Google Pixel 8 and 8 Pro Pack More AI and New Cameras, but at a Higher Price
Google's new Pixels are more expensive than last year's phones, but they also come with more prominent changes.
Lisa EadiciccoSenior Editor
Lisa Eadicicco is a senior editor for CNET covering mobile devices. She has been writing about technology for almost a decade. Prior to joining CNET, Lisa served as a senior tech correspondent at Insider covering Apple and the broader consumer tech industry. She was also previously a tech columnist for Time Magazine and got her start as a staff writer for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide.
The Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro have arrived, bringing more AI smarts and camera improvements to Google's flagship phones. The new phones, which launch on Oct. 12, highlight how artificial intelligence is becoming a more prevalent part of Pixel phones, from the Google Assistant to screening calls and editing photos.
But those upgrades come at a higher cost than last year, with the Pixel 8 starting at $699 (£699, AU$1,199) and the Pixel 8 Pro beginning at $999 (£999, AU$1,699). That's $100 more than the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro.
Consistent with previous Pixels, the camera is a big area of focus. Macro mode arrives on the Pixel 8, while Google promises dramatically improved video capture on the Pixel 8 Pro with a feature called Video Boost, which processes clips in the cloud instead of on the device. Both phones will also have a new editing tool for changing facial expressions in group photos.
Watch this: Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro First Look
Google is also drawing a bigger boundary between the regular Pixel 8 and 8 Pro by giving its more expensive phone a temperature sensor for the first time. And perhaps most importantly, both phones will get seven years of software updates, beating Apple and Google's claims by a wide margin.
Taken together, these updates illustrate Google's effort to further distinguish itself from its partner and rival Samsung, which dominates the Android phone market. If these phones live up to Google's claims, it may succeed in doing just that.
Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro's new AI features and camera
While AI has always been a key part of the smartphone experience for tasks like voice recognition and image processing, Google is taking that a step further with the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro. That manifests in new tricks such as the Google Assistant's ability to summarize web pages.
I saw this in action during a Google demo ahead of the phone's launch. When reading a Wikipedia page in Google's Chrome browser, I held the side button to trigger the Google Assistant and tapped the "summarize" button presented on screen. After a few moments, the Google Assistant generated a bulleted list of key points.
Call Screen, the feature that has the Google Assistant answer calls on your behalf to filter spam, also gets an upgrade. The Assistant's voice now sounds more natural, and it can understand more context from the call. Google said it made this change to deter legitimate callers -- like a doctor's office calling to confirm an appointment -- from hanging up once they hear the Assistant's voice. I heard a sample of this new voice in Google's demo, and I can say it sounds almost uncannily human. It sounds more lifelike and significantly less like a robot.
Call Screen can also extract some context during a call. If a delivery driver is calling to ask where to drop off a package or food item, for example, the Assistant should understand. If it works the way it did in Google's demo, you'll be able to tap an option on-screen to tell the driver to leave the package at your door.
See the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro Up Close and Personal
But one of the biggest new features is a photo editing tool called Best Take, which alters the expression on someone's face in a group picture. It works by looking for the same face across six photos taken within seconds of each other using a face-detection algorithm running on the device.
It then provides suggestions for alternative facial expressions based on those six photos, and only those six photos. In other words, it doesn't pull from other photos in your library that were taken at a different time.
The idea is to help you capture an image where everyone is smiling and looking at the camera. While that may sound useful, it comes at a time when the prevalence of AI is raising questions about authenticity on the internet.
I snapped a few selfies with my video producer during my brief time with the Pixel 8 ahead of Google's announcement. And sure enough, the Pixel 8 presented me with several options to replace the semi-neutral expression I had in the photo I was editing.
The cameras on both phones are also getting upgrades in other areas as well, keeping with the photography-centric theme behind Google's Pixel phones in recent years. The Pixel 8 has a 50-megapixel main camera similar to last year's Pixel 7 and a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera. But the main camera sensor on both devices is more light sensitive, according to Google, and there's also a new macro mode on the Pixel 8 for getting better close-up shots. That feature was exclusive to the Pixel 7 Pro last year.
