If there’s one technology category that thrives on FOMO it’s smartphones, with consumers religiously upgrading every 12 months to have the latest and greatest features. With its Pixel series, Google has become a bigtime player in the smartphone market thanks to killer cameras and an impressive suite of tools and features. These days, new smartphones are like AAA video game sequels, largely favouring iteration over innovation. While the Pixel 8 models aren’t massive leaps forward over their predecessors, there are still plenty of improvements to be found – but they will come at a cost.
Last year I reviewed the Pixel 7 and found it to be a solid phone, although I was disappointed by how some features were locked behind the bigger and more expensive Pro model. This time around I wanted to give both a spin, just to get an idea of what standard users are missing out on and whether the extra cash given to Google was worth it.
Under the hood, both the Pixel 8 Pro and the Pixel 8 ship with Android 14 and utilise Google’s new Tensor G3 processor, which has been engineered to power the next wave of AI technology from the Californian company. The Tensor G3 has allowed Google to expand what its Face Unlock technology can be used for, which now includes making payments and signing into apps. Storage-wise, the Pixel 8 Pro comes in 128GB, 256GB and 512GB (1TB in other regions), and the Pixel 8 comes in 128GB and 256GB. It’s a little strange that the Pixel 8 doesn’t have a 512GB option considering the times we live in, especially as you can’t use a microSD card to increase storage.
The Pixel 8 Pro colours
The Pixel 8 colours
In terms of the display, the Pixel 8 Pro uses the new OLED Super Actua display which ditches the curved edges of the 7 Pro and now has an all-flat design. With a screen size of 6.7-inch and a refresh rate of 60–120Hz it has incredibly smooth and responsive scrolling, something that my partner even pointed out. It can deliver up to 2400 nits of brightness and 24-bit depth for 16 million colours, which makes the display pop with vibrancy even in direct sunlight.
The Pixel 8 has a 6.2-inch Actua display that claims to be 42% brighter than the Pixel 7, and side-by-side the improvement is noticeable, especially in the sun thanks to the 2000 nits peak brightness. While it’s not as bright and smooth as the Pro, it’s still an impressive display with colours looking vivid and images sharp.
They say looks aren’t everything, but both phones come in three colours, so you’re bound to find one that takes your fancy. The Pixel 8 Pro comes in Obsidian (black), Bay (blue) and Porcelain (beige), while the Pixel 8 comes in Obsidian (black), Hazel (grey) and Rose (pink). The Pixel 8 Pro utilises an aluminium frame with a matte gloss back which not only looks more like a premium product but feels a lot better too (and less slippery). The gloss back remains on the Pixel 8 alongside a satin metal frame, and it’s slightly smaller than last year’s model, and just like the Pixel 8 Pro, it’s a sexy little piece of technology. I’m still not fully sold on the camera jutting out on the back but it no longer irks me the way it once did – it’s the trade-off for having one of the best smartphone cameras out there.
One thing about the Pixel 7 that I found underwhelming was the battery life, with the phone failing to make it through a day of what I would consider normal usage (a couple phone calls, some internet surfing, too much social media). Although both phones will still need a charge overnight, they deliver better results this time around, with the 8 Pro offering a full day’s use (just) thanks to a 5050 mAh battery. While the Pixel 8 (4575 mAh) fares slightly better than its predecessor, it will still need a boost throughout the day if you’re on the heavy side of average use. Although, it’s improved, I wish Google would beef up the battery life a little bit more.
The Pixel 8 Pro display
The Pixel 8 display
Google’s Pixel phones have made a name for themselves when it comes to camera quality, and once more the latest generation is a home run. Although both phones share the same main back camera (50 MP Octa PD wide camera), the Pixel 8 Pro is the standout model thanks to a quad-camera system that has seen the ultrawide lens increase from 12MP on the Pixel 7 Pro to 48MP here. It takes some super impressive images full of detail and colour, and the 5x optical zoom allows you to get up close and capture the minute details, as does the camera’s Macro mode. The Pixel 8 Pro does have some extra features that the Pixel 8 isn’t privy to, such as being able to take RAW images and the ability to manually adjust camera settings (shutter speed, ISO, and more) for those who want to be in control of the photos they take.
