Pixel 8 Pro review: the telephoto camera won me over
Product test

Pixel 8 Pro review: the telephoto camera won me over

Jan Johannsen
6.11.2023

Making an exception to my no-work-on-holiday rule, I took the Pixel 8 Pro with me on vacation. Our trip to Crete leaves me with the impression that Google’s new smartphone is virtually flawless.

Over the course of two weeks, the Pixel 8 Pro faces up to the challenge of holiday life – photos, long excursions, bright sunshine and the Greek language – and handles it all masterfully. Its biggest downside is the AI feeling the need to constantly remind me of the cold, wet weather in Hamburg.

Google Pixel 8 Pro (128 GB, Obsidian, 6.70", SIM + eSIM, 50 Mpx, 5G)
Smartphones
799.–

Google Pixel 8 Pro

128 GB, Obsidian, 6.70", SIM + eSIM, 50 Mpx, 5G

Google Pixel 8 Pro (128 GB, porcelain, 6.70", SIM + eSIM, 50 Mpx, 5G)
Smartphones
799.–

Google Pixel 8 Pro

128 GB, porcelain, 6.70", SIM + eSIM, 50 Mpx, 5G

Google Pixel 8 Pro (128 GB, Bay, 6.70", SIM + eSIM, 50 Mpx, 5G)
Smartphones
799.–

Google Pixel 8 Pro

128 GB, Bay, 6.70", SIM + eSIM, 50 Mpx, 5G

Google Pixel 8 Pro (128 GB, Obsidian, 6.70", SIM + eSIM, 50 Mpx, 5G)
799.–

Google Pixel 8 Pro

128 GB, Obsidian, 6.70", SIM + eSIM, 50 Mpx, 5G

Google Pixel 8 Pro (128 GB, porcelain, 6.70", SIM + eSIM, 50 Mpx, 5G)
799.–

Google Pixel 8 Pro

128 GB, porcelain, 6.70", SIM + eSIM, 50 Mpx, 5G

Google Pixel 8 Pro (128 GB, Bay, 6.70", SIM + eSIM, 50 Mpx, 5G)
799.–

Google Pixel 8 Pro

128 GB, Bay, 6.70", SIM + eSIM, 50 Mpx, 5G

Last year, the Pixel 7 Pro won me over with its zoom and macro mode. So, where can we see improvements in the Pixel 8 Pro?

Google’s announcement, as well as my team’s first impressions, lead me to expect enhancements in three areas in particular: the display, camera and AI.

The Pixel 8 Pro has no reason to hide itself away.
The Pixel 8 Pro has no reason to hide itself away.
Source: Jan Johannsen

The display has got rid of its rounded edges, which I personally prefer. It’s also significantly brighter, which proves advantageous on sunny Mediterranean beaches. The cameras have larger apertures and more pixels for ultra-wide-angle shots. Meanwhile, the telephoto camera has seven millimetres less focal length.

For Google, the AI, as well as the software package as a whole, have become crucial features in setting the Pixel apart from other smartphones. So, as you’d expect, the AI tries to give me a helping hand with tasks such as taking photos. While it’s pretty successful with translations, its weather reports could use some work.

Another convincing argument in favour of the Pixel 8 Pro is that it’s always first to receive Android updates. Not only that, but Google promises to deliver seven years of software updates. Seeing as I’m unable to stay on the island for that long, I’ll just have to trust Google on that promise.

Display: flat and bright

The weather in Crete is unusual for this time of year. A two-week spell without rain and just half a day of cloudy skies lead islanders to grow concerned about water. As for my review, the unseasonable weather poses a major challenge for the brightness of the display. After all, I want to be able to see the screen clearly, even when the sun’s shining.

The Pixel 8 Pro doesn’t disappoint in this respect.Whether I’m checking the sat nav during a hike, taking snaps of the rocky coastline or watching the Ladies Bowl (link in German) from the beach, the sun is never brighter than the screen.

The super-bright Pixel 8 Pro display doesn’t have rounded edges.
The super-bright Pixel 8 Pro display doesn’t have rounded edges.
Source: Jan Johannsen

Google has increased the brightness of the Pixel 8 Pro’s OLED display to 1,600 nits. That’s 600 more than the Pixel 7 Pro, even surpassing its peak brightness of 1,500 nits. The 8 Pro can actually hit a peak brightness of 2,400 nits, though it only manages this when displaying HDR content.

