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Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro hands-on: Generative AI and a temperature sensor on your phone

Google's latest flagships bring some novel features to smartphones.

Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

After teasing us for weeks with trailers showing off the Pixel 8 series, Google is now ready to give us all the details about its latest flagships. Announced during the company's Made by Google event on Wednesday, the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro look largely the same as their predecessors, with a couple of key differences. The regular Pixel 8 is slightly smaller, which makes it easier to use with one hand. Meanwhile, the Pro model has a new matte finish, upgraded cameras and an intriguing temperature sensor.

Across the Pixel 8 series, we’re also getting the company’s Tensor G3 processor, Assistant improvements and, notably, seven whole years of Android and security updates. So, you might actually be able to hang on to your Pixel flagship for a lot longer than before. Now we’ll just have to wait and see if the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro do enough for you to want to keep them around for years to come.

It’s worth noting up front that, though it’s smaller than before, the standard Pixel 8 starts at $699, which is $100 more than its predecessor. That seems a little counterintuitive, but the slightly smaller display actually refreshes at up to 120Hz now, which is better than the 90Hz last year. Meanwhile, the Pixel 8 Pro costs $999, another $100 increase over the Pixel 7 Pro. You can find a slew of pre-order offers from Google and most carriers to sweeten the deal.

A potentially useful temperature sensor

Of all the changes coming to Google’s flagships, I’m most intrigued by the new temperature sensor on the Pixel 8 Pro. I know, I know. It might seem like a gimmick and I hardly ever use a thermometer in my daily life anyway. But in the stale, tired land of smartphones, it’s a novelty and that also tells me Google is at least trying something new.

The temperature sensor sits below the flash on the Pixel 8 Pro’s camera bar (and to be clear the regular Pixel 8 does not have this). To take a reading, you’ll have to launch the new Temperature app and select the type of object you’re trying to measure. You can choose from “food and organic,” “cast iron,” “plastic and rubber,” “fabric” and more.

For now, Google is waiting on FDA approval to enable the Pixel 8 Pro to take body temperature readings. But nothing is really stopping you from selecting the generic “default” option and pointing the infrared sensor at your forehead. Just know that it’s not the advertised application and that the reading might not be 100 percent accurate.

With the existing app and algorithms, though, you can check the temperature of bath water before putting your child in it or make sure your cast iron pan is hot enough before sticking your steak in it. There are plenty of ways to use the sensor, but most of us have survived this long without carrying a thermometer everywhere, I’m not sure we will suddenly start relying on it. And it’s entirely possible this feature goes the way of the Soli radar that Google introduced on the Pixel 4 (and retired on the Pixel 5).

A medium shot of the blue Pixel 8 Pro, focusing on its camera bar and the temperature sensor in it.
Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Still, at least based on my few attempts at using the Pixel 8 Pro to scan things, the system appears to work. I stuck the sensor within an inch or two of iced water and warm coffee, and within 5 centimeters or 2 inches is recommended for best results (A Google rep cautioned against using the sensor on anything that has steam coming out of it). It took barely a second for the measurements to appear on the app, and the results all seemed accurate. The coffee, which had been sitting out for a while, generally registered at around 97.2 degrees Fahrenheit across my multiple readings, while the iced water came in at 37.4 degrees Fahrenheit. I’ll have to spend more time with a review unit in the real world to know just how much I’ll use this, and whether it’ll affect battery performance.

The Assistant gets better with generative AI

The temperature sensor might be useful in specific scenarios, but the bulk of the updates for the Pixel 8 series is in the Assistant. With generative AI being all the rage this year, it’s no surprise that Google is integrating those capabilities in its phones. On the Pixel 8s, you’ll be able to ask the Assistant to summarize, read aloud and translate articles and web pages. I opened up my iPhone 15 Pro Max hands-on on, long pressed the power button to bring up the Assistant and told it to “Summarize this page.”

The Assistant said “The author reviews the iPhone 15 Pro Max, which has a new zoom lens and a new Action button.” It goes on to explain, in two subsequent bullet points, that my article had said that the Action button is programmable and that the device “has a titanium body and a FineWoven case that is meant to replace leather.”

My inner editor would tweak some of the language there, but the Assistant generally did a good job summarizing my piece. At the bottom, Google asks for feedback on the summary and suggests some follow-up actions with buttons like “About iPhones,” “Who invented the iPhone” and more. If you’ve spent any time playing with chatbots like Bard or Bing AI, this will all feel very familiar.

