2023 was a strong year for Google as it expanded its ecosystem of mobile devices. The Pixel 8 series brought key improvements that helped continue Google’s ascendancy in the premium smartphone market. While the Pixel tablet is the latest installment in Google’s mobile ecosystem, the Pixel Fold marks Google’s first foray into the foldable world.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Google though, so let’s take a look at both the positives and negatives from the past 12 months.
Winner: Pixel 8 series
The Pixel 8 Duo is Google’s most competitive flagship to date. Both phones get some notable hardware upgrades like brighter displays with thinner bezels, new Tensor G3 chips and updated ultrawide lenses. The signature Pixel design has been slightly improved with the 8 Pro now housing three cameras and both phones have had issues with battery capacity, although their endurance is still behind the Samsung and Apple flagships.
The Pixel 8 finally got a 120Hz refresh rate and the temperature sensor on the 8 Pro is a nice party trick, but two things set the Pixel apart from any other Android phone – cameras and software.
The Pixel camera experience is arguably the killer feature here and it just got better in hardware and software with new ultra-wide cameras and expanded AI features like Best Take, Magic Editor and Photo Unblur. AI capabilities are extended to the software side with a new Generative AI wallpaper creation tool, as well as Pixel staples like call filtering, real-time translation, and voice-to-text.
Another key addition to the Pixel 8 series is a 7-year warranty on parts and software updates that set a new benchmark for smartphone support. More later.
The Pixel 8 and 8 Pro tick a lot of the right boxes for a flagship device. Hopefully, Google will stop limiting its software features outside of its core markets and expand to more regions next year.
Winner: long software and hardware support
Keeping the new devices with longer software and hardware support is one way, although this is now required by law in Google’s home state of California. Google has officially extended its software support for 7 years since the launch of the Pixel 8 device. That means the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro will be eligible for Android OS updates up to 7 — that’s Android 21 or whatever it’s called in 2030.
This is a big win for consumers around the world and we hope more Android OEMs follow the same approach with their latest flagships. The only problem is that the new software support is for devices running the Tensor G3 chip, so older Pixels don’t get the same 7-year warranty.
The right-to-repair movement has led Google to promise 7-year replacement parts for its latest flagships. This is especially commendable as many users have been glued to their phones for a long time and now know that repairs are easily available.
Loser: Tensor G3
Despite all of Google’s efforts on custom Tensor chips, they’ve historically underperformed in terms of performance and power efficiency compared to their flagship Qualcomm and Apple counterparts. While the Tensor G3 is Google’s best chip yet, it still lags behind the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and Apple A16 chips from last year, and this difference is only noticeable with the new crop of competing SoCs.
As it stands, the Tensor G3’s Achilles heel on the Pixel 8 series is that it scrapes in minutes in continuous CPU and GPU tests and is worse than previous generations of Tensor chips. Hopefully Google will fix the bugs with the Tensor G4.
Winner: Pixel Fold
After years of waiting, Google finally delivered its first foldable phone in 2023 with the immovable Pixel Fold. The device is not only proof of Google’s commitment to the future of foldables, but also shows how the Android maker should be viewed from its own perspective.
The Pixel Fold is one of the prettiest phones launched last year, bringing the signature Pixel design into a compact “book-style” folding phone. Despite its 5.8-inch diagonal, the wide cover screen makes typing and navigating the UI very easy when folded, while the 7.6-inch main screen leaves plenty of room for multitasking and media consumption.
The triple cameras on the back may not be at the level of the Pixel 8 Pro or its predecessor, but you still get three meaningful lenses with wide, ultra-wide and 5x telephoto. You’ll also get a clean Google software experience for a foldable format and unique improvements that hopefully will be the first for major Android OS updates.
The Pixel Fold comes with the older Google Tensor G2 chipset which can be considered a major drawback and the high price tag is another major drawback. Still, we have to give credit to Google for a great first chapter in its foldable phone journey.
Loser: Pixel Watch 2 charging case
The Pixel Watch 2 is an improvement over its predecessor with a faster chipset and improved battery endurance, but Google decided to opt for an entirely new charging solution that makes older chargers incompatible.
Google has opted for a new Pogo-Pin charger for the Pixel Watch 2, which is still proprietary when shared with Fitbit devices. Proprietary charging solutions are very common in the smartwatch and smartwatch market, but the lack of support for the common Qi wireless standard is a big disappointment in our eyes when we realize that smartwatches from other brands can easily charge their batteries with Qi wireless chargers.