Why It’s Impossible for Me To Leave My iPhone for Google’s Fantastic Pixel 8 Pro
Even a great Google phone can’t pry me away from the one iOS feature that has us all handcuffed.
I remember my first iPhone, but not like it was yesterday.
And who could blame me? That was somehow 12 years ago (the iPhone 4S for anyone wondering) and a lot has happened. I’m talking in the world; in my life; and maybe to a less consequential degree, in phones.
And despite the death of flip phones, the domination of glass bricks, and the rise of foldable phones, in most ways I’ve stayed (phone-wise) right where I started; iPhone in hand and Apple firmly insinuated in my life.
I suspect a lot of you reading this are the same way. But even if Apple has owned your mobile computing experience for as long as they’ve owned mine, maybe you, like me, have asked one very simple question: what if I switched things up?
There are a couple of phones that have made me ask that question over the years and one of them is Google’s Pixel.
The Pixel might not be the best-selling Android phone out there, but the value-to-feature ratio always spoke to me. And as the years have gone by, Google has evolved past the idea of making simply a good phone at a good price and has leaned into what it does best: AI. The tech giant has essentially thrown the AI book at computational photography to create a unique smartphone experience, or at least a unique value proposition.
As a result, I’ve been partial to the idea of a Pixel phone, so when I had the opportunity to try the newest Pixel 8 Pro, I couldn’t say no. But this is me we’re talking about and could I — a near life-long user of Apple devices — really love another smartphone?
The Pixel Camera
One of the things that might draw an iPhone faithful like myself to the Pixel side is the simplest, but biggest, motivator of them all: value.
So what does value mean in a smartphone? For me, it’s pretty simple: the quality of hardware and software versus the price. And on that front, Google is firmly in the game.
The Pixel 8 Pro starts at $999. At one point in time, that might have seemed like a lot of money for a smartphone, but as Apple’s premium mentality has crept across the phone market, it actually represents a competitive price for a “pro” smartphone. What does $1,000 get you as far as Google is concerned? Kind of a lot in my opinion.
It gets you a pretty pro camera, for one. The Pixel 8 Pro comes with a triple-lens system that includes a 50-megapixel main, a 48-megapixel ultrawide, and a 48-megapixel telephoto.
The highlight here is the 50-megapixel main, which Google says has 21 percent more light sensitivity than the last generation’s sensor and double the optical quality. I can’t personally speak to the improvement over last year’s Pixel 7 Pro, but I can speak to its performance over my current device, the iPhone 13 (regular, not 13 Pro).
You can get as nerdy as you want about cameras, but the proof of the Pixel 8 Pro’s chops is in the pudding, so to speak. While the iPhone 13’s camera has served me well, it’s no match for what I’ve been using on the Pixel 8 Pro.
The photos I snapped during my test period were sharper, better exposed, and a hell of a lot more dynamic than my iPhone 13. Night Sight, in my usage, also did a great job capturing low-light scenarios in more detail without having to overexpose shots. Now that’s a perk.
And on one hand, duh, my iPhone 13 is now two generations behind the recently announced iPhone 15 and has objectively fewer sensors than the Pixel 8 Pro. But realistically, lots of people like myself are generations behind, so the comparison between an iPhone 13 and a Pixel 8 Pro is anything but outlandish when it comes to real people buying real phones.
There’s tough competition when Apple is selling its iPhone 15 Pro at the same $999 mark as Google’s Pixel 8 Pro. But camera-wise at least, it’s hard not to consider the Pixel 8 Pro a real option if you’re not already using the latest iPhone 15 Pro.
Plus, if you’re serious about photography, Google brought manual camera controls to the Pixel 8 Pro. If you’ve ever used a DSLR, you’ll know mostly what that means. Think granularity on ISO, white balance, shutter speed, and shadows.
I played around with some of the manual controls and... it was nice! They all worked as advertised. I’m not precious about my photography unless it pertains to a picture I’m taking for work, but plenty of people are looking for the perfect shot. Even if I don’t necessarily need that sort of specificity, I’m always an advocate for handing over the keys to consumers and letting them decide how to use their devices. If you want a more pro, DIY, camera experience, I can say for sure that Google is giving you that.
And as far as freedom is concerned, the Pixel 8 Pro definitely gets the point over an iPhone. Which brings me to the next biggest Pixel 8 Pro feature...
