These might just be the Pixel phones we’ve been waiting for, but it all depends on how much trust you’re willing to put into Google.
Google’s pitch for the Pixel phone in recent years has centered on how smart the phone is — that it’s one step ahead of you and can help take some of the pain out of your daily chores. The Pixel 6 and 7 didn’t quite live up to that vision, but these Pixel 8 devices feel like the first phones that could turn the sales pitch into a reality.
Right now, they’re better phones than their predecessors in some appreciable ways. And the potential of these devices is more compelling — the trouble is, Google is asking for a lot of your trust to get there.
The Pixel 8 and 8 Pro are better phones than their predecessors, but they’re also more expensive. They each see a $100 price hike, which puts the Pixel 8 at $699 and the Pixel 8 Pro at $999. Gone are the days of the standard Pixel passing as an upper-tier midrange phone — it’s all flagship, baby.
On the other side of the equation, you’ll also get more years out of the devices, in theory. They’re both slated to receive seven years of software updates — and not just security patches. Google is committing to seven years of OS platform upgrades for these phones, which is a major improvement over the three OS updates the Pixel 6 and 7 were promised. It’s one of the best software support policies on any phone, and that, frankly, rules.
There are more features coming. The Pixel 8 Pro will get a couple of potentially powerful photo and video editing tools in December 2023. And both phones will be eligible for Assistant with Bard when it’s available for testing in the near future. If it’s effective, the addition of Bard’s generative AI capabilities could totally transform Google Assistant from a tiny repeating machine into a true assistant.
But these are all ifs and coulds and promises. Even if you’re cool entrusting Google with the amount of data you need to reap the benefits of all these tools, there’s no guarantee they’ll last: this is the company that promised Pixel Pass subscribers easy device upgrades every two years and then canceled the program just shy of the two-year mark. It has a good track record with promised Pixel software updates, but you can’t blame anyone for giving any Google claim a skeptical eye.
In the meantime, the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro contain some small but important upgrades over the previous models. The standard Pixel 8 finally gets a 120Hz refresh rate display. On both phones, you can, at last, use Face Unlock for payments and password managers — also important to the passwordless passkey future Google is working toward. The device’s interpretation of natural language is better, and it makes voice typing a much handier tool. And there’s a suite of new AI-infused image and video editing tools that will make you question the very nature of “truth” in photography. Icky? A little bit, but speaking as a parent who takes lots of pictures of their toddler, they’re great.
Both screens get a little brighter this time around, too. The Pixel 8 will go up to 2,000 nits in high brightness mode, and the 8 Pro reaches an impressive 2,400 nits — that’s compared to 1,400 and 1,500 nits on the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro, respectively. And it’s great! Until the device gets too hot and dims again. Using the Pixel 8 Pro on a hot day in direct sun, I saw it reach its peak brightness for just a few minutes before it ramped back down. The display was still usable even at the lower brightness, but don’t count on being able to access that highest brightness setting for too long in hot conditions.
The Pixel 8’s screen is smaller than the 7’s — 6.2 compared to 6.3 inches — making the phone itself a little smaller, too. And both phone screens differ in one more significant way from last year’s: they’re flat rather than curved on the long edges. I find the new shape just a little easier to hold since there’s a tiny bit more real estate on the edges, and I don’t think the phones lose any of their Pixel character. The bezels are a little more prominent since they don’t disappear into the sides of the phone, but at no point in the past week has this bothered me.
For all of the reasons listed above, the standard Pixel 8 feels like a much more reasonably sized phone than in previous years when your options were “bigger” and “biggest.” Most people like a big screen, I know this, but this still feels like a big phone — just at the very lower end of “big.” I stand by my assertion that a 6.1-inch screen is the only truly neutral phone size, and if you want that in a premium Android device, you’ll need to get a Samsung Galaxy S23, which is significantly smaller than this “smaller” Pixel 8. I rest my case, Your Honor.
On the back panel, Google switched out the Pixel 8 Pro’s glossy back glass for a matte finish this time around, and it looks spiffy with the new baby blue color option. It’s a very smooth matte, and it actually makes the phone a little more slippery in your hand than smooth glass since you don’t get the same grip against your fingertips.
Tensor G3 handles daily tasks easily. It’s paired with 8GB of RAM in the Pixel 8 and 12GB in the Pixel 8 Pro. I did notice the system struggling with one particular heavy processing task: back-to-back portrait mode shots. I can capture a handful on the Pixel 8 Pro, but then I’m locked out for a few moments while the phone catches up, and I missed a couple of shots that way.
For better or for worse, the new chipset doesn’t seem to have much impact on battery life. I was able to get through a day of heavy use comfortably, but I wouldn’t try and push it into two days. The Pixel 8 Pro offers marginally faster charging — 30W wired, while the Pixel 8 offers up to 27W. The Pixel 8 Pro offers up to 23W wireless charging, and the 8 goes up to 18W — but you’ll need a second-gen Pixel Stand to get those speeds. On a standard Qi wireless charger, both phones get up to 12W.
The Pixel 8 Pro’s oddest addition is a temperature sensor. It’s not quite clear why it exists, and I think the best theory is that it landed on the Pixel roadmap sometime in 2020 when we were all very concerned with taking our temperatures a lot. Google has applied to the FDA to be able to use it to measure body temperature, but right now, that’s not something you can accurately use it for.
I didn’t find much use for the temperature sensor while testing the phone; it told me on one occasion that my obviously hot cup of coffee was hot. I struggled to find other uses for it. Unless someone can convince me otherwise — or the FDA clears it for use as a real thermometer — I’m going to chalk this one up as a gimmick.
One new feature that’s absolutely not a gimmick? Face Unlock’s upgrade to a Class 3 biometric, which means it can be used for the stuff that requires the highest level of security — namely, mobile payments and banking apps. Face Unlock was introduced on the Pixel 7 series, but if you used it to unlock your phone, you’d still need to scan your fingerprint if you wanted to pay for something or check your credit card statement.
The Pixel 8 and 8 Pro are better able to decipher pauses and inflection when you’re talking to the Assistant, which can also understand when you shift between languages. This is another upgrade that sounds subtle on the surface but actually has an outsize impact. I used voice typing to dictate a note to the Pixel 7 Pro and Pixel 8 Pro at the same time, and the latter produced text I could actually send to another human without coming off like a sociopath.