The Pixel 8 is no slouch in the photography department, with a tri-camera system that yields excellent results. Much like the Pixel 8 Pro, colours stand out and details are crisp, but it doesn’t quite have the zoom range, making it best suited to taking photos at a normal distance, much like the Pixel 7. Both phones use the same front camera (10.5 MP Dual PD selfie camera) and the results are clear and sharp. Video recording is also mostly great, with both phones recording up to 4K at 60fps. It’s a little bit of a bummer that the 8 Pro doesn’t kick it up a notch and capture 8K, but it’s not the end of the world.
Thanks to the Tensor G3 processor, both Pixel 8 models have new AI technology to help you get the best photos possible. Features such as Magic Eraser are now joined by Best Take – which allows you to choose the best face for a particular picture if you’ve taken multiple of the same snap, and amazingly it looks flawless and not like a dodgy Photoshop job I’d be guilty of.
Getting all those macro details with the Pixel 8 Pro
Colours look the goods with the Pixel 8
Magic Editor is another new tool that lets you highlight and resize and move objects (or cut them out completely) in a chosen picture and adjusts the background accordingly. I’m not sure how much use it’ll get, but it’s undoubtedly fun to resize animals and people. Other new AI-powered features include an Audio Magic Eraser, which removes unwanted background noise from videos, although results will depend on just how noisy the video is, while the Pixel 8 Pro will be getting Google’s new Video Boost feature that allows users to record video in RAW 4K and upload it to Google’s cloud servers to enhance certain elements.
Surprisingly, I am someone who still uses my smartphone as a phone (much to the chagrin of some of my friends) to have a good old-fashioned chinwag. In this regard both phones provide good volume levels and mic clarity, with the 8 Pro having a loud and clear speaker for calls or music.
One of the best (if not the best) perks of buying either Pixel 8 smartphone is that they come with seven years of OS support and security updates, which is a huge upgrade from the three years (OS) and five years (security) that the Pixel 7s included, and the four years of OS support that Samsung offers. Hopefully this can become the new standard for Google phones.
Okay, now Rhiannen is smiling
A beautiful normal-sized magpie
Honey, I shrunk the magpie
I did find one annoying quirk while using the Pixel 8 Pro as my primary phone. Most days I use my phone’s hotspot with my laptop, and with the Pixel 7 I never had an issue. However, with the Pixel 8 Pro it drops out within 10–15 minutes every time I use it. It’ll reconnect after a minute or two but it’s definitely an annoying kink that I hope gets ironed out by a software update.
The only feature that I couldn’t get around was the Thermometer on the Pixel 8 Pro, which allows users to detect the temperature of objects in the real world. It requires placing the phone’s sensor a short distance from the object, and then the phone will detect how hot or cold it is. I tried it on a couple of objects – a window in the sun, a dog – and found it to be a load of wank, especially considering Google is seeking FDA approval to use it to measure body temperature, something I wouldn’t be confident using it for.
However, all of these new bells and whistles come with a fair price hike, with the Pixel 8 Pro retailing from $1699, a $400 price jump from the 7 Pro, and the Pixel 8 priced at $1199, a $200 increase on the Pixel 7. It’s still cheaper than both Apple and Samsung, but the difference is less appealing than it used to be.
Once again, Google has delivered a strong generation of smartphones that should make Android users (and those thinking of switching sides) looking to upgrade at least raise their eyebrows in curiosity. While the hardware hasn’t seen a huge improvement for the price increase, Google’s new suite of AI tools, new matte back on the 8 Pro, and seven-year support offering make either phone a great choice.
Review unit supplied by the manufacturer