The Pixel AI
This year, like years past, everywhere you look inside a Pixel 8 phone there’s a slice of AI to behold. Those AI features are (also as usual) most apparent in the camera.
Arguably the flashiest of the new AI feats is what Google is calling Magic Editor. Past Pixels have already employed Photoshop-like AI image editing but Magic Editor takes those features to the next level.
While past software additions like Magic Eraser have allowed users to erase parts of their image using simple touch controls, Google’s new editor feature brings the ability to actually select and move objects in an image around with a few taps.
Needless to say, Apple doesn’t offer anything like that on its iPhones, so I was excited to give it a whirl. Admittedly, I was expecting to roll my eyes, but Magic Editor does (most of the time) feel like the real deal.
While the ability to cleanly move objects around an image does depend on the complexity of your image background and even the material of the object you’re moving, there are times when Magic Editor does genuinely feel like magic.
On a plain background, Magic Editor worked well — not perfect, but not bad. But what if I gave it a more difficult task? How about some good ol’ New York City trash?
I was pretty shocked how Magic Editor was able to recreate the bag behind the bag I moved to the right of the image — which, for context, is an object that neither I, nor the camera, nor Google’s AI, has ever actually seen. Notice how it even takes into account shadows. Obviously, the closer you zoom into the bag, the easier it becomes to detect the AI fakery, but the fact that I was able to conjure entirely new (and semi-convincing) pixels in just seconds is definitely a feat worth noting.
Needless to say, I’ve never been so impressed by trash in my life. Here’s a bonus round of me moving a mug around on my desk:
Likewise, Magic Eraser, with a generative AI boost, was able to pretty cleanly handle lots of my demands, though again, results do vary. Notice the difference between what it thought I wanted to do with this sign outdoors compared to how it completely scrubbed the second piece of signage on a plain wall.
Both features — Magic Editor and Magic Eraser — are obviously imperfect, but even with flaws I was impressed most of the time with their performance. Is this going to replace professional Photoshop editing? Not yet. But it’s certainly an interesting initial step.
The other important new feature — which is also exclusive to the Pixel 8 Pro — is Video Boost, which uses Google’s Tensor G3 and Google’s data centers in the cloud to enhance videos after they’ve been captured. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test Video Boost, since it doesn’t go live until December, but I was able to watch a demo of the feature at Google’s Pixel event and the results were pretty impressive. Videos enhanced by AI and Google’s data centers are truly clearer, smoother, and more professional-looking.
The big caveat here, however, is that Video Boost will take some time to be processed by Google’s AI — this is not a switch you just toggle on. But if you’re fine waiting a little bit (hours perhaps?) for an enhanced video, then this could be something to get excited about.
And it’s not all about the cameras when it comes to AI, either. There are features like Audio Magic Eraser which identifies different sounds in your video and allows you to adjust their volume. I tested Audio Magic Eraser on a video I took myself and it was able to separate my voice from a quiet jazz track playing in the background. From there I was able to manipulate both pieces of audio at will. Neat!
There are more, too. There are AI wallpapers, an AI assistant to answer your calls, there’s AI that can swap the faces of people between multiple group pictures — Best Take for the uninitiated. On the Pixel there’s an AI for basically everything.
And on my iPhone, well, there’s AI, too. Apple may not call it that, but it’s also doing a lot of the heavy lifting in computational photography or understanding which word you’re trying to type. In Apple-speak it’s all “Neural Engines” and “machine learning” and “transformer language models.”
Sure, you can’t sloppily “Photoshop” an object out of your picture, but honestly, that’s what real Photoshop is for. The Pixel 8 Pro’s AI tools are fun ideas and sometimes even useful, but if you stripped the phone of Magic Eraser, or Magic Editor, or Video Boost, I’m not sure that I would be all that sad.
And in Google’s defense, maybe the real “magic” has yet to happen. During its Pixel 8 event, Google said it plans to bring Assistant with Bard to the smartphone experience so Pixel owners (and anyone with the Assistant with Bard app, actually) can use its AI chatbot to orchestrate actions on their phones.
But for now, I’m not sure the emphasis on AI features amounts to the game-changing smartphone experience they’re meant to be.
The Other Stuff
Lucky for Google, flashy (or at worst gimmicky) AI is just part of the Pixel 8 Pro equation. There are some mainstream areas where Google really gets the smartphone hardware right. For one, there’s the Super Actua Display, which is Google’s way of saying “A Very Bright Screen.”
