Hands-On With the Google Pixel 8, Pixel 8 Pro, and Pixel Watch 2

Hands-On With the Google Pixel 8, Pixel 8 Pro, and Pixel Watch 2

I’m struggling to muster excitement over the latest batch of Pixel devices. The Pixel 8 and 8 Pro have improved in style and design and probably in performance, too (I can only confirm everything once I test the specs myself). But where’s the flair? The feature you can’t live without? And I’m still waiting for someone in Android land to announce satellite connectivity that rivals Apple’s feature.

Instead, we have a menial, iterative update. I’ve only gone hands-on with the new Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro for less than an hour, so I can’t speak to how much more “worth it” they are until I can put them through their paces. I want to believe the telephoto capabilities have improved and are better than the iPhone 15 Pro Max offers. The Pixel 8 Pro is also capable of 5x optical zoom, and this year, it’s bumped up to 30x for digital zoom. I’m also hoping that the Pixel 8 is a better deal than what I got with the Pixel 7 last year—six months in, I realised it wasn’t up to snuff.

I also got to try on the Pixel Watch 2. It feels exactly like the Pixel Watch 1, but it boasts some improvements, including a new processor and watchbands. We’ll have to wait for the review to see if that heart rate monitor and battery are any better than before.

The Pixel 8 vs. Pixel 8 Pro

The Pixel 8 is a smaller device and the only one available in pink.

Let’s tackle the Pixel 8 first since I’m trying to determine if it’ll be worth its slightly smaller size. Google decreased the screen size by about a tenth of an inch, so there’s a 6.2-inch display as opposed to the Pixel 7’s 6.3 inches. It’s minor but pays off majorly if you miss small phones. I skipped out on the 7 Pro’s telephoto lens because I wanted something easier to hold. The Pixel 8 will be a little more accommodating.

The front of the Pixel 8 Pro.

I don’t particularly appreciate the Pixel 8’s unique colourway is rose, or pink. It feels like a gendered stereotype: blue is the special colour for the Pixel 8 Pro, which is bigger, so it’s for boys. Pink is reserved for the smaller variant that’s easier on dainty hands. I would have rather seen Google stick to the spectrum-of-blues motif I thought it would lean into with this generation. I liked the green thing it had going with the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro. What happened to that?

The Pixel 8 Pro in its three colorways, including the new Bay blue.

The Pixel 8 Pro’s blue colourway, dubbed “bay,” is stunning in person. When the sunlight hits it, the blue brightens up. It also manages to maintain its vibrancy among everyday fixtures. The 8 Pro’s chassis is also a tad more reinforced than the Pixel 8—it features Gorilla Glass Victus 2 covering instead of first-gen Victus on the regular variant. The phones remain IP68 rated for water- and dust resistance. It’s the standard for all flagship devices.

I think this temperature sensor works like I want it to?

Why did Google bundle a temperature sensor in the Pixel 8 Pro? I tried to use the feature while pawing at the device, but I couldn’t quite understand what the reading was for—was it for the table below the phone? Or was it measuring my hands that were holding the device? The temperature sensor is supposed to help you get a relative measurement for things like a hot beverage or food right off the stove. Samsung already attempted the temperature sensing thing with one of their older Galaxies, and it ended up being the butt of many blogger’s jokes. Will the Pixel 8 Pro’s temperature sensor suffer the same fate?

The Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro have slightly differing camera systems. The Pixel 8 has the same 50-MP primary camera as the 8 Pro, though it’s dialed down to a 12-MP sensor on the secondary ultra-wide lens. The 8 Pro’s wide-angle option has a fuller resolution at 48 MP and a larger aperture to capture more light for nighttime landscape shots.

I’m concerned about what I’d be giving up for the Pixel 8’s more petite body when it comes to camera performance. The Pro model’s 48-MP telephoto lens is the highest resolution in any Pixel device, it can manage the same 5x optical zoom distance as the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Google’s been able to zoom way out before, but most of that was digital with help from AI.

At least the Pixel 8 picks up on some pieces it let falter with the last release. The screen refresh rate is now a variable 60Hz to 120Hz, which means I can get smoother Poké ball throws in Pokémon Go now than I did with the Pixel 7’s 90Hz. I’ll be curious how the battery life also fares. The Pixel 8 and 8 Pro have larger battery packs than their predecessors. But Android has yet to be able to hold a candle to the iPhone’s long battery life in the last two years.

The Pixel Watch 2: Redux

The Pixel Watch 2—on a wrist!

There are some new features to the Pixel Watch 2, even if it doesn’t seem like it from afar. Yes, the design is copy and paste, except there’s a brighter display to enjoy on this second-gen reprise—up to 1,000 nits peak brightness in direct sunlight.

I did not get to try any of the health and wellness features of the Pixel Watch 2. I could only wear the device and see how it feels on the wrist. It feels just like the last Pixel Watch! I still prefer the design of the Galaxy Watch 6 in terms of button offering—the Galaxy Watch 6 has two buttons compared to the Pixel Watch 2’s, though the Watch 2 also has a digital crown that acts as a button. At the very least, we’re now in an era of Android wearables where you can choose from different designs and have a relatively consistent experience.

The Pixel Watch 2 has new watchbands this time around, including this new metal mesh band shown here.

The Pixel Watch 2 does purport to offer the most accurate heart-rate reading. This model has a “multi-path” heart rate sensor, switching between single and multi-path modes depending on how hard you’re working out. It’ll be interesting to see the overall performance of the Qualcomm SW5100 chip, which is the first Pixel Watch to have Qualcomm-made silicon. Last year’s release used a Samsung Exynos processor.

Overall, the Pixel Watch 2 is more of an extension of the Fitbit journey than the Android journey. It’s all about the improved fitness capabilities, the wellness stats, and the instruction you can get through Fitbit Premium. I’ve been satisfied with Samsung Health these last many generations and the Galaxy Watch. But I’m ready to take the plunge back to Fitbit to see if it’s changed for the better or just a bit more Google-y than everything else.

At its Made By Google event, Google announced the Pixel 8, Pixel 8 ProPixel Watch 2, and two new colour options for the Pixel Buds. While you’re here, why not check out our daily tech deals, our guide to the best value for money NBN plans, and info on the latest phones from Apple and Samsung. Head to our dedicated Mobile tab for more. Stay tuned for our review of the new Google Pixel 8 and 8 Pro