A couple of weeks ago, Google sent me the latest colour addition to the Pixel 8 Pro lineup. It’s a beautifully faded hue of green and fits the ‘minty fresh’ barrage of marketing that came along with it perfectly.
I’m a big fan of the Pixel 8 Pro. It narrowly missed out on the coveted Mark Ellis Reviews Smartphone of the Year Award for 2023, but that’s only because nothing could beat the Honor 90 for sheer value.
However, we have a new kid on the block – the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra which is, hands-down, my favourite smartphone of 2024, already. It’s incredibly early days, yes – but the S24 Ultra is going to take some beating. The reason is simple: it might be the best smartphone I’ve ever used.
So, where does this leave the Pixel?
Why I love the Pixel
My first experience with a Pixel smartphone was the 4a, back in 2020. At just £349, it offered biblical value for money. Sure, the design was a bit plasticky, and there was no official waterproof rating. The display was what you’d expect from a budget phone, too.
But the camera. Oh, that Pixel 4a camera system – what a revelation!
Back then, I was also struck by how much more fun stock Android felt over iOS and some of the butchered versions of Android that were once distributed by the likes of Samsung.
Since then, every iteration of the Google Pixel has been a delight (and I’ve tried them all). The ‘a’ series continues to deliver serious value, and the two flagships always rank among the Android review phones I desperately want to keep using.
Beyond the camera system (which I’ll get onto in a second), I’m a big fan of the Pixel 8 Pro’s design. There are some issues, which I’ll reveal later, but there’s a reason I denounced the Pixel 8 Pro as the best-looking smartphone of 2023. It’s one of the few devices these days that catches the eye of onlookers – something the iPhone could only dream of.
On that note, I also love that the Pixel 8 Pro isn’t the iPhone. As someone who is fast looking for ways to extract himself from the grip of the Apple ecosystem, that matters.
The Google Pixel Photo Effect
There’s an interesting commonality I’ve noticed during my testing of recently released Android devices. The Google Pixel Photo Effect (I’ve just made that up) really does seem to be a thing.
This snap taken on the S24 Ultra looks like it was taken with the Pixel 8 Pro.
Honor seems to be at it, too – check out this photo taken with the Magic V2 foldable:
I think it’s rather uncanny – don’t you?
It’s been a while since I’ve been on a photo tour with the Pixel, so I decided to head into my hometown of Leamington Spa to grab some photos for you.
I’d love to know your thoughts on Pixel photography. Are you as enamoured by these images as I am? I absolutely love them.
I’ve tried to suss out why I like Pixel photos so much, but I’ve never really managed to settle on the definitive reason.
I think it’s the drama that is introduced. If anything, this has been dialled down a bit over the last couple of years (I’d liken it to the clarity slider in Lightroom if you’re familiar with that app and photo editing), but it’s still present.
Some may call these images too sharpened, or too contrasty.
Others might suggest that they need more vibrancy. A sprinkling of Samsung, if you like.
And, yes, of course we have a 5x zoom to play with. And no I can’t stop using it.
Although, I can’t stop using the ultra-wide, either. It’s particularly satisfying on the Pixel 8 Pro.
However, the thing about smartphone photography is that it is so subjective. If there’s one point of comparison that always incites comments on YouTube, it’s the photographic abilities of a phone.
The iPhone remains my main device because of the infuriatingly good and sticky Apple ecosystem. But I much prefer the photos delivered by the Pixel.
I never get into the details of pixel binning and sensor cropping, because I just don’t care. All I want to know with a smartphone camera system is whether or not it delivers good photos, consistently, and the Pixel nails it every time (for my tastes, at least).
It’s a hell of a video shooter, too. The addition of Video Boost (which uses server-based processing to increase the quality of videos shot on the Pixel 8 Pro) completes an imaging package that is yet to be beaten.
January 2024 Pixel update
We didn’t just get a new colour for the Pixel 8 Pro in January – we received a brilliantly-timed feature drop, too. I say ‘brilliantly’, because it was cheekily announced right around the time Samsung unveiled the S24 series and the main focus of its Unpacked event in San Jose – Galaxy AI.
Google were at Unpacked, too – onstage, nonetheless. They were there to help Samsung reveal one of the S24’s most impressive (and useful) AI-fuelled features: Circle to Search.
