Google is now challenging Samsung at the top — the two best non-folding Android smartphones of 2023 are Galaxy S23 Ultra and Pixel 8 Pro. This is an incredible achievement by Google and comes in the face of huge competition from Chinese brands such as OnePlus, Oppo, Huawei, Xiaomi and the fast-rising Honor.
Key improvements include an upgraded processor (which you would expect), a slightly larger battery, superior Face Unlock, Bluetooth 5.3 and WiFi 7, the inclusion of a temperature sensor - and new colours. This year’s model comes in Bay (blue), Porcelain (off-white) and Obsidian (black).
Design and build
The soft-touch matte back glass is a winner, I love it. It’s protected by the latest Gorilla Glass Victus 2, by the way. The polished aluminium side frames are glossy, incidentally. The unique-looking camera bump protrudes almost a full millimetre less but stretches across the top of the rear panel as it did on its predecessors. I am a fan of the design but concede not everyone is.
Pixel 8 Pro sports a thermometer in its camera module on the rear of the phone. It is located on the right of the camera bar, and it allows you to take the temperature of objects such as beverages, water and food up to about 5cm away.
It has a resolution of 2,992 by 1,344 for a pixel density of 489ppi and a power-efficient variable refresh rate that can go from 1Hz to 120Hz. I’m super impressed by how much brighter this year’s display is – 2400 nits of peak brightness compared to 1500 nits. It’s a perfect display for viewing video content.
Pixel 8 Pro is powered by the Google Tensor G3 system on a chip (SoC), and while I’d say after a month of using it that it’s not as blazing fast as the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC in raw processing power, it arguably offers a more fluid and compelling Android experience because of the clever ways Google has used the chip in conjunction with its software and AI smarts. Android 14 is installed and runs super smooth on Pixel 8.
Android 14, incidentally, adds new lock-screen customisations, including clocks, shortcuts, and wallpapers. Cinematic wallpaper can turn images in your library into 3D photos, while emoji wallpaper enables you to customise your device using emoji combinations, patterns and colours.
One feature I love is how Google Assistant can now read aloud written content on your screen from the Chrome browser (and in the U.S. it can even summarise this text). This means you can enjoy magazine and newspaper articles without the ads. There are also big improvements to its Translate capabilities as you can now voice type across multiple languages.
Exclusive to the Pixel 8 phones, for now at least, are AI-generated wallpapers. You don't have the option to enter your own phrases and keywords but when you select a theme from the list, a list of keywords appear in the image so you can play around with it. You can also choose ‘inspire me’ for some random AI-generation.
Google has promised seven years of OS and software upgrades and if this promise holds true, it will be better than the software support offered by any other Android phone manufacturer.
Camera system and software
Pixel 8 Pro has a fully upgraded pro-level triple rear camera system including a 50MP wide-angle lens with 82-degree field of view and f/1.68 aperture, 48MP ultrawide with 125.5-degree field of view and f/1.95 aperture and 48MP telephoto with 21.8-degree field of view, f/2.8 aperture and 5x optical zoom of exceptional quality.
Both the zoom and ultrawide show huge improvements over similar images captured on Pixel 7 Pro. And the improved Macro Focus (using the ultrawide) is fantastic – you can get as close as 20mm from your subject.
I love using the new Pro Controls which enable you to shoot full-resolution 50MP images with the most incredible detail, but I appreciate that most people just want to use their smartphone camera in auto mode. When it comes to just pointing and shooting, Pixel 8 Pro does an outstanding job with all three lenses.
The main camera has a large 1/1.31in sensor which lets in more light than many smartphones and delivers consistently pleasing images rich in detail. Night photos and portraits are excellent too.
The front-facing camera has 10.5MP, a 95-degree field of view, fixed focus and an aperture of f/2.2. It has an autofocus system not on Pixel 8 and delivers super sharp selfie shots.
The DXOMark labs (which use far more complex and scientific photography testing than I do) rate Pixel 8 Pro as the best Android camera system that you can buy in Europe.
The already superb Pixel computational photography smarts have been given a huge boost this year which the firm said is due to the Tensor 3 SoC.
The new Magic Editor and Best Take tools are Pixel 8 series exclusives for now and thus give the phones an edge. Best Take allows you to take the perfect group shot by enabling you to quickly capture a sequence of images of your group – and then replacing any blinking or frowny faces with better expressions from that person in other stills from the sequence.
This is game-changing, as is Magic Editor which gives you the ability to reposition people and objects within your frame.
There’s also an Audio Magic Eraser which rather incredibly removes distracting noises from your videos – even if your clips were captured on older devices.
These new features sit aside the ace Photo Unblur and Magic Eraser features introduced last year along with Pixel favourites such as Astrophotgraphy.
Pixel 8 Pro is capable of shooting both 4K and 1080p video at 60 frames per second (fps), 30fps and 24fps.
Pixel 8 Pro will also be capable of Night Sight video and Video Boost (essentially HDR+ video), but those new features are not available yet and will be added in a future software update.
Pixel 8 Pro comes with a 5,050mAh battery which charges at up to 30W. The phone also supports 23W wireless charging and reverse wireless charging. There is no charger in the box, which is the same approach used by Samsung and Apple.
Stamina is on average a full day. This will depend on your usage, naturally. But I generally have about 10 to 15 per cent in the tank at 11pm from a 7am start. I have drained the battery during heavy testing days for this review but that is par for the course and not a typical use case scenario.
Pixel 8 Pro has an ultra-wideband chip that lets you physically locate compatible devices with improved accuracy. The ultra-wideband chip is not in Pixel 8.
The handset has an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance.
It has stereo speakers that are sufficiently loud for podcasts and YouTube videos in those moments when you don’t need or want to wear headphones or can’t connect to a Bluetooth speaker.
Thumbs up too for the responsive haptics. There is a sliding scale to adjust the level of touch feedback from your keyboard, incidentally.
The non-folding Android phone to beat this year is Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra. Pixel 8 Pro has done a brilliant job of challenging it for the number one spot.
The camera experience is sublime, the display is dazzling and the AI smarts and fluid performance combine to make it a joy to pick up and use.
Pixel 8 Pro comes in 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB options in Ireland, all with 12GB RAM. It’s available in Bay, Porcelain and Obsidian colours. Pricing starts at €1099 for the 128GB model. You can buy direct from Google or retailers including Three Ireland, Amazon, Harvey Norman, Currys and Very.
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