The Pixel 8 held in mid-air with its screen facing out.
Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

I didn’t actually have to use my voice to ask for a breakdown of my article, by the way. After bringing up the Assistant, the system offers suggested actions like “Summarize,” “Read aloud” “Translate” and “Search screen.” If you want to keep your attention on crossing the road or don’t have time to scan an entire review, the new read aloud tool can be very helpful. I particularly like that when you ask the Assistant to read something out, a box appears with controls for playback speed, skipping ahead or back 10 seconds, as well as a progress bar that you can drag.

At the bottom right of the playback box is a little translate icon — you can not only ask the Assistant to convert articles in foreign languages into one you understand, but it can also read aloud in a supported language, too. I asked for my review to be translated to and read aloud in Mandarin, and the Pixel 8 Pro did so accurately and almost immediately.

One of my favorite features on Pixel phones is Call Screening, which lets you tap the Assistant to figure out who is ringing you and why. With updates coming to the Pixel 8 line, the artificial voice will sound more natural, adding some pauses and nonverbal utterances to seem more human. We saw examples of this when Google first announced Duplex, and while most of us were nervous about the implications of AI that could sound much more human, there are potential advantages here. Most notably, callers are probably less likely to hang up if they think they’re talking to a real person, and you’ll have an easier time asking them questions without picking up the phone.

Close up of the call screening interface on a Pixel 8, showing the transcript of the Assistant answering a call for
Photo by Brian Oh / Engadget

The Assistant can also understand if someone is calling about a package, and will suggest more follow-ups like “Leave by front door” and “I’ll be right there.” During a rehearsed demo with Google’s executives, this worked very well. But when I tried later by masquerading as a delivery person looking for a signature, the Assistant failed to bring up a relevant prompt. I wouldn’t be surprised if the company improves this further over time, and frankly its Call Screening is still better than Apple’s Live Voicemail, which was just released in iOS 17. Google’s implementation allows for greater flexibility and interaction, making it more helpful.

Another one of my favorite Pixel-first tools is the Recorder app, and soon it will be able to provide summaries of your transcripts. If you use Recorder for loads of meetings and interviews, this may help you more quickly identify the chat you were looking for. Based on the demo I saw, it doesn’t provide very detailed recaps, instead offering incredibly high-level bullet points. Reporters like myself will probably still need to spend a lot of time picking out noteworthy quotes.

The Assistant is also supposed to get better at understanding your comments even if you trip up or say things like “uhm” or “er” while talking to it. In my brief experience so far, the system did understand me in spite of some pauses and “uhms,” though I’m not sure if I would ever unlearn the habit of talking very precisely to the Assistant.

A person holding a blue Pixel 8 Pro in front of some pink and white flowers.


I’ve long held that Pixel phones have the best smartphone cameras, but with companies like Apple and Samsung making great strides in their flagships recently, Google’s lead is shrinking. The company was late to shift to multi-sensor setups, relying heavily on its software prowess to make up for lacking hardware in the past. In recent generations, we’ve seen a more balanced approach, with Google introducing slightly sharper cameras, while continuing to update its algorithms to boost clarity and color.

With the Pixel 8 series, we’re seeing more of this two-pronged strategy. The Pixel 8 Pro is getting a sharper 48-megapixel ultrawide camera while the telephoto system’s 48MP sensor is using a lens with an improved f/2.8 aperture but (slightly) wider field of view than last year. Its primary camera has the same 50MP setup as before, though Google says its f/1.68 lens has “2X optical quality” compared to last year’s f/1.85 glass. Meanwhile, the standard Pixel 8’s main camera is the same as the 8 Pro’s, which is slightly better than the Pixel 7’s. Its one other rear sensor is also pretty much identical to the last generation’s.

The hardware might be a small upgrade, but the more significant change lies in the software. Google has redesigned its camera app to make manual controls easier to reach. With the new layout, there are two buttons at the bottom that let you switch between photo and video capture. That’s a little more organized, given that Pixels offer different modes like Action for adding motion blur to your shots.

This redesign also enabled Google to throw in a Pro mode, giving you manual control over settings labeled as brightness, shadow, white balance, as well as capturing stills at the full resolution of 50 megapixels. You’ll have to go into settings to switch on Manual mode, and doing so will turn off the auto lens switching feature.

