Pixel 8 Review: Definitely Not a Small Pixel 8 Pro

Google has made it abundantly clear, both in hardware and software, that Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro are not the same. Years ago, Google would release a Pixel device, plus an XL model to go along with it. For the most part, they were very similar experiences. Heck, even the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro from last year still had a lot in common. This year, Google set out to make it known that if you buy the Pixel 8, you’re going to be missing quite a few things versus the Pro model.

For your convenience we have detailed everything that’s different between the two devices. The big ones relate to the camera experience, but because these are Pixel phones and are known to have some of the best cameras attached to a phone on the market, I do have concerns that Google isn’t being as consumer friendly as they can be by limiting certain things on the smaller Pixel 8. To my eyes, Google is taking an Apple approach, when they could be setting a different standard — a better standard.

This is our Pixel 8 review.

What’s Good

Display – Google did the right thing for the smaller Pixel 8 and gave it a 120Hz refresh rate. That was absolutely necessary considering the $699 starting price. Beyond that, we also have this new 6.2-inch OLED panel that Google is calling Actua. I’m personally nicknaming it the Actually display, because it’s actually pretty darn good. In fact, if you’re looking for more of an authority on displays, DxOMark currently has it ranked 1st in the world alongside the Pixel 8 Pro.

But what makes a display good? For me, what I’m seeing over last year’s Pixel 7 is the increased brightness, as well as improved colors. Google says the Pixel 8 gets 42% brighter than the Pixel 7 with a top measurement of 2000 nits in outdoor conditions. During my camera testing sessions, my main takeaway was always that I can see the screen clearly in all lighting conditions, plus my results always looked good because colors, contrast, and saturation were always looking spot on. Compared to some panels, where colors almost appear muted, you don’t have that on the Pixel 8. It’s a bright, colorful display that I enjoy looking at. And again, it has a high refresh rate, so it’s an automatic W over the Pixel 7 and I would upgrade for that alone.

Camera – Let me start this by saying that this section could be in the “What Could Be Better” portion of this review. While the main 50-megapixel camera on this phone shoots fine and end results are good, Google purposefully limited this camera and the software that comes with it, and in my book, that feels like a huge gut punch to consumers who are expecting a rich camera experience from the Pixel lineup. What Google has done should be labeled as bad. With that said, let’s talk about it.

Pixel 8 comes with two rear shooters, a 50MP wide angle lens and a 12MP ultra-wide. The 50MP camera is the same as what’s on the Pixel 8 Pro with the exact same specs. It has OIS, EIS, f/1.68, and an 82° field of view. However, Google in its wisdom decided it needed ways to differentiate the Pixel 8 from the Pixel 8 Pro. So while the shooter is the same, the Pixel 8’s camera is incapable of high-resolution photos, limited to just 12MP. Additionally, while Pixel 8 Pro owners can enjoy a new lens selection feature and additional value tweaking options, the Pixel 8 does not. While I understand why it was done, I don’t agree with it and believe it sets a bad precedent.

As for results, while good and I’ll let my samples speak for themselves, Google’s purposeful limiting of the camera’s performance will always remind me that these photos could have been better. For example, one of the values accessible to Pro owners and not available on the Pixel 8 is literally focus. Not allowing owners of a Pixel phone to manually focus their camera seems ridiculous to me. We’re still paying $699, which is a lot of money. I should be able to manually focus a camera, and while the auto focus works great, it’s the principle I’m speaking to. What the Pixel 8 gets reduced to is essentially a point and click camera. It’s still a very good point and click, but again, hopefully I’ve gotten my point across.

In true Pixel fashion, contrast and low light photography is the name of the game. Both are very good on the Pixel 8, along with the ability to take exceptional macro shots. At the end of day, both things, those things being that the Pixel 8 has a good camera system and the fact that Google intentionally made it worse than the Pixel 8 Pro via software so as to differentiate them, can be true. Below are some camera samples.

Specs – For the $699 starting price, Pixel 8 essentially has all of the spec goodies you would need. It’s powered by a Tensor G3 chipset, comes with 8GB RAM, 128GB+ storage, IP68 rating, WiFi 7, Face ID, under-display fingerprint reader, aluminum frame, and Android 14. That’s the big stuff. For the full spec sheet, look here.

Compared to the larger and more expensive Pixel 8 Pro, the specs sheet isn’t too far off. Could we say it’s $300 worth of difference? Depending on how you value camera controls and differences in Gorilla Glass used, it’s hard to say. There are minor differences that do add up, though. For example, Pixel 8 Pro offers up to 23W wireless charging, while Pixel 8 tops at 18W. Same for its wired charging speeds, with 8 Pro getting 30W and Pixel 8 getting a max of 27W. Pixel 8 also does not come with Google’s new temperature sensor found on the Pixel 8 Pro, but so far, I’ve seen no one complain about that. I believe Google got the important stuff right, such as the display, main camera, and software support (more on that below).

Hardware and Size – Before Pixel 8 launched, I was very much looking forward to this device. Keep in mind, the two phones I’ve used the majority of 2023 are the Galaxy S23 Ultra and Galaxy Z Fold 5. I was ready for something smaller, more easily pocketable and usable with a single hand. Hardware and size wise, the Pixel 8 is exactly what I was looking for. The flat display feels fantastic, and as expected, the size is perfect for one-handed usage. Unlike my Pixel 7 Pro, I’m not having volume rocker issues either, so already my life is less stressful. For those who absolutely live that smaller device life, you’ll love the Pixel 8.

