It seems like just yesterday that Google released the Pixel 4a, and it kind of was, such is the time warp of 2020. This year Google had their Made By Google event at around the same time of the year as usual, once again announcing two new phones to the market. This year though there is no ultra-premium, or even premium, flagship.
Due to reasons unknown this year Google has decided to release three smartphones of three different prices but all within what could be called the mid-range segment. $1000 for a phone though is still not cheap so there is an argument that the new Pixel 5 sits in a premium segment — and we much prefer the premium segment at this price. As such reviewing this new Pixel 5 we need to take ito account the new pricing for the flagship Pixel smartphone.
For years we all loved our affordable Nexus devices from Google and this device is apparently working along those lines. Packing in as much as possible at a relatively affordable price but with a caveats along the way due to the pricing. The Nexus times were good times though — as we headed there again with this new phone from Google?
I’m not sure why we bother with unboxing these days unless it is an exceptional experience. Even though I wrote the announcement post for the Pixel 5 along with many other rumour posts in the lead up to the announcement I was surprised when the parcel for it landed on my mail box.
There’s no way a phone box could fit inside that right? maybe it is something else I was expecting? Nope. The Pixel 5 box is tiny. You know what that means too, the Pixel 5 itself is “tiny” too. As someone who has grown used to the size of the OPPO Find X2 Pro this is a massive change.
So what else is in the box? Headphones, charger, USB-C cable and the USB-A to USB-C adapter Google always include. Nothing out of the ordinary — just a very small phone.
Design and build quality
I mentioned it above so let’s do this again- it is a tiny phone. In fact we all thought the Pixel 5 would end up being sized between the Pixel 4 and the Pixel 4 XL. We were wrong. It is smaller than the Pixel 4 although it does have a larger display than the Pixel 4.
The rear of the device is coated in a “bioresin” which is an ultrathin plastic. Underneath said resin is an aluminium shell which gives it that solid feel — the aluminium shell has a small cutout in it to allow for wireless charging. The plastic certainly feels plastic though, make no mistake about it although the coating does give a bit of texture to the device and isn’t as slippery as most plastic devices I’ve used.
The centre of the device houses one of the most sensitive fingerprint sensors I have ever used — or is it that I’ve just become accustomed to using an in-display fingerprint sensor? The sensor sits inside a circle cutout which has curved edges making it a nice feel when using but also making it more difficult to feel for at times. Luckily, barely touching the sensor with any particular part of my finger unlocks the phone. The sensor was so sensitive I had to turn off Google’s gesture on the fingerprint sensor that pulls down the notification shade.
Gone is the telltale coloured power button — yes, that button that tells everyone that this is a Pixel, which I must say is disappointing. In its place is a silver button (on both the black and green versions).
What’s good about it?
We normally discuss the hardware in its own separate section of the review but this year Google have set out to make a phone that shows us that to an extent it doesn’t matter (insert The Rock gif here) what is on the inside of a smartphone if it is optimised and powered by near pure Android. iPhones have done it for years with their minimal RAM and chipsets providing fast, smooth experiences — now it is Google’s turn.
The Snapdragon 765G with 5G is no slouch in the Pixel 5. Using it was a pleasure. When we use a Pixel smartphone we always talk about the Pixel Experience and that is most certainly present in the Pixel 5. The smoothness and transitions and just something else to behold. Other manufacturers try to emulate this Pixel Experience but so far none are close. Sure the OnePlus phones may be a tad faster but the buttery smoothness of the Pixel 5 sets it apart.
Google has finally included 8GB of RAM in the Pixel 5, more than they have ever before, so it does not seem to be plagued by the memory issues that have plagued all other Google flagships in the past few years. This is Android how Google envision it — without any quirks.
Gone is the big forehead of the Pixel 4 XL thanks to Motion Sense being nixed this year replaced by a display that effectively fills the entire front of the device. Bezels are so last year (but then we also thought rear-mounted fingerprint sensors were too). The display though is a bit of a disappointment with it not being as bright as other smartphones AMOLED displays, it is just 1080P and only supports 90Hz. It isn’t bad per se but it certainly isn’t as good as some of its competitors — this is certainly one place where corners were cut to make a price range (plus the SD765G chipset only supports 1080P unfortunately.
Stable Android 11 is something I haven’t used until now as I was holding out for this. Android 11 shows that Google is continuing to improve their software, looking for ways to improve our experience by making life easier.
Android 11 on the Pixel 5 is Android as it should be and funnily enough my favourite new UX is the power button/menu. The ability to have shortcuts to your Google Pay cards as well as smart lights is something I already use extensively. I would like to be able to add a lot more different smart things to my menu but at this stage it only adds lights and a few other things. My garage door and blinds are not on there, neither are routines — now that would be extremely useful (there is a way to do it with Tasker but I’ll have to look into that more — let me know if you’ve figured it out).
I’m not sure why other phones and manufacturers cannot do it but whenever you want to perform Google Assistant actions on other devices it will hear you talk to it but then ask you to unlock the phone to perform the action. Pixels do not require this and it is something I love to take advantage of given that my entire house is run through Google Assistant.
The Pixel Camera experience
Last year Google took to the stage and told us we did not need an ultra-wide angle lens. How times have changed. This year they understand why we all disagreed with them on that one. Gone is the telephoto lens, replaced with an ultra-wide angle lens — Google says that they can do zoom with software through their Super Res Zoom feature but cannot do ultrawide with software, hence the change.
