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Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro review: AI brains and plenty of brawn

Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro are smartphones built for the AI generation. Starting at $699 and $999, respectively, and on sale Oct. 12, the Android-powered handsets are packed to the gills with features designed to not only show off Google’s AI chops but also demonstrate how the technology can fit into our everyday lives.

That includes everything from improving your photos and answering your phone calls for you to summarizing web pages and voice typing in multiple languages at the same time. And, for the most part, Google pulls it all off, making for a stunning, almost sci-fi user experience.

Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro: Similar, but different

Much of what makes the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro so interesting comes down to their software, which is largely the same across both phones. So let’s first start out with what makes them different.

The Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro are AI-powered smartphones with powerful performance. (Image: Howley)
The Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro are AI-powered smartphones with powerful performance. (Image: Howley) (Howley)

The Pixel 8 features a 6.2-inch OLED Actua display. The Pixel 8 Pro, meanwhile, gets a 6.7-inch OLED Actua display. The Pixel 8 Pro also gets a 5x telephoto lens in addition to its wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle lenses. The Pixel 8 only comes with wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle lenses.

They both sport the same Google Tensor G3 chips, though the Pixel 8 comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB or 256GB of storage. The Pixel 8 Pro gets 12GB of RAM and 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB of storage.

Oh, and how could I forget the Pixel 8 Pro’s built-in temperature scanner? Google says you can use it to measure the temperature of your drink or the sidewalk if you’re taking your pup for a walk on a hot day. The company is looking to get FDA clearance so you can take your body temperature, but I’m still not sure why you’d want that.

The software is what matters

What truly sets the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro apart from the rest of the smartphone market is Google’s software chops. AI permeates the devices. Heck, Google says these are the first smartphones to run its foundational AI models on devices — meaning that what powers the company’s AI smarts in the cloud is available in your pocket.

That includes Google’s updated Call Screening for the Assistant app. The feature, which uses Assistant to answer phone calls on your behalf, now sounds far more human-like and can listen to what the caller on the other end of the line says to provide you with context-sensitive canned responses.

Best Take lets you swap out subjects' faces for better shots where they don't look like, well, this. (Image: Howley)
Best Take lets you swap out subjects' faces for better shots where they don't look like, well, this. (Image: Howley) (Howley)

I tested the feature by having my wife call my Pixel 8 Pro review unit while pretending to be a dentist. When she told me I had an upcoming appointment, Call Screening generated responses for confirming, asking to cancel, or asking to reschedule my visit.

In most cases, though, Call Screening won’t give you elaborate responses. When my dad called, for instance, the feature simply provided options telling him I was busy or that I would call or text him back later.

Google has also added a boatload of AI to its Camera and Photos apps. Best Shot is designed to ensure you get, well, the best shot while taking photos of yourself or others by using AI to mix and match your expression from similar images you’ve recently shot.

Say you snap off a quick six photos of your friends, but your bestie Donna blinked. You can select her face with Best Shot, which will then pool her headshots from the other five photos, letting you replace her blinking shot with one where she was smiling. It’s a great feature if you’re looking for a clean picture, but it takes away from the fun and spontaneity of capturing photos of your friends and family in the moment.

Magic Editor lets you move, increase, and decrease the size of objects and people in your photos. (Image: Howley)
Magic Editor lets you move, increase, and decrease the size of objects and people in your photos. (Image: Howley) (Howley)

Magic Editor is another new feature that allows you to move, enlarge, or shrink items in a photo. You’re not going to be able to completely change the look of a shot, but you can make more subtle changes. For instance, I wanted to get a better look at the mountains behind my wife and me from a photo we took on a boat this summer. I highlighted us, moved us down, and just like that, my big head was no longer blocking the mountains. Magic Editor also generated fake mountains to fill in the gap where my dome once was.

Beyond photo editing, Google has added the ability to accurately summarize text from websites viewed in Chrome using the Google Assistant. There are also options to have the assistant read sites out loud or translate them into other languages.

As a whole, Google’s AI capabilities are incredibly impressive but not without their shortcomings. Editing photos with Magic Editor isn’t perfect and can create aberrations in your images. Best Shot, however, was wildly spot on in my testing.

The rest of the show

Outside of its AI features, the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro are more than capable smartphones. Photos shot with both phones looked sharp, though they were darker than those taken with the iPhone 15 Pro Max and Samsung Samsung Galaxy S23+.

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Sign up for the Yahoo Finance Tech newsletter. (Yahoo Finance)

Games, apps, and onboard software ran without a hiccup on both phones, and I was able to squeeze out plenty of battery life while using them.

It’s also important to note that Google says it will continue to update the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro’s software for the next seven years. That’s an enormous amount of time for a smartphone to receive new features, and it's proof that Google wants its phones to stick around.

Taken together, the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro are exceptional smartphones worth grabbing if you’re in the market for a new device.

Correction: An earlier version of this review listed the wrong size of the Pixel 8’s display. It is 6.2 inches.

Daniel Howley is the tech editor at Yahoo Finance. He's been covering the tech industry since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @DanielHowley.

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