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Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro review: Google's most compelling phones in years

Thanks to the Tensor G3 chip and a bunch of fancy new features AI is becoming more than just a gimmick.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Since the original Pixel, the special sauce for all of Google’s phones has been its software. We’ve seen this throughout the years in its cameras with things like HDR+ processing and Google’s potent Night Sight mode. And more generally with features like Call Screen, Live Translate and the Recorder app. But on the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, thanks to the new Tensor G3 chip and focus on machine learning, it feels like Google’s latest flagship phones are taking some of the buzz from the recent AI hype cycle and turning it into tools you’ll actually want to use.

Design and display

The Pixel 8 and 8 Pro don’t look terribly different from last year’s phones, but you’ll notice a number of small tweaks and improvements on closer inspection. Their corners are a touch more rounded and Google deleted the small chin below the screen by making its bezels a uniform size all around. One notable change is that the Pixel 8 has shrunk a bit to a 6.2-inch screen (down from 6.3 inches on the Pixel 7). This is something I can get on board with because the phone is now more compact and easier to hold, without straying too far into tiny handset territory like on the iPhone Mini 13 (which was canceled for its sins – RIP).

Between the Tensor G3 and compelling new tools that chip is powering, Google is using AI to level up its playbook.

Pros
  • New Actua display
  • Genuinely useful AI features
  • Tensor G3 chip
  • Seven years of software support
  • Slightly more compact design
Cons
  • Base Pixel 8 doesn’t support mmWave 5G
  • $100 more than last year
  • Limited storage options on the Pixel 8
  • No pro camera controls
$699 at Google Store

For the past three years, I’ve been using a foldable as my daily driver. The Pixel 8 Pro is the first handset that has me wanting to go back to a glass brick.

Pros
  • New Super Actua display
  • Genuinely useful AI features
  • Tensor G3 chip
  • Seven years of software support
  • New temperature sensor
  • Much improved battery life
  • Configs now go up to 1TB of storage
Cons
  • $100 more than last year
  • Face Unlock setup can be a little tricky
$999 at Google Store

Meanwhile, the 6.7-inch Pixel 8 Pro has received other tweaks including a new matte finish on its back and an almost completely flat display instead of the curvy sides on previous models. The camera bar has also been streamlined to feature a single lens cover for all of its cameras and its new temperature sensor. But regardless of which model you’re looking at, both phones sport a solid build made from Gorilla Glass Victus with IP68 ratings for dust and water resistance and in-screen fingerprint readers.

As for the screens themselves, Google is using Actua and Super Actua branding to describe the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro’s displays and I kind of hate it. Don’t get me wrong, they look great and with peak brightness of 2,000 or 2,400 nits depending on the model, they’re even better looking and more viewable outdoors than before. My issue is that I don’t want to live in a world where every component on a device needs to have a catchy name with nebulous definitions. We have Retina displays on iPhones, PixelSense screens on Surfaces and now Actua panels on Pixels. It’s too much.

The Pixel 8 is slightly more compact than last year's phone while the Pixel 8 Pro features a new matte glass back.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

That said, I have noticed that in Google’s quest for precise, realistic colors–which is what its Actua branding is meant to suggest: some hues and tones appear more muted on the Pixel 8 than on rival devices. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just may result in things like food looking a bit more appetizing on competing devices. The Pixel 8 also has a slightly lower resolution (2,400 x 1,080 vs 2,992 x 1,33) than the 8 Pro and a narrower range for its variable refresh rate (60-120Hz vs 1-120Hz).

Performance

The Pixel 8 retains a matte finish on its frame while the Pixel 8 Pro features polished sides.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Packing a new Tensor G3 chip and either 8GB or 12GB of RAM depending on the model, the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro’s performance feels like it has gotten a noticeable boost compared to the previous generation. Unfortunately, because I’ve been testing devices prior to their official release, apps like Geekbench 6 don’t work yet so I don’t have a ton of numbers to work with. But I have noticed that loading games happens faster and the phone is generally more responsive, though still not quite on the same level as a device with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip. The Pixel 8 Pro has also gotten a big boost in the storage department with support for up to 1TB. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the Pixel 8 which still tops out at 256GB.

Of course, horsepower is more than just clock speeds and benchmarks. Google claims the Tensor G3 runs more than twice as many machine learning models on-device compared to the Pixel 6’s G1 processor. Now that figure is difficult to put into perspective, but with the arrival of features like Magic Editor that uses generative AI to manipulate photos, now I actually care about how powerful a chip’s NPU is. Currently, when tweaking a photo or using AI to create a new wallpaper in Android 14, there’s a solid two or three Mississippi before I can see results. That’s understandable considering the novelty of the software, but given how often I've been using the features, I’m already dreaming about making them work faster.

