If you are looking into the Pixel family, you are probably into that pure Android experience, as Google intended it. However, over time, the OS pre-loaded on Pixel phones comes with some exclusive features only for Pixel users. This is still true in 2023 as the company announced the duo with new functionalities.
Perhaps one of the most important bits during the announcement was Google's commitment to long-term support for this year's Pixel 8 family. The two handsets will receive major OS updates and security updates for the next 7 years. That's more than any other smartphone maker on the market. Even Apple's cap is 5 years. Google also assured that it will provide spare parts for its phones for that long as well, because software updates don't mean much if you can't change a broken screen.
As before, Google strongly emphasizes the software experience as a whole. While the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro won't surprise you with some ground-breaking and flashy features, they will potentially make your life easier, as long as you live in the right country. Just like its predecessors, the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro are the true definition of a smartphone as they offer clever features like call screening, real-time translation and a powerful image editing tool. All of these features are possible thanks to Google's improved NPU accelerating AI-related tasks. Keep in mind, that some features require persistent internet connection as some of the AI-related features are offloaded to Google's cloud computing. But before we dive into the "smart features", let's see if there are any major changes to Android 14 as a whole.
There's no significant change over Android 13 in terms of overall look and UI design. If you are used to stock Android, you will feel right at home. The lock screen, home screen, notification shade, quick toggles, recent apps and the app drawer all remain unchanged. Except for this tiny little detail - the notification shade now has a list of apps running in the background, which could be useful for tracking apps ruining your battery life.
However, Google is changing the way you can customize the UI. For instance, the lock screen is now much more customizable. You can set different clock styles and change the shortcuts that appear at the bottom corners on the left and right.
With the new generative AI features, creating images is easier than ever and a new feature allows you to create your own unique high-quality wallpapers. The system menu offers 12 main styles to work with and endless prompt combinations of words and colors.
Some language and region-related improvements are also at hand, with Android 14 allowing you to choose a said regional language but still use a different measurement system, date and week formats, for example. Let's say you are a European living in the US. You can still select US as your main region but use the Euro-style measurement system. Language selection on per app basis is also possible now.
Although Google doesn't emphasize much on those, the tech giant is also bringing some under-the-hood changes. Background management of apps, foreground services, user-initiated downloads and the internal broadcast system are all being managed in differently in pursuit of better efficiency and longer battery life. Still, we wouldn't expect any noticeable changes as these are minor improvements to the OS.
Google has been focusing on improving privacy and security for the last couple of Android iterations and Android 14 is no different. Perhaps the biggest impact is on older apps. Going forward, Android won't support apps developed for Android 5.1 Lollipop and older. So, old apps and games that haven't been updated in a while will stop working on your new Android 14 phone.
Other notable changes to Android 14 include lossless audio support when using wired headphones and 10-bit HDR handling of images, so JPGs will retain more information out of the sensor and will be supported on Android 14 devices.
The updated NPU enables real-time, system-level translation. The Live Translate works in most apps and languages when it's written text. However, language support is significantly limited in interpreter mode. This is understandable because the AI algorithm requires more resources and better language recognition when natural human speech is involved.
The interpreter mode is perhaps the most interesting feature of Live Translate as it can translate a live conversation between two people, as long as they speak the supported languages. The transcription can later be used to be translated into more languages.
Messaging, on the other hand, is pretty straightforward. Once you receive a text message from someone in a different language, the system automatically detects it and offers a translation. The AI can also help you write messages in certain style.
The Call screening feature was introduced last year and Google says the new chip makes the experience better and faster. For instance, the Google Assistant can take a call for you, understand the context of the conversation and offer quick responses. It's a pretty neat functionality if you are on the go and don't have time to engage in a full conversation. Call screening also works when calling businesses requiring you to select options from a menu using the dial pad. The assistant will transcribe all options, which the robot lists on the screen, and let you choose. No more guessing and remembering options from the voice menu. The dialer will even suggest calling at another time if you are calling the business at a busy time.
Other AI-based features include the ability to transcribe a whole real-life conversation with speaker labels, even if the phone is in your pocket. It's a built-in function of the audio recorder app. It works really well for English speakers, and it might come in handy to journalists or people often making voice memos. There's also a search function inside the app that would help you find certain parts of a conversation. The new transcriber is more powerful than before - it's faster and removes all the "umms" and "uuhs" from your speech and records only real words.
