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The Pixel 8: Turning You into a Photo Wizard



In all the years I’ve spent reviewing gadgets, there have been very few times when a product has left me utterly flabbergasted. You could say I’ve mastered the art of skeptical journalism! But Google recently showcased some mind-boggling imaging features on its new Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro smartphones that made my jaw hit the floor. These features aren’t revolutionary in isolation, but the fact that they put such powerful tools into the hands of everyday users is both thrilling and, frankly, a tad spooky. Let’s dive into them.

Magic Editor

Google teased this gem during its developer conference earlier this year. It’s the evolution of Magic Eraser, which Google introduced a few years back. Magic Eraser could zap away unwanted objects in photos, like an unsightly fire hydrant or a photobombing pigeon. Magic Editor takes this to the next level.

In a jaw-dropping demo, Google showcased a picture of a girl frolicking on the beach. Using Magic Editor in the Google Photos app, a representative tapped on the subject, and voila, it accurately cut her out from the background. What came next was pure wizardry. They moved the girl to a different part of the scene, and the software filled in the background with an eerily accurate guess of what should be there. Google cherry-picked these photos, but Magic Editor’s performance was nothing short of spectacular.

Magic Editor doesn’t stop there; it also lets you tinker with the scene’s lighting. Say you snapped a photo at noon with harsh sunlight, you can effortlessly turn it into a golden hour masterpiece with warm evening tones, maybe even toss in a sunset for good measure!

Imagine another scenario: a kid about to take a basketball shot from ground level. The rep selected the kid, lifted him into the air to make it look like a gravity-defying dunk, and casually mentioned, “You can move their shadow too!”

Best Take

For anyone who’s ever taken a group photo where someone blinked or looked the other way, Best Take is here to save the day (and induce mild panic).

When you capture a photo on most smartphones, they’re taking multiple shots at different exposures to ensure well-exposed images in varying lighting conditions. Google’s solution to dealing with closed eyes is to grab an alternative frame from the series it has taken and substitute the subject’s face with one where their eyes are open.

This feature isn’t entirely new, reminiscent of Google’s Top Shot introduced years ago, suggesting a better frame from a series of photos taken when you tap the shutter button. However, Best Take can pick a frame from a series of up to six photos snapped within seconds of each other. So, if the photographer went a little trigger-happy, you’re in luck!

I witnessed the rep selecting a person’s face and cycling through other images of that person to choose the perfect face (strange sentence, I know) for your group photo. Google assured me it’s not generating new facial expressions but using an on-device facial recognition algorithm like the one Google Photos already employs to detect familiar faces.

Audio Magic Eraser

Magic Eraser can make unwanted elements in your photos vanish, but now, with the Pixel 8 series, it can also make unwanted sounds disappear.

In a demo, I watched a video of someone playing the cello in a park. But oh, there was a siren wailing in the background (classic New York City). With Audio Magic Eraser, you can edit the video and mute the siren, leaving behind only the dulcet sounds of the cello. It was nothing short of magic. This means you can also cut out the cello sounds and let the siren take center stage if that’s your jam.

Google claims its system employs machine learning to identify up to five common sound types like “sirens,” “animals,” and “crowds.” It’s not perfect – in a demo where someone hummed by the beach, trying to cancel the sound of the ocean, I could still hear the waves sneak in here and there.

Video Boost

Now, this feature isn’t creepy but downright impressive. Video Boost is exclusive to the Pixel 8 Pro. When you’re shooting video in low light or capturing high-action moments, you can enable it.

Here’s how it works: your video, which can be up to 4K at 30 frames per second, is sent to Google’s Cloud for processing. This process significantly improves stabilization, enhances clarity, and reduces noise. The improved video is then sent back to your device. Depending on the video’s length, this could take minutes or, in some cases, overnight.

Although it’s not available at launch, the results are striking. I saw a side-by-side comparison of the Pixel 8 Pro’s video in low light against an iPhone 14 Pro, and the Pixel 8 Pro’s video was significantly clearer, brighter, more vibrant, and had superior stabilization. This is one feature I’m eager to see in action.

While none of these features are groundbreaking in and of themselves, the fact that they are democratizing these powerful tools and making them accessible to smartphone users without requiring technical expertise is astounding. The Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro are raising the bar for everyday photography and video editing. Check out more details on these devices and Google’s AI features for Google Assistant with Bard in their latest announcement.

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