Google Pixel 8 Pro Review: New Pixel, Old Problems

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The Google Pixel 7 Pro was a good smartphone overall. It packed in everything a casual smartphone user would expect from an Android smartphone including, the now standard, timely software updates. But it came up short in a few areas like battery life, charging and had its fair share of heating issues and camera-related bugs as well. With the new Pixel 8 Pro, there’s a brand-new design, plenty of AI-enabled features and even a new processor. Keeping this in mind, one would naturally expect Google to have worked on some if not all of the shortcomings of its predecessor. But that’s not exactly the case with Google’s newest Pixel flagship.

Google Pixel 8 Pro price in India

Unlike last year, Google’s Pixel 8 Pro finally offers a higher storage option in India. After years of complaining about offering a measly 128GB of storage with its base models, Google finally decided to add a new storage tier in India with the introduction of a 256GB variant. I received the 128GB storage variant for review which is priced at Rs. 1,06,999 in India, while the 256GB variant is available at Rs. 1,13,999.

As mentioned in my first impressions, both the Pixel 8 and the Pixel 8 Pro, are Google’s most expensive Pixel smartphones to launch in India. Simply put, the new top-end Pixel 8 Pro has received a price hike of Rs. 22,000, which instantly puts it out of reach of several potential buyers. And then you have to keep in mind that even at Rs. 1,06,999, you are still getting just 128GB of internal storage and no free cloud storage access either.

Indeed, Google has its hands full when it comes to convincing its existing Pixel users to upgrade to the latest model this year. And it’s probably one of the reasons why you are reading this review.

Google Pixel 8 Pro Review: Design

Google’s Pixel 8 Pro has seen more changes than the standard Pixel 8 (Review) this year. Basically, Google’s engineers got rid of some unnecessary stuff and made some refinements to the Pixel 7 Pro’s design. Keeping in mind its flat display, and overall flatter profile it qualifies as a new design. But it is an overhaul of sorts as the new Pixel 8 Pro still appears distinctly Pixel. This is mainly down to its sharper, visor-like camera module at the back which is as chunky as last year’s model.

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The visor-like camera module still gets scratched easily, just like the Pixel 7 Pro

 

The camera module’s edges are quite sharp unlike last year’s model, but I’m glad Google retained its chunky protruding appearance because it makes it easier to hold on to the phone’s rather slippery matte-finished body by resting my index finger below it for support.

The matte-finished rear glass panel is a first for Google’s Pixel range and its overall rounded appearance and curves do remind me of the original Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones. As slippery as the rear panel is, it’s excellent when it comes to resisting fingerprints. At 213g the phone does not feel too heavy or too light. This combined with the soft-finished glass back lends the device a very premium and luxurious feel.

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Google’s Pixel 8 Pro definitely looks the part for a premium smartphone

 

Google also offers an IP68 rating which is the same as on last year’s model. Build quality is quite solid and I’m glad Google finally got rid of the curved edge display which seemed pointless on a Pixel, given that it never had any added software features like on Samsung’s smartphones.

Google Pixel 8 Pro Review: Specifications and software

This year’s Pixel 8 Pro brings another new chipset called the Tensor G3. It’s built using the 4nm manufacturing process, which in addition to its new nona-core architecture should in theory translate to better performance and efficiency. However, Google is more focused on its AI capabilities and this is where it is expected to shine. 12GB RAM is standard and the phone offers up to 256GB of storage this year with no expandable storage and no additional SIM card slot. However, one can use the eSIM functionality to use two numbers on the same device.

In terms of connectivity, the Pixel 8 Pro offers an upgraded WiFi 7 experience, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC, a USB-C port, ultra-wideband (UWB) support and support for several global positioning systems.

Google Pixel 8 Pro back design ndtv GooglePixel8Pro  Google

The Pixel 8 Pro’s (right) design shares some similarities with the older Pixel 7 Pro (left)

 

Apart from the usual camera array, there is also a new thermometer which can be used to check the surface temperature of various materials. Google will be adding support for checking body temperature soon, which would make it useful if it turns out to be accurate.

The phone has a 5,050mAh battery and supports 30W wired charging and 23W wireless charging. However, the box contents don’t include a supported charging adapter.

Going with the AI trend, Google introduces its new AI wallpaper feature which is exclusive to this year’s Pixel 8 and 8 Pro devices. It needs an internet connection to work but chomps out some really unique and interesting wallpapers using its AI bits. The rest of Android 14 feels and appears similar to what’s available on a Pixel 7 Pro.