Even screens with a figure as low as 600 nits are considered easy to read in sunlight. Nevertheless, during last year’s review of the Pixel 7 Pro, I’d often instinctively position the phone so that the display wouldn’t be in direct sunlight. I don’t do that with the Pixel 8 Pro.

High brightness drains the battery

With a capacity of 5,050 mAh, the Pixel 8 Pro’s battery has been left virtually unchanged. The 50 mAh increase compared to its predecessor is negligible. Having such a bright display puts the battery under extra strain. As a result, the 8 Pro performs poorly in PCMark Work 3.0’s battery test, lasting 6 hours and 21 minutes at full brightness. Meanwhile, the Pixel Fold has 9 hours and 24 minutes of battery life, while the [Nothing Phone (2)](/page/nothing-phone-2-im-test-nicht-das-beste-smartphone-aber-das-coolste-28724 even holds out for 10 hours and 39 minutes.

Mind you, this is an unfair comparison. During everyday use, the Pixel 8 Pro doesn’t need to be set to full brightness all the time. Even on a sunny vacation, the battery gets me through the day – including numerous sat nav checks and lots of photos. I took a power bank with me on excursions to be on the safe side, but I never needed to use it.

When it comes to cable charging, the Pixel 8 Pro is slightly faster than its predecessor. The smartphone takes in up to 30 watts instead of the previous 23 watts. Since the battery never completely runs out, 30 minutes of charging provides it with a decent amount of juice. After 60–90 minutes, the device is fully charged. As is the case with the other devices, the last few percentage points of battery take longer to charge. The phone boasts wireless charging at 23 W.

Camera: not just good for holiday snaps

When it comes to holiday snaps (and other photos too), I’m bowled over by the Pixel 8 Pro’s image quality. The photos look good, no matter which camera I use. They’re sharp and reveal numerous details, while the software delivers vibrant, beautiful colours. Share-ready photos at the touch of a button. I don’t need to use the new Pro mode during my holiday.

The line-up of three rear cameras.
The line-up of three rear cameras.
Source: Jan Johannsen

Set against the 7 Pro, it’s evident Google’s made some minor changes. The Pixel 8 Pro’s main camera has been given a larger aperture of f/1.7 (previously f/1.9) and a multi-zone, laser detect autofocus. The focal length of the telephoto camera has been reduced from 120 to 113 millimetres (35 mm equivalent). Even so, Google maintains the camera has a 5x zoom. Technically, however, it’s only 4.52 times the magnification of the main camera.

On paper, the ultra-wide-angle camera is where the most significant changes have been made. Its sensor has quadrupled its resolution to 48 megapixels. At the same time, the size of the individual pixels has been reduced, now measuring in at 0.8 µm instead of 1.25 µm. Google has increased the Pixel 8 Pro’s aperture from f/2.2 to f/2.0.

As soon as you take a shot, the Pixel 8 Pro’s AI subtly assists you, enhancing image quality as it sees fit. Most of the time, it gets things right. Google offers extra features for editing. This gives me the option of re-colouring the sky, zooming in and out on objects and selecting each person’s most flattering facial expression from a series of group shots. However, I didn’t try any of this out on holiday. If you’re interested in these features, you can check out these articles:

  • Product test

    Google Pixel 8: the most exciting features on trial

    by Michelle Brändle

  • Product test

    Google Pixel 8 review – I don’t miss the Pro features

    by Lorenz Keller

DSLR who?

The telephoto camera is a good argument in favour of splashing out on the Pro version of the Pixel 8. It gives you an additional focal length and more room for manoeuvre when taking photos. As a result, you don’t have to lug a bulky SLR camera and its lenses with you on holiday.

The telephoto camera in action.
The telephoto camera in action.
Source: Jan Johannsen
For comparison, this is how the main camera captures the same scene.
For comparison, this is how the main camera captures the same scene.
Source: Jan Johannsen

There are various scenarios where I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot with the telephoto camera’s fivefold zoom. Bringing out the details of the scenery. Playing with the depth of field. Zooming in on animals, I can’t get close enough to with the main camera alone. Not only that, but I have much more flexibility in my choice of motif.

Without the Pixel 8 Pro’s telephoto camera, I couldn’t have got such a good close-up of this grasshopper.
Without the Pixel 8 Pro’s telephoto camera, I couldn’t have got such a good close-up of this grasshopper.
Source: Jan Johannsen

Although I’ve been singing the praises of the Pixel 8 Pro, I do have to mention that all this applies to the Pixel 7 Pro’s telephoto camera too. When I pit both cameras against each other, I can’t discern any differences in their level of detail. Though I can see some minor variations in colour rendering, there’s no clear winner.

