It might not sell in anything like Apple numbers, but Google’s Pixel smartphone line is otherwise the closest thing Android gets to its own iPhone. These stylish, dependable phones pack a tightly synced-up combination of hardware and software.
After the Pixel 7a so impressed us mid-way through 2023, Google quickly moved on to the Pixel 8. It’s an extremely elegant and feature-complete compact flagship offering for just £699.
While we’re certainly interested in how the Pixel 8 performs as a day-to-day phone however (spoiler: very well indeed), our main concern is how it fares as a gaming device. Let’s dive in.
Like the Pixel 7a before it, the stand-out feature here is a width-spanning metallic camera module that runs from edge to edge. It’s even more prominent here, reflecting the meatier camera hardware on offer, yet it also melts seamlessly into the phone’s pleasingly rounded frame.
There’s no plastic cop out here, with a full glass back creating a premium feel. At 8.9mm thick and with a weight of 187g, the Pixel 8 feels nice and solid, despite a relatively small footprint of 150.5 x 70.8mm.
The main reason for that compact size is the Pixel 8’s use of a 6.3-inch AMOLED display. This is considered a small screen by modern Android standards, even if it’s a little larger than an iPhone. The main improvement with this year’s model is the boost from a 90 to a 120Hz refresh rate, which obviously has positive ramifications for gaming.
We’ve mentioned that bolstered camera system and this year that involves an improved 50MP main camera and a 13MP ultra-wide. Together with Google’s advanced image processing algorithms, the Pixel 8 takes some of the clearest, sharpest, and best-exposed images of any phone. It only really misses out on the Pro model’s dedicated telephoto.
Battery life is solid rather than spectacular. With a slightly smaller-than-average 4,575 mAh cell, I was generally able to get through a day of moderate usage with a little over 30% left, which is just about adequate. Naturally, gaming will tank things further.
Just as important as a Pixel phone’s hardware – arguably more so in fact – is the accompanying software. Google’s UI is right up there with iOS for intuitiveness and sharp style and is further enhanced by clever AI tricks like real-time transcription and powerful image editing.
Even better, the Pixel 8 sees Google promising a staggering seven years of software updates. You’ll be getting fresh Android versions right up to 2030, assuming you don’t smash your phone before then.
Don’t get me wrong, the Pixel 8 and its Tensor G3 is still capable of running the most demanding games on higher settings at decent frame rates. Genshin Impact remains eminently playable on Highest/60fps, for example, if not completely stutter-free.
But the benchmark tests don’t lie. The Pixel 8 is well behind the Galaxy S23, the OnePlus 11, and the rest of the 2023 Android crowd with their off-the-shelf Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chips by most both CPU and GPU metrics.
That’s not even to mention the new breed of Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 phones that are starting to arrive in early 2024, nor the beastly iPhone 15 line-up (both Pro and non-Pro), all of which leave the Pixel 8 spluttering in their dust.
Again, this doesn’t matter all that much in the here and now, where mobile (and especially Android) games have fallen behind the hardware curve. But it does mean that the Pixel 8 probably won’t be a particularly strong gaming machine even halfway through its projected seven-year lifespan.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the smaller 6.3-inch display, isn’t as nice to game on as a 6.7-inch flagship or dedicated gaming phone.
It’s not the best gaming phone, however. For less than £600 you can get a top-notch tool for the job from Nubia’s Red Magic line, offering way better sustained performance, a bigger display, and dedicated gaming controls.
If you’re after a keenly priced and compact flagship phone that just so happens to be decent at playing the odd game into the bargain, there’s no better phone than the Pixel 8. However, anyone after a specialist gaming tool should examine other more bespoke options.