer to the former. That’s nothing to be mad at.
You can charge the Pixel 8 at up to 30W using a compatible power-delivery 30W charger or wirelessly charge it via a Qi-compatible wireless charging pad, and either works great.
Still, I’d love to see Google bring faster wired charging to the Pixel line, along with adopting the Qi 2 wireless charging standard. It looks and works a lot like Apple’s MagSafe wireless charging design for the iPhone, relying on a ring of magnets on the back of the phone to ensure a proper lineup of the charging coils, along with expanding the number of accessories you can attach to the back of the phone.
A smart(er) camera
I’d imagine most of Google’s marketing material around the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro is going to focus on its new camera features, and rightfully so. You can do a lot with photos you’ve taken on the Pixel 8 or even photos in your Google Photos library, regardless of which camera you used, when editing them on your Pixel 8.
As for the camera setup, the Pixel 8 has a 50-megapixel main camera and a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera that pulls double-duty as a macro camera for close-up shots. The front-facing camera comes in at 10.5-megapixels.
All three front and back cameras capture photos that lean more true-to-life than Samsung’s saturation-heavy approach. I snapped a bunch of photos recently, all of which look fantastic. But that’s to be expected from Google’s Pixel line of smartphones. The company has routinely provided Pixel owners with a best-in-class smartphone camera experience.
However, the real star of this year’s Pixel 8 lineup is the AI tools and features that Google’s giving Pixel 8 owners access to.
I already mentioned Best Take and Audio Magic Eraser, but there’s also a new Magic Editor feature that lets you do some pretty complex Photoshop-like work on a photo with just a few taps.
Best Take is my favorite feature of the bunch. After taking a series of photos of a group of people, you only need to open one of the photos in the Photos app. The Best Take option is found in the Tools section of the Edit menu. After selecting it, the phone will look for similar photos and, after a second or two, give you various thumbnails of each person’s face in all of the similar photos. You can then, one by one, swap the faces of each person to ensure you have a photo where everyone is looking at the camera and smiling.
It’s crazy to use the feature and see just how fast the face swap is made. It’s practically swapped out in real time, making it easy to preview the various options. I used Best Take to go back and alter photos from when my kids were younger, as well as change photos I took on the Pixel 8 itself. As long as the pictures are in your Google Photos library, you can use Best Take.
And for the most part, the feature works as you’d expect. However, there are situations where if the camera was moved between photos, you may see some artifacts around the face as it’s moved due to shadows or even the background changing.
I do wish, however, that there was a dedicated mode for taking photos multiple photos in an effort to produce the best results with Best Take. I think a slowed-down burst mode, perhaps waiting a half-second or so between shots, would greatly improve the accuracy and quality of Best Take photos and help eliminate the likelihood of the camera moving between shots.
Magic Audio Eraser is impressive, as well. It removes specific audio from a video, not just reduces the background noise. For example, suppose you record a video of your child playing and laughing but in the background. In that case, you can hear a dog barking and a loud car driving by; you can use Magic Audio Eraser to single out those less desirable sounds and either lower their volume or remove them altogether.
I tested out Magic Audio Eraser on a few different videos, and each one was equally fun and impressive. I was trying to get my dog to bark at one point, so I started chasing it around the backyard and my office. She never barked, but when I went to edit the video and use the Magic Audio Eraser tool, it identified the sound of my feet hitting the ground while running, as well as the wind noise my running created across the Pixel 8’s microphone.
The end result was a wind-free video of my heavy-footed running being mere background noise while my dog growled at me out of frustration for bothering her.
Magic Editor is the most finicky, but it has the potential to be the most impressive photo-related feature on a smartphone I’ve seen in a long time, if not ever.
After taking a photo and selecting the Edit button, you’ll see a new Magic Editor icon in the lower-left corner of the screen. After selecting it, you can choose from letting the feature automatically improve your photo based on its AI assessment. For instance, a recent photo I took asked if wanted it to look like it was taken during the golden hour as the sun went down. I agreed, and the result was a photo that looked better.
But the fun, and also scary, part of Magic Editor is that you can highlight a subject and edit the photo by moving, removing or altering the photo with ease; in the above example, I highlighted my son, shrunk him down, and then moved him over the water, thinking that the editor wouldn’t be able to recreate the background and it’d just look weird. Not only did the editor recreate the background almost perfectly, but I was given several different options to pick from, some of which had the water fountains shooting water into the air where he was just standing. Crazy.
As Pocket-lint’s Chris Hall wrote, it really does feel like every photo has the potential to be fake on the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro. For better or worse, it’s cool technology.
The Pixel 8 launched with Android 14, the latest and greatest version of Android, and Google had committed to releasing software updates for the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro for the next seven years. That promise includes security updates, major OS updates (such as going from Android 14 to Android 15), and the quarterly feature drops that all Pixel owners benefit from.
There’s no shortage of Pixel-specific software features on the Pixel 8, but one feature that’s worth mentioning as a big improvement over last year’s Pixel 7 is the expansion of being able to use the Pixel’s Face Unlock feature not only to unlock the Pixel, but also to unlock apps and approve purchases. Anywhere you’d expect to see a prompt to scan your fingerprint or enter a passcode, you can now use your face to authenticate on the Pixel 8.
The end result is a smooth and seamless experience when unlocking the phone or signing in to a banking app or password manager. It takes just a split second for Face Unlock to work its magic, and it feels just as quick as Apple’s Face ID feature on the iPhone or iPad. However, Face Unlock struggled to recognize me outdoors at night or when I was wearing sunglasses. Instead, I was often prompted to use my fingerprint to unlock the phone or use my passcode – so it’s not completely foolproof.
Another feature I’ve had a lot of fun playing with on the Pixel 8 is the new AI Wallpaper creation tool. When you open it from the wallpaper settings page, you’re given a list of categories to pick from, along with some traits that can be applied. When you’re done creating your wallpaper ad-lib, your Pixel creates a series of wallpapers based on your input, giving you multiple options to pick from. If you don’t like it, you can change your input or ask the phone to try again. It’s great fun, and I want every phone to have an AI wallpaper tool now. Seriously.
Google’s Pixel 8 is one heck of a phone. For many, I imagine, it’s the complete package with long battery life, consistent performance, an amazing camera with even more impressive AI editing tools, and software support for far longer than any of us will realistically own the phone. If you’re thinking about upgrading from the Pixel 7, there’s probably not enough here to justify it; however, if you’re toying with the idea of making the switch to Google’s Pixel phones, be it from another Android device maker or Apple’s iPhone, the Pixel 8 is sure to give you a warm welcome.
Google Pixel 8
Too smart for its own good
The slightly bigger and more expensive Pixel 8 Pro has even more camera-related features and is also a worthy choice for those who want the best Pixel experience possible – take a read of our full review if you’re torn over which to buy.
Iphone Store – 2023-12-12 19:11:10 / www.pocket-lint.com