Google Pixel 8 Pro Review: Simply excellent

Pixel 8 Pro

The Pixel 8 Pro is an excellent smartphone, and easily your best bet if you’re after a premium Android phone.

Pros Cons
Solid performance from Tensor 3 Impossible to quantify performance directly at launch
Good camera hardware… …But not the best low light performance
7 years of updates is great Thermometer feels pointless

Score: 4.5/5

 

Google’s Pixel line of phones haven’t historically been the best sellers in Australia, with all credible figures suggesting that we mostly tend to buy either Samsung or Apple badged handsets en masse.

That hasn’t stopped Google throwing considerable resources at its smartphone division, which these days is a curious mish-mash of folks who at one time had either HTC or Motorola Mobility business cards (or maybe both).

The Google Pixel 8 Pro is Google’s latest take on what consumers might want from a premium handset in 2023. It has its quirks, and there are some aspects where comparison doesn’t entirely favour it.

However, it’s competitively priced within the premium space, backed with a superb seven year upgrade cycle, and it’s easily my favourite standard Android phone of 2023.

Design

Pixel 8 Pro

Google wasn’t shy in showing off the Pixel 8 Pro well before it was officially announced, but then it knew that it didn’t have a whole lot that was going to be genuinely surprising to show off.

While the Pixel 8 has shrunk screen size somewhat, the Pixel 8 Pro remains a 6.7 inch 1334×2992 OLED display phone with a prominent camera bar at the back. Side by side with the Pixel 7 Pro, there’s not too much to talk about save for the new colour variants and the switch to a totally flat display.

If you like things plain, there’s Obsidian (or black, really), alongside a Porcelain hue that would I guess match the Pixel Tablet. My pick – and the model Google loaned me for review – would have to be the Bay (blue) colour hue. I’m a noted fan of having phones in blue hues, it’s true, but this really is a looker of a phone.

It’s helped with a matte rear glass that feels really nice to the touch. Me being me, my review Pixel 8 Pro headed straight into a case directly afterwards, because I’m a firm believer that you should put a case on every single phone.

The switch to a flat display will appeal to some, though I do sit in the camp that didn’t mind the curved display on the Pixel 7 Pro. Then again, “didn’t mind” isn’t that close to “really liked”, so to me it didn’t feel like that much of a change one way or another. Your subjective taste may of course vary.

Camera

Pixel 8 Pro

In straight hardware number terms, the Google Pixel 8 Pro is packing a primary 50MP f/1.6 sensor along with a 48MP f/1.9 ultrawide and 48MP f/2.8 5x telephoto zoom. At the front, there’s a 10.5MP selfie camera.

All of which sounds nice in numerical terms, but then the quality of a smartphone camera is way more than its megapixel count, given you can get 50MP cameras on sub-$500 phones these days.

Starting at the front, Google’s now happy to claim that its front-facing selfie camera is good enough for secure biometric authentication, a la Apple’s FaceID feature. Plenty of Android phones have a face unlock feature from the front camera, but they’re inherently insecure, working off flat images.

Google did have a more secure hardware-driven face unlock in the Pixel 4 family (I might be the only journalist who remembers Project Soli), but the Pixel 8 Pro’s stab at it uses machine learning and the onboard security chip to – as per Google – manage the same feat.

It certainly works for fast unlocking, but without some very precise tools, and maybe a clone or two of myself, or at least a near doppleganger, it’s all but impossible to objectively test.

What I could test was the fast autofocus on selfies, which works rather well.

Pixel 8 Pro Selfie
Fast selfies… but they can’t make me look prettier. Nothing can.

Switching to the back, there’s the question of zoom levels, because again this is a feature that more premium priced phones have to focus on, pun not intended.

The Pixel 8 Pro supports up to 5x optical zoom, and it’ll punch that out further to up to 30x “Super Res Zoom”. That’s Google’s silly term for it, just like Samsung’s “Space Zoom”, but I’ve often found that these extreme digital crops leave a lot to be desired when it comes to the final taken shots, especially if you’re working in a handheld situation without a tripod.

