Pixel 8 Review: Why the Pixels are the iPhones of the Android world

With some stellar hits and some familiar misses, the Pixel exemplifies the American approach to smartphones.

WrittenBy:Vinay Aravind
Date:
The Pixel 8.
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The great divide in the smartphone world is between Android and iPhone. There are arguments aplenty and adherents of both camps can be equally passionate about why one is better than the other. But there’s another very fundamental division that doesn’t get talked about much, and that’s between American phones like the iPhones and the Pixels, and Chinese phones like those from Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo (Samsung sits somewhere in the middle). 

I’ve had the Google Pixel 8 with me for over a month as my daily driver. Before I get down to the nitty-gritties, I can say this much – this is the quintessential American Android phone, the iPhone of Androids. 

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The consistent design language continues.

Variants and hardware

The Google Pixel 8 comes in two variants with 128 and 256 GB of storage priced at Rs 75,999 and Rs 82,999, respectively. All other specs, including the 8 GB of RAM, are common to both. There are three colours available, black (Obsidian) which I have with me, grey (Hazel) and pink (Rose). 

Much like Apple and unlike other Android vendors, Pixels have over the last few years developed a consistent design language. The full-width camera bar is as distinctive as the iPhone’s corner camera island, even if less ubiquitous. 

The Pixel 8 continues that aesthetic trend with some small changes. Compared to the Pixel 7, the Pixel 8 is a little smaller, coming in with a 6.2” screen compared to the 6.3” unit on the older model. It’s a full 3 mm narrower as well, making it noticeably nicer to hold and use one-handed. To me, this is the perfect size, just small enough to use conveniently one-handed but also big enough that videos and apps look spacious enough on the screen.

 The premium glass back looks great, but is slippery.

That said, the slightly more rounded design and the glass back make the Pixel 8 very slippery. On more than one occasion, it’s even slipped out of the pocket of my pants. Using it without a case is not something I would advise, or even prefer. I do wish phonemakers would ditch glass backs entirely, premium-ness be damned. The OnePlus One’s sandstone back is still the greatest texture for a back panel I’ve ever used. Overall, while the size is perfect, the ergonomics are not quite there. If you’re an always-case person, then this won’t bother you. 

Coming to the screen, there has been a substantial upgrade there. While Google skimped out on the Pixel 7 with a 90 Hz display, the Pixel 8 gets a super smooth 120Hz display. This is not an LTPO display, but it’s still capable of switching between 60, 90 and 120Hz, which is good enough. The Gorilla Glass Victus protected screen also goes up to an eye-watering 2,000 nits of peak brightness, rivalling the top-end iPhones.

The camera bar is as prominent and distinctive as ever.

The distinctive camera bar houses the dual camera unit. While the main camera appears to use the same 50MP sensor as the Pixel 7, the optics have been improved a smidge, with a brighter f/1.68 aperture (compared f/1.85). The ultra-wide gets a solid upgrade, with the same 12MP module as the Pixel 7 Pro, featuring autofocus, which was missing in the Pixel 7. The 10.5 MP selfie camera however skips autofocus. 

The Pixel 8 comes with a slightly bigger 4575 mAH battery and also supports up to 27W ‘fast’ charging. Now this is another American failing. No Chinese phone maker would dare to sell a phone at this price range (or even one-third its price) featuring such slow charging.

The phone also features IP68 water resistance and does not feature a headphone jack. 

In use

Now, my time with the Pixel 8 has been a bit of a strange saga. If I had written this review a week after using the phone, it would have had a very different tone indeed. For the first week, the phone ran hot and was buggy. Both WhatsApp and Instagram behaved weirdly and it overall delivered a somewhat inconsistent experience. To add to this, the battery life was terrible and I was sharpening my knives to write a scathing review. 

And then somehow, after the first week, things started to improve. 

First, the bugs disappeared. Two weeks later, the battery life magically improved – and dramatically at that. So while I am going to describe what it is like to use the phone now, just keep in mind that it wasn’t like that initially. In fact, I delayed this review for a bit to make sure that the improvements would sustain, and I am happy to report they have. 

With its 6.2” screen it’s a perfect size for one-handed use.

The Pixel 8 right now is a pleasure to use. It’s fast, it’s smooth, and there’s nary a bug to complain about. The 120Hz screen is as it should be, right now table stakes in this price category. 60Hz is noticeably jankier and Apple should be ashamed of continuing to put a 60Hz display on their phones that cost Rs 80,000. 

