Google's Pixel 8 smartphone is an impressive performer with some nifty new features and general improvements across the board. But it feels pretty familiar for the most part and you may struggle to notice any significant improvements during day-to-day use. Plus, the price hike doesn't do much to help it stand out from the pack (including its predecessors).
Google built its Pixel brand on competitive pricing by producing a range of entry-level and quality mid-range phones for under $1000. But now, we have a standard 128GB model that has crossed that threshold – the Pixel 8.
The thing is, the last few Pixel generations have been able to handle just about any everyday task required by the average consumer, and the Pixel 8 is no exception. But the big question is: while there are a number of upgrades and improvements on offer, does this model have enough 'wow factor' to justify the shift from a three-figure price tag to a four-figure one?
The Pixel 8 is available in 128GB and 256GB models in three colour configurations: Obsidian, Hazel and Rose.
- Screen: 6.2-inch OLED, 1080 x 2400, 428 pixels per inch, 10-bit HDR up to 2000 nits, 120Hz.
- Weight: 187 grams.
- Battery: 4575 mAh, 27W fast charge (wired), 18W charge (wireless).
- Rear camera: Wide and ultrawide lenses max 2x optical, 8x digital zoom. 50MP max resolution. Video max 4K 60FPS/1080p 240FPS, 10-bit HDR.
- Selfie camera: Single ultrawide lens, 10.5MP max resolution. Video max 4K/1080p 60FPS.
- Network: Wi-Fi, 4/5G.
- Bluetooth: 5.3, LE, A2DP, aptX HD.
- Processor: Google Tensor G3.
- RAM: 8GB.
- Protection: IP68 dust- and water-resistant.
The Pixel 8 also supports eSim, and it doesn't include a wall charger in the box – the 30W charger is sold separately. We reviewed this unit using the Android 14 operating system which launches for previous devices alongside the Pixel 8's release.
Much of the focus is on the latest iteration of Google's proprietary processor, the Tensor G3, and the improvements that this will bring to artificial intelligence and machine learning.
For example, Tensor G3 really boosts speech-to-text processing speeds and even adds live translation to messaging apps. Languages supported at launch are English, German, Italian, French, Spanish and Japanese.
Battery optimisation, spam call identification, image processing speed and quality have also improved, the kind of little things that have been humming away in the background.
Of course, the camera has a few new features, what with it being one of the Pixel's biggest selling points. But in a big win for consumers, Google has extended the lifetime of the phone – at least in theory.
Extended product support
The new Pixel range includes seven years of security and feature updates, which is excellent. It seemingly spells the end of forced redundancy for otherwise functioning phones.
Front and back of the Google Pixel 8.
And yet, smartphone hardware tends to degrade at a much faster rate than that, especially the battery life. Also, app developers may stop supporting older phones when ageing hardware can't keep up with software's demands.
That's not to say Google should be criticised for extended product support. But the implication that your Pixel 8 will keep working until the Pixel 15 because of this promise isn't really accurate in any practical sense.
There are two brand new features in the standard Pixel 8 camera and one notable upgrade.
Previously limited to the Pixel Pro range, macro (aka very close up) mode has made its way to the standard phone with really remarkable results. Getting up close and personal with plants or bugs or anything small is lots of fun and often reveals things that your eyes may not distinguish (and captures them with a stunning level of detail).
What's more, image stabilisation combats a substantial amount of motion blur, resulting in some surprisingly sharp shots. That said, at times the Pixel 8 can oversharpen the images, resulting in a harsh look.
This feature aims to combat the classic problem of not being able to get everyone looking just right in group photos. When you take a series of shots at once, Best Take can swap a person's face between the pictures until everyone looks the way you want them to (but you can't swap faces across different people).
Either way, this kind of AI editing will either be the saving grace of family photos or some sort of deepfake nightmare, depending on your perspective. But it works, in any case, and quite seamlessly at that.
Compared to the Pixel 7, the Pixel 8 camera has undergone a few changes. The ultrawide lens zooms out a little further and both rear cameras have a slightly expanded aperture, moving from f/1.9 to f/1.7. Though minor, these do make some performance difference when shooting in low light or if you want to capture fast moving subjects, as the shutter speed can stay slightly higher while the aperture opens up.
Picture quality and camera performance
Because Google is smart enough to leave well enough alone, the Pixel 8 has the same high-quality camera you've come to expect from this line of phones. It comes with two lenses – an ultrawide and regular wide – with 2x optical zoom and 4–8x digital zoom.
