Almost all of Google’s Pixel device releases in 2023 have been winners, making this the best year for Pixel yet.
Don’t believe me? It’s true! Here’s what Google has done with its mobile hardware and software over the past months that allows me to make such a bold claim.
The best year for Pixels? Surely I’m joking, right? I get this claim may result in some angry emails, as although the Google Pixel 7 and Google Pixel 7 Pro were released in 2022, most will have spent 2023 with them. I know these two had problems, and people didn’t always have the best experience with these two devices. But the trouble is, mine, for the most part, were fine. Better than fine.
When I reviewed the Pixel 7 at the end of 2022, I didn’t have any reliability problems, and apart from a few battery life issues later in its life, the Pixel 7 Pro has been the same when I’ve used it at various times throughout the year. The cameras are excellent, the software clean and simple, and the design is still cool today. It’s hard to take against phones too much when your personal experience has been largely very positive. However, I’ll concede that if these two had been the 2023 models, I wouldn’t have written this article.
It’s a good thing, then, that the true 2023 Pixel phones are the Google Pixel 8 and Google Pixel 8 Pro, which don’t seem to have suffered anywhere near as much as the Pixel 7 in terms of reliability and ownership woes. The Tensor G2 chip seems to be less problematic, the battery life is more linear and reliable, and the cameras are equally as brilliant. The AI features spread throughout are technically astounding, and although it’s never good when prices go up, you are very obviously getting superior devices this time around — in all respects.
While the 2023 Pixel devices have impressed, it’s hard to forget (and for some, forgive) the issues around the Pixel 7. It has been several months since the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro were released, and so far, neither has attracted the same kind of negative attention that made the Pixel 7 series such a risk. All the mobile team at Digital Trends (plus a few outside the team) have used one or both of the new Pixel 8 models, and no one has been compelled to write anything particularly damning about the experience yet.
Although the Pixel overlords took care of me in 2022 and supplied me with Pixel 7 phones that had no issues, others weren’t so lucky. Stories, internally and externally, spread about serious unreliability, and it was a challenge not to add a caveat to a Pixel 7 recommendation every time. The phone you bought would probably be fine, but there was also a chance it would be anything but that, and that’s not a good thought to have in your mind when splashing out on an expensive product.
However, the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro don’t seem to have suffered in the same way. No phone is perfect, and there will always be some bad ones hanging around, but for the most part, Google seems to have sorted out its reliability problems for 2023 and the Pixel 8 series. A company of its size and resources shouldn’t be making bad phones at all, so saying congratulations isn’t the right response. But Google’s efforts are a big part of why this year has ended up being so much better for the range than the last.
The Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro are the obvious choices when talking about why 2023 has been the best year for Pixel devices yet, and while they’re very good indeed, they’re not all that unique. Instead, they are the backbone of Pixel greatness in 2023, and the real stars of the show are the Google Pixel Fold and the Google Pixel Watch 2.
Google’s first folding smartphone is a massive deal. It hit the scene and became only the second big-screen foldable you could officially buy in the U.S., and with it came fantastic software and an enviable camera. It gave Google some much-needed mobile tech credibility, showing it’s still capable of making cutting-edge mobile devices and not just wheeling out a trio of Pixel slabs each year.
But the real surprise was the Pixel Watch 2. The first Google Pixel Watch wrapped its disappointing performance and short battery life into a bland, minimalist, single-size case and then charged top money for the pleasure of owning it. It didn’t change the design or add a case size for its successor, which is a serious oversight, but it did maximize performance and increase battery life, making it a usable everyday smartwatch for anyone who was happy with the size and design. In the same way the Pixel 8 exorcised the Pixel 7’s demons, the Pixel Watch 2 helped forgive the Pixel Watch’s shortcomings.
I liked the Pixel Fold and Pixel Watch 2, but the regular Pixel phone that sticks in my mind most is the Google Pixel 7a. It came out at the beginning of 2023, and I was so surprised to find how little I missed using more expensive devices when I used the 7a daily. It’s an incredibly capable, very easy-to-own smartphone that doesn’t cost a fortune to buy, and unless you want all the AI features in the Pixel 8, it’s the cheap Pixel to buy this year.
AI is one of 2023’s big trends, and Google included a host of AI features (some still coming soon) on the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, with the Magic Editor really standing out. Aside from removing unwanted distractions in your photos more effectively than Magic Eraser, it could transform the look and composition with a few taps of the screen, too. It’s astonishingly powerful and a lot of fun to experiment with.
For the Pixel 8 series, Google also extended its software updated commitment, so if you buy one this year, it will receive updates until 2030. This beats Samsung and OnePlus’s four and five-year commitments and takes on the Fairphone for potential longevity.
Unfortunately, the commitment doesn’t retroactively apply to devices launched before the Pixel 8, so the Pixel Fold and the Pixel 7a will only get three years of updates. This aside, Google has pushed its software forward in a meaningful way in 2023, providing not only new and interesting features — but also encouraging us to keep our phones for longer.
Five excellent Pixel devices were launched in 2023. Google did the right thing and provided longer software support for two of them, and it gave us fun AI features that anyone could use and enjoy. No serious, deal-breaking issues have been reported so far, and I’ve enjoyed all of the Pixels I’ve used in 2023 a great deal. It has been an awesome year for Pixel.
Except for one Pixel product.
There’s always a “but” in these situations, and the one new-for-2023 Pixel that still hasn’t quite gelled is the Google Pixel Tablet. I’ve been using it since release, and although it did surprisingly well when I tried to replace my Apple iPad Pro, it was actually surpassed by the superb (and much better value) Amazon Fire Max 11 tablet at doing so. The lack of an official keyboard accessory and an affordable case really hurts it.
I use the Pixel Tablet mostly as a smart screen in my kitchen, where Google Assistant is required a lot. Unfortunately, Assistant has become so unreliable — even more so with Android 14 installed — that I hardly bother with it anymore, as it usually fails to recognize instructions or it activates features on other Google Home devices for no reason. Siri is much more useful and reliable. The Pixel Tablet isn’t terrible, but it does feel a bit out of place and is the least desirable of the Pixel products I’ve used this year.
The fact that 2023 Pixel devices have been so good makes Google’s job in 2024 difficult. It needs to build on this and not just carry on as usual. While not an easy task, there are some obvious changes it can make to make 2024 even better for Pixel devices. These include making the Pixel Watch 3 in different case sizes, lowering the price of the Pixel Fold 2, and introducing a compact folding phone to the range.
When the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro came along, they breathed new life into the Pixel phone range, but Google was in danger of throwing it all away when the Pixel 7, Pixel 7 Pro, and Pixel Watch all disappointed in some way. It has managed to avoid disaster this year with a host of brilliant new devices, but it can’t let the pendulum swing back in the opposite direction for 2024.
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