If I was looking for a downside to the hardware, it would be the shiny glass on the backside. While the Pixel 8 Pro has a soft matte backside, the Pixel 8 is extremely slippery, prone to both fingerprints and glare. As someone who takes photos of phones often, it’s a pain to deal with. As an average owner, dealing with fingerprints in general is never fun. This is why my Pixel 8 has been living inside of a Totallee minimal case. Now I have no fingerprints to deal with and no fear of scratching the glass.

Battery – One of the downsides to smaller phones is smaller batteries. Somewhat surprisingly, though, Pixel 8 has been super solid for me. Even with Life360 running constantly in the background as I run errands, a constant Pixel Watch 2 connection, and plenty of TikTok (and YouTube viewing) throughout my day, I was consistently pulling in 4+ hours of screen on time and going to bed with around 20-30% battery life. For my typical day, that’s really good. My usual day is 7am to about 11pm and with exception to my first day with the phone where I was setting everything up and couldn’t put the phone down, it’s been a very healthy battery experience.

Google has been adding in a lot of features for the battery-focused people over the years. We have Adaptive Charging which is designed to help extend the life if your battery, Battery Share for those looking to charge other devices using their phone, as well as a dedicated Battery Diagnostics menu where owners can find help with overheating, draining, and charging issues.

Software – Pixel fans are quick to mention software as a reason why they opt to buy Google’s smartphones. I resonate with that. I prefer Google’s software experience versus Samsung’s One UI, and with the announcement that Google intends to support these new Pixel 8 devices with OS upgrades and security patches for a whopping 7 years, it’s hard to argue that Google isn’t in peak form in the software department. With the seven years of support, these phones should be running well into 2030, so long as the hardware can withstand nearly a decade of usage. To go along with the software, Google announced years of parts availability, just to make people feel at ease.

As for the software that launched on this device, that would be Android 14, coupled with quite a few AI-powered features that have been very nice to use. In its marketing, Google highlights a lot of camera-oriented AI goodies, such as Best Take for getting the right facial pose for your group shots, Audio Magic Eraser for removing unwanted sounds from videos, as well as Magic Editor which can remove unwanted objects and people from photos. We saw a lot of these things highlighted at past Google I/O events and it’s really quite awesome to see all of it now official and working on a smartphone. Having tested most of these things, they are all sweet. They’re the sort of features that should convince you to buy a Pixel phone over the competition, especially if Google doesn’t open them up to other devices and keeps them exclusive.

Another AI-powered feature I can’t seem to put down is the AI Wallpapers. What a blast. Using categories with preselected keywords, users can create their very own AI art to use as wallpapers. While somewhat limited because you cannot input your own keywords, it’s still a lot of fun to use. Sadly, you cannot share your AI creations with others yet.

I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying the AI-powered summaries of web pages. I am constantly a victim to catchy headlines, and with this Summarize feature, I can get the information I actually want quickly without having to dig through the nonsense. I used it heavily on Droid Life and considering that I’m familiar with what I’ve written, I’d say that the AI is very smart about selecting which information to summarize for readers.

When Android 14 went public, I happened to see a few people mention that it didn’t really bring anything too exciting. I think with the inclusion of all this AI-powered stuff, you’d be foolish to not see that this is the direction all of these companies are going to head. It’s not about reinventing the platform anymore with huge redesigns and tweaks. It’s about using software to enhance experiences, allowing customizations, and deliver a more refined OS. Personally I’m a major fan of this direction, simply because I was already a fan of the Pixel Experience to begin with. Now with it getting made better with enhanced AI goodies and Material You, it’s really become the best overall experience.

Pricing and Availability

I’m not sure how much it costs Google to produce a Pixel 8, but what I do know is that if this phone cost $599 instead of $699, I’d look upon it much more favorably as a competitor to everything else out there. My first recommendation, solely based on my experience with this phone, would be to tell people to buy the Pixel 8 Pro instead. It has enough features to make me forget how much I enjoy having a smaller phone. Now, let’s say the Pixel 8 Pro is simply out of your price range. My second recommendation would be to wait to purchase the Pixel 8 when it’s on sale. That could be during Black Friday or some other random deal.

$699 is an ok price, but it feels a little high when we recognize the Pro versus non-Pro differences. If Google would simply open up those Pro camera controls to the smaller device, maybe I’d feel differently, but because the company really wanted to set out and make these devices two separate things, it’s hard to stomach the $699 price. Now, if you were to ask me about Galaxy S23 at $799 (or upcoming Galaxy S24) versus this phone, the Pixel 8 at $699 seems completely reasonable. You also get that 7 years of software support. On the other hand, Samsung is much more generous with its trade-in values. No matter how we slice perceived value, it will likely come down to what we as the consumer prefer.

Pixel 8 can be found at all major US carriers and retailers.

Buy Pixel 8



The Verdict

As I mention in the Pricing section, my recommendation to Pixel fans would be to buy the Pixel 8 Pro. If pricing is an issue, then the Pixel 8 is a great alternative, thanks to 7 years of software support, awesome AI features, a really good camera, gorgeous display, and excellent battery life. I truly enjoy using this phone, but I know what I’m missing when compared to the Pixel 8 Pro. For me, those things are too valuable to use Pixel 8 as a longterm daily driver, especially considering I have the freedom to use whatever phone I want. It’s unfortunate that Google got away from the XL and non-XL concept that we had years ago and instead opted for this Pro and non-Pro model, but here we are and there’s nothing we can do about it besides attempt to inform consumers what they’re missing out on if they opt for the non-Pro version.

Via: droid-life.com

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