Image quality retains that nice natural, balanced look with just a bit of vibrancy to provide some pop. Transitions between gradients of light and shadow and balanced exposure in high contrast environments are particularly impressive.
Overall, the Pixel 8 delivers a rich, crisp, bright picture that's beautiful to look at, especially when HDR is active
Instead of adjusting the exposure for the entire image based on one area, e.g. the bright sky or dark shadows, the Pixel 8 seems to target different spots to evenly expose the shot. That means you don't end up with blown-out bright areas or pitch-black shadows, for example.
But there are some shortcomings. The image processor still has a tendency to automatically oversharpen shots, especially in bright environments. This can create an unnatural pop that looks like a rushed Photoshop job, as though parts of the scenery have been edited in after the fact. Trees emphasise the issue, to the point where they almost look like cardboard cutouts.
Also, though digital zoom does a relatively good job, it's not great. Images can be a bit soft and chunky at 8x digital zoom and it even scrambles text and other details from time to time.
Photo editing tools also benefit from the Tensor G3 and AI improvements. Skin tones and sharpness look better in selfie mode, while Photo Unblur delivers a tighter image as well.
Magic Eraser, which automatically removes background people and objects from photos, takes less time to process a shot and does a solid job at replicating surrounding environments. Though it's worth noting that this tool still can't work miracles and you'll notice some chunks and strange shapes if the background is busy or complicated.
Unfortunately, manual controls remain quite limited with basic white balance and exposure sliders. You can also fire off about seven photos in rapid succession before the phone starts to lag.
Google's famed low light feature remains more or less unchanged in the Pixel 8, save for a few aspects which appear to be worse. A few processing issues and hardware changes have hurt performance.
First, the good. When you're using the standard wide and 2x optical zoom lenses, the Pixel 8 does a great job of balancing out light sources and dark areas to create even images with a pleasant, warm palette. Brighter areas don't look particularly blown out and still manage to retain a range of colours instead of just coming out as a big white blob.
There's a good degree of sharpness and pop, which is assisted by suitable gradients in darker areas. Basically, shadows don't turn into a total void and it's actually quite impressive to see the range of colours that the Pixel 8 can reproduce in darker areas.
But the bad? Right off the bat, Night Sight mode barely works with the ultrawide lens. Images are soft, blurry, blown out in the dark areas and quite often smeared and foggy.
Meanwhile, the automatic settings force the lenses into their widest possible aperture to let more light in while retaining a higher shutter speed. That's all well and good, except that the Pixel 8's increased aperture means Night Sight is now more prone to depth of field issues.
For example, if you're taking a group shot reasonably close up and one person is standing slightly ahead of the other subjects, there's a chance that they'll be out of focus. There's no way to get around this on the standard Pixel 8 due to the lack of manual camera controls.
Video mode has had two key updates of its own as well as the general tweaks seen in stills.
Previously limited to stills, Google's skin tone processing tool has been added to video with reasonably good results using the rear camera. Footage does lean towards a warmer image overall with slightly elevated reds but will capture skin pretty accurately.
It does have some ways to go in selfie mode, however. Here, Real Tone doesn't appear to be as effective, as skin tones look a little washed out and overexposed.
Audio Magic Eraser
This is a nifty feature that almost justifies the price jump but probably has something of a limited audience. When your record a video, the Audio Magic Eraser can identify speech, ambient (e.g. air con hum) and environmental (e.g. keyboard clacks in an office) sounds and wipe them from the clip.
It's a remarkably effective tool until you try to completely remove a sound, at which point the AI makes things sound metallic and unnatural. But that's not unexpected, especially when you consider that the Pixel 8 is making these changes entirely on its own using nothing but an adjustment slider.
Do temper your expectations with this feature, though. It may not be as effective in crowded environments with lots of changing, complicated noise or at concerts, where the phone mics are being hit with a wall of sound.
Reducing speech and background noise with Audio Magic Eraser.
Advertising and specifications say that the Pixel 8 battery can last 24 hours, or up to 72 hours using Extreme Battery Saver. Both of these claims are true, provided you don't really use your phone for anything more than a few calls and emails throughout the day.
But what if you like to stream music, watch a few videos, use social media and make some calls consistently throughout the day? You know, actually use the phone? In this scenario a phone that's turned on and fully charged at around 8am will make it to 5pm with around 30% battery left.
