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The Pixel 8 Pro's temperature sensor is too inaccurate, too inconvenient
The Google Pixel smartphone series is no stranger to odd software and hardware additions. The double-sized notch and the short-lived Soli sensor stand out as some of Google’s more out-there experiments. But despite the company’s path towards more refined and purposeful hardware over the last few generations, it wouldn’t be Google if it didn’t give it another shot. And so here we are with the Google Pixel 8 Pro‘s unexpected temperature sensor.
For what it’s worth, Google hasn’t really justified the sensor’s addition beyond a brief keynote mention suggesting the various things you can take a reading of. The running theory is that the sensor was conceived during the COVID era when the ability to take a quick temperature reading would’ve been helpful. But the temperature sensor isn’t FDA-approved yet and as such, isn’t capable of measuring human body temperatures.
So what exactly is it useful for, and is it even accurate? There’s only one way to find out. We took out our trusty Stanley industrial IR thermometer and pitted it against the Google Pixel 8 Pro to test that out.
Are you disappointed by the Pixel 8 Pro's temperature sensor?
Reasonably scientific testing
It’s essential to define the testing parameters, and for our test cases, we picked out a reasonably diverse range of objects that you might want to check the temperature of on a daily basis.
It’s worth keeping in mind the Pixel 8 Pro’s temperature sensor is rated to work at a distance of about two inches from the object you’re testing. On the other hand, the industrial thermometer needs to be used from a much longer distance. The photos placing them together are just for illustrative purposes.
Cold tonic and hot water
I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to my beverages, and getting the temperature right is critical to enjoying my drink. Now, I usually rely on the touch test to gauge whether the drink is cold enough, but I can see the Pixel 8 Pro’s temperature sensor coming in handy to see if my beverage is suitably chilled. Of course, accuracy is key, and in our first test gauging the temperature of a bottle of tonic water straight from the refrigerator, the Pixel does very well. The temperature is slightly off compared to the IR thermometer, but the variance isn’t enough to be of concern. Good start for the Pixel 8 Pro.
Coffee is hot, and to-go coffee can be exceedingly so — just look at the McDonald’s lawsuit if you don’t believe me. Having nearly suffered second-degree burns after spilling some on myself a while back, I’m extra careful every time I take a sip while driving. But what if there was a way to check the temperature and make sure that it’s safe for human consumption? Another potential use case for the Pixel 8 Pro’s temperature sensor?
The Pixel 8 Pro's temperature readings can vary wildly while testing the same object.
Not quite. I took multiple readings next to the industrial thermometer, and the Pixel 8 Pro’s readings fluctuated wildly every single time. Pictured above is the closest I got to the dedicated temperature sensor but even here, the readings are off by three degrees Celsius (5.5F). Over multiple tests, the Pixel 8 Pro’s readings varied from 32°C to 57°C, making the phone’s temperature sensor utterly unreliable.
Do you track the temperature of frozen food while it’s thawing? I don’t, but I can see it being a valuable addition to my food prep process. I’ve recently taken to cold cuts for lunch or dinner, but ensuring that meat has completely thawed can be time-consuming. Enter the thermometer-packing Google Pixel 8 Pro. Will it be able to tell me the surface temperature of frozen food accurately?
Yes, almost. Once again, it’s not entirely accurate, but a one-degree difference isn’t night and day for the use case.
Of course, your temperature-testing shenanigans needn’t be restricted to food and beverages. I also took the Pixel 8 Pro and my temperature gun to my PlayStation 5 to see how well it was managing while playing Baldur’s Gate.
Not bad. While there’s still some variance, it’s once again good enough for a quick check. So far, the Pixel 8 Pro’s temperature sensor has proven to be a good way to approximate temperature.
But here’s the thing, it is very hard to count on the Pixel 8 Pro’s thermometer when you need absolute reliability. While it did well enough when testing the PlayStation’s surface temperature, it was off by almost five degrees when investigating the surface temperature of my Wi-Fi router.
And finally, for the ultimate test, I pointed the thermometer at an iPhone 15 Pro Max running Genshin Impact at full tilt. Once again, the Pixel 8 Pro proved to be in the same ballpark but wasn’t entirely accurate. The iPhone was definitely warm to the touch, and the thermometer backed that up with its ~40°C reading. The only silver lining is that Apple’s iOS 17.1 update has finally fixed the iPhone 15 Pro’s soaring temperature problem.
Now, to be sure, there’s no way for me to guarantee that even the dedicated IR thermometer is taking the correct reading, but I’d lean more toward trusting a dedicated industrial thermometer than a sensor at the back of a phone.
How about living beings?
Now, I’m well aware that Google isn’t advertising body temperature readings as a use-case for the Pixel 8 Pro’s built-in thermometer. The feature is pending FDA approval and was potentially conceived for quick spot checks. But is it even accurate enough or capable of measuring body temperature? There’s only one way to find out.
Being off a few degrees is not good enough for any sort of medical temperature testing.
I switched from the industrial IR thermometer to a medical-grade thermometer to ensure accurate readings. Unfortunately, the Pixel 8 Pro falls flat here, and my attempts at capturing an accurate body temperature reading was way off. This tracks how we’ve seen the phone behave in other settings as well, but while being off by a degree or two doesn’t matter as much when checking the temperature of a video game console, it just wouldn’t fly in a medical setting.
For the sake of our temperature testing experiment, I also grabbed hold of the neighborhood cat and subjected it to a quick reading. No, the cat wasn’t held at gunpoint; the photograph is just to illustrate the gap in temperature readings with the Pixel 8 Pro showing significant deviance again.
More gimmick, less novelty addition
I doubt anyone is buying a Pixel 8 Pro for its temperature-sensing capabilities; that market belongs squarely to FLIR-equipped smartphones. But as these series of tests demonstrate, the temperature sensor is just accurate enough to get a sense of the ambient temperature but not sufficient to be used for any meaningful measurement. While you can certainly use it to approximate the temperature of an object, in most situations, ambient awareness will do the trick.
Would you risk bringing your thousand dollar phone to within an inch of a scalding hot pan?
What’s even more hilarious is that while Google specifically mentions measuring the surface temperature of a pan as a use case, you need to bring your Android phone within 2 inches of a scalding hot pan to do so. With a temperature range of up to 150 degrees, you’d be better off dropping some water on the pan for a quick check than risking your thousand-dollar phone.
Another use case that Google discusses is measuring a milk bottle before handing it over to your baby. But would you trust a temperature sensor that is off by anywhere from five to ten degrees? As our off-the-cuff tests show, the Pixel 8 Pro’s sensor is simply too inaccurate to be used for any precise measurements, and the short range makes it particularly inconvenient to try to either. Perhaps it’s a relic of the COVID era, or maybe it is just a whimsical experiment, but I don’t see it coming back with next year’s Pixel 9 series.