Google’s Pixel 8 is a generally excellent phone, but it’s a true pity that it’s jumped up in price while still sitting well below the Google Pixel 8 Pro.
|7 years of updates is a killer promise||More expensive than last year’s Pixel 7|
|AI camera features work well||But the lack of proper telephoto is disappointing|
|Powerful for a smaller phone||But other flagships are (technically) faster|
It can be all too easy to at least partially write off the lower-cost partner of a premium phone as the compromised model. At one level, that’s always true; if you pay less for a phone — which you do for the Google Pixel 8 relative to the Google Pixel 8 Pro — then you should expect to get less of a phone.
However, it’s important to judge every device on its own merits. The Pixel 8 is a fine enough handset, and it’s one of the best options open to Android fans looking for a more compact phone experience. It’s a genuine pity that Google couldn’t keep the price as low as it did with the Pixel 7, though.
While Google wasn’t shy about showing off the Pixel 8 ahead of its reveal — it might just have been the most leaked phone ever, though Samsung clearly wants to give that concept a shake every once in a while for marketing purposes what it’s worth — the practical reality is that the visual design of the Pixel 8 hasn’t changed all that much at first glance.
You’re still talking about a phone with a prominent camera bar at the rear — mitigated nicely by a case, but then I’m notably pro-case anyway — with side volume and power buttons, USB-C at the base and an in-display fingerprint reader.
There’s no escaping that camera bar… without a case.
What’s big about the Pixel 8 is that… it isn’t.
Google made the interesting call to actively shrink the Pixel 8’s display relative to the Pixel 7, going from a 6.3 inch screen to a 6.2 inch screen. That might not seem like a huge quantity, but because those measurements are on the diagonal, it leads to a smaller handset, measuring in at just 150.5×70.8×8.9mm.
While the Pixel 8 features a smaller display than the Pixel 7, it’s one that’s seen some serious technical upgrades, with a brighter display that runs up to 120Hz, which is always nice to see. It’s IP68 rated for water resistance, and while you shouldn’t drown phones for the fun of it (that’s my job!), that level of protection is all but expected in premium phones outside the folding phone crowd.
Smaller phones are nice, and there’s definitely a crowd of consumers who don’t like the idea of carrying around a massive slab of a phone with them. The issue across the board has been that it’s been rather tricky to score smaller phones with decent levels of processing power for a while now; Asus has a go in this space locally with its Zen Fone lines, but locally you just don’t have that many other choices if you want to go compact.
The Pixel 8 takes a moment to rest upon a log. It’s had a busy day out of its case.
In terms of colour choices, you’ve got Hazel, Obsidian or Rose, and here I’m left a little cold. Obsidian is your basic black naturally enough, while Rose is rather specifically pink for the crowd that likes that kind of hue. Google sent me the Hazel model, which is a kind of greyish green hue that reminds me just a little bit too much of hospital corridors.
That might just be my own personal quirkiness at play here, but there’s little doubting that Google’s gone for rather serious colours for the Pixel 8, rather than brighter “fun” ones. I would have preferred the latter approach, but then this is exactly what cases are for.
Unlike the matte finish of the Pixel 8 Pro, the Pixel 8 has a more standard slippy glass back, which is once again a good argument for a case… but you might be sensing a theme here.
The Pixel 8 is differentiated from the Pixel 8 Pro primarily around its camera hardware. Where the Pro model has a triple lens system, the regular Pixel 8 makes do with just two rear lenses. That’s a very common play for the “lesser” of a premium pair, typically by forgoing a proper optical telephoto zoom lens.
Which is exactly what the Pixel 8 does. It’s equipped with a rear primary 50MP camera paired with a 12MP ultra wide, while the front-facing selfie camera has a sensor resolution of 10.5MP. Like the Pixel 8 Pro, Google’s now rating it as good enough for secure applications such as payment processing, something you can’t do with just a regular face unlock, because those are too easily fooled.
