Google Pixel 8 Pro first impressions

I got to spend some time with the new Google Pixel 8 Pro ahead of its launch, and the new premium flagship is impressive, though very similar to last year’s model. The back glass is matte in a first for the Pixel Pro lineup, but the phone otherwise resembles its predecessor on the outside almost exactly. Inside, there are some meaningful upgrades, however — including to Pixel’s industry-leading camera system.

It’s hard to properly test out camera upgrades within the confines of a hands-on testing area, and this one in particular had really difficult lighting with a heady mix of bright warm artificial and ample natural lighting competing to throw off any efforts at decent white balance. Even so, the pictures I was able to take with the new cameras, which include a much-improved new 48 megapixel ultrawide lens, a 50 megapixel main wide (24mm equivalent) lens and a 48 megapixel 5x telephoto, looked great on the device and seem to represent a decent bump, even if you’re already using last year’s model.

Google PIxel 8 Pro being held, showing the rear camera array

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

Upgrades on the software side this year include a slew of new manual “Pro” controls for those who want to tweak capture particulars in more specific ways, as well as improvements to skin tone accuracy, and the new “Best Take” feature that lets you swap out individual faces in a group photo so you can, for example, make sure everyone is looking at the camera or smiling even if you don’t have a single frame where that’s true for everyone at once. This looks like a very neat feature, but I wasn’t able to properly test it in the demo environment, so it’ll have to wait for the full review for more details on how well that works. Magic Eraser, which lets you automatically remove elements of the photo, did work great in my brief testing, though that’s been true for a while now on Pixel phones.

Another curious new feature that you’ll find the hardware for around back on the camera bump is a built-in temperature sensor. It works with an included thermometer app, and its purpose is… to take the temperature of things? It’s definitely a bit of a wild swing for a smartphone, since it’s not tied to any particular health or photographic system application. In the onboarding flow when you open the app, it points out that accuracy may vary and that it works best within two inches of whatever surface you’re looking to measure, and that it works only for surface temps and not for internal. There’s also a material selection prompt to help improve accuracy.

I tried it out on a few different surfaces, including another person’s forehead (it’s explicitly not designed for body temp readings, note) and it seemed to be within a rough range of what I’d expect. It’s hard to gauge since I don’t actually know the temperature of most things, but for a forehead for instance, it read 88.5 degrees F which is shy of the average healthy body temp, but quite close.

[gallery ids="2609807,2609785,2609782,2609783,2609781,2609784"]

One suggested use Google had for this was checking the temp of your baby formula if you’re a new parent, but tellingly there was not really any “or…” added examples. It could be a neat party trick, but definitely an odd choice for a hardware add-on unless it’s setting up something I can’t really foresee down the road.

The 6.7-inch OLED display on the device now goes all the way from 1 to 120 Hz (last year’s model was capped at 10 Hz on the low end) in terms of refresh speed, and it’s a “Super Actua” display, which is Google’s branding for a screen that gets really bright. It can handle up to 1,600 nits in HDR mode, and up to 2,400 nits outdoors in direct sun, which beats last year’s max brightness by 600 nits for HDR and by 900 nits for outdoor use. That’s also something that was hard to test out in the demo room, but that we’ll be looking at closely for our full review.

[gallery ids="2609457,2609456,2609455,2609451,2609450,2609449"]

Google has also upgraded the glass covering the screen to Corning Gorilla Glass Victus 2, a second-generation version of the glass that protected the first that should offer enhanced durability. I did not drop or attempt to scratch the glass in the demo space.

Overall, the Pixel 8 Pro feels like a premium quality smartphone that’s pleasant to hold because of the rounded edges. The polished aluminum sides feel grippy, and the new matte glass back looks great in all colorways and also feels good in the hand.

First impressions are that Google has taken a very iterative approach to this year’s model, but the upgraded camera specs and the new Tensor G3 processor that powers the Pixel 8 Pro look to be where a lot of the benefits of upgrading lie, so we’re eager to find out what those are capable of in writing the full review.

Read more about Google's 2023 Pixel Event on TechCrunch