Other new smarts that are available on the Pixel 8 Pro include the ability to read aloud web pages or articles from a web browser. Google Assistant can even translate a web page before reading it aloud which is also useful. The operation is properly hands-free on the Pixel 8 Pro (I could not get the feature to work successfully on a Pixel 7 Pro), which is useful if your hands are busy.

Google Pixel 8 Pro front AI Wallpaper ndtv GooglePixel8Pro  Google

The AI Wallpaper feature is a fun way to sample the power of AI and create some unique wallpapers in the process

 

The Pixel 8 Pro’s AI editing tools, which are available in its Photos app are jaw-droppingly impressive in terms of capability. While the older Magic Eraser has gotten much better over time, the newly advertised tools still need a bit of polish in terms of output.

The new Magic Editor tool lets you literally reposition people and objects in a photograph (which has to be uploaded to the cloud). The AI models sure are impressive! At times it can get really hard to tell if an image has been edited at all. However, pixel-peeping into these photos usually reveals some clues. Magic Editor isn’t perfect and should get polished with future updates, but it is a very powerful tool nonetheless.

The same can be said about the new Best Take feature which requires a sequence of photos of the same setting in order to work. If you happen to have enough photos of the same people in the same setting, then it’s rather hard to tell if an image has been edited.

Audio Magic Eraser is another AI-enabled tool, which can impressively understand the sounds in a video. Once activated, it listens to the clip and quickly identifies the different sounds and then categorises them (speech, nature, wind, noise etc.) letting one adjust the levels to bump up the volume of the sounds they wish to hear (speech, nature) over the ones that they want to quieten (noise, wind). While I did not find the results all that impressive, it is interesting to see how the AI model identifies the different sounds in any given video.

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The Audio Magic Eraser tool in the Photos app is useful for removing or reducing unwanted sounds in a recorded video

 

As controversial as these image editing features are, I can see a lot of Pixel 8 and 8 Pro users helping many who aren’t able to snap good-looking photos. Moreover, Pixel 8 Pro users may seem like wizards to elderly folk who usually don’t end up composing a vacation photo right, and often request the unimaginable, like moving the Eiffel Tower a bit to the right. Surprisingly, all of that and more is now possible using simple drag-and-drop tools.

As impressive as the Pixel 8 Pro’s photographs and editing capabilities are this year, I still faced the same camera bug as on last year’s models. The Night Sight bug triggers when shooting back-to-back photos from the camera app’s night mode when transitioning from 1X to 2X. Once triggered, all photos captured thereafter do not get stored in the phone, leaving one with a camera that will let you click photos but not save them. The only way to get the camera to start storing snapped photos again is to restart the phone or wait for the camera app to crash.

For long, Pixel smartphones have always been the first devices to receive Android software updates and Google has somehow managed to one-up itself in this area with the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro. Google claims that it will provide up to 7 years of software updates which includes its quarterly Feature Drops (that bring new features) and security updates. Adding to this commitment Google also explained that it will stock up on spares for these two smartphones as well, in case your smartphone gets damaged or stops functioning over the next 7 years. Indeed such commitments will appeal to those who don’t upgrade their devices frequently, but replacing your smartphone less frequently works well for the environment as it also reduces e-waste.

Google Pixel 8 Pro Review: Performance

As for the Pixel 8 Pro’s 6.7-inch QHD+ OLED display, it works well under bright sunlight and shows fairly accurate colours when set to the Natural colour mode. Its 120Hz dynamic refresh rate, which can drop to 1Hz when not being used, also works as expected.

Just like last year, battery statistics aren’t all that great as I often found me reaching out for the charger by the end of a work day with about 20 percent left around 7:00 PM, after unplugging the phone at around 8:00 AM. If you end up using the camera and edit several images expect the battery levels to drop even faster. In our video loop battery test, the Pixel 8 Pro managed to last for 14 hours and 15 minutes, which is slightly better than the Pixel 7 Pro, but not great compared to what most smartphones in this segment are capable of. Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra which currently retails an additional Rs. 20,000 managed to last 21 hours and 7 minutes in the same test.

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The Pixel 8 Pro (right) has a flat display compared to the older Pixel 7 Pro (left)

 

On the Pixel 8 Pro, most casual and high-end games run just fine at default settings. But the phone clearly isn’t as powerful when compared to its Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered counterparts so don’t expect flawless frame rates when playing graphics-intensive titles like Genshin Impact or fast-paced games like Call of Duty: Mobile.