The Pixel 8’s selfie camera shoots well
(though it can still do nothing for the world’s least photogenic man).
The Pixel 8 Pro shoots well enough, and I do appreciate the size advantages of a smaller phone when you’re composing shots, but it does sit a step behind the Pixel 8 Pro simply due to the lack of that telephoto lens.
Fewer lenses. They’re smart… but is that enough?
Where it makes up for it is where Pixel phones have been traditionally strong, and that’s in AI image optimisation even if you’re not a pro shooter. The Pixel 8 is an easy phone to get decent results with in most situations, though you may have to wait a second or two for the AI to kick in after taking a shot to see it at its best.
You also get the new still and video shooting “magic” modes found on the Pixel 8 Pro. Magic Audio Eraser can work very well indeed at cutting out extraneous sounds to favour voice in most situations, making it a good tool for vloggers… but it’s notably not that fast for longer clips. Patience is key there.
Then there’s Magic Editor, which lets you shift onscreen object around or apply different post-processed styles to photos you take. So as an example, here’s a nearby fairly new house I took a standard photo of.
Don’t worry, I am NOT becoming architecture digest. I think.
What would that house look like near sunset? The Pixel 8’s Magic Editor reckons it’ll look like this:
Not awful, though the pixellation around the actual sunset clouds is pretty jarring.
As is the fact that the shadow from the telegraph pole hasn’t shifted, even though the sun obviously must have.
And in a more artistic style, like this:
I wonder if the original architect’s drawings looked like this.
Also it would appear that Magic Editor cannot paint in cars.
This is honestly the kind of trick that Photoshop has been able to run for years now, but making it easier for consumers to access is no bad matter for the most part — with one significant catch.
One interesting limitation of Magic Editor is that it won’t kick in if you’re not backing up your photos. On one hand, that’s sensible; Google’s making sure you won’t lose precious photos. On the other hand, the default is of course to back up to Google Drive, and the size of most smartphone photos means you’d end up paying for a subscription to a larger quota. I see what you did there, Google!
While the Pixel 8 shoots well enough, it is still hard to recommend if you’re particularly keen on mobile phone photography, simply because the nature of Android phone prices means that there’s plenty of options at its price point now that were premium just a year ago with more complex camera offerings. You’re not likely to be annoyed by what you get from the Pixel 8… but I was left wanting a little more given the Pixel 8’s price rise than I got.
Pixel 8 Sample Photos
For the most part, if you want a powerful phone in 2023, it’s had to be a larger phone. There just aren’t that many small and powerful phones across the board, and with Apple dropping the Mini this year it’s exclusively an Android market for new handsets.
The Pixel 8 runs on the same Tensor 3 CPU as its bigger Pixel 8 Pro sibling, paired up with 8GB of RAM and 128GB or 256GB of storage.
One small catch here if you want that larger storage size is that (at least on the Australian Google store at the time of writing this review), the 256GB variant is only available in the Obsidian Black colour; if you want Hazel or Rose they’re 128GB only, it seems. That might just be available stock, or it may be Google specifically limiting the number of handsets it has to have in its inventory.
When I reviewed the Pixel 8 Pro, I commented that it was annoying how Google’s Pixel phones – and ONLY Google’s Pixel phones – blocked common benchmarks at launch, listing them as not compatible within the Google Play store.
I do know that it’s possible to sideload apps, and I do know some journalists who had success with that, but I do have a preference to make sure I’m using a level playing field and the absolutely right version of an app for this kind of testing in a way that’s comparably fair to every other phone I’ve tested.
Luckily for me, I’m writing the Pixel 8 up a few weeks after launch, and “mysteriously”, standard benchmarks are now compatible. Funny that, isn’t it?
Especially funny as, similar to last year’s Tensor 2, Google’s own silicon doesn’t look that great in a comparative benchmark sense against the best of Qualcomm or Apple’s silicon. To give the Pixel 8 a decent chance, I’ve listed it against phones available at or around its price point. Here’s how it compares using Geekbench 6’s CPU test:
That’s a decent score… but then the Motorola ThinkPhone that beats it is running on the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, which is 2022’s premium CPU… so it’s perhaps not that shiny. If I were to put it up against the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 (a la the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and its ilk) or the iPhone 15 Plus or iPhone 15 Pro then the differences would be even more marked.