The Pixel 8 Pro offers a maximum zoom of 30x. Once the magnification reaches 5x, digital zoom kicks in, subsequently resulting in quality losses. Even so, it’s not completely useless. For instance, with the naked eye, I wasn’t able to tell that this vessel off of Triopetra was a fishing boat.

The image quality when using the 30x digital zoom may not be great, but I can see the fishing boat better than with the naked eye.
The image quality when using the 30x digital zoom may not be great, but I can see the fishing boat better than with the naked eye.
Source: Jan Johannsen

The ultra-wide-angle camera packs more into your photos

While I’m on vacation, I don’t really notice the ultra-wide-angle camera’s higher resolution. This is partly down to the fact I’d only have got full resolution in Pro mode. In Automatic mode, the Pixel 8 Pro uses pixel binning and delivers 12-megapixel images. I don’t spot any differences in the photo quality.

Pixel binning combines multiple pixels into one larger pixel. As a result, more light is captured per pixel. The file size is reduced and there’s less image noise per pixel. The flipside of this, however, is that it reduces resolution.
I can see minimal differences in colour rendering, but none in the level of detail.
I can see minimal differences in colour rendering, but none in the level of detail.
Source: Jan Johannsen

What I do notice is that the Pixel 8 Pro has a slightly wider viewing angle despite having the same nominal focal length. This causes images to look more distorted at the edges.

Does well in darkness

The processing support provided by the camera’s software/AI is most evident at night.Coupled with exposure times of up to six seconds (a circle with a dot inside it shows you the range of movement during long exposure), this results in beautiful photos.

The AI does a good job of capturing the moon shining over the Paximadia Islands.
The AI does a good job of capturing the moon shining over the Paximadia Islands.
Source: Jan Johannsen

Again, the Pixel 7 Pro does well at this too. Even so, the Pixel 8 Pro’s images appear even sharper and more detailed in low lighting, especially without Night mode enabled. Light sources also look less washed out, while a touch extra yellow makes the colours pop more.

It doesn’t have to be pitch black outside for the camera to be challenged. In sunsets, for instance, the contrast between light and dark areas is very high – a situation the Pixel 8 Pro handles like, well, a pro. No need for post-processing.

Forgive me for going into full «live, laugh, love» mode, but the camera captures sunsets beautifully at the touch of a button.
Forgive me for going into full «live, laugh, love» mode, but the camera captures sunsets beautifully at the touch of a button.
Source: Jan Johannsen

Pro mode’s buried away

This is the first time Google has given a Pro model a «Pro» camera mode. However, the manufacturer has done a stellar job of hiding it – I only found it after reading tips posted in the comment section. There are two menu buttons at the bottom of the screen in the camera app. The one on the left takes me to a menu where, under the «Pro» tab, I can set the full resolution and save raw data.

We’re not quite at Pro mode yet.
We’re not quite at Pro mode yet.
Source: Jan Johannsen

The actual Pro mode, however, is found via the button on the right. Once there, I need to side-swipe «Brightness» and «Shadow» to be able to set the white balance, focus, exposure time and light sensitivity. It’s good that this is an option, but I find it less convenient to use than, say, the [Sony Xperia 5 V](/page/sony-xperia-5-v-ein-smartphone-fuer-content-creator-30029. I feel like Google doesn’t want just anybody using it.

AI: oscillates between very helpful and useless

Google has packed the Pixel 8 Pro with AI functions. Some of these features are too commonplace to stand out at all. Others are so unusual that I seldom use them or don’t use them at all. My colleague Michelle has done [a deep dive into these new features]/page/google-pixel-8-serie-die-spannendsten-funktionen-im-test-29947. During my vacation, I made a couple of observations that went beyond image processing.

Out and about with the Babel fish

I don’t speak Greek, but luckily, Crete is accommodating of tourists. I’m able to get by with English, and sometimes even German. Even so, I still have a few moments where I’m confronted with unfamiliar letters, or somebody doesn’t understand me.

The translator feature displays and reads translations aloud.
The translator feature displays and reads translations aloud.
Source: Jan Johannsen

When attempting to get some extra shower gel from housekeeping or buy a thermometer from a pharmacy in a small fishing village, English is a non-starter. Cue the translation feature. I’m able to say what I want directly into the smartphone and it immediately plays a translation. Though I can’t judge the translation quality, it’s good enough for the other person to understand what I need.