Cameras

For 2023, Google added a selfie camera with autofocus to the Pixel 8 Pro, though the standard Pixel 8 still gets a traditional fixed-focus shooter.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Nowhere on the phone is Google’s improved software and AI more evident than when shooting photos and videos. In addition to new sensors that include a 50-megapixel main camera and a 12-MP ultra-wide (or a 48MP ultra-wide and 48MP telephoto with a 5x optical zoom on the 8 Pro), the Pixel 8 delivers a fresh suite of tools for making everything your capture look better.

The most impressive new feature is Magic Editor, which combines lasso and content-aware fill capabilities, similar to Photoshop, in a single place. All you have to do is highlight something with your finger and then you can choose to delete it (like in the case of a distracting element) or move it somewhere else, at which point the Pixel uses AI to fill in any holes. It sounds simple in theory, but anyone who‘s ever tried to crudely cover up a blemish with the clone stamp tool knows it’s not quite that easy. But the Pixel makes it seem like it is and the results are surprisingly good. The caveat is that in order to use Magic Editor, you first need to back your pic up in Google Photos. So if you run out of storage space or don’t have a good data connection, you might be in for a minor headache.

Both models come with a new 50-MP main camera, while the Pixel 8 Pro goes even further with upgraded 48-MP sensors for its ultra-wide and telephoto lenses. The Pixel 8 Pro also features a new temperature sensor in back too.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

For example, check out this picture I recently took at a wedding. Even before editing, it looks great, which is a testament to Google’s excellent image processing. Then, thanks to the Magic Editor, I had no trouble removing small distractions like a neon exit sign. This results in a photo that draws your attention back to the bride and groom (where it should be).

And for anyone who’s ever been annoyed by a group pic that was ruined because one person was frowning when it happened, there’s Best Take. Instead of shooting a single group shot and calling it a day, Best Take can look at a series of images, recognize people’s faces and then give you the option of putting whichever reaction you want on each person’s head. Granted, it’s not perfect and, depending on the composition of the photo; you might notice some small bumps around people’s necks and shoulders or some misplaced hair. But it’s good enough that people might not notice unless they’re actively looking for flaws. You just have to remember to shoot more than just one photo, but you already do that anyway right?

Note: The Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro use the same 50MP sensor for their main camera. In this review, I primarily used the Pixel 8 Pro for camera testing.

However, the Pixel 8 Pro takes things even further with the addition of pro camera controls. This is something I’ve personally been hoping to get for a while and, even though Google certainly took its time making it happen, the results are solid. You can activate Pro controls by tapping the settings icon and switching over to the new Pro tab. Then you can tap the button in the bottom right to adjust things like file type (JPEG or RAW), shutter speed, white balance and more. There’s even a manual focus option that includes focus peaking to show you what’s sharp and what isn’t.

Video is getting some big improvements too. Audio Magic Eraser does an impressive job of eliminating distracting ambient noises from your clips. It’s not as good as having dedicated mics and a full-time sound editor. But if all you want to do is make things easier to hear, this is a big help and it fits in a pocket.

By using AI, Google's new Magic Editor tool makes it super easy to remove distracting objects from photos.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The downside to a software-first approach is that things take a bit more time. So not only do you have to wait for images or clips to get processed, some of the Pixel 8 Pro’s most promising features like Zoom Enhance and Video Boost with Night Sight won’t be available at launch and aren’t scheduled to arrive until a feature drop sometime in December. Now while it's possible that this a result of a longer pipelines for software development, I hope this doesn't become a trend. It’s a bit of a shame that everything isn’t ready on day one

More generally, Google’s HDR+ and low-light modes are as good as it gets. Shots taken with Night Sight were routinely, sharper, brighter and more detailed than what I got from an S23 Ultra. And while its 5x optical zoom isn’t quite as long as the S23's 10x, it often feels more usable, especially when you’re shooting indoor events. Regardless, between its upgraded sensors, Google’s excellent image processing, the new pro controls and a fresh kit of AI-powered tools, the Pixel 8 Pro feels like the most powerful smartphone camera on the market. And despite having one fewer lens and fewer features, the regular Pixel 8 isn’t far behind.

Google's new Best Shot feature uses AI to combine people's reactions from a series of images so you can create one shot where everyone is smiling.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

My one question is that I’m not sure why Google is restricting pro camera controls solely to the more expensive model. Even without a telephoto camera, having access to advanced settings would be a welcome addition to the base model. Heck, some folks have already figured out a way to hack pro controls onto the Pixel 6, Pixel 7 and the Pixel 8 by messing around with the Google Camera APK. So hey Google, how about just officially porting over Pro controls to as many devices as possible?

