Is it me or is Artificial intelligence getting too smart and thus a bit… creepy? Google’s new Pixel 8 phones can conjure photos that technically never really existed, so is this a helpful feature, or the beginning of the end?
It seems like the ink is barely dry on my last Pixel phone review and already the new Google Pixel 8 has arrived. Google’s newest flagship phone is now available and I was able to spend a few days with it ahead of its launch, so in this review, I’ll take you through what’s new with the Pixel 8, what its coolest features are, what it can do now and if it’s a good Android smartphone for you.
Google Pixel 8 smartphone
The Google Pixel 8 is a solid design refresh, with the main standout features lying in the A.I. photo editing. Overall, a nice phone.
- High quality A.I. photo + video editing upgrades
- Design refresh is good
- New chip makes the phone faster
- Brighter screen
- Takes great photos
- Useful updates
- A.I. editing not everyone’s thing
What’s new with Google Pixel 8?
I’m being honest, there’s not a whole lot that’s completely new with this phone. For the most part however the upgrades and incremental improvements are definitely welcome. Google is touting its more powerful chip on this phone; the Google Tensor G3, and what users will see with the G3 is a faster phone that allows it to more quickly manage a whole new array of AI-powered tasks (more on that coming up). Google explains it like this:
“Tensor enables high-quality photos and video, powerful security and performance, and more intelligent speech recognition that make Pixel more personal and helpful than ever before. And it allows Pixel to adapt to you, accommodating the different ways we use our phones.”
The chip powers machine learning technology which allows for things like more accurately recognizing speech, translating languages in real time. Better brains are also supposed to help Pixel phones get more useful over time as they learn your behaviours and preferences.
What’s new with this phone as compared to the Pixel 7? In short:
- Brighter screen
- Improved G3 chip (faster)
- Teeny battery improvement
- Teeny bit smaller screen
- Satin finish & softer design
- New temperature sensor (Pixel 8 Pro, only)
My hands-on video review
Looks & style
The most obvious differences have to do with the design and styling of this phone. Google has been bringing in more matte metals, and softer corners plus rounded edges, so the Pixel 8 will look familiar if slightly refreshed. The glass back is still super glossy.
Brighter ‘Actua’ display
The display has some new lingo around it. Google is now calling the 6.2-inch screen on the Pixel 8 an ‘Actua display’ which is just a fancy new term it’s applying to the brighter screen. With 60–120 Hz refresh rate and brightness levels up to 1,400 nits (HDR) and up to 2,000 nits (peak brightness), it’s gained a bit of ground over the Pixel 7.
While not new, there is also what I’ll say is a renewed branding around some of Google’s smart built-in features. While things like Photo Unblur and Magic Eraser plus Call Screening have existed for several Pixel generations, Google is now placing them under the banner of ‘AI assistance’, because, buzzwords, you know. Google is also packing in more of these AI features, that are getting better (and a little scarier) with tasks like editing photos into the perfect shot, right on the phone.
The Pixel 8 has a refreshed camera with both a wide lens, and an ultrawide lens. If you also want a telephoto lends you’d have to upgrade to the Pixel 8 Pro. Or you can use Super Res Zoom on the Pixel 8’s camera, a digital photo feature which lets you get better close-ups without an extra telephoto lens.
The camera app has a new updated interface, which Google says aims to help you quickly find and capture content using photo or video. It doesn’t really feel all that much more intelligent at a glance; this might be the kind of thing that becomes more noticeable overtime and when I’m in a rush.
Photo features: Best Take
I’m sure Google’s smart photo features are going to be some of the most exciting for new users.
Best Take helps with people shots and works on group photos or solo ones; it uses a series of similar photos taken close together to help you automatically create a blended image with everyone’s (or your) best face forward. So if someone is blinking or looking away, you can let Google AI tee up a list of alternate facial expressions and choose ones that makes the photo perfect. Best Take does require you to have photos being backed up into Google’s cloud… Which might be a very interesting way of getting you to pay for that service, since in my testing I was not able to use it until I turned on cloud photo backups.
How to use Best Take on Pixel 8
To access Best Take, snap a bunch of photos then open one. Choose Edit, then Tools and Best Take. If you don’t see Best Take, it’s not available for your photo (like if you took a photo of a pet).