Hamburg weather proves inescapable

The AI isn’t infallible. Google Assistant’s live display on the lock and home screens is supposed to remind me of things like appointments and the current weather forecast. You don’t actually need AI for this. A simple location query would be enough to display the right weather data.

What use is the Hamburg weather to me when I’m in Crete?
What use is the Hamburg weather to me when I’m in Crete?
Source: Jan Johannsen

The Pixel 8 Pro, however, shuns this approach. During my vacation, I’m mostly shown the current temperature and rain intensity of Hamburg. The smartphone ignores the fact that I’m on a Greek mobile network, as well as the GPS data having pinpointed my location to Crete for several days. If I tap the weather section, I’m at least given the correct forecast for Agia Galini.

Still, this is a step in the wrong direction. The Pixel 7 Pro, in contrast, got used to new locations within a few hours. Mind you, at least I can tell my friends in Hamburg how much warmer it is where I am.

Make tourists disappear

I also make use of one of the AI’s photo features. My goal is to make the tourists walking through my photo of the Council Building at Fortezza of Rethymno disappear.

Seemingly reading my mind, the magic eraser highlights the two people. This way, I don’t need to circle them by hand. One tap later, they’ve disappeared. It’s only when you directly compare photos or look very closely at the magnification that you notice something’s off in the places where the people once stood.

The AI can never tell what’s actually behind the person or object it’s erased. Its ability to guess what it should fill the deleted space with varies.

Not top-level performance, but still more than enough power

The Pixel 8 Pro contains the third generation of Google’s own chipset, the Tensor G3. With the focus primarily on AI features, top-level performance wasn’t necessarily the manufacturer’s priority. Even so, the G3 is still markedly better than its predecessor, the Tensor G2 in the Pixel 7 Pro. However, Google’s SoC doesn’t come off particularly well in comparison to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 (the successor of which Qualcomm has just [showcased]/page/qualcomms-snapdragon-8-gen-3-kommt-mit-mehr-power-und-besserer-ki-30167) in the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. When it comes to graphics, the interface dictates which GPU performs better. In Vulkan, they’re roughly neck and neck, while the Snapdragon is significantly better in OpenCL.

However, since the Pixel 7 Pro was already more than powerful enough for everyday use, I never found myself wanting more power from the Pixel 8 Pro. Even playing games like Diablo Immortal, I’m very happy with the frame rates.

Fussy Wi-Fi module

There’s one more thing I need to get off my chest. The Pixel 8 Pro seems to be fussy about some networks. While my family’s phones connect seamlessly to the hotel Wi-Fi, the Pixel 8 just gives me error messages. After three days, the phone has a sudden change of heart, deeming the wireless network acceptable after all. The same phenomenon occurs with a second router where I already have a number of connected devices.

Verdict: more than just a holiday fling

The Pixel 8 Pro is yet another outstanding Google smartphone that’s good for more than just vacations. Its camera system is excellent and delivers great images, with the telephoto camera in particular providing a good justification for splashing out on the Pro version. The bright display is a sight to behold, and the performance and battery life are decent. Other plus points include quick access to Android updates and the promise of seven years of updates.

When it comes to the AI features, I’m still slightly torn. Though I like using some of them, there are others I find unnecessary.

The Pixel 8 Pro is good for more than just holidays.
The Pixel 8 Pro is good for more than just holidays.
Source: Jan Johannsen

As for how it measures up to its predecessor? Yes, the Pixel 8 Pro is better than the Pixel 7 Pro. But the differences are so slight that upgrading the last generation was hardly worthwhile. The older your smartphone is, the greater the improvement will be.

If you want a smaller display and are happy to do without the telephoto camera, the Pixel 8 is a cheaper alternative. When my colleague Lorenz reviewed it, he was pleasantly surprised by how little he missed the extra features.

  • Product test

    Google Pixel 8 review – I don’t miss the Pro features

    by Lorenz Keller

Header image: Jan Johannsen

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Jan Johannsen
Content Development Editor
jan.johannsen@galaxus.de

As a primary school pupil, I used to sit in a friend's living room with many of my classmates to play the Super NES. Now I get my hands on the latest technology and test it for you. In recent years at Curved, Computer Bild and Netzwelt, now at Digitec and Galaxus. 


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