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Google Pixel 8 Pro Review: Close, But Not Quite There

The Google Pixel 8 Pro, with its impressive array of features, approaches the crown of flagship smartphones but doesn't quite capture it

Pixel 8 pro screen

The Google Pixel smartphone line has always been a bit like the underdog protagonist in a coming-of-age movie. Since its humble beginnings in 2016, the Pixel has gradually matured with each new iteration, slowly gaining confidence and skills but not quite ready to sit with the cool kids.

With the Pixel 8 Pro, our valiant hero now stands on the cusp of adulthood, boosted by inner strength yet still bearing a few remnants of adolescence. The polished aluminum and matte glass exterior exude more refinement, while the rear camera array sports an additional telephoto lens to flex its skills. Smooth 120Hz display? Check. Latest Tensor G3 chip? Present. Even battery life has beefed up to provide daily endurance. But peer closer, and you’ll spot areas where the Pixel 8 Pro hasn’t fully matured – slower charging, no microSD card slot, inconsistent new AI features. However, like any good coming-of-age story, it’s the journey that shapes our character. Google seems to recognize that reliable software and innovative AI matter more than flashy hardware alone. The Pixel 8 Pro may not claim the prom king title just yet, but it oozes quiet confidence and charm. Google is betting that substance wins over style in the end.

Design

On the outside, the Pixel 8 Pro sports a design that feels familiar yet refined compared to its predecessors. Google sticks to the iconic camera bar that stretches across the phone’s back, a hallmark design for the Pixel line. But the camera bump protrudes slightly more to accommodate the new telephoto lens. While the bump may irk some, it ensures the phone lays flat when placed on tables.

Google also tweaked the Pixel 8 Pro’s frame to feel more comfortable in hand. The corners are now more rounded compared to previous models, eliminating any sharp edges that may dig into palms when gripped firmly. The aluminum rail feeling smooth under fingertips provides a premium touch. Google offers two color options – a staid Obsidian black and eye-catching Bay blue. The blue variant especially pops with its satin finish, a welcome change from the fingerprint magnet glass backs of the past.

While the 6.7-inch size may prove unwieldy for some, the Pixel 8 Pro feels well-balanced and not excessively heavy at 212 grams. The matte glass back provides enough traction to avoid slippage. Of course, users will still want to outfit their phone in a protective case. But that refined matte texture aligned with the polished camera bar make the Pixel 8 Pro’s design feel more high-end than its predecessors. Google kept changes minimal, but meaningful.

Pixel 8 pro
The Pixel 8 Pro may not claim the prom king title just yet but it oozes quiet confidence and charm

Display

The Pixel 8 Pro’s display immediately wows with its sheer luminosity, hitting an impressive 1600 nits of typical brightness and 2400 nits peak. That’s a significant upgrade from the 1000 to 1600 nits of previous Pixel generations. Even in harsh direct sunlight, the OLED panel remains easily viewable.

Not only does that brightness excel outdoors, but it makes colors really pop indoors too. Thanks to the vibrant OLED technology, blacks look satisfyingly inky. Google also upped the Pixel 8 Pro’s default resolution to QHD+ (3120 x 1440), so images and videos appear extra sharp. The pixel density measures a dense 512 pixels per inch. While the 6.7 inches may seem oversized for some, it provides an immersive canvas for streaming movies or gaming.

Smooth animations really complete the display’s premium experience. The LTPO screen can adjust its refresh rate from 1Hz to 120Hz adaptively, unlike the Pixel 8’s 60Hz-120Hz range. That means buttery smooth scrolling when you need it, and battery savings when you don’t. All in all, the Pixel 8 Pro’s display dazzles from its stellar brightness to silky animations. It’s a panel that can hang with any 2023 Android flagship. Some small bezels remain, but the experience brims with vibrance.

Camera

The Pixel 8 Pro comes equipped with triple rear cameras – a first for a Pixel phone. The star of the show remains the 50MP wide angle main sensor, but now it’s joined by a 48MP telephoto lens with 5x optical zoom and a 48MP ultrawide lens. That versatile array allows the Pixel 8 Pro to adapt to virtually any photo scenario.