The phone does warm up after playing a few Call of Duty tournaments on Ultra settings, but it does not get abnormally hot and that’s mainly down to CPU throttling. However, one can expect plenty of frame drops during gameplay as the Tensor G3 isn’t really designed for running demanding titles at the best settings. Ray-tracing, while being relatively new, is also not supported. I also found the touch sampling to be a bit sluggish when playing fast-paced FPS games.

The Tensor G3 inside the Google Pixel 8 Pro managed slightly inferior scores compared to most smartphones in this segment and were far below what Apple’s latest iPhone 15 Pro Max is capable of. The Pixel 8 Pro scored 10,38,343 points in AnTuTu and managed scores of 1,629 and 3,274 in Geekbench’s single and multi-core tests. To give you an idea about where Google’s Pixel 8 Pro stands, the lower-priced OnePlus 11 5G (QHD+ display) which we reviewed earlier this year scored 11,89,556 points and Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 5 (FHD+ display) managed a score of 12,87,359 while the iPhone 15 Pro Max managed a comfortable lead scoring 16,61,205 points in our review.

Google sticking with its own Tensor design for its processor does have its downsides as they have yet to figure out better ways to handle all the processing that happens after snapping a photograph. Just like the Pixel 7 Pro, the Pixel 8 Pro struggles when shooting Portrait mode photos and will stop capturing photos (or disable the shutter button) when the photo buffer is full after clicking around 7-8 portrait mode photos in quick succession. It does this to finish processing them in the background and will let one snap more photos only once it’s done processing the ones that have already been captured. While this does not seem like a big problem, I did end up missing several moments while snapping photos of my kid. Shooting RAW photos also takes a while to process, compared to the iPhone 15 Pro Max which is almost instant.

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The Pixel 8 Pro just like the Pixel 7 Pro runs a bit hot outdoors when connected to 5G networks

 

For a phone that’s more focused and known for its photography features, it’s sad to see that the latest Tensor G3 SoC isn’t capable of handling the basics. Google really has to work on the Tensor G3’s imaging pipeline or go with a separate imaging chip solely for handling all of its camera requirements as the current Tensor G3 processor clearly isn’t up for the job.

Even with daily usage, something as simple as scrolling through web pages and social media apps (even YouTube) can get jittery at times. Scrolling is jittery when using both native and third-party apps and this is something many users have complained about on Reddit as well. Google took its own sweet time to attempt to resolve its Pixel 7 Pro’s scrolling issues, but these have yet to be resolved successfully.

The phone still gets hot when using the camera app, especially when shooting more complicated camera modes like Portrait and Night mode. The phone also gets quite hot outdoors when connected to 5G networks. Google still does not offer any cooling solution (apart from CPU throttling) with its Pixel phones, which keeps them running warm most of the time when used outdoors. Many Chinese smartphone brands have adopted vapour chamber cooling to maintain performance levels while performing power-intensive tasks. This year’s Samsung Galaxy S23 also utilised the same, making it run a lot cooler compared to its predecessor. So, it’s really a mystery why Google refuses to include the same in its flagship Pixel smartphones.

The new and secure Face Unlock feature works as quickly as Apple’s Face ID authentication, however, it only works well (or quickly) in good lighting. Dimly lit settings will see the camera struggling to recognise faces, which is when I had to revert to the good old fingerprint scanner, which thankfully worked as expected.

Google Pixel 8 Pro Review: Cameras

This year’s Pixel 8 Pro comes with several improvements in the camera department as well. Key among these is the new 48-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera which replaces the 12-megapixel camera on the previous model. There’s a new brighter 50-megapixel primary camera as well but I expect minor improvements (if any) with this one. Everything else apart from the new Tensor G3 remains the same, which is not a bad deal as the previous Pixel 7 Pro was not bad at imaging to begin with.

The camera modes have been revamped on the Pixel 8 Pro. The Pixel 8 Pro in particular this year gets a special pro mode called Pro Controls, which brings advanced camera controls for smartphone camera enthusiasts who prefer to tweak things a bit before shooting or while recording.

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Pro Controls is wonderfully designed with practicality and simplicity in mind, making it easy to use and understand

 

To be clear, the Pixel 8 Pro’s Pro Controls mode is not as advanced as the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s camera app which also offers various controls for video. The Pixel 8 Pro’s Pro controls seem a lot more user-friendly (designed for the average Joe), and quite practical at the same time, easily making it a lot better in terms of capability and control when shooting video, even when compared to an iPhone 15 Pro Max, I reviewed earlier.

Unlike the Pixel 7 Pro where one gets access to brightness, shadow and white balance sliders in the viewfinder when shooting, the Pixel 8 Pro hides all of its Pro controls under a settings button located at the top right corner. Tapping on it gives one access to advanced controls like Night Sight duration, brightness, shadow, white balance, focus, shutter speed and ISO as well. I particularly liked the focus control as it highlights the currently focused area in pink thanks to a focus peaking feature like on a real camera.

