Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro: The beautiful blue is just a case
Photo: Matthias Kremp / DER SPIEGEL
If it weren't for different colors and finishes, the new Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro would be hard to distinguish from Google's smartphones from last year. There are a few new colors, including a beautiful light blue. In addition, the back of the Pro models is now matte. That looks good because fingerprints aren't as visible on it as it was on its predecessors and the Pixel 8, which continues to ship in a high-gloss finish.
Another difference to last year's models is that the screens are no longer bent so much into the frame on the sides. Instead, the corners are now more rounded, which feels good. Technically, the OLED displays of the Pixel 8 series have also improved. The Pixel 8's display has gotten faster, now capable of delivering up to 120fps like the Pro model, making for a smoother picture experience when scrolling and gaming. The Pixel 8 Pro has been given a slow gear, can switch down from a rapid 120 frames per second to one frame per second when reading, for example. This saves electricity.
In any case, both devices showed good endurance in the test, especially the larger Pixel 8 Pro. I usually get through a normal working day without any problems. The new Tensor G3 chip, which is said to have become more powerful and at the same time more efficient than the G2, is also likely to play its part in this. However, it is currently not possible to make a concrete comparison of the performance of the Tensor G3 with that of the Tensor GT2 from the Pixel 7 models. Google has prevented the installation of test programs such as Geekbench and Antutu on the test devices for the press.
More pixels for the pros
The cameras are close to those of the predecessors, but have been improved. Both models are equipped with the same 50-megapixel main camera, whose photos are usually downscaled to twelve megapixels. Videos in 4K resolution can be recorded at up to 60 frames per second. However, in order to use image-enhancing features such as 10-bit HDR, you have to make do with 30 frames per second.
The ultra-wide-angle cameras of the two smartphones are very different. While the Pixel 8 has one with twelve megapixels, the Pixel 8 Pro has four times as many, i.e. 48 megapixels. As a result, it not only has slightly better light sensitivity, but also a revised macro function, allowing you to get up to two centimeters from the subject for close-ups.
The biggest difference, however, is that only the Pro model has a 5x telephoto camera, useful for portraits and shots of distant objects. In addition, the "Pro" functions in the camera app are reserved for Pro models. That's why you can only take photos with a full 50 megapixels on these models and save them in RAW format for image editing. Manual adjustment of the ISO number and shutter speed is also reserved for the Pixel 8 Pro.
When it comes to image quality, Google doesn't have to be fooled, the Pixel 8 smartphones clearly play in the upper class. While they don't come close to the capabilities of the iPhones 15 Pro and Pro Max, they're not far behind. And they come with far more AI features for image and video editing than Apple's smartphones.
The Magic Eraser
One killer feature that Google is using to advertise the two new Pixel smartphones is the "Best Shot" feature. In this way, a series of shots from the same group of people is put together to create a picture in which no one has their eyes closed, no one makes a grimace, and no one looks to the side or otherwise looks inappropriate.
What Google advertises, like the reinvention of group photos, already existed eleven years ago. With the Lumia 920, Nokia had introduced a feature called "Remarkable Pictures". For group photos, it automatically took five shots in quick succession, from which the best portraits of the individuals could then be selected and linked to an optimal overall photo.
This works similarly with the new Pixel smartphones, except that you have to take several shots manually. Or you can select an image from a series of group shots in the Photos app, and the software will automatically recognize the rest of the shots in the series. This is handy because it allows you to edit older recordings with the new feature.
I did this with half a dozen such photo series and was mostly satisfied with the results. As a rule, the software assembles the faces of the different people in the image so cleverly into the later overall picture that you wouldn't get the idea that an image editing AI was involved here.
Sometimes, however, the system blunders, sorting pixels in places where they clearly catch the eye as editing artifacts, or pressing a head so low between a person's shoulders that their neck seems to be missing. But whenever something like this happened, I was able to undo the mistake by choosing a different portrait of the person in question, the second best thing then.
The Magic Editor is supposed to bring even more Google magic to images. You can do a lot of strange things with it. The simplest option is to make disturbing objects or people disappear from an image. On top of that, there's the magic eraser that Google introduced with the Pixel 7 devices, which basically does the same thing.
A new feature of the magic editor is that you can not only delete objects, including the subject of the image, but also move, enlarge and reduce them. The AI fills the space freed up by this with generatively created content. Often this works, but sometimes it also creates psychedelic-looking patterns in the background.
Also erases clay
But Google doesn't just want to remove disturbing people and other things from its users' recordings. That's why there's also an audio eraser in the Pixel 8 smartphones. Analogous to the magic eraser, it is supposed to be able to remove disturbing noises from videos, such as traffic noise from a clip of street musicians or the comments of passers-by who have passed by during the recording.
This worked surprisingly well in the test. In a video of a karaoke night, the tool muffled comments from party guests to the point of inaudibility. Conversely, in the same video, I was able to suppress the music to such an extent that it only seemed like a quiet radio, while said comments were now easier to understand.
However, you should not expect miracles from the tool. It is apparently based on detecting differences in volume, as well as different types of tones and noises. The audio eraser leaves the rippling noise of a landscape shot on a rainy day untouched, as long as there are no distinctly different sounds added to the rain. And the tool has limits, can only edit videos if they are no more than two minutes long.
A sensor without a meaningful task
In addition to many useful AI features that Google provides with its new smartphones, there is also one that can be considered more of a pastime while waiting for the bus, the AI backgrounds. Unlike full-blown AI image generators, you can't enter your own prompt to generate an image. Instead, you can use ready-made prompts such as "Bright yellow blooming flower" or "Surreal image of cliffs in yellow tones" to change individual terms, in this case the underlined ones. The results are sometimes miraculous, sometimes realistic. If you like it, you should let off steam with it. I quickly had enough of it.
However, I didn't romp around so much with the temperature sensor, which is built into the Pixel 8 Pro next to the cameras. It can currently be used to measure the temperatures of objects: the coffee, the radiator, the light bulb. This can be very useful in individual cases, for example to assess whether it is better to keep your hands off the stove. However, this sensor only becomes really useful when Google also makes it possible to measure body temperature. But before that happens, this feature must first be approved by the relevant authorities.
With the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, Google is doing good product maintenance: the hardware has gotten a little better in every nook and cranny, but the many new AI features overshadow all the technical innovations. Being able to improve quickly snapped snapshots afterwards without having to start Photoshop or similar programs on the computer brings both models massive plus points. Especially since the photo quality is already very good even without AI.
However, these improvements are outshone and overshadowed by two other innovations: On the one hand, there is the promise of providing the devices with updates for seven years. If Google can keep this up, it will be a cracker that could make the two smartphones not only sustainable, but also stable in value. Their long lifespan has so far made Apple's iPhones in particular heroes of the second-hand market.
On the other hand, however, Google has also increased prices – significantly. With prices starting at £799, the Pixel 8 is £150 more expensive than its predecessor. The Pixel 8 Pro even costs 200 euros more than the Pixel 7 Pro, is only available from 1099 euros. As a result, Google's smartphones have lost their price advantage over high-end devices from other manufacturers.
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