By | November 27, 2023
Google's Pixel 8 Pro Outshines My iPhone 15 Pro Max But Is It Worth The Switch?

Google’s flagship Pixel 8 Pro brings the search giant’s AI smarts to the table. The result is a better camera than Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro Max.

Dwight Silverman photo

In mid-2022, I plunked down hard-earned cash on an Android phone, specifically Google’s Pixel 6 Pro, despite being a dedicated iPhone user. I wanted a device that would allow me to keep up with the Android world, and since Google’s phones use the purest form of the mobile operating system, it was my best choice.

I bought the 6 Pro late in the product cycle; The Pixel 7 series was launched a few months later. I didn’t get a chance to try it, but this year, when T-Mobile came and offered a Pixel 8 Pro phone, I jumped at the chance.

Now, as much as I love the 6 Pro, I wasn’t about to jump ship and become a full-time Android user. I’m deep in the Apple ecosystem; its water is warm and comforting. As I wrote in my column (see houstonchronicle.com/pixel6pro) about buying the Pixel, “What others deride as ‘lock-in’, I consider ‘activation’.”

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But that was before I got my hands on the 8 Pro. Although I’m not putting my iPhone 15 Pro Max up for sale, I’m now seriously considering switching to a future Google smartphone. Yes, it’s that good.

If that happens, it wouldn’t be until late 2024, but a plan is coming together. More on that later.

The Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro are the third generation of Google phones powered by the company’s own system-on-a-chip, called Tensor. Just as Apple does with its Apple Silicon iPhone, iPad and Mac chips, Google is trying to have more control over the hardware that powers its open-source Android OS.

While this looks unmistakably a Pixel device, there are a few design tweaks. The 6.7-inch screen no longer curves at the edges like on the previous two generations. The camera pole that spans the top quarter of the frosted glass back has much larger lenses, and the 5X telephoto lens has its own separate field window. (The rule is a smarter camera placement than that found on Apple and Samsung phones, where the lenses are clustered in the upper-left corner, causing the phone to tilt on a flat surface.)

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T-Mobile sent a baby blue model that Google calls Bay, a color that left me cold. I would probably prefer the Obsidian (black) or Porcelain (off-white) option. It’s a little heavier than my 6 Pro, but fits just as well in the hand.

The latest Tensor processor combined with 12 gigabytes of memory provides a zippy experience. Launching apps, scrolling, light gaming and web browsing are quick and smooth. Part of this can be chalked up to Android 14, which gave my 6 Pro a noticeable speed bump when I upgraded it. While the benchmark software has the iPhone 15 Pro Max handily beating the 8 Pro, the two feel equally fast in day-to-day use.

The screen is one of the brightest I’ve tried, and at 2,400 nits of peak brightness it beats the 15 Pro Max by 2,000 nits. Its OLED screen, as with most flagship smartphones, has a 120Hz refresh rate that can drop as low as 1Hz to save battery life.

Cameras are of course one of the main reasons people choose a smartphone, and for some people it’s the most important. It’s inspired a photo arms race between Apple, Google and Samsung, with all three using AI and computational photography to generate the best images they can.

Google’s Pixel 8 line doubles down on the AI ​​editing capabilities the company brought to the photo battlefield with its last two generations. With Magic Eraser, which allows you to remove objects in an image, is Magic Editor and Best Take. While both can be impressive, both are sometimes misunderstood. For example, in one image I tried to move a tall pepper mill to a different location on a dining table photo. The Magic Editor did indeed move it, but in its place it left what looked like a chewed corncob.

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Best Take uses multiple group shots to find the best faces to place on the people in the shot. But each person’s head needs to be positioned similarly in each shot or the end result can be off.

Google has also given the main camera app more advanced features, allowing users to access settings typically found on DSLR cameras. This makes it more competitive with Samsung’s camera app, although Google’s is more intuitive.

Overall, the camera system is excellent – ​​better at many things than the iPhone 15 Pro Max or Samsung’s flagship Galaxy Note 23. For example, night shots on the 8 Pro have more natural colors than the 15 Pro Max. At all light levels, the 8 Pro’s images are more realistic than the Note 23, which – as with all Samsung camera images – is oversaturated.

The 8 Pro also does a better job in mixed-light scenarios. For example, I shot Memorial Park’s Eastern Glades while standing among trees looking out over a lake, using both the 8 Pro and 15 Pro Max. On trees framing the view of the lake, the texture of the bark was clearly visible in shadow on the Google phone, but a muddy brown on the Apple device.

Another big improvement Google has made: The Pixel 8 line is now fully competitive with Apple when it comes to OS upgrades. Pixel owners get a full seven years of Android updates. While Apple doesn’t say how many iOS updates a given phone will get, seven years is about average. Hopefully, other Android phone makers will follow suit.

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The Pixel 8 Pro starts at $999 for a model with 128GB of storage, though it’s currently discounted on Google’s website for $799. You’ll pay up to $1,199 for a 1-terabyte model. The smaller, 6.1-inch Pixel 8 starts at $699 for 128GB, currently discounted to $549. The phones work on all three major US carriers.

The 8 Pro is so impressive that I’m considering an experiment. Next year, when the supposed Pixel 9 Pro is released, I might trade in my iPhone for Google’s best phone and try to live with it for a year. The challenge for me would be not having a device that interacts so well with my other Apple devices. Also, my all-iPhone family may have to put up with having a green bubble in our group chats.

Sorry, but it might be worth it. We’ll see.

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