Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro Review: Software Wizardry

It’s not just for memes. I was able to completely change up some photos I took at the beach this summer and while they’re not perfect, they look pretty darn great, especially viewed on small mobile phone screens. A few of these are effects you might be able to achieve just using the built-in photo editor, but with Magic Editor you just tap a button or two. The only problem I encountered was when I had issues saving some of these doctored photos, which sort of defeats the point.

You can swap people’s faces with similar photos captured at the same timeframe.

Google via Julian Chokkattu

I had a great opportunity to test another new Pixel feature for photos called Best Take. It lets you swap out the face of someone in a group photo and replace it with their face from another photo in a sequence of similar images, or even another image entirely if you captured a similar photo within a certain timeframe. I snapped a set photos of my friends while they held a pose, and was able to put their best smiles—each lifted from different photos—into the same photo with just a few taps. The results look pretty darn close to perfect. No more closed eyes or goofy faces!

Then there’s Audio Magic Eraser, which lets you erase unwanted sounds from videos. To test it, I sat by my bedroom window and didn’t have to wait long for a fire truck to roll through, sirens blaring. The software was able to distinguish my voice speaking in the video from the siren, and while it didn’t completely remove the blaring alarm, it did substantially lessen its presence in the video clip. Honestly, I just couldn’t stop saying, “That’s crazy.” My wife agreed.

You can do these things today with the right apps, but Google makes it so easy for just about anyone to do, all within apps that are native to the phone. This is partly why I like Pixel phones more than most other Android handsets—there are a lot of these software tricks that are genuinely helpful in making the smartphone experience better overall. These new additions feel like the future of mobile imaging, where we’re cutting away the things we don’t like in our images and videos, or completely changing the time of day to get the right sky. It’s amazing but also disconcerting. Maybe an overcast day is fine, you know?

It’s worth pointing out that you should be prepared to wait for some of these features as you use them. Generating photos in Magic Editor takes a good 20 to 30 seconds (horrid, I know), but Audio Magic Eraser can take even longer depending on the length of the video. Google also announced a feature called Video Boost (which is only on the Pixel 8 Pro) that lets you send a clip off to its servers to be processed. The cloud-based process improves stabilization, balances colors, reduces noise, and improves the brightness of low light footage. However, this processing could take several hours. It’s not available yet, so I wasn’t able to try it.

Refined Hardware

Er, right. I guess I should talk about the actual phones too. Google has made some really nice design changes year over year on the Pixel series. Both series 8 phones have completely flat displays (good riddance to the awful “waterfall” curved displays that plagued so many phones the past few years). The edges have a more gradual curve that feels nicer.

The back of the Pro is matte glass.

Photograph: Julian Chokkattu

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