Google doesn’t leave much to the imagination when it comes to unreleased phones, and that’s mostly the case with the Pixel 8 Pro. Thanks to a flood of leaks, you’ve probably seen its updated camera bar, read all about the new AI photo features, and braced yourself for a $100 price hike that takes the starting price to $999. Even the 8 Pro’s built-in temperature sensor doesn’t come as a total surprise, despite being the biggest curveball addition to the line in years.
But as Google officially announces the phone this morning, there is one major new feature that still rings as a surprise: it’s getting seven years of OS upgrades. That’s a huge improvement from the three years of OS upgrades and five years of security support Google promised for its previous flagships, and it rivals the lifespan Apple is known for providing its iPhones. If there’s one thing that makes a higher price a little easier to swallow, it’s the promise that you’ll be able to get many more years of use out of your device. Assuming, you know, Google actually makes good on it.
The Pixel 8 Pro is Google’s latest take on a flagship phone. It adopts a refined version of last year’s design, streamlining the camera cutouts into a single long oval, rounding out the corners, and otherwise sticking with a formula that’s recognizable and works. It’s familiar on the outside and AI all the way down on the inside.
Google’s third-generation custom chipset, Tensor G3, is at the heart of the Pixel 8 Pro. It’s responsible for a lot of the new AI features on board, but Google doesn’t make any claims of better battery efficiency or heat management. On the exterior, the Pixel 8 Pro takes a departure from the standard Pixel 8 by adopting a matte finish on the back glass panel, which will come in obsidian black, porcelain, and a light blue “bay.”
Both models get a screen upgrade this year, but only the 8 Pro comes with an LTPO display (Google has decided to brand this “Super Actua”) with variable refresh rates from 1Hz to 120Hz. It’s still 6.7 inches on the diagonal, but it finally ditches the curved edges for a fully flat screen.
It also comes with a higher claimed peak brightness of 2,400 nits, which is — to use the technical term — hella bright. That will only kick in under very bright conditions in direct sunlight, but the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max only jump up to 2,000 nits in high brightness mode. Assuming the Pixel 8 Pro can actually keep up that level of brightness without overheating and ramping it back down, that’s impressive.
These are some fairly predictable year-over-year upgrades, but this time around, Google added something harder to guess: a temperature sensor. The company says you can use it to scan objects like beverages and surfaces to read their temperature and that it’s applying to the FDA to allow its use for body temperature sensing.
That’s not really a feature anyone has been clamoring for on their phone, as far as I can tell, and feels a little like it was added to the product roadmap sometime in mid-2020. In more useful news, Google has upgraded the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro’s face unlock technology so that it can now be used for payments — previously, it could only be used to unlock your phone.
There’s a 50-megapixel main camera sensor with a slightly brighter f/1.7 lens attached. The Pro’s 5x telephoto module gets an upgraded 48-megapixel camera with faster autofocus, and there’s a higher-res 48-megapixel sensor in the ultrawide camera, which is now capable of focusing as close as 2cm in macro mode. The 10.5-megapixel front-facing camera gets an upgrade, too, now featuring autofocus. And the Pro phone gets some pro camera controls: you’ll be able to control focus, shutter speed, which lens is being used, and access 50-megapixel JPEG or RAW shooting right from the native camera app.
Naturally, there are lots of new software features — all housed in Google Photos. When you take a series of photos of a group of people, you’ll have the option afterward to choose the best face for your subjects and save it all in one final frame. There’s also Audio Magic Eraser, which aims to isolate distracting sounds in videos so you can minimize or remove them.
A couple more features aren’t available at launch but will be coming soon, including Magic Editor, the generative AI image editing tool that Google previewed at I/O. There’s also Video Boost, which takes some of the processing off-device and into the cloud and enables Night Sight Video. And Zoom Enhance — only available to the Pixel 8 Pro, interestingly — can help you zoom in on images and recreate fine detail after capture.
Google’s Assistant gets some AI updates, too, though it’s far from going full-on Bard — that’s apparently coming in the near future. Google says it will be able to understand speech better and recognize pauses and fillers like “um” more effectively. It’ll also be able to translate webpages to read them aloud to you. Even the keyboard gets a little AI flavor with a one-touch option to clean up typos and grammatical errors.
In person, the matte effect on the Pixel 8 Pro’s back glass feels like a nice, subtle touch. The Pixel 8 is appreciably easier to hold with its smaller screen size, which still feels plenty big to me. The flat screens are a welcome change; I don’t think Google has lost any of the trademark Pixel character in doing away with them.
In some brief hands-on time with the new AI image editing features, Video Magic Eraser easily identified background noise and isolated my audio as I talked, though the resulting video had a small hiccup in my audio track. Magic Editor is available in beta on the demo units we tried, and the UI keeps your edits quite focused — you can’t go absolutely wild with the generative AI.
Photo editing features aside, it all feels like a hint of where Google wants to take the Pixel in the next few years as its generative AI technology matures — close, but not there yet. Even some of the more robust AI photo editing features won’t be available at the Pixel 8 Pro’s launch, so we’ll have to keep waiting to get the full story. In the meantime, the Google Pixel 8 Pro is available for preorder today and starts at $999 with 128GB of storage.