We tried the Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro and their wild new AI features

We tried the Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro and their wild new AI features

We tried the Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro and their wild new AI features

The Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro are official, promising the usual design, camera and performance refinements we’ve come to expect from any annual phone update. But Google handsets are all about the software, and the Pixel 8’s suite of AI-powered image editing features are some of the most groundbreaking we’ve seen on a phone — in ways that range from useful to a bit eerie.

Wondering if this year’s Pixel devices are worth the upgrade? Here’s what we think after some early hands-on time with Google’s new phones.

Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro release date and preorders

The Pixel 8 range is available for preorder now and will launch on Oct. 12, starting at $699 for the Pixel 8 and $999 for the Pixel 8 Pro. Preordering the Pixel 8 through Google will net you a free pair of Pixel Buds Pro, while doing the same for the Pixel 8 Pro will get you the brand-new Pixel Watch 2.

2 attractive designs but the Pro’s is better

2 attractive designs — but the Pro’s is better
2 attractive designs — but the Pro’s is better

The Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro look a whole lot like the Pixel 7 we got last year, though there are a few welcome refinements. Both phones appear to have slightly softer edges than before, and were comfortable to hold during my limited hands-on time. However, the large aluminum bar on the back that houses the cameras still isn’t my favorite — especially now that the camera modules are even bigger than before. Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro wild new AI features.

Still, the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro are a relatively clean, attractive pair of Android phones. And they each come in a nice set of colors: Obsidian, Hazel and Rose for the Pixel 8, and Obsidian, Porcelain and Bay for the Pixel 8 Pro. My favorites were the Rose Pixel 8. (which should fare well against the pink iPhone 15 and complement any Barbiecore look) and the Bay Pixel 8 Pro, which boasts a nice baby blue hue. Props to Google for recognizing that “Pro” phones should also come in fun colors (get with it, Apple). The company’s even dropping a new Bay-colored set of Pixel Buds Pro to match the Pixel 8 Pro’s airy new hue.

Pixel 8 Pro

As nice as both phones looked, I much preferred having the Pixel 8 Pro in my hands, thanks to its new matte finish. On top of offering a better grip, this matte backing made the phone less prone to glare and fingerprints. Two things I appreciated as I snapped photos of it. The standard Pixel 8 retains the same glossy finish as older models. While this won’t matter to most folks (especially if you’re using a case). I’m a much bigger fan of the matte, smudge-proof designs that have been adopted by the Galaxy S23, the iPhone 15 and now the Pixel 8 Pro.

A range of useful new features including some wild AI stuff

Pixel 8

Pixel phones have always focused on useful software and good photography over sheer horsepower, and the Pixel 8’s camera and AI features are some of Google’s most promising yet.

The phone’s camera specs sound mostly similar to last year’s on paper (save for an upgraded ultrawide lens on the 8 Pro), but both are promising some big improvements to the shooting experience. The Pixel 8 finally gets the Pro’s Macro Focus mode, which allows you to capture those minute details up close. Google says the 8 Pro will deliver improved low-light photos and better zoom as well as Night Sight Video, which brings the company’s superb nighttime image enhancement to video for the first time. But the real magic happens once you start editing your images.

We’ve long been fans of Google’s Magic Eraser feature, which allows you to get rid of unwanted photobombers in your photos. And now the company is taking that idea to a new level with its new Magic Editor. That lets you manipulate virtually any part of your shot to dramatic results. We got to see a demo of Magic Editor in action, and it’s truly wild — in ways that are both cool and kind of creepy.

In one demonstration, a Google rep pulled up a pretty innocuous picture of a person running on a beach. They then were able to highlight said person, and freely move and resize them around the beach — all without making the picture look visibly distorted or very obviously edited. They were also able to run the image through a number of filters, which did everything from alter the time of day to turn the entire photo into something out of a Japanese manga illustration. All of these effects processed near instantly right within Google’s own photos app, which bodes well for Google’s AI chops as well as the new Tensor G3 processor in these phones — and could be bad news for third-party image editing apps.

Pixel 8

Have you ever taken a ton of group photos only to find that at least one person isn’t smiling or looking at the camera in every single one? Google aims to fix that with another new AI feature called Best Take. Once you’ve taken enough photos of multiple people, you can hop into the editor and flip through faces on a person-by-person basis until everyone looks just right. While this solves a very common problem — I’ve spent plenty of time trying to find the perfect Instagram-friendly shot that won’t unflatter anyone — there was something very creepy and “Black Mirror”-esque about watching a single face change in a photo while everyone else’s stayed static.

Smaller but Actua-lly welcome upgrades

Pixel 8

Head-turning AI features aside, the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro bring a handful of small but handy upgrades to Google’s phone lineup. The Pixel 8 Pro now has a temperature sensor, which lets you measure how hot or cold various surfaces are by simply holding the camera near it. The feature works with everything from walls and fabric to liquids and food.  Seemed to perform well with the various beverages Google set up in its faux office area. As an impatient and imprecise cook, I’m especially eager to try out the food temperature and cast-iron settings. That should take some of the guesswork out of preparing dinner.

Meanwhile, the regular ol’ Pixel 8 gets a nice refresh rate bump from 90Hz to 120Hz. Which should make scrolling through webpages and photo albums feel even smoother. That brings the Pixel 8 up to speed with the Galaxy S23.  It gives it a nice advantage over the base iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus that are still stuck at a comparatively sluggish 60Hz.

Pixel 8

The Pixel 8 and 8 Pro’s new “Actua” displays promise better color accuracy and higher brightness. Including a whopping 2,400 nits for the Pixel 8 Pro that eclipses even the iPhone 15 Pro. Something that should make Google’s flagship ideal for outdoor use. Both OLED displays. Which come in 6.2 inches for the Pixel 8 and 6.7 inches for the Pixel 8 Pro. As with previous models, Google is promising “beyond 24-hour battery life” with these phones. Though we found the Pixel 7’s endurance and charging speeds to be underwhelming in real-world testing. Here’s hoping that improves this time around.

The takeaway

Pixel 8

The Pixel 8 and 8 Pro seem like a pretty incremental upgrade from Google. Those coming from a Pixel 6 or older will likely reap the biggest benefits. However, features like Magic Editor and Best Take which will be exclusive to Pixel 8 for now. Could make these the best Google phones yet for photos. From the moment, You hit the shutter button to the potential hours you can spend perfecting your shots after. They’re also the best-looking Pixels yet, particularly if you go for the nicer, matte Pro model.
That being said, both of these phones are $100 more expensive than last year’s models. And between the new iPhone 15 range and the reliable Galaxy S23 series. (which just got a cheaper entry point in the form of the $600 Galaxy S23 FE). The Pixel 8 has some stiff competition as it battles for a spot on our best smartphone rankings. We’re eager to see if it can make the cut during our full review, so stay tuned.

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