So how are the images? Excellent, as you would expect. Google Pixel phones have never hit the top of the pile in smartphone camera ratings because there are always things they cannot do but what they can do is take exceptional pictures in most situations and scenarios where people take photos every day.
Pixel Night Sight is still possibly the best night mode available on an Android smartphone and this year Google have added an auto-night sight mode where the phone uses its AI chops to determine when Night Sight is required and a Portrait Night Sight mode. Those night selfies are much improved thanks to the new mode.
Another new feature is Portrait Light which allows you to change the location of the light source after taking the portrait photo. This can be used to brighten certain sections of the image up and create a more pleasant image — and it most certainly worked as advertised.
SuperRes Zoom is Google’s software answer to everyone else’s telescopic zoom lenses. Unfortunately it is extremely limited at this stage in real life. It just does not provide the detail at a large zoom amount compared to other manufacturers with not just telescopic lenses but telephoto lenses. Maybe next year they will add a telephoto lens as well.
Check out the images above for some image samples — unfortunately with the current Melbourne lockdown conditions I had to find photographic locations within 5km of my house but if you look at each one you get the picture. Google Pixel 5: great camera for a vast majority of everyday scenarios.
Is there anything not to like?
This is something that will cause a lot of arguments, and has among Ausdroid writers and other journos who also have a Pixel 5. The charging. Although this year the battery life is finally sufficient to last a day for a vast majority of users, the Pixel 5 charges at Google’s PD 18W charging speed. This was impressive four years ago but in 2020 we are seeing phones come out with 65W charging and after using one for the past few months I can say that I think 18W is unacceptable. Charging a device to full should not take over an hour.
Sure most people charge their smartphones overnight but, especially during the NBA playoffs, I’ve been doing a LOT of streaming etc on my phones and would easily run the battery out before the end of the day. Being able to plug my phone in for 10-15 minutes and get another 50%+ of battery life is a godsend. The Pixel 5 on the other hand charges extremely slowly, so much so that I have battery anxiety when doing too much streaming. This won’t affect a majority of users and my use case is extremely person and limited but never having to worry about running out of battery due to being able to plug in for a few minutes is much better for the anxiety levels.
The Pixel 5 though does have wireless charging which could negate this battery anxiety — sit it on the charger all day to keep it topped up. This battery anxiety is not something that would stop me buying the phone but something I think Google needs to think about improving in next year’s Pixel. Speaking of the wireless charging it seems that this year Google has increased its speed to 12W according to regulatory documents. There is also reverse wireless charging support which is very handy for charging those Pixel Buds when they run out of battery.
Let’s talk about the size. I love large phones. As a purveyor of large amounts of media on my phone the size of the display matters. Sure it is only 0.7-inches smaller than the Find X2 Pro display but that 0.7-inches makes a whole lot of difference. There is of course the advantage in having a smaller screen that the phone is a lot smaller and thus easier to handle, fit into pockets etc. Many people don’t want to go to a phone too big and although it is something you can easily get used to the 6-inch display on the Pixel 5 will most likely be big enough for most users while at the same time keeping the device small and easy to use.
The Google Pixel Fabric case
Although the Google Pixel fabric cases are not cheap, they are great cases. Made from 70% recycled material with a soft outer fabric on top of a hard shell they do offer quite a bit of protection in the case of a small drop or ding. Once again Google have made the design of the fabric case a soft yet punchy design with some orange interspersed throughout the rest of the grey colours.
You can’t go wrong with a fabric case from Google — they fit well, the buttons work as well as they can and it isn’t overly massive. There are of course smaller aftermarket cases but they are not likely to give you the protection nor the cool design this gives.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Google released their Nexus phones and they have improved out of sight — as has Android — with just about every aspect of the experience. The Pixel 5 though does remind me a lot of a Nexus phone but this time it’s better.
The phone offers great value for money and unless you are wedded to ultra-large devices there is nothing lacking that this doesn’t already have — let’s face it, my love for 65W charging is not an essential item and 18W charging will suffice for a vast majority of people who only ever charge their phones over night.
The device isn’t massive which the many people who have bemoaned the size of current smartphones on the market will love, and after using it for a week or so I can easily see where a 6-inch display is easily big enough for just about everything. Sure the display isn’t as bright and vibrant as a Samsung or OPPO flagship but at a fraction of the cost is still great. Google have cut some corners to make the sub-$1000 price but they have cut all the right corners this time.
The mid-range processor did not miss a beat at all, the software is still the best available on the market in Australia and although it does not have the new wizz-bang in-display fingerprint sensor there is nothing wrong with the old skool one on the rear of the device. The camera on the phone is close to the best available in a multitude of situations you will ever come across — something that Nexus devices never had.
Some people were disappointed in their Nexus smartphones, mostly due to the lack of Google-specific software tweaks, mostly to the camera. I can honestly say that as long as you can deal with a smaller device than the Maxwell Smart shoe-phones available now, you will NOT be disappointed in it. The Pixel 5, in my opinion is probably the best value smartphone on the Australian market (closely followed by the other Pixels) and is certainly in the running for best smartphone in Australia, period.
The Google Pixel 5 will range in two colours, Just Black and Sorta Sage (selected retailers). It will retail for $999 from today from the Google Store, Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, JB Hi-Fi, Officeworks and Harvey Norman.
Google have performed miracles and at this price we hope they continue along this line in the future.