Other new features

The AI-powered functions don’t stop there though. If you feel like creating a custom wallpaper, you can simply generate one based on a few adjustable parameters. It’s an interesting way to create a unique backdrop, but as evidenced by the awkward-looking hands on the one I created, it still succumbs to a lot of the pitfalls that often plague AI art.

When you want to save some time, you can ask the Google Assistant to summarize an article from the web. Or you can ask it to read the story aloud, which creates a new audio popup so you can listen while you multitask. It’s like having the ability to turn every article into an audiobook, which is just really convenient. The entire internet is now a podcast. And if that’s not enough, you can even have the assistant translate stories into another language at the same time too.

The Pixel 8 Pro's camera app comes with new pro controls that allow you to adjust things like shutter speed, ISO, focus and more.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Thanks to the Tensor G3 chip, Google also says that Pixel 8 supports more natural voice and text recognition, which powers features like a proofreading tool in Gboard and improved Assistant voice typing across multiple languages (English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish). Unfortunately, the only other language I speak is Mandarin, which isn’t supported yet, so I’ll have to check in again on this when that gets added.

Lastly, Google says that by using a new algorithm alongside upgraded hardware, Face Unlock is significantly faster and more secure than before. In my testing, that increased speed definitely checks out. And a few times when I set the phone down on a wireless charging pad, it automatically unlocked from six feet away when I walked in the room, so facial recognition seems to have been improved as well. The one issue is that during setup, I found you need to be in a rather bright room, otherwise you’ll run into errors and a message asking you to try again.

On the Pixel 8, there's a new feature that allows you to ask the Google Assistant to read articles aloud, which essentially turns every story on the internet into a podcast.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Lastly, while it doesn’t have anything to do with AI, there’s a new temperature sensor on the Pixel 8 Pro that at launch can be used to measure drinks and whatnot. And in the future, if granted permission by the FDA, Google is hoping you’ll be able to use the sensors as a thermometer for people. It’s a nice but not essential added feature, though I imagine it will come in handy for parents of small children like me who are constantly in fear that their kid is coming down with something.

Battery Life and support

While the Tensor G3 has given the Pixel 8 a big boost to its AI capabilities, it’s provided a bump in longevity too. On our standard video rundown test, the Pixel 8 lasted 20 hours and 16 minutes, which is a two-hour increase over last year’s phone. The Pixel 8 Pro fared even better, as it lasted 21 hours and 9 minutes versus 16:42 for the P7 Pro. Additionally, wired charging is now slightly faster at 27 watts for the Pixel 8 and 30 watts for the Pixel 8 Pro. However because you don’t get a power adapter in the box, you’ll need to buy an appropriate charging brick separately.

As before, the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro features USB-C ports for charging and data transfer along with stereo speakers.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The biggest upgrade across the entire device, though, might be Google’s pledge to give the Pixel 8 line seven years of software and hardware support. That includes Android updates, monthly security patches and regular feature drops from now until 2030. And while it remains to be seen how these phones are going to hold up after all the time, it’s hard to be salty about having the longest support commitment of any Android phone not named the Fairphone 5.

Wrap-up

Back in 2018 when the Pixel 3 came out, that was the first time it felt like Google’s software-first approach to phone design really came together. And now on the Pixel 8, between the Tensor G3 and compelling new tools that chip is powering, Google is using AI to level up its playbook. More importantly, it’s doing so in a more tangible and practical way than services like ChatGPT or Midjourney. The Pixel 8 delivers AI to the palm of your hand that makes your photos look better, videos sound better, news easier to digest and your drunk texts easier to understand. And with even longer software support, there’s a pathway for the Pixel 8 to get better down the line.

The Pixel 8 and 8 Pro go on sale on October 12 starting at $699 and $999.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

It is a bit of a shame that both the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro now cost $100 more than before. But just like everything else, phones aren't immune to inflation. And that price is even higher for people on Verizon who want support for mmWave 5G, as Big Red’s version of the Pixel 8 starts at $799 instead of $699. Still, the less expensive new Pixel comes with an upgraded main camera, better battery life and a more refined design, not to mention Magic Editor, Best Take and a bunch of other AI tools. But despite the price hike, the Pixel 8 feels like a great deal and I consider its slightly smaller screen an upgrade in general wieldability. It’s a nearly ideal small Android phone.

Then we come to the Pixel 8 Pro, which is even more impressive. Google’s phones already took some of the best photos you could capture with a pocket-sized device. And with the power of AI and a full suite of upgraded sensors, the Pixel 8 Pro is basically unmatched when it comes to overall photography prowess. For the past three years, I’ve been using some kind of big foldable as my daily driver. But the Pixel 8 Pro is the first handset that has me wanting to go back to a traditional glass brick. The real magic of the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro though is that even if you don’t know or care how AI is impacting its software, Google’s latest tricks are too enticing to pass up.

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