The display also gets bright, and I mean BRIGHT.  Even walking around outdoors with the sun overhead, everything was not just legible but clear. Using the camera app in the bright outdoors also feels much improved because of this added brightness. Watching Netflix and scrolling social media on it is enjoyable. The speakers are solidly good, with loud, clear sound and a good amount of bass. They are a notch below the iPhones, but still more than sufficient to enjoy some streaming video and a long Reels session.  

While slightly improved, the fingerprint sensor on the Pixels continues to be objectively poor. In terms of speed and accuracy, phones from the Chinese vendors like Oppo, Vivo or Xiaomi run circles around it with their ultrasonic sensors. It’s some comfort that Google has used software wizardry to make its face unlock a class 3 biometric authenticator, but just like with FaceID on the iPhones, using the face to unlock is inevitably clunkier than using a fingerprint scanner, so I still prefer to use the slower fingerprint sensor most of the time.

The Pixel 8 launched with Android 14 on board. By and large it’s as pretty and smooth as ever, but I have to really make my displeasure clear. Over months of Pixel ownership (I own and use the Pixel 7), I have come to somewhat dislike stock Android. Yes, it looks better than its counterparts, but it suffers from a lot of annoyances that remind me of the iPhone. 

The 2,000 nits 120Hz display looks and feels top-class.

There are too many things you can do on a Samsung or a Xiaomi that you simply can’t on the Pixels, whether it is one-touch toggling the wi-fi on and off, or switching data instantly between two SIMs (this takes a good five steps), or the ability to truly customise the home screen (I can’t remove the ‘at a glance’ widget, or reposition the Google search bar) or switch the navigation buttons around. The Pixel’s OS is a lot more like iOS in that sense although, of course, it doesn’t go as far as Apple’s OS in locking things down. I can only imagine that the American consumer is happy to not tinker with their phones very much, and the Pixel OS is designed to cater to that. Personally, I would like a lot more flexibility.

The other American feature of the Pixel 8 is the promised seven years of Android updates. This beats even the iPhone, and leaves other Android-makers in the dust, and improves the long-term value of the Pixel 8 substantially. 

There are some notable weaknesses though. The core of the phone is Google’s semi custom Tensor G3 chip. While perfectly capable for most day-to-day activities, it delivers performance more in line with an upper mid-range chip than the flagship chipsets it hopes to compete against. The weaknesses lie both in the design itself, which is a collaboration with Samsung LSI, and the fabrication, which is done on Samsung Foundry’s 4 nm process, which is notably inferior to TSMC’s 4nm process that rivals like Qualcomm use. 

The net result is that the Pixel 8 has noticeably weaker performance in gaming and heavy tasks, like editing 4K videos, compared to other Android flagships. This also means that the chip runs warm, sometimes uncomfortably so. Out on a hot afternoon if you choose to shoot a bunch of 4K videos, the Pixel 8 will become uncomfortable to hold after some time. Of course, if you’re someone who uses the phone with a case, this will virtually be a non-issue.

Google claims that the custom chip enables them to do a lot of AI wizardry that they couldn’t otherwise. It’s hard to evaluate the veracity of these claims, but the AI chops on the phone are definitely quite impressive, whether it’s the AI magic editor or the audio magic editor, as well as the AI assisted auto-transcription. The last in particular was quite impressive and I found it roughly as good as Otter, which is a paid service. Would these not work as well if they used a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3? I am not convinced. But suffice to say that only Google offers these features and they work very well, and Google considers this one of the main selling points of the Pixel 8. Personally they don’t move the needle for me, in terms of desirability, but your mileage may vary.  

The USB-C port and the absence of a headphone jack.

Battery life, after the initial week of horrors, was solid. Nothing exceptional, but the Pixel 8 would invariably last me a day, and give me in the region of six hours of screen-on time which, for a compact phone, is commendable. It’s not a multi-day phone by any stretch of imagination, but there will be few occasions where you need to top up during the day. 

The 27W wired charging is noticeably faster than the Pixel 7’s 20W, but it’s still far too slow. When I am reviewing a Xiaomi or Oppo phone, I can always count on a quick 10 minute top-up on a busy travelling day at an airport, and know that the phone is sorted till bedtime. No such luck with the Pixel 8. A 10 minute top-up will give me about 15-20 percent top-up, which is sad. There is of course wireless charging, which is my standard way to charge the phone at my bedside. 

Camera

As always, the headline item with the Pixel phones is their camera. This is what sets Pixels apart, and this is the main reason I bought and I continue to use a Pixel 7. So I was curious to see how the Pixel 8 does and whether it improves a great deal from its predecessor. 

First, I must start off with a complaint. The camera interface has been modified so that the exposure, shadows and white balance controls are hidden away in a menu, rather than available on the main screen. This is a baffling downgrade and makes the pre-shot tweaking of images that much more cumbersome. These settings being available immediately is what used to make the Pixel camera interface my favourite on any smartphone. Now it’s just another generic interface with a clunky way to do formerly easy steps.

