Google Pixel 8 review: Go-to Android excellence

The Google Pixel 8 is the best small flagship phone around (Image: Google)

The Google Pixel 8 is a superb small(ish) smartphone with top specs, great screen, incredible camera, and seven years of software support

What we love

  • Small size for a modern phone
  • Good quality screen
  • Excellent cameras
  • Seven years of software updates

What we don’t

  • No telephoto camera
  • Slow charging
  • More expensive than the Pixel 7 was

The Google Pixel 8 is one of the most complete handsets released yet by the Californian tech firm. It doesn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking, but it leans into the standout features that Google’s Pixel lineup has become known for. And it does all of them brilliantly.

That means Photoshop-like photo editing wizardry, Google Assistant AI features, and a sleek all-glass design with that trademark shelf-like camera bar.

For the first time, Google is guaranteeing seven years of security updates – that comfortably beats the competition from Samsung, OnePlus, and Xiaomi. Whether Google’s custom-designed Tensor G3 system-on-a-chip remains speedy enough to keep everything ticking along as new software updates continue to be pushed out for that long remains to be seen.

The Pixel 8 sticks with a familiar formula, but that’s not a criticism. In fact, it’s the status-quo amongst smartphone manufacturers at the moment. If you’re looking for a well-designed handset with some mind-blowing photo editing tricks, clever AI features to screen unwanted spam calls and transcribe voicemails, great battery life, fast facial recognition, a high refresh-rate OLED display, and an uncluttered easy-to-use version of Android, the Pixel 8 is a great choice.

Google Pixel 8 review

is onto its eighth generation of Pixel phones, which shows – the Google Pixel 8 is a very mature smartphone that doesn’t bring many new or innovative features to the table.

But that’s no bad thing. This is one of the most complete Android phones ever thanks to a contemporary and – for a modern phone – compact design, excellent cameras, great software with lengthy software support, and solid battery life.

It’s a shame the Pixel 8 is £100 more than 2022’s Pixel 7, but it still manages to undercut the Samsung Galaxy S23 and by £150 and £100 respectively, making it a go-to Android phone choice that you should definitely consider.

A person holding a pink Pixel 8

The Pixel 8 has a distinctive camera design (Image: Google)

Design

  • Small for a modern phone
  • Distinctive camera bar
  • Glossy glass back

The Pixel 8 looks a lot like the larger , but there are small differences. Where the 8 Pro has a lovely matte glass back that hides fingerprints, the regular Pixel 8 reviewed here goes for glossy glass. On our hazel coloured review sample showed finger smears pretty quickly, so the same will apply for the black and pink versions.

It’s a nice object to hold though, with aluminium side rails that meld into a wraparound bar on the back that houses the dual cameras and a flash. We like this look a lot, and when on a desk or table the phone doesn’t rock when prodded at like other phones with asymmetrical camera bumps do. The rail also gives you a place to rest your index finger when holding the phone with one hand.

Most of all, the Pixel 8 is a small phone. It’s not as small as the old Nokia you used in 2004 and might be at the bottom of a drawer somewhere, but compared to most huge phones like the or , the Pixel 8 is manageable – though it’ll still feel relatively large in a pocket, especially when you put it in a case.

Display

  • Display
  • Flat 6.2-inch OLED
  • 90Hz refresh rate
  • Excellently bright

The Pixel 8 has a flat 6.2-inch screen, which is a little smaller than on the . With a slightly narrow aspect ratio, it’s a good size screen for one handed use, but you’ll still need large hands to be able to type with just one thumb.

Google Pixel 8

The 6.2-inch screen is bright, sharp, and crisp (Image: Google)

The screen is a very good quality OLED panel with a 1080×2400 resolution and excellent brightness – there’s no issue reading anything in direct sunlight, and the system boosts the brightness up to a higher level if the sun is really bearing down on you. Apps, menus, and texts scroll by smoothly thanks to the 90Hz refresh rate display, though this is not as slick looking as the faster 120Hz screen on the Pixel 8 Pro, which is better but comes on a phone that costs £300 more.

Colour reproduction is sharp and vivid, with deep blacks and bright whites, meaning despite its smaller size, the Pixel 8 is a wonderful phone on which to view photos, watch YouTube videos, read news, and browse social media.

Camera

  • Outstanding main camera
  • Ultrawide lens
  • AI editing features

Previous Pixels have been rightly praised for their amazingly good cameras, and we are pleased to report that the Pixel 8 is no exception. It doesn’t have the telephoto lens of the 8 Pro and has a different ultrawide lens to that phone, but it thankfully shares the same astonishingly good 50Mp main camera sensor.

Here are some of our favourite shots we captured using the Pixel 8:

Google Pixel 8 camera sample

Google Pixel 8 camera sample (Image: EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS)

Google Pixel 8 camera sample

Google Pixel 8 camera sample (Image: EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS)

Previous Pixels have been rightly praised for their amazingly good cameras, and we are pleased to report that the Pixel 8 is no exception

Google Pixel 8 camera sample

Google Pixel 8 camera sample (Image: EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS)

Google Pixel 8 camera sample

Google Pixel 8 camera sample (Image: EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS)

The main camera is so good that we took more photos than when we had another phone in our pockets – always a sign that a camera is doing something special. The portrait mode is very good, too.

