AI is the heart and soul of the Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, with many of the most exciting features on these phones being AI-powered. But it turns out that some of these features are also powered by the cloud, which means you need an internet connection to use them.
This issue was highlighted by Mrwhosetheboss during his video review of the latest Pixel phones, and has also been mentioned on Reddit and elsewhere. And it is an issue because it means if you don’t have an internet connection (as might be the case when out in the countryside, or when abroad and not wanting roaming fees), you won’t be able to use these features.
It also means the features can be slower to use than on-device features, especially if your internet connection is slow. And because much of Google’s AI is focused on photography, these are exactly the sorts of features you might want to use when abroad or out and about, where the signal can be variable.
Plus, sending your images, videos, and other data to the cloud for AI processing also comes with potential privacy and security concerns.
So it’s a problem, but which AI features are affected? We’ve laid out our findings below.
Which Pixel 8 AI features require an internet connection?
Both AI Wallpaper and Magic Editor require an internet connection to use, as confirmed both by Mrwhosetheboss and other users. Video Boost also requires an internet connection as confirmed by Google itself – which in turn means Night Sight Video does as well.
Not all of the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro’s AI skills require an internet connection though. Magic Eraser doesn’t, and nor does Call Screen. Of course, notably, those are both features that you can also get on the Pixel 7, so they’re not new for the Pixel 8 line.
However, Best Take also works on-device according to Google, and that is a major new Pixel 8 feature. Audio Magic Eraser is handled on the device too, according to TechCrunch. The incoming Gboard Smart Replies feature will work without an internet connection as well, as will AI summaries in the Google Recorder app, and Zoom Enhance.
Why do you need an internet connection?
Google claims to have made major strides in providing on-device generative AI, and this progress is in part thanks to the new Tensor G3 chipset powering the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro. Yet, presumably, the chipset just isn’t powerful enough for all AI tasks.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worse for AI and machine learning, in fact it might be better, as that’s always been Google’s focus with the Tensor chipsets. But one way or another it’s presumably not up to the task of carrying out every AI task.
In fairness to Google, full on-device AI might be out of reach for any phone maker for now. After all, the likes of ChatGPT and Midjourney also require an internet connection, even if you have a high-powered PC.
So it could be a long time before we see some of these features handled without the help of the cloud.
The upside of an internet connection
While it’s unfortunate that some of Google’s headline AI features don’t actually run fully on the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro themselves – and that Google hasn’t been more transparent about that – there are potential upsides to this, notably that it might make it more viable for these features to come to older Pixel models.
After all, if they require the power of the Tensor G3 then they’ll have to remain exclusive to the Pixel 8 line. But if a lot of the heavy lifting is handled off the device, then there’s hope that they could trickle down to older models.
In fact, we might even one day see some of these features on non-Google phones, given that Magic Eraser is now available on other Android phones and even the iPhone if you’re a Google One subscriber.
Though given how much Google has hyped the AI skills of the Tensor G3 it’s likely that some features will at least work best on the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro.
You might also like
Get daily insight, inspiration and deals in your inbox
Get the hottest deals available in your inbox plus news, reviews, opinion, analysis and more from the TechRadar team.
James is a freelance phones, tablets and wearables writer and sub-editor at TechRadar. He has a love for everything ‘smart’, from watches to lights, and can often be found arguing with AI assistants or drowning in the latest apps. James also contributes to 3G.co.uk, 4G.co.uk and 5G.co.uk and has written for T3, Digital Camera World, Clarity Media and others, with work on the web, in print and on TV.