Quite why the S24 got hold of this feature before the Pixel is anyone’s guess, but Google has now added the feature to its own device. The premise is super simple: press and hold the bottom of the display, circle anything on the display (whether you’ve taken a photo of something, spotted something on a webpage, or had your attention diverted by an Instagram post) and Google will tell you what it is. It works, quickly – most of the time – even with the most obscure angles of the subject. This is AI at its most useful.
That temperature sensor is also finally being put to use as, one suspects, Google always intended. Now, you can measure your body temperature with a Google Pixel 8 Pro – if you live in the United States. It works by motioning the phone across your forehead, apparently, but because there’s no regulatory support in the UK at the time of writing, I’m afraid I can’t tell you what it’s like.
The January update also includes Photomoji support in messages, which is exactly like the same feature on iOS where you can turn pretty much any subject from any photo into an emoji and save it for future use. I’m yet to find a use case myself. Magic Compose (an AI feature designed to aid you with messaging tone) is also, apparently, out of its beta phase – although I don’t seem to have access to it on my Pixel 8 Pro.
Nearby Share is now Quick Share and promises AirDrop-like functionality between Pixels and devices running Android, ChromeOS, and Windows. Although, weirdly, on my device, it’s still called Nearby Share. I guess these features are being slowly rolled out.
Capping off the January update is a tweak which enables Pixel Buds to seamlessly switch between Pixel devices to which they’re paired. Which is nice.
Minor gripes with the design
To balance out this long-term review, I do need to point out some niggles I have with the Pixel 8 Pro which I hope are going to be sorted in the next iteration.
As noted earlier, I think this is a beautiful smartphone, but it is also one of the slippiest I’ve ever used. That matt glass back, as great as it looks, demands to have a case put on it if you have even the slightest of butter fingers.
The camera house is still, I’m afraid, incredibly susceptible to scratches. The Pixel 9 Pro needs something far more scratch-resistant – because it’s the stand-out feature of the phone’s design, and it’s such a shame how quickly it becomes unsightly.
Lastly, the power button still feels like it’s in the wrong place. Situated just above the volume rocker, I’m always hitting the volume down button and wondering why the display isn’t turning off.
That’s it, though. They’re small gripes, and, thankfully for Google, don’t have much of an impact on the enjoyment that comes with owning a Pixel 8 Pro.
Wrapping up: the phone to beat is…
The more I use the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, the more I think it’s the best smartphone I’ve ever come across. The combination of that striking, purposeful design, the best display in the smartphone market (in my eyes, at least), a camera system that has finally come of age, and performance to justify the price tag, is incredibly hard to beat.
The Pixel 8 Pro comes close, but I’m very much looking forward to the Pixel 9 Pro this year. If the renders are to be believed, it looks super interesting. Combine an updated design with what is still, in my humble opinion, the best smartphone camera system on the market and it could just knock the S24 Ultra off its perch.
What a year we have ahead!
Before you go
Pixel 8 Pro FAQ
Is the Pixel 8 Pro worth the extra money?
The Pixel 8 Pro and Pixel 8 both use the same Tensor G4 chip and therefore have similar levels of performance. The main difference between the two phones is the display, which is bigger and more vibrant on the Pro model, and the camera system. Whilst both have excellent cameras, the Pixel 8 Pro has a 48MP ultra-wide camera and 48MP telephoto camera with 5x zoom. The Pixel 8 Pro is also better in low light. So, if you want the highest photography capabilities, the Pixel 8 Pro is worth the extra money.
What are the benefits of Pixel 8 Pro?
The Pixel 8 Pro has a larger display than the Pixel 8, with a resolution of 1344×2992 pixels compared to 1080×2400 pixels. The main benefit of the Pixel 8 Pro however is in the camera system. The Pixel 8 Pro has the same main camera as the Pixel 8, but comes with an excellent 48MP ultrawide capability and a 48MP telephoto camera with 5x zoom. The 8 Pro also takes better photos in low light conditions.
Is Google Pixel 8 Pro waterproof?
The Google Pixel 8 Pro has an IP68 waterproof rating. This means it is water resistant at a depth of 1.5 metres for up to 30 minutes and has a level 6 dust resistance rating, the highest on the scale.
How long does the Pixel 8 Pro battery last?
The Google Pixel 8 Pro’s 5050 mAh battery provides about 11 hours of battery life during active use. A full charge takes around 80 minutes.
Does Pixel 8 Pro have SD card slot?
No, the Google Pixel 8 Pro and Pixel 8 do no have microSD card slots.