To put that to the test, I headed to a nearby park to take some test shots. Here’s the park as per the Pixel 8 Pro’s 48MP ultrawide lens:

Pixel 8 Pro Ultrawide Lens

The Ultrawide lens does make the park look bigger than it really is. Nature of those lenses, though, not a flaw.

Slightly tighter in with the primary 50MP lens:

Pixel 8 Pro Wide Lens Photo

That’s a bit more representative — and you can tell I’m quite far from the play equipment.

And still sitting fine at 5x. The Pixel 8 Pro does have a 2x zoom mode as well, which is a crop from that primary lens; a trick that Apple also uses for the iPhone 15 family.

Pixel 8 Pro 5x telephoto

Not my finest framing, but the 5x telephoto shoots well.

What if I push it to 30x “Super Res” zoom?

Pixel 8 Pro 30x Super Res zoom

Caterpillar infestation in the children’s play area!

That’s surprisingly good for a handheld shot all things considered. It’s generally best not to push to extremes without a tripod, but Google handles this better in my experience than Samsung – and it’s not a field that Apple’s in at all for its digital cropping.

The ultrawide lens also does double duty as a macro lens with fast auto focusing features, and these do work very well indeed. Here’s a local bee busy about its day, not a creature I want to get super close to.

Pixel 8 Pro Macro Shot

A close crop of that image shows off the detail on the bee really rather well.

Pixel 8 Pro Macro Shot (Close Crop)

Then we come to low light performance, a key component of any phone evaluation in the premium space. For Pro phones, there’s a lot that can be done in post processing with photos, but the reality is that most users will want a point, shoot and get best result kind of phone.

To put that to the test, I headed out one night to take in some low light shots, pitting the Pixel 8 Pro against the recently reviewed Apple iPhone 15 Pro.

Also read:
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Review

This is a test I’ve run many times, and it’s looking for low light pickup, not necessarily spectacularly framed shots. Both phones were allowed to pick their own focal points, and both (predictably) used multiple exposures over several seconds to get their finer low light results.

First up, a wide sports field shot with only minimal light coming from a nearby building. Here’s how the iPhone 15 Pro and Pixel 8 Pro phones took that shot:

iPhone 15 Pro field shot

Pixel 8 Pro Field Shot

The iPhone 15 Pro delivered a brighter shot, but with slightly more oversaturated colours as a result – which is interesting, because that’s an issue that much earlier Pixels had with their AI-led approach to low light photography.

This shot is probably more representative of the kinds of real world low light shots that most people would take, and I’d give it to the iPhone by a very small margin overall; the Pixel 8 Pro is definitely competing hard… or so it seems.

Of course, I had to take it a little further and a little harder. Nearby was a group of trees with significantly less light. Here’s how the two phones compared.

iPhone 15 Pro Tree shot

Pixel 8 Pro Tree Shot

Here the iPhone pulls away, grabbing more detail at the base of the trees, though neither is a stunning shot.

To really push both phones, I then walked round to a nearby BMX track… that I couldn’t in fact see. This was so dark that while I knew it was there, it was functionally invisible to the naked eye. How would each phone compare?

iPhone 15 Pro BMX Track Shot

Pixel 8 Pro BMX Track Shot

The Pixel 8 Pro is much closer to what my eyes could see… but there’s no doubting that the iPhone 15 Pro managed to actually see the scene a whole lot better.

What’s the practical takeaway here? While Pixels have been best in class some years for absolute low light photography, 2023 is not that year if this is important to you.

The Pixel 8 Pro will also get a video boosting feature – inventively called “Video Boost” designed to improve video clarity and stabilisation through AI… but I couldn’t test that as it’s not actually a software feature that’s going to be live on day one; instead it’s coming in the next couple of months.

One feature relevant to the cameras that I could test was Audio Magic Eraser, the sonic counterpart to the Magic Eraser feature that’s been on the last couple of Pixel phones. Audio Magic Eraser focuses in on voice in videos, stripping out unwanted ambient sounds if you edit through the Pixel 8 Pro itself.