Tapping on the usual gear icon at the bottom now opens a comprehensive menu with a special Pro tab in which one can select the resolution (binned or full frame), output type (RAW/JPEG) and a very handy Lens Selection selector, which lets you choose between Auto or Manual. Choosing Auto basically gets you the entire zoom range which also includes the digital levels between the native focal lengths (0.5X, 1X and 5X).

The manual gets you access to just the native focal lengths, which switches off the camera’s automatic lens selection. This is useful to avoid using the wrong camera (which the smartphone automatically selects depending on the distance of the object/subject from the lens. This often leads to digitally cropped and scaled photos. So, if your subject is too close for the 5X telephoto camera, it just won’t focus, letting you know that you need to maintain a greater distance to get the perfect shot.

Pixel 8 Pro also lets one shoot in RAW using all three cameras which means you can get high-resolution (50 or 48-megapixel) RAW images which can be tweaked later in the post. As for the video, Pro Controls only lets you tweak white balance and exposure in this mode.

The Pixel 8 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro camera samples were captured in daylight and low light using their primary cameras (tap image to expand)

 

As for image quality, I found the images from the primary camera to be almost identical to last year’s model. The minor differences are mainly down to the tone where the Pixel 8 Pro chooses cooler tones compared to the Pixel 7 Pro’s warmer hues. The level of detail is second to none, but I often noticed that colours aren’t as accurate even though the photographs looked good. Low-light imagery is fantastic, but I noticed that the primary camera tends to crush the blacks in settings with contrasted lighting.

Google Pixel 8 Pro captures some quality 5X telephoto shots (top) and macro photos (bottom) (tap images to expand)

 

Photos from the ultra-wide camera, which has seen the most changes this year, pack in more detail and dynamic range when shooting in daylight. Colours are quite accurate as well. Macro photos also came out great and the new camera lets you get even closer (up to 2cm) to your subject.

Google Pixel 8 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro daylight and low-light camera samples captured using their ultra-wide-angle cameras (tap image to expand)

 

In terms of zoom, the telephoto camera shoots really impressive photos with good detail. I used the 5X telephoto to capture some crisp portraits and close-ups and well and they all looked gorgeous with a natural bokeh. Going beyond its optical limits, Google’s Super Res Zoom manages quality images up to 10X (hybrid zoom) but the quality starts to dither thereafter.

Google Pixel 8 Pro telephoto zoom camera samples captured in daylight (tap image to expand)

 

While it manages good image quality, the Pixel 8 Pro just like the Pixel 7 Pro struggles with edge detection when in Portrait mode (tap image to expand)

 

After managing average video quality last year, it’s good to see that Google has finally upped its video game. 4K 30fps video recorded from the primary camera looks sharp, has a good bitrate and offers a steady frame rate. Stabilisation is also impressive, making it a solid upgrade over the Pixel 7 Pro’s video recording capabilities. Low light footage also has good detail with low noise. HDR footage shot at the same resolution appeared a bit saturated but showcased good contrast and detail even in low light.

Google Pixel 8 Pro Review: Verdict

What sets the Pixel 8 Pro apart from every other Pixel of the past, is its AI capabilities. It’s a direction that Google has charted for its Pixel smartphones, and the Pixel 8 Pro surely shines in this area with the ability to process a lot of requests and use several tools without the need to connect to the internet or the cloud for processing. The very capable and well-designed built-in Pro Controls is also an area which mobile photography enthusiasts will enjoy.

But the price hike may convince many upgraders to stick with their Pixel 7 Pro models this year as all of the above-mentioned features (except for a 7-year commitment for software updates) don’t really seem like must-haves on anyone’s list.

To make things worse, the Pixel 7 Pro today retails for as low as Rs. 63,999, which isn’t a bad deal, depending on what one is looking for in a new smartphone purchase. Its still camera performance is similar to the Pixel 8 Pro but falls behind when it comes to video recording. The new Pixel 8 Pro may not heat up as much as the Pixel 7 Pro but its battery life only offers minor improvements over the older model.

If you are willing to spend upwards of Rs. 1,00,000 in India, Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra (Review) (available at Rs. 1,24,999 for the 256GB variant) surely offers better value, with impressive zoom capability, a better and larger display, excellent battery life, and to an extent even Samsung’s Galaxy ecosystem of devices which includes, smartwatches, audio accessories, tablets and laptops.


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