The photos take on a vibrant, contrast-heavy look that we love, with images we were as pleased with when tested side by side against the iPhone 15 Pro Max, which costs £1,199 – £500 more than the Pixel 8. It’s definitely not £500 better.

But that iPhone and the Pixel 8 Pro both have dedicated optical telephoto lenses, something the smaller Pixel 8 lacks. Thanks to Google’s clever Super Res Zoom software, you can zoom in 2x and shots still look great, but when you go to the maximum 8x, things look a bit ropey as it’s relying on digital zooming.

The 12Mp ultrawide camera is nice to have to get more in the frame when you’re up close to a building, or to take in a wider view of, well, a view:

Google Pixel 8 camera sample

Google Pixel 8 camera sample (Image: Google)

The 10.5Mp selfie camera also produces punchy, usable shots for social media and has a digital crop so you can take a slightly wider view if needed for group shots.

If you’re into editing, Google is pushing artificial intelligence (AI) photo editing features hard with the Pixel 8. One that works very well is called Best Take – snap several pictures of a group of people, and there might be one great one except one person is blinking. You can use Best Take to swap out the faces of those people, picking the ones where everyone is smiling and looking at the camera. It’s borderline creepy as it works so well, but it’s using actual images of people, not creating them, so we give it a thumbs up.

Google is pushing artificial intelligence (AI) photo editing features hard with the Pixel 8

Less convincing is Magic Editor, which says it can erase people from photos or move them around in the frame. It works much less consistently, and has limits on what it will let you do, as though Google is weakly applying some ethics to image manipulation behind the scenes. Do it or don’t, Google!

Little things like the phone automatically unblurring faces using AI are the things that quietly make this one of the best cameras on a phone.

Performance and battery life

  • Google Tensor G3 chipset
  • 8GB RAM
  • 128/256GB storage

Google is using its own Tensor G3 chipset in the Pixel 8. It’s powerful enough for everyday tasks and can handle high-end games like Genshin Impact, but it’s not as smooth-running as the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 in phones like the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

It shows its weaker side when using AI tools like Magic Editor. Editing photos sees the feature creak under the computing load and takes a good few seconds to render images. It feels slow.

A woman on a call with the Google Pixel 8

The Pixel 8 has great performance and specs for the price (Image: Google)

Otherwise everything ticks along nicely with 8GB RAM, and multi-tasking between several open apps for work and play feels fluid and zippy. The base model Pixel 8 comes with 128GB storage, or you can pay £60 more for 256GB – we’d recommend doing this so you can fill up on photos, videos, and apps without running out of space.

With a 4,575mAh battery, the Pixel lasts a full day on a charge, but a two-day phone this is not. It can charge at a relatively slow 27W, though you can get to 50 percent in half an hour with the right charger (there’s only a USB-C cable in the box). You can also pop the Pixel on a wireless charging pad, but it’ll juice up at an even slower 18W.

Software

  • Android 14
  • Pixel-exclusive features
  • Seven years of updates

The Pixel 8 has Android 14 at launch, the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system. It’s our favourite flavour of Android – less cluttered than Samsung’s One UI and prettier to boot.

Google has made the software more customisable than ever thanks to tons of wallpaper options, including an AI wallpaper maker so you can have a completely unique, AI generated look to your phone. You can pick the colour palette of app icons, menus, and the whole system far beyond what Apple will let you do with an iPhone. The Pixel feels very personal, which we love.

It’s our favourite flavour of Android – less cluttered than Samsung’s One UI and prettier to boot

Though not every country gets it, in the UK the Pixel can use the clever Call Screen feature where you can get the phone to screen calls for you, using an AI generated voice to ask them why they are calling, with the transcript shown on screen so you can decide whether to pick up the phone. It’s handy if you get a lot of spam calls.

The Pixel also has Live Translate, a feature in the Google Translate app that can translate a live conversation between people speaking two different languages. The Tensor chip does this very fast, as fast as it can transcribe a conversation in the Recorder app, too. We used the transcription feature in Google Docs to dictate entire articles – it’s that good.

Best of all, Google is promising seven years of Android and security updates for the Pixel 8, meaning it’ll be supported in 2030. Whether or not the phone’s hardware would have ground to a halt then is another matter, but it’s great to see, and about time Google – the maker of Android – had the best Android software support on the market.

Google Pixel 8 cases

The official Google Pixel 8 cases (Image: Google)

Price

The Google Pixel 8 costs £699 with 128GB storage or £759 with 256GB. That’s a solid price that undercuts the £799 iPhone 15 and £849 Samsung Galaxy S23.

You can buy it from Google, Currys, Argos, John Lewis, and Amazon.

Verdict

After a shaky few years, Google has landed upon a winning formula with the Pixel 8. It’s finally a mature, refined smartphone with few flaws – slow charging and the lack of telephoto for zoom photography are basically it, aside from the price creep from last year. But Google still undercuts main rivals Apple and Samsung to offer a phone with longer software support.

The main camera is outstanding for still photos, which all look incredible on the excellent, bright OLED screen. Battery life is solid, the build quality is top notch and the design is distinctive. Some of the AI image editing is a bit creepy and falls flat, but you can ignore it – face unblurring and amazingly accurate on-device transcription are the sorts of things that make the Pixel 8 a superlative smartphone.

If you want a smaller sized phone with flagship level specs and camera, this is the one to buy.

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