Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?
CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

The Pixel 8 Needs These Features to Stand Out From Google's Budget Phones

Commentary: What I really want from the Pixel 8 is a compelling reason to buy Google's next flagship over the company's cheaper A-series phones.

Lisa Eadicicco Senior 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.
Expertise Apple, Samsung, Google, smartphones, smartwatches, wearables, fitness trackers
Lisa Eadicicco
5 min read
Google's Pixel 7A phone

The Pixel 7A makes me want more from Google's next flagship phone. 

James Martin/CNET
Advertiser Disclosure
Advertiser Disclosure
This advertising widget is powered by Navi and contains advertisements that Navi may be paid for in different ways. You will not be charged for engaging with this advertisement. While we strive to provide a wide range of offers, this advertising widget does not include information about every product or service that may be available to you. We make reasonable efforts to ensure that information in the featured advertisements is up to date, each advertiser featured in this widget is responsible for the accuracy and availability of its offer details. It is possible that your actual offer terms from an advertiser may be different than the offer terms in this advertising widget and the advertised offers may be subject to additional terms and conditions of the advertiser which will be presented to you prior to making a purchase. All information is presented without any warranty or guarantee to you.

We didn't see the Pixel 8 at Google's I/O conference in May. But the company did launch the Pixel 7A, its more affordable alternative to the Pixel 7. That's a win for Pixel fans, since the 7A offers many of the same benefits as the Pixel 7 -- including a great camera and the new Tensor G2 processor -- for $100 less. 

But it also makes me wonder whether Google's A-series phones are beginning to overshadow its flagship Pixels. 

Now that Google has narrowed the gap between the Pixel 7 and 7A, it should think more carefully about its target audience for the Pixel 8. If the Pixel 7A is for those who want a basic Pixel experience without compromising on performance and camera quality, and the Pixel 7 Pro is for photography enthusiasts, then who's the Pixel 7 for? That's the question I'm hoping Google answers with the Pixel 8, along with some other routine improvements to software support and battery life. 

Google typically releases new Pixel phones in the fall, so we're expecting to learn more about the Pixel 8 in a few months.

The Pixel 8 needs to stand out from Google's next A-series phone 

With the Pixel 8, Google needs to do more to make its upcoming mainline Pixel phone stand out. The $499 Pixel 7A already has many of the features most people are looking for in a new phone, such as a great camera, smooth performance, easy-to-use software and decent battery life. 

The main differences between the Pixel 7 and 7A come down to the former's slightly more durable design, larger screen and battery share. That latter feature lets you charge compatible accessories by resting them on the back of the phone, essentially turning it into a wireless charger. The Pixel 7 also has a larger camera sensor that's more light sensitive according to Google, but I didn't notice much of an improvement when comparing photos from both phones.

The Pixel 7 and Pixel 7A feel like they're targeting the same audience: Android fans who want a general-purpose phone with a great camera and a reasonably sized screen. The Pixel 7 Pro stands out for its larger screen, extra telephoto camera and macro photography. It also comes in a 512GB storage option, unlike the Pixel 7, and has a screen with a higher, 120Hz refresh rate for even smoother scrolling. Case in point: There are plenty of factors that distinguish the Pixel 7 Pro from the Pixel 7, but not as many that differentiate the Pixel 7 from the 7A. 

Moving forward, there are a few changes Google could make to fix that. Perhaps it could slightly increase the Pixel 8's display size to 6.4 inches instead of 6.3 inches. That would put more distance between the Pixel 8's screen and a future Pixel 8A, assuming Google keeps the same 6.1-inch display size for upcoming A-series phones. 

Google could also give the Pixel 8 a speed boost when it comes to charging, since the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7A offer similar charging speeds (up to 18W on the Pixel 7A versus up to 21W on the Pixel 7). Increasing the charging speed to create more of a gulf between the Pixel 8 and the Pixel 8A could make the case for buying the Pixel 8 a little stronger. Improving wired charging speeds could be especially important considering it looks like the Pixel 8 won't see an improvement to wireless charging compared to last year's model. That's according to 9to5Google, which says it spotted a listing for the Pixel 8 on the Wireless Power Consortium's website that has since been removed.

Increasing the base storage of the Pixel 8 to 256GB, much like Samsung has done with the Galaxy S23 Plus, along with offering an additional 512GB storage option could further distinguish the Pixel 8 from a future Pixel 8A. 

These changes combined with the existing differences between the Pixel 7 and 7A could certainly make the Pixel 8 feel like a compelling choice over upcoming budget Pixel phones. Of course, this is assuming Google maintains its current strategy of releasing new flagship and Pro phones in the fall and a cheaper A-series phone in the spring or summer time frame. 

Extended Android version support

Software is a big part of what makes Pixel phones so appealing, from the call assist features in the phone app to Google's clutter-free version of Android. The problem, however, is that Google generally offers Android version updates for only three years following a Pixel phone's release. 

Though it does provide security support and other updates beyond that point, Google lags behind Samsung and Apple when it comes to operating system version support. Samsung typically offers up to four generations of Android platform updates on new phones, while Apple's most recent software is compatible with iPhones as old as the iPhone X and iPhone 8 generation, which launched in 2017. 

If Google could match Samsung's four years, or surpass five years, that would make the Pixel line even more competitive.

Longer battery life

Battery life can never feel long enough, which is why I'm hoping to see some improvements in the Pixel 8. The Pixel 7's battery life was long enough to get through a full work day and then some in my experience. But I'd want to pack a charger if I expected a particularly long day. 

The Pixel 7A also performed better than the Pixel 7 in CNET's three-hour battery test, during which I streamed a YouTube video at full brightness and tracked the battery percentage at each hour. It would be great to see Google make some improvements in this regard on the Pixel 8.

Pixel 7A vs. Pixel 7 battery test

Pixel 7APixel 7
1 hour 96%95%
2 hours 90%88%
3 hours 85%81%

We won't know what to expect from the Pixel 8 until Google announces its new phones, which will likely happen in the fall. The camera has been a focal point for Google's Pixel series, so I'm expecting to see some advancements in that area, along with a new version of the Tensor processor in the Pixel 8. If Google makes those changes while offering longer battery life, additional Android support and more exclusive features that differentiate the Pixel 8 from its A-series phones, Google's next $600 phone could be a hit.