I don’t often need a blazingly bright screen (I probably spend too much time indoors), but in the situations that I do (like outside, for example) it really does the trick. For those wondering, it’s a peak brightness of 2,400 nits. Also, at 120Hz the Pixel 8 Pro’s display is very fluid, which means that mindlessly swiping through apps and feeds feels quick and incredibly responsive.
I’m not one to crunch numbers on a phone — I don’t really game or stream mobile video — but Google’s new Tensor G3 processor felt more than capable of handling the stuff that I do actually need to get done on a smartphone: messages, email, Slack, and — God forbid — Instagram. In those comparisons, I felt no discernible difference between switching from my iPhone 13 to Google’s Pixel 8 Pro.
Maybe that’s a point for Apple, but in the end, it’s a point for neither. Phones for people like me, and maybe you, don’t need to be computing powerhouses necessarily, but they do need to function seamlessly between apps and other tasks. Sometimes enough is just enough. Google’s Tensor G3 is enough for me.
You’ll be happy to know that Google’s Pixel 8 Pro nails the basics and even excels in areas like display brightness. It’s got all-day battery life! That’s not a sexy spec, but it’s huge if you’re as addicted to your phone as I am. And Google is promising seven years of Android software updates and security patches — that’s more than any other phone maker, even Apple.
But in true Google fashion, it couldn't resist a hardware twist. This year, that Google flair comes in the form of a temperature sensor on the back of the phone, which due to some FDA guidance should be pointed at anything other than human skin. I, of course, had to test the sensor out and, well... it works? Maybe?
I gave it a spin on sensing the temperature of my coffee, which was either 101 degrees or 103 degrees, I got a different reading almost every time in the 30 seconds I tried using it.
Then I tried the sensor on a pan heated with an induction cooktop to 350 degrees. Again, I think the sensor worked, but without a laser thermometer to compare with, it’s hard to say. One thing I will say is that having to hold your $1,000 device just two inches away from a searing hot pan definitely felt a little strange. (Google condones this behavior, by the way, since “Cast Iron” is one of the selectable materials when using the Thermometer app.)
So there’s that comparison again: does my iPhone 13 have a temperature sensor? No. Do I care? To be honest, not really. So what then what do I care about when it comes to a non-Apple smartphone...
The Pixel Proposition
It’s been a while since I got to throw myself into a new phone, and it was nice to find that all the years I spent submerged in the Apple ecosystem, competitors have been crafting and honing their own contributions to mobile computing.
Google’s Pixel 8 Pro feels good (rounded corners, baby), it works well, and it even tries things that arguably no other smartphone does. For that, the Pixel gets my respect. This is a solid phone that most can find something to love in.
But this isn’t a fair phone market. This is Apple’s market. And because of that — even despite all the really nice Pixel features and hardware I just mentioned — iPhones still have a vice grip on most U.S. consumers’ wallets.
After experiencing the quality of the Pixel 8 Pro for myself, it’s clear that the secret sauce to Apple’s success isn’t so secret after all. It’s iMessage.
Stop and ask yourself, if you’re a typical iPhone user like me, why do you hold onto it so tightly? Is it the camera? Because the Pixel 8 Pro has a great one. The speed? Pixel 8 Pro is about as fast a phone as you could ever need. The software? I hate to break it to you all, but Android 14 isn’t difficult to use or materially less intuitive than iOS. Yes, there’s a learning curve with switching, but for the most part mobile operating systems all share a pretty common UI.
It’s obvious after using the Pixel 8 Pro for a little while that fear of the green bubble is real. Do I really want to break my nearly 8-year-old group chat with friends? Or forego the ability to see when someone is typing me a message? Or delivery receipts? Or jeez, even the contrast on the ugly green SMS messages is enough to keep me awake at night.
It’s obvious after using the Pixel 8 Pro for a little while that fear of the green bubble is real.
Those are things I care about, and I know I’m not alone. Unfortunately for Google, and for consumers, bridging that gap between messaging on Android and iOS is also wholly out of our reach. Maybe that will change soon — Apple did finally abandon the Lightning port on the iPhone after some intervention from the European Union. For now, however, this is the reality.
But just know that if the time comes when Android and iOS devices can message nicely with each other (through RCS adoption probably), there is indeed a whole world of nice phones out there capable and satisfying the answer to your lingering, nagging, question.
What if I switched things up?
And maybe Google’s next Pixel could be the phone to finally answer that call.
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