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Daylight images look stellar, especially with Ultra-HDR, which we unfortunately cannot demonstrate here.

Now let’s get to the good stuff. The camera is absolutely first class, in true Pixel style. Daylight shots are superb, and with two new features – Rich Color and Ultra HDR – combining to deliver some truly breathtaking images. 

Rich Color captures the photographs in the wide DCI-P3 colour gamut instead of standard sRGB. Ultra HDR uses a gain map to make the highlights and shadows more vivid and true to life. To understand Ultra HDR better, you can read this great breakdown by Mishaal Rahman at Android Police

To recap, new ultra-bright screens (such as the one on the Pixel 8) allow photos to truly display the range of brightnesses we encounter in the world. A bright blue sky is much brighter than a sky blue t-shirt, although in photos they often looked roughly similar. Now with Ultra-HDR, and on compatible displays, you can truly see the difference in brightness. 

The flip side of this, of course, is that they require a compatible display, and outside of Pixels and iPhones and higher-end phones from others like Samsung, Xiaomi etc, these are not yet common. Therefore, many people who use devices that are not capable of displaying HDR images, will not be able to see the full beauty of these images. 

The Pixel’s skintones are still the best in the business.

But on compatible hardware (and with compatible software, in the case of Ultra HDR), the images truly look stunning and true-to-life. Looking at the pictures on the Pixel 8 itself, you can truly marvel at the dynamic range compared to what you’re used to in other photographs. Just remember that when you share that stunning picture with your friends or on Instagram, it is not going to look quite as good, just yet.

The Pixel 8 renders colours accurately.

As always, the white balance is mostly spot on, except for the occasional magenta tint, which I don’t think most people will notice. And the skin tones continue to be the best on any smartphone. Capturing and processing images still takes a bit of time. This is a combination of the sheer amount of computational photography that Google does for each image, and the inability of the Tensor G3 chip to handle this fast enough.

So if you have a tendency to fire off multiple exposures for each photo, I'd urge you to curb that instinct, and trust the camera to get you an excellent shot in the first go. It’s taken me some months to make this adjustment (and competition like the iPhone has no such constraint), but it’s definitely been rewarding.

Low-light performance is stellar, both in Night Sight mode and the default mode. The tone map is more realistic these days, compared to the over-exuberant brightening of the early days of Night Sight. 

Autofocus on the ultrawide allows for a very good macro mode.

The ultrawide is excellent as well, improved from the Pixel 7 because it has autofocus. This also helps it with a very capable and useful macro mode. The selfie camera lacks autofocus, but otherwise performs well, with skintones yet again being a highlight.

Video performance on the Pixel 8 is also very good: clean, well-stabilised video with great colours and a good bitrate. Even low-light video is quite impressive, even if not quite at the level of the iPhone.  

Should I buy it?

This is the iPhone of Android phones, no doubt about it. As the only American Android phone, it has much in common with its Apple counterpart. This includes a consistent design language, long and quick OS updates, a pretty but frustratingly limited user interface, slow charging, slower biometrics, but most importantly, some of the best cameras in the business. 

Chinese rivals like Xiaomi and Vivo pack incredible hardware into their camera phones but when it comes to computational ability, Google truly wins, and personally I consider iPhones a close second. Of course, when it comes to video, the iPhone is untouchable. 

The ultrawide delivers consistent colours.

So if your priority is camera, especially photographs, this is the phone to buy. With the addition of Ultra HDR (and to a lesser extent Rich Color), this phone creates absolutely stunning images, the likes of which I’ve never seen before myself. Yes, they need compatible hardware and software to view in their full glory, but that will only become more and more ubiquitous in time. It is also overall a very handsome, capable phone, with no glaring weaknesses apart from its thermals, which is manageable if you use a case. 

The Pixel 8 can render complex scenes with excellent detail and dynamic range.

At Rs 75,999, it is an expensive phone – especially for one that features a chipset that is not quite top of the line. And if you value the last word in speed, processing power, and flexibility, you could take a look at alternatives like the Samsung Galaxy S23 or the Xiaomi 13 Pro. Both these phones take really good photos, even if a step or two behind the Pixel, and beat it in virtually every other metric. 

In short, the answer is simple – buy this for the camera, the design language, and the promised updates. But if the camera is not the highest priority for you, there are compelling alternatives. 

This Google Pixel 8 was sent to the reviewer as a loaner unit for review purposes. The unit will be returned on completion of the review. Google has been given no advance information about the content of this review and exercises no copy approval.

Contact the author on X @vinayaravind.

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