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Why Google's cheaper Pixel 8 is the real star of its Android phone lineup

The entry-level Pixel 8 might not get the same attention that the Pixel 8 Pro does, but with its combination of specs and a low price, that really needs to change.
Written by Max Buondonno, Contributing Writer
Google Pixel 8 display in bright room.
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • The Pixel 8 offers a flagship-level experience with Google's latest AI and machine learning features, all for under $700. Right now, you can buy one for as low as $549.
  • With fast performance, amazing cameras, and Actua display, it's one of the best smartphone deals available.
  • Compared to similarly priced phones, like the Nothing Phone 2, the Pixel 8 is a far better value.

The Google Pixel 8 Pro might be getting all the attention nowadays (especially since it's the first handset to gain access to Google's new Gemini AI model), but the standard Pixel 8 might be the real MVP of Google's lineup this year.

Review: Google Pixel 8 Pro: This phone sold me on an AI-powered future

That's because the Pixel 8 offers one of the best combinations of specs, features, and premium design at a price considerably lower than the competition. What's more, now that we're at the end of the year, Pixel 8 deals are hovering around $549.

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At that price, the Pixel 8 is not only difficult to ignore, but perhaps the only phone you should be thinking of if you're shopping on a budget. You won't find another phone like it under $600, and it's only when you sift through the $800-$1,000 options that you find commendable competition.

A big reason why this is such a compelling option is the Tensor G3 chip, Google's latest in-house processor that powers all of the Pixel 8's AI and machine learning features. It's not just a solid Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 alternative, but a monumental reason why the Pixel 8 is such a great phone.

The chip powers all the Google Pixel-ness of the Pixel 8, from transcribing voices in the Recorder app to letting you edit photos to your heart's content with the AI-powered Magic Editor. The Google Assistant also takes advantage of the G3 to process your voice quicker and even summarize web pages for quickly consuming information. Alongside powering Google's HDR pipeline for photography, ensuring Android 14 is slick and smooth, the G3 is one of the most capable smartphone chips on the market. And when paired with 8GB of RAM, you'll never have a slow day.

Google Pixel 8 display in bright room.
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

The display is another huge reason to get this phone. The Pixel 8's 6.2-inch Actua display is a bit smaller than the screen on the Pixel 7, but that makes it easier to hold in one hand. It's also stunning to look at; with a Full HD+ resolution, a 120Hz refresh rate, and 2,000 nits of peak brightness, it's one of the brightest and clearest displays on the market. Plus, it's OLED, so colors are vibrant and inky blacks are plentiful.

Also: Google's December Pixel Feature Drop brings major camera upgrades and other goodies

Look beyond the display and you'll find a good-looking phone crafted out of aluminum and Gorilla Glass Victus. Featuring Google's signature camera bar on the back and thin bezels around the display, the Pixel 8 is a stunner among other sub-$700 phones. It's also IP68-certified for dust and water resistance, and it comes in three nice finishes: Obsidian (black), Hazel (kinda green), and Rose (more of a golden peach, in my opinion).

Google Pixel 8 camera app.
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

When it comes to Pixel phones, there are two areas you have to talk about: cameras and software.

On the camera front, Google knocked it out of the park. The rear 50MP main shooter and 12MP ultra-wide are both excellent performers in broad daylight and at night. The cameras easily match or outpace what you'd get with an iPhone 15 Pro or Galaxy S23 Ultra in terms of clarity, detail, and sharpness, while colors are often far more accurate than they ever have been on a Pixel phone. 

Also: Google just added a big feature to the Pixel camera, and two more could be on the way

You also get all of the camera chops that the Pixel name carries like astrophotography, Super ResZoom, dual exposure controls, and Ultra HDR. That's on top of other features like Best Take and Magic Editor that make these cameras the smartest you'll find. Plus, video quality has been vastly improved over previous Pixels -- it's flat-out comparable to the iPhone.

On the software side, Google's Pixel experience atop Android 14 remains my favorite way to interact with Android. It's clean, minimal, and gives you a warm, inviting feeling that no other Android skin can mimic. You get all the features of Android 14 like customizable lock screens, better security, larger fonts, and improved notifications along with all of the Pixel features you could ask for like Call Screen, Now Playing, Direct My Call, AI-generated wallpapers, and – of course – the Pixel Launcher.

Google Pixel 8 wallpaper and style settings.
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

But the real kicker in the software department is Google's extended support. The company is guaranteeing seven full years of software support, which means you'll get updates until 2030 if you buy this phone. That's unheard of for an Android phone, and it gives devices like the iPhone a run for their money. 

Also: Google Pixel 8 vs. Google Pixel 8 Pro: Which model should you buy?

The Pixel 8 can also last all day on a charge thanks to the 4,575mAh cell inside. With my medium to heavy usage, I typically end days with 30-40 percent in the tank, which means anyone using the phone a bit less could stretch it out to last a day and a half. Plus, you get 30W fast charging to juice back up as well as Qi wireless charging.

So, what are the downsides? Honestly, there aren't a lot. The Pixel 8 still gets pretty warm after using it for a while, but that's typical with Google's Tensor processors. I also wish there was a proper telephoto camera on the back; Super Res Zoom is handy for upscaling digitally zoomed photos, but it can only take you so far. Oh, and I still don't trust Face Unlock; Google lets you use it to pay for things now using Google Pay, but it still relies on a flat image of your face to authenticate you.

Google Pixel 8 in Hazel in direct sunlight.
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

ZDNET's buying advice

You're not going to find a much better value than the Pixel 8. From the gorgeous display and design to the speedy performance and amazing cameras, Google's standard flagship phone stands on its own with an impeccable balance of high-end features for a lower price than other flagships.

Also: The best Android phones that we tested this year

With its sale price of $549, the closest competition happens to be the Galaxy S23 FE and Nothing Phone (2), two devices that are perfectly worthy of a spot in your pocket but don't offer the same value as the Pixel 8. Google's phone is a proper flagship with seven years of software support, the latest AI features, and the company's latest camera tricks. The Phone (2) and S23 FE are high-end mid-rangers that balance specs and price well, but don't feel as high-end as the Pixel does.

Anyone shopping for an Android phone under $600 -- let alone under $700 -- should look to the Pixel 8. The value is simply incredible, and it's by far one of the best phones of the year.

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