Side view of the Pixel 8 Pro held up close to some white flowers.
Photo by Brian Oh / Engadget

I discovered this because I was using the Pixel 8 Pro to get super up close with a flower at the demo space, so I could check out the improved Macro focus. But because I had activated Manual mode, the lens wasn’t changing on its own when I pushed the device into the petals. With its sharper ultrawide sensor, the Pixel 8 Pro can get even closer to subjects and still keep focus. This year’s Pro model will work up to 2 centimeters away, while the standard Pixel 8 gets macro support for the first time and has the same capability as the Pixel 7 Pro. That means it can get as close as 3cm.

I didn’t break out a ruler to see how far away the cameras were from the flowers I was shooting, but I was impressed by how much detail the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro managed to capture. I’d have to pit Google’s flagships against Apple’s and Samsung’s in the real world to say if it’s better than the competition, but at least from my hands-on, it seemed effective and fast.

I also checked out the Pixel 8 Pro’s 5x telephoto system by zooming into items at a breakfast buffet about 15 feet away, and was able to read words on the cards identifying the types of milk available. Again, I can’t say how well this compares to Samsung’s Space Zoom or the iPhone 15 Pro Max yet.

Some of the biggest improvements to the Pixel 8’s cameras are in video recording and processing. The main new feature is Video Boost, which will upload your clips to the cloud for enhancement using Google’s more-powerful processors. These include applying HDR+, enhanced color grading and, for the first time, Night Sight Video. In a sample Google showed me, a scene of someone seemingly kicking a ball into a net by themselves in the dark looked so much brighter after Video Boost that I was able to see that there was a second person in the shot.

I’m a bit skeptical about this feature, because it requires you to send a file to Google’s servers and it’s not clear how long it will take for the results to come back. The company said it could be a few hours or longer, depending on the length of the video. It’s also coming later this year and won’t be available at launch, so there’s still some time before we can check it out for ourselves.

The Pixel 8 Pro and Pixel 8 on white stands on a desk with their screens facing out.
Photo by Brian Oh / Engadget

I’m more intrigued, however, by what Google is calling “Audio Magic Eraser.” Just as the Magic Eraser for images can remove photobombers in the background, this new tool can reduce background noise in your videos. I was shown a sample video of a street performer playing on an instrument and a siren blaring by, overpowering the music. After Audio Magic Eraser was applied, the sound of the passing vehicle was noticeably reduced. Though it was not completely eliminated, it was definitely less distracting.

There are plenty of other new features coming to the Pixel 8 series, including an improved Best Take that lets you pick your favorite shot of each person in a group photo. Magic Editor, which was introduced at Google I/O this year, will also be available when the new flagships launch. Finally, the Pixel 8 Pro’s 10.5MP selfie camera is getting autofocus, while the regular Pixel 8 also has a 10.5MP selfie sensor but with fixed focus.

Face unlock, displays and other updates

In addition to cameras, Assistant and the temperature sensor, there are some updates across the Pixel 8 series worth mentioning. Face Unlock, for example, has now been deemed to meet the company’s internal security standards, and can therefore be used in more areas like authenticating mobile payments or logging into apps. That’s in part enabled by the Tensor G3 chip in both phones, which also powers things like Audio Magic Eraser, filtering out more spam calls and more. We don’t know very much else about Tensor G3 at the moment, though.

The read aloud playback box at the bottom of the Pixel 8 Pro's screen. The control panel shows the title of the article, a progress bar, time stamps, a pause button flanked by 10-second rewind and skip ahead buttons. At the bottom right is a translate icon.
Photo by Brian Oh / Engadget

Google is also introducing a new name for the displays it uses on the Pixels — Actua on the smaller handset and Super Actua on the Pro. Think of it as Retina and Super Retina on Apple devices, but Google. The names don’t really mean anything other than that the company is using its own software and processing to make things look brighter and sharper.

We’re at a point with smartphone displays where most human beings can’t tell the difference between a Super Retina and a Super Actua display, as long as they’re playing the same content at the same brightness. What’s worth noting is that the Pixel 8 now has a 6.2-inch screen and refreshes at 120Hz, while the Pixel 8 Pro maintains the same 6.7-inch size with an ever so slightly wider aspect ratio of 20:9 (compared to last year’s 19.5:9). The Pros also have a matte finish this time, and come in Bay (a pastel blue), Porcelain (white) and Obsidian (black) while the smaller handset is available in Rose (a light peach) in addition to the black and white options.

For things like battery life, performance, how slippery the phone is and how hot it runs, we’ll need to use the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro in the real world before we have a verdict. Stay tuned for our full review to get all those details.

Follow all of the news live from Google’s 2023 Pixel event right here.