As with past Pixels, the real magic lies in Google’s computational photography software and AI. Features like Magic Eraser make distractions in shots disappear with a simple tap. For portraits, the Pixel 8 Pro can artfully blur backgrounds to highlight subjects, applying styles like black and white selectively. The Pixel 8 Pro even snaps quicker than before, capturing crisp images of moving subjects that look blurry on other phones.

Low light photos showcase Google’s imaging expertise, combining Night Sight with the brighter f/1.85 main lens. Nighttime shots illuminate with impressive clarity and detail. The Pixel 8 Pro holds its own against top camera phones, though some may still prefer Samsung’s or Apple’s color science. While the hardware improvements are welcome, the Pixel remains defined by its smart software. Folks who rely on the camera’s intelligence to capture great looking photos consistently will find an ideal companion in the Pixel 8 Pro.

Pixel 8 pro

Software and performance

The Pixel 8 Pro comes loaded with Android 13 out of the box, along with Google’s suite of apps like Maps, YouTube, and Photos. Google’s version of Android continues to be clean, intuitive, and devoid of duplicate apps or bloatware. Setting up the phone is quick, and the interface is smooth and responsive.

New software features take advantage of the Pixel 8 Pro’s AI capabilities. For example, Direct My Call lets Google Assistant handle phone menu prompts for you. There’s also more contextual suggestions based on your habits, like reminding you to silence your phone when you enter a movie theater. Google promises 5 years of security updates for added peace of mind.

Powering all of this is the latest Google Tensor G3 chip coupled with 12GB of RAM. Performance is snappy and reliable, handling demanding games and apps without hiccups or noticeable warmups. The Tensor G3 strikes a good balance between speed and efficiency. While raw benchmarks don’t top charts, real-world usage remains consistently fast. Between the streamlined software and capable chip, the Pixel 8 Pro delivers smooth all-around performance perfect for power users on the go.

Drawbacks

While the Pixel 8 Pro gets a lot right, it’s not without some flaws holding it back from being the perfect Android flagship.

One drawback that carries over from previous Pixels is the lack of expandable storage. With no microSD card slot, users are stuck with the internal storage tiers offered. The base 128GB may feel too limiting for power users who install lots of apps and games or capture high-res photos and video. But the 256GB model can be had for a small premium, so that shouldn’t be a problem. 

The Pixel 8 Pro’s wired charging speeds also feel dated compared to the competition. Despite supporting 30W USB-PD 3.0 PPS charging, the Pixel 8 Pro lags behind phones like the OnePlus 10 Pro and Galaxy S22 Ultra which can hit 65W. A full charge takes nearly 2 hours, and even a 30 minute top-up only takes you to 50%. As users increasingly rely on fast charging for convenience, Google’s slower speeds feel out of touch.

Some of the Tensor G3’s AI capabilities also seem gimmicky rather than revolutionary. And the Magic Eraser tool, while impressive, may not prove that practical on a daily basis. There’s a sense Google is still figuring out how to fully bake AI into the experience.

Finally, while the Pixel 8 Pro checks all the flagship boxes on paper, the actual experience doesn’t feel as refined or prestige as an iPhone or Galaxy. Little touches like the slow charging, lack of Bluetooth multipoint, and no seamless ecosystem tie-ins make the device feel more utilitarian.

Unboxed Verdict

So what’s the verdict on the Google Pixel 8 Pro? For Android enthusiasts who prioritize software, camera performance, and intelligent assistance over premium hardware, the Pixel 8 Pro represents a compelling option. The improved processor, displays, and camera builds on previous Pixel strengths. But the phone still makes some compromises compared to other pricier flagships. If you want the absolute fastest performance, room for storage expansion, and a truly premium end-to-end experience, Samsung and Apple still have the edge. But the Pixel 8 Pro comes closest to matching those frontrunners while undercutting their price. Google still has some polish to add before the Pixel can claim the prom king title. But its quiet confidence and charm make it a serious contender nonetheless. You can purchase it on Amazon starting at $799.

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