Google saved its more dramatic camera upgrades for the Pixel 8 Pro, which has a 48-megapixel ultrawide camera compared with the 7 Pro's 12-megapixel ultrawide camera. But one of the Pixel 8 Pro's most interesting new capabilities won't be available at launch. Video Boost, which arrives in the coming months, gives you the option to have the video processed in the cloud rather than on the device itself.
This means Google can put the footage through a more demanding processing pipeline since it isn't restricted to the phone's processing power. Based on Google's demo footage, it looks like this could be particularly useful for improving quality in dimly lit environments.
Google Pixel 8 Pro has a temperature sensor
Google's Pixel 8 Pro is also the first Pixel phone with a temperature sensor. Google is positioning this as being useful for scenarios like seeing how hot a cup of coffee is before taking a sip, or measuring the temperature of the pavement before walking your dog. I've never had the urge to do either of those things, and I don't know if the Pixel 8 Pro will change my mind.
But it does seem to work well, at least in Google's demo. The Pixel 8 Pro measured the temperature of a cup of tea and a glass of water almost instantly after I opened the phone's thermometer app and hovered it over the mug. The app has a few preset options for measuring different materials, like beverages, plastic, metal, rubber and food.
Google has also submitted for US Food and Drug Administration approval so that the sensor could be used to measure body temperature, essentially turning the phone into a contactless thermometer. And of course, you would be able to save those readings to the Fitbit app.
Google isn't the first company to put a temperature sensor in a smartphone. Remember the Samsung Galaxy S4 from 10 years ago? That phone had a sensor for detecting temperature and humidity in your surroundings, although it never became a core part of the smartphone experience.
I don't know whether the Pixel 8 Pro's temperature sensor will be useful or just a gimmick. But it's yet another example of how phones are continuing to replace everyday objects like keys and wallets.
Google Pixel 8 and 8 Pro: The basics
The Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro run on Google's new Tensor G3 processor and are roughly the same size as their predecessors. The Pixel 8 Pro has a 6.7-inch screen, just like the Pixel 7 Pro, while the Pixel 8 has a slightly smaller 6.2-inch screen compared with the Pixel 7's 6.3-inch display.
Both phones have brighter screens this time around, which is a welcome upgrade considering I usually find the screens on Pixel phones to be too dim. The Pixel 8 is also getting a higher 120Hz refresh rate, up from the Pixel 7's 90Hz maximum, which should enable smoother graphics and scrolling. Other than a few design tweaks, such as the Pixel 8 Pro's matte back glass, the general look and feel remains the same as the Pixel 7 family.
Overall, the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro feel like they offer a combination of features that feel entirely new, like the temperature sensor, and upgrades to existing offerings like Call Screen. The question is whether these upgrades will actually feel useful and make the new Pixels worth their higher prices.
Google Pixel 8 Specs vs. Pixel 8 Pro, Pixel 7, Pixel 7 Pro
5G (Sub 6, mmWave); VPN by Google One; 7 years of OS, security and Feature Drop updates; front-facing camera has autofocus; 13W Qi wireless charging; 30W wired charging; USB-3.2 speeds via USB-C; IP68 dust and water resistance; Gorilla Glass Victus 2 on front and back
5G (Sub 6 and mmWave); VPN by Google One; 7 years of OS, security and Feature Drop updates; front-facing camera has autofocus; 13W Qi wireless charging; 30W wired charging; USB-3.2 speeds via USB-C; IP68 dust and water resistance; Gorilla Glass Victus 2 on front and back
5G, Magic Eraser, Photo Unblur, Real Tone, Face Unblur, Long Exposure Mode, Action Pan; Hold For Me, Wait Times, Direct My Call Live Translate
5G, Magic Eraser, Photo Unblur, Real Tone, Face Unblur, Long Exposure Mode, Action Pan; Hold For Me, Wait Times, Direct My Call, Live Translate
US price off-contract
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