The Pixel 8 Pro's mystery sensor is... a temperature sensor?

The Pixel 8 Pro's mystery sensor is... a temperature sensor?
May 2023

When the first Pixel 8 Pro renders leaked, the primary point of speculation revolved around the camera layout. Besides the usual three cameras and an LED flash, what in the world was the second circle of sensor clusters right under the LED flash? Some people let their imaginations run wild and thought it was a LiDAR sensor; we figured Google was just rearranging things like the laser-autofocus array. The real answer turns out to be weirder than either of those options.

Android researcher Kuba Wojciechowski, the same person who scored the first live video of the Pixel Fold, now has the first live video of the Pixel 8 Pro, hosted over at 91mobiles. The video appears to be an internal Google demonstration showing off the main new feature of the Pixel 8 Pro: a temperature sensor. If you remember back to the start of the pandemic, some Chinese manufacturers came up with the idea of a smartphone-mounted forehead temperature sensor. Now it looks like Google is going down that road three years later.

RIP video

The video features a prototype Pixel 8 Pro with a telltale identifying pattern on the back of the phone, which we've seen on many Google prototypes. The camera bar features the same layout as OnLeaks' earlier render, with all the cameras in a single pill-shaped cutout. The video indicates that the temperature sensor is the white circle. The 91mobiles report says the sensor is an infrared thermometer and similar to what most contactless thermometers use. You take your temperature by putting the back of the phone "as close as possible" to your forehead without touching it, and then, over four seconds, swipe the phone across your forehead to the temple. It looks like a lot of work and easy to mess up.

The video is, to some extent, fake. There are all sorts of on-screen graphics, and the phone display is "simulated," meaning the phone was off during filming and a screen image was pasted into the video. That's normal for ads and instructional videos, and here you can see the screen image doesn't track with the phone very well. Being fake doesn't mean the video is misleading, though. The report says this feature is being tested by Googlers, and this video seems like a quickly thrown-together demo for Google employees. The leaker, Wojciechowski, also has a great reputation for product scoops at this point.

The video also shows off the new flat screen of the Pro model, whereas previously Google's flagship had a distorted, curved display. The model in this video still has a mirror finish on the aluminum, which is a shame. The Pixel 7 Pro's mirror finish gets scratched up basically the second you take it out of the box, while the matte aluminum finish on the cheaper Pixel 7 and 7a is a lot more durable and feels better.

The other thing we've got to ask--does anyone want a smartphone-mounted temperature sensor? This feels like something Samsung would put on a phone and then remove a year or two later, like the company's experiments with an iris scanner and a heart rate scanner. No one seemed particularly interested in this idea when the Chinese manufacturers did it during the height of COVID. If Google's going to argue that regular temperature measurement has some kind of health benefit, it seems like that would be better suited for a wearable like a smartwatch. I can't imagine ever slowly swiping a phone across my face to do this. Even if temperature measurement is something you would find useful, do you need to carry that around in your pocket everywhere you go?