The AI can also extract text and images on the go. In the recent apps menu, you will find two buttons - one for screenshot and one called "Select". Once you tap it, you can select, copy, share or select text from the screen, even if it's an image. You can even extract images using this feature. Interestingly, the selection also works in the default recent apps menu with a tap-and-hold action.
Additionally, Google's assistant can summarize a whole article into a few bullet points when opening an article in Chrome. This is seemingly Google's Bard-powered feature, but we couldn't make it work in our region.
Lastly, the more powerful AI algorithm is now ported to Google Photos. And no, we are not talking about the object eraser or the background blur features that come with the Google One subscription. Under the Edit menu in Photos, there's now an additional button for the so-called Magic Editor. It offers more advanced functionalities than the standard Edit. You can remove objects that are not human, move them around, change the sky, etc. The editor will offer three variants to choose from, but you can generate more if you don't like those. You can also remove background noise from videos, which works surprisingly well in some scenarios.
All in all, the software feels buttery-smooth with no hiccups and has tons of smarts for you to play with. Unfortunately, most of the features weren't available in our region, so we had trouble trying them out, so keep that in mind when buying a Pixel as some functionalities won't be available in your region or language. And to finish on a high note, we really liked the haptics on the device, and there's a noticeable improvement in the fingerprint reader's performance - it's now faster and more accurate.
This year, the Google Tensor G3 core sits behind the wheel of both handsets, the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro. It's now based on Samsung's 4nm manufacturing process as opposed to last year's 5nm, which, in theory, means slightly better efficiency and lower thermals. Arguably the most interesting bit about this SoC is that it incorporates a nona-core (9-core) CPU.
The CPU package consists of 1+4+4 core clusters. The main core is Cortex-X3 clocked at 3.0 GHz, followed by 4x Cortex-A715 cores ticking at 2.45 GHz and 4x Cortex-A510 cores running at 2.45 GHz are used for not-so-demanding tasks to save on some power. A new Immoralis-G715s MC10 GPU replaces the older Mali-G710 MP7, promising improved graphics performance.
The chip also boasts Google's Titan M2 security chip and new NPU for AI-related tasks. The latter handles the real-time translation features and the call screening features we mentioned earlier.
Memory-wise, the Pixel 8 is quite modest. It comes in only two variants - 8GB/128GB and 8GB/256GB. We would argue that given the Pixel 8's caliber, it should start at 256GB and offer a 512GB option as well, especially since there's no microSD card slot.
Now, let's take a look at the benchmarks.
From where we stand, there is some good and bad news. The good news is that the Tensor G3 is indeed measurably more powerful than its predecessor, making the Pixel 8 series faster in all kinds of tasks - CPU and GPU-intensive workloads. There's an especially big difference in the GPU department. The bad news is the Tensor G3 SoC still drags behind its competition.
Pixel phones have never been a true powerhouse and Google has often stressed that it tries to optimize its devices instead of ramping up performance. However, it doesn't sit well with us to see the Tensor G3 being outperformed by last year's Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 and by such a big margin.
In pretty much all tests, the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro outperform only last year's Pixel 7 family. There's a small exception for the Pixel 8, which pulls ahead in the onscreen tests due to its lower resolution.
Keep in mind, though, that if high-performance gaming isn't on top of your priority list, the Pixel 8 will do a great job in day-to-day tasks. The device performs excellently in non-synthetic benchmark scenarios.
Sustained load, on the other hand, might be a more relevant issue to look into. Previous Pixel generations have failed this test, but somehow, the Pixel 8 family is even worse at sustaining the CPU's frequency for long periods of time.
Shortly after we started the 60-minute long test, the CPU started throttling in the first few minutes. The system managed to maintain about 80% of the CPU's theoretical performance for not more than 15 minutes before losing it completely. The CPU throttled down to 60% and it wasn't able to recover. The CPU's performance hovered around 70% for most of the time.
It seems like Google wasn't able to deliver on its promise for improved efficiency and thermals thanks to the more advanced manufacturing process and design.