Compared to the 6 Pro, Google has managed to halve Pixel charge times in just two years
Specific results are harder to quantify as everyone's usage scenario is different, but we found that the battery does tend to last longer the less you interact with the phone. For example, it took 14 hours and 16 minutes of nonstop HD video streaming (including some HDR 60FPS content) before ours died.
Fast charge has been seriously upgraded as well. After starting from a completely dead battery, our Pixel 8 reached 50% charge in 24 minutes, 75% in just over 35 minutes and 100% in a little over 55 minutes (using Google's 30W wall charger). Speeds like that are pretty nuts, especially when you consider how much things have changed since the Pixel 6 Pro, which came out about two years ago.
Under the same conditions, the 6 Pro hit 50% in 33 minutes, 75% in 58 minutes and 100% in two hours and five minutes. That means Google has managed to halve Pixel charge times in just two years.
This is a tough one to comment on simply because there's not much to say anymore. The Pixel 8 is no slouch and can handle just about anything short of intensive tasks like 3D rendering.
Even processor-heavy tasks like playing Call of Duty: Mobile online and 4K HDR 60FPS video streaming run just fine. Google Assistant responds rapidly and things that require AI processing are near instant as well.
The thing is, this level of performance has been present in previous Pixels. It's pretty hard to pinpoint exactly what the Tensor G3 is bringing to the table for the average user.
Unlike the Pixel 7, which used an AMOLED display, Google has gone back to the OLED tech used in older models. This might seem like a step back on paper but it looks just fine and even irons out some of the high-dynamic range (HDR) issues of Pixels past.
Overall, the Pixel 8 delivers a rich, crisp, bright picture that's beautiful to look at, especially when HDR is active. Like photos, the presentation is balanced without being too saturated or bright.
Black crush, which had hindered previous models, has been fixed thanks in part to the increased luminance which can now hit 2000 nits.
The refresh rate reaches 120Hz for buttery-smooth transitions between screens. But most apps peak at 60–90Hz so you're not going to be able to utilise this feature most of the time. Still, it does look very nice when software supports it.
The speakers sound about as good as you'd expect from a smartphone. They have decent width, presence and some warmth, which is comfortable to listen to from a purely functional perspective. But Google continues to put the bottom-firing speakers on the base of the phone, which is frustrating, as they're easy to block with the palm of your hand in landscape mode.
According to Google, call quality has AI enhancements via a feature called Clear Calling. Not only does this appear to be working, the hardware seems to be better as well. The speaker has improved warmth, depth and clarity along with the mouthpiece.
You can navigate through most of the Pixel 8's screen with one hand.
There are very few changes to the form factor and build quality this time around. The screen is slightly smaller by 0.1 inches and the body is slightly lighter by 10 grams compared to the Pixel 7.
But it still uses Gorilla Glass Victus on the front and back and still has an IP68 dust/water resistance that protects it against temporary submersion in up to 1.5 metres of water. Hey, if it ain't broke...
Google's latest flagship, the Pixel 8 Pro, has also launched for $1699 (128GB). It uses the Tensor G3 processor as well, so general performance is similar. The camera, however, offers notable improvements.
The telephoto lens, photography features and software improvements are the main drawcards here and they really do make a compelling case to go for the Pro. Image processing is also much faster on the Pro 8, especially Night Sight mode, which often shaves seconds off the standard Pixel 8's performance times.
It's important to stress that this is a good phone and the handful of shortcomings or problems aren't deal-breakers (except maybe the poor ultrawide lens performance in Night Sight mode). But for all the advertised upgrades and features, the Pixel 8 still feels like it's barely moved on from the previous generation.
Google isn't really to blame. All smartphones have reached a point where practical advancements are starting to plateau, and annual releases are less distinct as a result.
For all the advertised upgrades and features, the Pixel 8 still feels like it's barely moved on from the previous generation
But for years, Google has been telling consumers that they can get a really good quality phone that performs almost as well as the big dogs for under $1000. Now, that's gone away and the price increase comes attached to a phone that's mostly made up of incremental updates that won't have much impact on day-to-day use.
Even with the heavy focus on AI, machine learning and Google Assistant, the Pixel 8 doesn't really make life any easier than its older siblings. Some features are cool, others are helpful. But there's a lack of must-haves and major improvements.
And therein lies the problem. $200 isn't a huge leap when it comes to smartphones, but moving from three figures to four does appear substantial no matter how you try to spin it. The Pixel 8 may be good, but it doesn't leap as far forward as the price tag suggests.
Our advice? Wait for the Black Friday or Boxing Day sales.