Pixel 8 and 8a will soon get Gemini Nano, but it should still give you pause

AI wallpaper on a Google Pixel 8a
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Google originally said Gemini Nano wouldn't come to the Pixel 8 due to "hardware limitations, but reversed course in March. 
  • Now, it is preparing to release Gemini Nano with the June update for Pixel 8 and Pixel 8a, and it has already appeared in an update to Android AICore.
  • Although the company figured out a way to get Gemini Nano on the entire Pixel 8 series, it wasn't a smooth process. 

One thing that became clear at Google I/O is that Google wants to make AI one of Android's main focuses. There are a handful of Android features that are already available on existing phones with cloud processing, and more are coming with Android 15. However, on-device AI processing is the end goal, and Gemini Nano is the key. Moving crucial AI processes on-device can improve speed and security, among other benefits. That's why the Google Pixel 8 Pro and the entire Samsung Galaxy S24 shipped with at least a few on-device AI features. 

Google caused a stir when it explained that the Pixel 8 would not get Gemini Nano, the company's smallest AI model designed for mobile use. At the time, it said that there were "hardware limitations" that prevented the Pixel 8 from running Gemini Nano well. Since both the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro are powered by the Tensor G3 system-on-a-chip, that may have been perplexing to some. It also came on the heels of Google touting a seven-year software update promise for the Pixel 8 series. 

Eventually, Google reversed course, saying in March that Gemini Nano would come to the Pixel 8 as an opt-in feature. That's now right around the corner as Google prepares the June update for Pixels. This update could come as soon as next week and will bring Gemini Nano to the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8a. However, ahead of this move, Google is updating Android AICore to add a toggle specifically for generative AI features on Pixel 8 and Pixel 8a. 

Originally, the AICore settings page for Pixel 8 and Pixel 8a had an option called Enable AICore Persistent, which allows "AICore to carve out memory and run persistently." This has been replaced by a new toggle, as one user running version 0.release.pixel8.636144055 of AICore told Mishaal Rahman. The updated toggle is Enable on-device GenAI Features, and will "enable GenAI features that will run through AICore, using Gemini."

The toggle is disabled by default, and this aligns with Google's prior comments that Gemini Nano would come to the remaining Pixel 8 devices as an optional setting. Although this AICore setting doesn't specifically mention Gemini Nano, it's a huge sign that the model is being readied for the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8a, as promised. Right now, it isn't clear whether the Enable on-device GenAI Features toggle is showing up for Pixel 8a users as well or if it's limited to the Pixel 8 for now. 

While it's great that Google seems to have figured out how to support Gemini Nano throughout the entire Pixel 8 series, the rocky road that led us here might foreshadow more troubles as smartphones age. 

Why didn't Google give Gemini Nano to the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8a at launch?

The Google Pixel 8a in the Bay blue colorway

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Google didn't specifically elaborate on what "hardware limitation" prevented the Pixel 8 from running Gemini Nano, but it isn't hard to figure out the issue. Both the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro use the Tensor G3 SoC for processing, and the main hardware difference is the amount of RAM. The Pixel 8 Pro has 12GB of RAM, while the regular Pixel 8 (and later the budget Pixel 8a) only has 8GB. Since artificial intelligence features demand a lot of memory, this is likely the reason Google was wary of giving Gemini Nano to the Pixel 8. 

However, the base-model Galaxy S24 also has 8GB of RAM, and it still has on-device AI features. One of those is Magic Compose in Google Messages, which uses the Galaxy S24's on-device compute. Of course, the Galaxy S24 uses a different SoC, but it's still an example of a base-model flagship being able to make use of the latest AI features. Now that the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8a are getting Gemini Nano, it'll make those phones more equivalent to the Pixel 8 Pro in AI performance. 

What it means for the future of Pixel 8 series updates

Google Pixel 8 hands on with AI features

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

It's difficult to completely fault Google for the delay in bringing Gemini Nano to the Pixel 8. If the phone wasn't able to use Gemini Nano without inhibiting performance, letting these devices have it anyway would create a worse experience. Giving users the choice of whether to use Gemini Nano or not following the June update is the best of both scenarios. 

However, the drawn-out process of bringing Gemini Nano to the Pixel 8 once again brings up the central question of this year's launch: why would Google promise seven years of updates? Gemini Nano is the smallest Gemini model ever created, and it'll likely remain the smallest Gemini model forever. AI models are becoming bigger — not smaller — and it's almost a certainty that the next iteration of Gemini Nano will be larger. If the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8a could barely run Gemini Nano, the hopes of these devices running newer AI models and gaining future on-device features seem slim.

That's the problem with the seven-year promise for software updates, especially on the Pixel 8a and Pixel 8. The viability of using a phone for seven years and still getting a great experience the entire way is still pretty unproven on Android. You could make the case that the Pixel 8 didn't get the entire experience in year one, so that doesn't bode well for what year seven might look like.

Brady Snyder

Brady is a tech journalist covering news at Android Central. He has spent the last two years reporting and commenting on all things related to consumer technology for various publications. Brady graduated from St. John's University in 2023 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. When he isn't experimenting with the latest tech, you can find Brady running or watching sports.