Google’s Pixel 8 brings new camera tricks, better display and a thermometer

When it comes to hardware releases, Google zigs where the competition zags. Leaks are a virtual inevitability at this point. I know that, you know that and Google certainly knows that. Rather than fighting them, however, the company has begun to embrace the chaos, straight up announcing features and revealing images ahead of the product’s release.

After years of scrambling for market share, it’s certainly not the worst idea in the world. It’s a good way to keep generating headlines in the weeks leading up to your big product announcement.

This time out, Google has managed to keep the Pixel 8 in the news cycle, through big events from Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Meta and, naturally, TechCrunch. At today’s big hardware event in Manhattan, the company effectively confirmed all the things we thought we knew about its latest Pixel devices. As has been the case for some time, most of the improvements on board here revolve around imaging, screen and software.

At 6.1 inches, the Pixel 8’s display is a fraction of an inch smaller than its predecessor, while the Pixel 8 Pro retains its 6.8 inches. The 8’s resolution is the same as before at 1080 x 2400, while the 8 Pro actually loses a bit of Pixel density from 512 to 489 ppi at 1344 x 2992. The biggest benefit to the new Actua display (or Super Actua, in the case of the Pro) is extreme brightness. The 8 peaks out at 2,000 nits and the 8 Pro at 2,400. Both screens have a 120hz peak refresh rate.

Image Credits: Google

Google is touting the new tech as readable in direct sun — it’s not a feature we’ve seen too many phone makers go after, but anyone who’s ever used a smartphone outside is aware of the issue. In spite of the massive brightness bump, the company is still touting “Beyond 24-hour” battery life, owing to both some software advances and slightly larger batteries. The 8 goes from 4355 to 4485mAh and the 8 Pro from 5000 to 5050mAh.

If you’re really hard up on the charging front, flipping on Extreme Battery Saver mode can get you upwards of 72 hours on a charge — though you’ll naturally be missing out on some features.

Let’s talk imaging. The Pixel 7 Pro had a great camera system. It still ranks No. 7 on DXOMARK’s camera score rankings, while the 7 is at No. 15. That’s a strong showing for nearly one-year-old devices — especially in the case of the $599 Pixel 7. Google has been a longtime believer in the power of computational photography. The company put the cart before the horse a few generations back when it claimed that a single camera sensor was enough when paired with the right software and chip. There’s a good chance that will be entirely true in the not too distant future, but we’re still not quite there.

Image Credits: Google

Mercifully, the last several generations have sported camera hardware sufficient to execute Google’s lofty computational photographic ambitions. The Pixel 8 sports a pair of rear-facing cameras: a 50-megapixel wide with 2x “optical quality” zoom, coupled with a 12-megapixel ultrawide with autofocus. The 8 Pro, meanwhile, maintains the 50 megapixel sensor and swaps the second for a 48-megapixel ultrawide and adds in a 48-megapixel telephoto with 5x optical zoom. Both feature a 10.5-megapeixel front camera, though only the 8 Pro has autofocus.

Google continues to build out an impressive array of camera software. Joining Magic and Magic Editor is Best Take, which lets you combine the best bits from multiple photos. The 8 Pro is also getting Night Sight for video and Video Boost, which actually performs photo processing at an off-device server to enhance HDR+ and color grading. That’s off by default, mind. You don’t need to send every single photo you shoot through the process. The device also gets Audio Magic Eraser, which removes background noise from videos.

Here’s an odd one: thermometer. Both the 8 and 8 Pro are getting the ability to scan temperatures with the device.

Both versions of the 8 sport Google’s new Tensor G3 chip. The chip enables a lot of the above software features, along with things like improved Call Screener. The company writes, “Since Google Tensor was introduced with Pixel 6, its AI capabilities have dramatically increased — the biggest machine learning model on Pixel 8 is 10X more complex compared to Pixel 6.”

Image Credits: Google

The phone’s design maintains the aesthetic introduced with the Pixel 6. Any why not? It’s a good-looking phone with some nice touches like the rear camera bar. There have been some subtle adjustments, here, however. The corners are more rounded and the Pro’s camera bar contains all three lenses in the same cutout, dropping the second one from the Pixel 7. The Pixel 8’s smaller screen means the phone is a bit narrower than its predecessor, while the 8 Pro maintains the same size. Google apparently wanted a bit more daylight between the devices.

Both devices come with seven years of Feature Drops and Android security updates. Security has also been ramped up via Tensor’s M2 security chip. Face Unlock has also been improved, and can now be applied to things like payments and app sign-ins. For those who don’t want to use their face, the under-display fingerprint radar is sticking around.

Both devices are up for preorder starting today and go on sale October 12. The Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro start at $699 and $999, respectively — in both cases that’s a full $100 more than their predecessors. Mid-tier pricing has long been a major selling point, and while these are by no means exorbitant, Google is running a risk of abandoning an important distinguishing factor.

Read more about Google's 2023 Pixel Event on TechCrunch

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