The best tech purchase I made this year is the first smartphone that's given me a bit of the old Windows Phone buzz

Google Pixel 8
(Image credit: Windows Central)

I got my start in this job covering phones. In 2011, I joined Android Central as a freelancer, and since covered iPhone, BlackBerry, and found my forever home on Windows Central when I got into Windows Phone. Like many of our readers, I still mourn our long-lost mobile OS, and phones just haven't excited me since. So I guess it's a good job that I don't have to cover them for a living anymore!

I've basically been using an iPhone since Microsoft pulled the plug. It's very boring, but it served its purpose of being a phone that I used to do phone things with. I've dabbled with a number of Android phones in that time as well, but nothing gave me much more than a "meh" feeling. 

But, through friends and coworkers, the Google Pixel started to interest me. I've used a couple in the past, the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 4a, but I recently took the plunge and bought the new Pixel 8. Not only is it easily the best tech purchase I made this year, but it's given me back some of that feeling I'd lost. It'll never replace Windows Phone, but it's actually exciting. I didn't bank on that. 

Google's Android isn't boring anymore 

Google Pixel 8's AI wallpaper generator. (Image credit: Windows Central)

As good as my previous Pixels were on the hardware front, Google's own take on Android always felt a bit boring. The cameras were good, and there were a couple of interesting software features, but it just felt plain and dull. Even in my days on Android Central, I'd rarely use a Nexus phone for long for similar reasons. I actually enjoyed some of the individual touches and styles phone manufacturers would add on top of it. By contrast, Windows Phone was never boring. 

Moving back into Pixel life with the Pixel 8 feels different. It actually feels like Google cares about user experience, about adding thoughtful features that are useful while still keeping the user experience simple. I'd also forgotten how much I missed an always-on display and the 'now playing' tool that I didn't realize runs locally on the phone, constantly telling me which irritating Christmas song is playing when I walk into a store. 

My favorite new waste of time, I mean, feature, is the generative AI wallpapers. On my iPhone, I used to just set a wallpaper and leave it forever, but with a fancy new AI tool to play with, I've been generating new ones every few days. The Pixel 8 even warns me when I'm walking and looking at my phone that I need to look up at where I'm going. I ignore it, but it's still a nice touch. 

Maybe a part of it all is that as I grow older (not wiser, just older) and my tastes change, I have a new-found appreciation for clever simplicity. I still look at a Samsung phone and feel like my eyes want to vomit. So much color, so overwhelming. But in Google's flavor of Android, I now find it not only pleasing and comfortable to use but also subtly stylish. Not Windows Phone stylish, nothing can ever touch that. But it's still pretty good. 

I'm starting to care about the camera again

The rear of the Obsidian Google Pixel 8. (Image credit: Windows Central)

One of my pet peeves in recent years has been this obsession with the camera on a phone. We're not all David Bailey. Some of us just want to photograph our kids doing something cute or hilarious in a hurry. That's one of the things that kept me on an iPhone. While the quality wasn't the best, it was fast to launch the camera and capture a reasonable copy of that memory. I don't care about having 15 lenses on the back of my phone; I actually really dislike it. 

The Pixel camera has always been great, but not just because of its hardware. The Pixel 8 is my first experience of Google's latest and greatest software tweaks and tools, and I'm starting to care again. I only have two lenses on the back of my phone, which is fine. It doesn't look ridiculous, but the magic lies within. We had some killer camera apps on Windows Phone back in the day; remember some of those goodies like Nokia Smart Cam

It takes good photos, but I am no photographer. Being able to use Google's software to quickly make those photos look better, though? Love that. We recently had snow, and my kids were outside playing in it, being all cute, so I snapped a bunch of photos on the Pixel 8. Within 30 seconds of tapping in the app, I removed someone else who'd snuck into the background, gave it a little pop, and since then, ordered two of them as prints. The photos look fantastic, as if I'd used an actual, proper camera and put some real effort into it. When in reality, I just clicked away on my phone and left software magic to figure the rest out. My input was just to hold the phone up.

But it's also so good I don't need to carry a dedicated camera on work trips if I don't feel like it. I recently went to an ASUS briefing to see the new ZenBook 14 OLED, and I just took my Pixel 8. These kinds of events are always oddly lit and leave you with limited time. I just used the Pixel 8 and the same tactic of using Google's software to spruce up the pictures, and they look fine. Probably better than if I'd actually taken the camera. I still don't really know how to use it properly and manually edit the images. I'm all for something that makes life easier.

The smartphone landscape is still a bit dull, but the Pixel 8 shines

Theming is fun again. (Image credit: Windows Central)

I'm not going to pretend that I've become a born-again smartphone enthusiast because I haven't. Losing BlackBerry and Windows Phone left us with a choice of two platforms, and that in itself is duller than watching a five-hour documentary on telegraph poles. When competition is lost, we all lose. But after some years of not really caring about the phone in my pocket, I am at least excited again. 

The Pixel 8 gives me a bit of that Windows Phone buzz back. It's not about the spec race, or hammering ridiculous camera attachments to its back, or having the highest resolution display. Or even the best battery life, because honestly, it's average on that front. Instead, it's a phone packed with strengths that are useful to normal people; it's a pleasant user experience, I don't have to worry about updates, and it didn't cost more than I've spent on some cars. It does all the boring bits I want my phone to do, but it has enough excitement in it to make me actually care about using it. 

The Pixel also has a bit of a community vibe about it. Sure, Google's #TeamPixel is a marketing exercise, but there's a real community behind it. Seeing the photos people are taking on their phones, the fun ways they're theming it up, and neat accessories I hadn't thought about (next on my shopping list is adding some MagSafe, thanks to our old pal Mark Guim and his Instagram Reels). It doesn't replace the community we lost, but it has a bit of that feel about it. Puts a warm glow in this old man's heart.

And so, there it is. I bought a Pixel 8 this year, and it's easily the best thing I spent my own money on. Now I'm off to make another AI wallpaper because it's been at least a day. 

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at

  • John McIlhinney
    I have a Pixel 6 Pro and use Microsoft Launcher. I use the Bing wallpaper feature, so I get a nice new wallpaper every day. I use it on both the lock screen and home screen, with blur on the latter, so it's a nice effect when unlocking the phone. The blur also makes text easier to read.
  • wojtek
    lolz, how people differ. for me the OS should be the most unobtrusive thing ever. wallpaper? I do have it but rarely see it - you pick up you phone, do the phone thing so the is should do that as fast as possible and looking at the wallpaper would be such a huge waste of time.

    with that in mind I do miss my old OnePlus3 that had amazing fingerprint scanner in reliable place so when picking out the phone out of my pocket with the intention of doing anything I would easily have it unlocked already when it went to my visibility range. no stupid toying with under display (optical) scanner where you have to look at the screen to actually hit the scanner. no need for dumb face unlock, which requires you to place the phone correctly...

    But to that end we get "amazing" wast of time of more animation of wallpapers to look at... 😂