It’s a similar story when we look at GPU performance; here’s how the Pixel 8 compares using 3DMark’s Wild Life Extreme test;
I do have to balance that against the fact that most modern phones – and especially premium phones – tend to have more than enough power for everyday apps, and then some.
There’s a lot of phones you can buy for serious money that are left seriously idling in the slow lane because so few apps are really all that demanding. In that context, the Pixel 8 has more than enough power – and especially so because it’s such a small phone. If you don’t want a slab of a phone, there’s not too many choices, and the Pixel 8 is easily your best bet.
That’s especially true because, like the Pixel 8 Pro, Google’s backing it with 7 years of OS updates, an unprecedented and bold gambit on the search giant’s part.
Yes, a lot of those Pixel 8s might not survive that long in human hands – we’re an accident prone bunch – but there’s a lot to be said for buying a phone that you know could be secure through to the end of the decade. I can’t test that 7 year claim without a time machine, though. Maybe check back in on this review in 2030…
One feature that’s exclusive to the Pixel 8 Pro is the temperature sensor on the back. You can read my full review of the Pixel 8 Pro to get the lowdown on that feature, but I’ll simply say here that its absence on the Pixel 8 wasn’t missed even once during my review period. Says it all, no?
You do get 5G on the Pixel 8, but as with the Pixel 7, it’s sub-6Ghz only; mmWave 5G is a feature that Google only offers on the Pixel 8 Pro – and it’s basically the only phone maker selling devices in Australia that does so. At least with the smaller model it’s consistent, but it’d be great to see a little more oomph in this direction across the board, Google. It does feel a little unfair of me to say that when your competitors can’t even be bothered to release a single mmWave capable model, though.
The smaller size of the Google Pixel 8 did have me worried, because there’s some very basic physics at play here. Leaving aside the size of other design elements, smaller phones quite simply have less space for overall battery capacity – which is often a recipe for sub-par battery life, especially for more powerful phones. See, for example, the iPhone 13 Mini.
So how did the Google Pixel 8 stack up with its 4,575mAh battery? Pretty well, for the most part.
Putting it through my standard battery comparison test – running a 1 hour YouTube video at maximum brightness and moderate volume from full – showed it running neck and neck with last year’s Pixel 7, but a tiny bit behind the Motorola ThinkPhone in this regard.
What I’m after with this test is at least 90%, the typical bar for phones that won’t last through a standard working day on a moderate usage pattern. The Pixel 8 managed that with ease and enough power to see it through to a second day at the very least, which is pleasing.
The Pixel 8 matched that in my more anecdotal use too, though like any phone if you push it hard enough you can still send it flat within a single day.
Like so many premium phones, there’s no charger supplied in the box with the Pixel 8, but it’ll take a cabled charge at up to 30W with a PD compliant charger. Wireless QI charging is also supported, but you can expect markedly slower charging if you go down that route.
Google Pixel 8: Alex’s Verdict
All up, the Pixel 8 is a good phone that has a lot of long-term appeal thanks to that 7 year promise around AI upgrades with decent battery life, a fairly powerful processor and some nice easy-to-use camera features for the less photo-pro inclined folk.
However, it’s also more pricey than last year’s Pixel 7 and it does still trail the best in breed for the lesser partner of premium phones race in performance terms.
When it comes to the best mid-range Android phone, I recommend the Pixel 7a wholeheartedly; it’s a great phone at a great price that distills the best of what Google can put into a Pixel phone.
When it comes to the Pixel 8, while it’s better, I’m just not quite so sure.
Google Pixel 8: Pricing and availability
The Pixel 8 retails in Australia at $1199 for a 128GB model or $1299 for a 256GB model.