While the video mode has a “speech enhancement” feature, Audio Magic Eraser is a post-processing step. In my tests, it worked fairly well, but it’s not actually magic. You’re still going to end up with some background noise, depending on its severity. My video above has an example where I was out walking and recorded some speech while a noisy ute rumbled past. It’s better after going through Magic Eraser for sure, but it’s not as though I’m walking through a soundproofed chamber or anything.

The Magic doesn’t stop there, either, with a new Magic Editor for photos that allows for AI-led image manipulation to shift individual elements within a photo around. Google’s quite clear that this is early software that may make mistakes while generating adjusted images… and it’s not wrong.

To give it a challenge, I took this shot of a Cockatoo in a nearby park, munching on some grass as they are wont to do.

A cockatoo, having a munch on some grass.

Nice nature shot, but I decided maybe I wanted the bird a little higher up the frame. Could Magic Editor handle that?

A cockatoo WITH NO BEAK. It will have to find a way to... succeed.

Yes… it could… but in the transition, Google seems to have deleted the bird’s beak. IT’S GOING TO STARVE, MAGIC EDITOR!

To be entirely fair, a lot of this kind of AI image generation doesn’t get it quite right all of the time.

Both Magic Editor and Magic Audio Eraser are also computationally complex, which means that they do take time to render on the Pixel 8 Pro, especially for audio rendering on longer clips.

Overall, the Pixel 8 Pro is a largely pleasing camera phone. It’s not quite the best for low light photography, but it’s certainly in the conversation, and the rest of its feature set and the way that Google intelligently incorporates AI features do give it a lot of appeal.

Google Pixel 8 Pro Sample Photos

Google Pixel 8 Pro Sample Photo

Google Pixel 8 Pro Sample Photo

Google Pixel 8 Pro Sample Photo

Google Pixel 8 Pro Sample Photo

Google Pixel 8 Pro Sample Photo

Performance

Pixel 8 Pro

The Google Pixel 8 runs on Google’s own Tensor 3 processor. It’s the successor to the Tensor 2, packing in 9 CPU cores and a Mali-G715 GPU.

Typically in a smartphone review this is where I’d break out a few benchmarks; while they’re not the final word on smartphone performance, they can give a good comparative picture not only for how a smartphone performs relative to its competition, but also to prior generations.

However – and this always happens with Pixel phones, and only Pixel phones, I can’t. Or at least I can’t at the time of writing. My standard benchmarks are noted as “not compatible” with the Pixel 8 Pro before launch. They’re the only Android phones that do this, too.

A cynical journalist might think that Google’s playing games here, because what I typically find is that about a month after launch, apps such as Geekbench 6 and 3DMark suddenly become compatible. A less cynical journalist might think that was app developers getting on board with what Tensor processors want to do, but then it’s not like it stops too many other Android apps running. Just benchmarks. Hmm.

For what it’s worth, Geekbench 6’s publicly available benchmarks do suggest a multi-core score of 4005, above that of the Tensor 2 found in the Pixel 7 Pro but rather behind that of competing Android phones and notably Apple ones too. I can’t verify that benchmark, however, especially as I’ve had no luck even side loading Geekbench 6.

That being said, the Pixel 8 Pro is a solid and slick performer running Android 14, and that’s not where it will stop.

What’s particularly pleasing (but impossible to test) is that Google’s committed to a full 7 years of OS and security updates for the Pixel 8 Pro, well above what anyone else in the industry is offering. Yes, after 7 years they might have a little wear and tear, and you may have to opt for a battery replacement, but still, that’s exceptional and laudable. You should always buy a phone to last, and Google’s making that much easier with that promise. The Pixel 8 Pro will finally tap out of available Android updates as of Android 2021 in 2030. That’s kind of mindblowing, really.

Google loves to experiment, but as anyone who’s ever perused the Google Graveyard will know, not all of its experiments work out.

The Pixel 8 Pro has a contactless temperature sensor on the back of the phone. The idea is simple enough; hold it about 5cm or so from the object you want to measure, and it’ll give you that measurement.

Pixel 8 Pro Thermometer

My toaster is hot when it’s on. Who could have predicted that?

