Pixel 8, Pixel 8 Pro and Pixel 7a: Google's lineup for 2023, done right

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Pixel 8, Pixel 8 Pro and Pixel 7a: Google's lineup for 2023, done right
An oftentimes underrated virtue of smartphone design is balance. By this I mean that many tech giants forsake the merits of proper device differentiation and end up with a product portfolio that is invariably skewed to one direction or the other.

A prominent example that illustrates this tendency is Apple. The Cupertino company practically has no meaningful entry-level handsets and is increasingly shifting its focus on its larger high-end iPhones (if the rumors surrounding the upcoming Ultra are correct, that is). This is in line with industry norms, but it also precludes many users from finding their ideal smartphone match.

I have talked at length about why I think smartphone design should be inclusive and reflect the preferences of all users, not just the vocal majority. This will not be my goal in this article. Instead, I will talk about one manufacturer which might be close to achieving (in my mind) the perfect balance between pricing, differentiation and dimensions.

I am referring to Google. According to most reports, the company’s smartphone lineup for 2023 includes 3 non-foldable smartphones - the Pixel 8, the Pixel 8 Pro, and the Pixel 7a. I am intentionally excluding the Pixel Fold from this article as that is a very different beast altogether. Hence, I will only be comparing the mundane Pixel handsets.

All of the aforementioned smartphones could feature a truly unique selling point, which will set them apart from the rest of the lineup and enable users to easily find the device that suits their needs best. In the following paragraphs, I will look at how Google will try to achieve this balance.

I would also like to start off with a disclaimer: I am basing almost everything in this article on leaks from highly credible sources with proven track records. Nevertheless, the information, although reliable, should be taken with a grain of salt as it is subject to change. I would also like to give credit for all of the renders in this article to Steve H. McFly (i.e. OnLeaks) With that out of the way I will get right to the first device in the lineup - the Pixel 7a.

The Pixel 7a: A midrange flagship

I have written a dedicated article on why I believe the The Pixel 7a is actually Google's flagship in disguise. At the very least, the 7a could be a capable ‘flagship killer’ and can become one of the best midrange smartphones of 2023. What I like in particular about the 7a is how it is positioned in Google’s product lineup for 2023, especially vis-a-vis the Pixel 8.

The Pixel 7a is the entry-level option, but it is not all that smaller than its more high-end sibling. It features a 6.1” screen, which is on the lower end of the spectrum, but still bigger than other compact smartphones like the iPhone 13 mini and Asus Zenfone 9. This means that the 7a is ‘the golden middle’ when it comes to handset dimensions.

It offers more screen real-estate than true ‘small’ smartphones, but not nearly as much as the 6.7” beasts which are so commonplace in the world of Android. If there is one size that fits all, that must be 6.1”, and Google has done well to opt for it.

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After all, the main selling point of the Pixel 7a will be its competitive price. This means that potential buyers will prioritize the latter over screen real estate. The size could be a possible deal-breaker, but not necessarily the main concern. By extension, Google’s decision to choose the ‘safest’ screen size which has the potential to appeal to most users is an example of sound product design. Which brings me to the next point.

The Pixel 8: Small, But Powerful

Typically, if manufacturers have a ‘compact’ smartphone offering, it almost always features some sort of trade-off and is the de facto entry level option. Essentially, tech companies equate the demand for small handsets with that of budget devices, which is not necessarily correct. Google has not made this mistake this time around.

Surprisingly, the Pixel 8 will be just 6.2” big. I would have personally preferred the device to come with a 5.8” screen as the initial rumors indicated, but I understand how that would have been a turn-off for many potential buyers. Nevertheless, the fact that the Pixel 8 and Pixel 7a will have very similar screen sizes is huge (pun intended).

This means that the decision between the two will be based on the budget of the potential buyer and whether they want to pay a premium for superior specs, as should always be the case. Making the Pixel 8 relatively similar to the Pixel 7a, while also preserving a proper amount of price and feature differentiation is a good approach to portfolio structuring.

In short, if you want a well-rounded Pixel device for as little as possible, you have the Pixel 7a to look forward to. If you want something better, but not bigger, you can pay a little bit more and get a Pixel 8. Simply put, the Pixel 8 is not necessarily superior to the Pixel 7a, it is different.

The Pixel 8 Pro: Bigger is Better

However, some people just want a smartphone that is larger than life, the best, the biggest and the most premium handset money can buy. The Pixel 8 Pro will fulfill said fantasy by being your typical 6.7” ultra high-end Android flagship.

Based on the spec leaks, we can expect similar performance from both the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, with differentiation being limited to the display refresh rate, camera optics and battery life. The only one of these selling points I have a small problem with is the 120Hz refresh rate being exclusive to the Pixel 8 Pro.

Do not get me wrong, a 90Hz display is great, but if Google hikes the price of the vanilla model as some tipsters expect, it will be a tough sell. I simply do not think a $700-800 smartphone should come with a sub-120Hz refresh rate, even if Apple does everything in its power to convince users otherwise.

With that out of the way, I tend to agree that camera-oriented features should be exclusive to bigger smartphones, given the size constraints that the former entail. The same goes for battery life - a bigger smartphone, by default, has to offer a bigger battery and superior battery life.

All in all, this adds up to a balanced product portfolio, with users being given clear incentives to splurge more on a costlier device. In essence:

  • The Pixel 7a: good all-rounder, a “one size fits all” approach for those on a budget
  • The Pixel 8: a small-ish smartphone, clearly better and more expensive that the 7a, but not the ‘real’ flagship
  • The Pixel 8 Pro: The biggest and ‘best’ Pixel smartphone money can buy, but not all that superior to the vanilla model

Conclusions: Give a reason to buy, not a reason to splurge

I really like this approach to pricing and product differentiation. It is much more logical and customer-friendly to give users a reason to spend more than to force them to do so because the lower-end (yet still expensive) device has an obvious shortcoming.

Apple has resorted to the second tactic for quite some time now and it undoubtedly works. It is unfortunate that Apple can get away with it and prosper, but the world of tech is not fair, and with so many tech giants having the tendency to follow in the Cupertino company’s footsteps, it is nice to see a company like Google experiment with a different approach.

Granted, hardware has never been Google’s forte, nor their biggest source of revenue. One thing is certain, however - Pixel users will have plenty of choice in 2023, and there will be no wrong options. And this is something every smartphone manufacturer should aspire to.

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