You’ll get a list of available options and facial expressions to choose from. In one of my tests I noticed that the face swap was extremely obvious due to a finely patterned shirt I was wearing.
Essentially Best take combines similar photos into one photo, and can even work with new technology and techniques — like generative AI — to open up more editing possibilities. Like Magic Editor.
With Magic Editor, you can go even further. And this is where it gets kinda scary. Or scarier.
Magic Editor uses generative AI to help you easily make complex edits. (Generative AI essentially creates something from nothing. For example, Generative AI—though not the Pixel phone— allows you to type in a command, “add Saturn to my photo” for example, send the artificial intelligence engine will simply conjure or generate the thing you ask for. This saves you the work of having to go and find images of Saturn, crop and manipulate them, then add them as a layer to whatever you’re doing.
On the Pixel 8, Magic Editor will allow you to do things like resize or reposition your subject in a frame, and essentially completely manipulate a photo so it will look exactly how you want.
To use Magic Editor, open a photo and look for the rainbow-square-star emblem in the bottom left corner.
Want to resize or reposition your subject? Just tap or circle the object you want to edit, then drag to reposition it or pinch to resize it. You can also use contextual suggestions to improve the lighting and background, like changing a gray sky to a golden-hour sunset. Plus, after you select an edit, Magic Editor will give you multiple result options to choose from so you can get the look you want.
In one of the coolest and creepiest options, you can also add things to the photos that weren’t there before; need to make a bench longer? Or add a few more balloons to the bunch? Google’s AI assistant will help you.
It’s actually pretty startling how well this technology works, and how truly intuitive it is. Even someone who’s never spent a minute with something like Photoshop could do some major improvements with this software.
Google says, “Magic Editor is a new experience from Labs in its early stages, and we know there are going to be times when the result isn’t exactly what you imagined. Your feedback is going to be critical in helping us improve the product over time so you can get the best edits possible. This is just the beginning, and we plan to add more intuitive generative AI features to Magic Editor in the future to help you bring your photos to life in new ways.”
While I think the technology is absolutely amazing, and will definitely allow people to be a lot more creative, to me it seems like we’re not that far away from simply being able to create any photo, of anyone, anywhere, at any time. Always wish you’ve been to the Taj Mahal? I guess Google’s artificial intelligence assistant can now help you build just such a photo. We no longer need to go to places to be able to Instagram them. That’s kinda sad.
One other AI feature is Audio Magic Eraser, where Google AI can reduce distracting sounds like cars and wind in videos.
Temperature sensor – but only in 8 Pro
On the back of the Pixel 8 Pro, a new temperature sensor lets you quickly scan an object to get its temperature. Use it to check if your pan is hot enough to start cooking or if the milk in your baby’s bottle is at the right temperature. We’ve also submitted an application to the FDA, to enable Pixel’s Thermometer App to take your temperature and save it to Fitbit.
Battery on the Pixel 8 is slightly improved over the pixel seven, at 4,575 mAh
Which Google distills down to “24+ hour battery life”. The battery life has always been pretty great on Pixel phones so there’s not really much to complain about here.
The Pixel 8 continues to offer wireless battery share as well as fast charging.
Speaking of carry-over features, you’ll also continue to receive proactive crisis alerts in case of emergency events like floods, tornadoes, or fires. It will also detect a car crash and call for help, and you do get access to VPN by Google one to help mask your online activity. Google also promises software and security updates for seven years from purchase. Call Screening, and on-hold support from the Google Assistant are also on board.
Overall review: Google Pixel 8
Overall, while this phone is unlikely to win you over based on its design or specs alone, some of these new artificial intelligence features are absolutely going to become must-haves.
The photo editing features are top of the line and these alone make Pixel one again the phone with the camera everyone wants. On the pro side, the design refresh is fine and the new chip makes the phone faster, albeit in milliseconds which I can’t really notice. The brighter screen is nice too. Overall it’s a nice phone. The photo editing and AI-powered features are killer too.
Cons? After playing around with this phone for a week, I can’t really say anything majorly negative stands out for me. There are obviously implications for us all that such seamless photo fakery is now at everyone’s fingertips, so to quote Google’s old mantra; don’t be evil.
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