It functions, but – and this is important – it’s not rated or verified for human body temperature. Why does that matter? Because I could totally see people thinking that it was a replacement for an existing thermometer, and it’s not that – or at least not yet.

Here in Australia it would need TGA certification, and Google doesn’t even have US FDA approval for that use as yet. No word on whether they’re chasing it up for the Pixel 8 Pro locally, but without it it’s more of a curio, maybe useful for the cooking crowd or similar, but not much more than that.

As it did with the Pixel 7 Pro, the Pixel 8 Pro is also mmWave 5G compatible, one of the very few phones that have that functionality sold in Australia.

While mmWave 5G is far less widespread than sub-6Ghz network 5G coverage, it’s still a factor and it annoys me greatly that other phone manufacturers – yes, Samsung and Apple, I’m staring angrily at you – don’t offer it on their flagship phones down under.

Battery

Pixel 8 Pro

The Pixel 8 Pro ships with a 5050mAh battery, though Google does note that this is a typical figure, with a minimum of 4950mAh. Such is the way of battery chemistry, though I do appreciate the attention to detail rather than stating it just as a 5,000mAh battery.

Google also states it has “beyond 24 hour battery life”, and that’s a far less specific kind of claim.

Luckily for pedants like me, Google does go into some detail about its testing methodology, noting the following:

 

For “24-hour”: Estimated battery life based on testing using a median Pixel user battery usage profile across a mix of talk, data, standby, and use of other features. Average battery life during testing was approximately 31 hours. Battery testing conducted on a major carrier network. For “Up to 72 hours”: Estimated battery life based on testing using a median Pixel user battery usage profile across a mix of talk, data, standby, and use of limited other features that are default in Extreme Battery Saver mode (which disables various features including 5G connectivity). Battery testing conducted on a major carrier network. For both claims: Battery testing conducted in California in mid 2023 on pre-production hardware and software using default settings, except that, for the “up to 72-hour” claim only, Extreme Battery Saver mode was enabled. Battery life depends upon many factors and usage of certain features will decrease battery life. Actual battery life may be lower.

 

I love the “actual battery life may be lower” disclaimer at the end. Really, Google? It might?

Naturally I had to put this to the test. First stop was my standard YouTube battery test, running a 1080p video at full brightness and moderate volume for an hour with a fully charged battery. Here’s how the Pixel 8 Pro compared using that test:

Pixel 8 Pro Battery Test Figures

That’s a win on multiple levels for the Pixel 8 Pro, though I am still waiting to try to get an iPhone 15 Pro Max in for that test. Still, it’s got better battery endurance than its predecessor and better than its competitors. What I look for in this test is at least 90% (check!) with every percentage point over 90% often relating to additional hours of operation.

That’s where I fall back on more anecdotal testing, and here I’m largely very happy with the Pixel 8 Pro. Can I run it flat within a day?

Of course I can, anyone could. Just play a lot of intensive games or constantly stream video on it and it’ll be dead within 24 hours. But I did find I could leave it off a charger overnight and wake up with enough power to rather easily get to a power point without worries at all.

Google, like its contemporaries, doesn’t provide a charger in the box, just a USB-C cable. Find the right charger, however, and it’ll take in power at up to 30W charged or 23W via wireless charging.

Google Pixel 8 Pro: Alex’s Verdict

Pixel 8 Pro

The Pixel 8 Pro is mostly an iterative upgrade on the Pixel 7 Pro. The processor is a little more nifty, though right now it’s hard to objectively quantify that. The cameras are generally more pleasing with the possible exception of how they stack up against their 2023 iOS equivalents – notably I don’t have an S23 Ultra to hand to comparatively see how that comparison might look.

At $1699, while it’s not inexpensive, it’s also slightly cheaper than the competing Samsung or Apple models, which makes it more compelling, because who doesn’t like saving money?

Add in the seven year OS upgrades, and it’s hard not to view the Pixel 8 Pro as a winner.

Google Pixel 8 Pro: Pricing and availability

Pixel 8 Pro

The Pixel 8 Pro retails in Australia for $1,699 with 128GB of storage, $1,799 for 256GB or $1,999 with 512GB of storage.

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