Earlier this week, Google updated the Pixel 8 Pro to allow its strange new temperature sensor to finally take readings of human bodies. I'm sorry to report that after using it, it doesn't make this feature any less confusing.
To measure body temperature, you pass your phone's infrared temperature sensor along the side of your forehead, directly above the temporal artery. So far, there's nothing too strange here. Just this month, I had to take a look at the Withings BeamO, a 4-in-1 multiscope that also allows you to scan the same type of sensor over the same artery to take your temperature. The difference is that the BeamO was extremely easy to use, while the Pixel 8 Pro was incredibly accurate.
This is because the phone's temperature sensor is located in the rear camera array. This makes perfect sense if you're using it to erase objects (although again, Why?). But if you're trying to take your temperature yourself, it's difficult to gauge if you're doing anything right because you can't actually see the screen. Google includes a video tutorial that shows you how close you're supposed to hold it to your forehead (too close) and how you should tilt it at a slight angle. The phone will try to walk you through all of this. Once you're close enough, the phone will vibrate when it's time to swipe the phone over your forehead (without touching it) toward your temple. You can enable audio cues, but you still have to know where to tap and how fast to move. It's not what I'd call intuitive, and you'll likely need to try it a few times until you get the hang of it.
There's a reason why people use the front camera to take selfies, even if the back camera takes higher quality photos. Just from user experience, this is best suited for taking someone else's temperature, or rather taking someone else's temperature while using their phone because it's weird to keep other people's health data for you phone. You have the option to sync your data with the Fitbit app, and it saves any readings from the past week by default in the native app.
Aside from the annoying user experience, accuracy is another question mark. In this screenshot, my colleague Parker Ortolani's Pixel 8 Pro tells him his body temperature is 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It's true that Parker said he was outside for this particular reading, but this is bordering on hypothermia. It's also very unlikely. I also watched Parker take readings from his forearm and palm. None of these areas were supposed to work, but the phone didn't stop him. (The feature is calibrated for the forehead only, so you shouldn't trust results from other parts of the body.)
To be fair, this is one of the problems with temporal artery temperature readings in general. Although it's generally fast and accurate, it's easy to throw it off with things like… Direct sunlight, cold environments, or even forehead sweating. User error can also affect the readings, and as I mentioned, this is one of the most accurate ways to measure your body temperature.
In order for this feature to go public, Google says it has acquired it De Novo FDA clearance. This is the same type that Apple got for the EKG feature in the Apple Watch Series 4, but that mostly means it's a low-to-medium risk (aka generally safe) device and doesn't have a similar equivalent yet. However, the phone includes several disclaimers within the temperature app. You can see from these screenshots that Google notes that “temperature readings may vary and are more accurate when done correctly.” There's also a disclaimer that the readings are “general guides only,” and on other screens, the app states that it can't detect any disease or replace advice from a healthcare provider.
All of this means that I can't imagine the average person using this feature. Ostensibly, this is something Google started creating in 2020 and 2021, a time when restaurants and other public places were checking people's temperatures for the coronavirus. If it had existed at the time, we might have thought about this feature differently. For better or worse, I can't remember the last time a restaurant or event venue took my temperature.
You could say that having this on your phone is a matter of convenience. If I'm on a plane and feeling a little feverish, I probably won't have a thermometer on hand. In theory, I could then use the Pixel 8 Pro and go ahead and spend critical time using the rear camera and sensor to take my temperature. This is probably the only instance where this makes sense – and even then, a precautionary Advil and a good back of the hand on the forehead will likely suffice.
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