REVIEW: Google Pixel 5 - Less Is More
Since their first Pixel handsets arrived on the scene, Google’s answer to what a smartphone should be never seemed to be able to outpace the competition. Unfortunately, the Pixel lines of phones almost always end up being some of the most leaked Android devices each year as well. By the time official announcements roll around, the element of surprise has been well and truly squashed, and the inevitable arguments between Android fanboys about whether it can compete in the big leagues or not are fizzling out also.
Thankfully, going hands-on with the handset, we’ve learnt so much more about the device no amount of leaks could reveal. While some may feel that many compromises have been made to intentionally move away from competitors, the Pixel 5 definitely is ‘flagship’ handset worth paying attention to.
It seems Google has doubled down on the idea that phones need not get caught up with expensive high-end specs, which inevitably pass the cost onto the consumer. They tried to play that game with the Pixel 4 and it didn’t exactly work out for them.
So now, Google appears to have dramatically narrowed its focus on the midrange to upper midrange market, trimming some of the 4’s most meaningful – and meaningless – features to let consumers know that they really aren’t concerned with how many lenses can be stuffed onto the back of a phone, or what new and trendy biometrics everyone is talking about.
Most significantly, Google has even stripped the Soli radar chip that was such a big deal when the Pixel 4 was first released, acknowledging that maybe the motion-sensitive tech, which the company’s Advanced Technology and Projects unit spent four years developing, needed a rethink in terms of practicality.
Before we get into things, here are the key specs for the device, which only comes in one variant and there is no XL model this year either, to the dismay of larger phone fans everywhere.
- Processor: Snapdragon 765G
- Operating System: Android 11
- RAM: 8GB
- Storage: 128GB
- MicroSD slot: No
- Headphone Jack: No
- Fingerprint sensor: Rear-mounted
- SIM: Single
- Battery: 4080mAh
- Connectivity: 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, GPS
- Rear Camera: 12.2-megapixel (f/1.7) + 16-megapixel (f/2.2) ultrawide
- Front-Facing Camera: 8-megapixel (f/2.0)
- Dimensions: 144.7 x 70.4 x 8 mm
- Weight: 151g
While a shame, since the Pixel 4 XL is still one of the best phones for binging through services like Netflix or Amazon Prime, the Pixel 5’s size is one of its biggest strengths. In slimming down the form factor, Google has presented a 6″ device that’s noticeably pushing back against the trend of super large flagships (looking at you Galaxy Note20 Ultra!).
It has a really nice weight to it and feels like smooth cardboard thanks to its 100% recycled aluminium body and a slick coat resin finish on the rear.
Gorilla Glass 6 protects the Full HD OLED display, which notably pops because there’s no massive notch or chin bezels – this is the first time a Pixel has been able to swing perfectly symmetrical bezels – and feels fluid thanks to an energy-efficient 90Hz variable refresh rate. Google has also managed to fit in both wired 18W fast charge and reverse wireless charging despite the metal body, so the phone can double as a powerbank for other devices.
Battery life has been a major issue for the Pixel series ever since the pretty serious battery drain of the Pixel 3 line. The Pixel 4 especially suffered from this unforgivable dip in battery life, so the 5 signifies that Google has finally listened. Up from the 4 XL’s 3,700mAh battery, the 5 sports a powerful 4,080mAh battery cell – the largest in a Pixel phone to date, and impressive given it fits in such a small device. To top that, there’s now an AI-driven ‘Extreme Battery Saver’ mode that can stretch a single charge to approx. 48 hours, which I’ve found to be accurate.
I’ve comfortably been managing between 6-8 hours of screen on time before setting the phone down on my wireless charger each night so Google Google definitely deserve kudos for the sheer improvement they’ve made on this front alone.
Still Camera Capabilities
It’s no surprise that the Pixel 5 holds up well when it comes to its smartphone photography. It may not have a slick 100x Super Resolution Zoom like the Samsung S20 Ultra 5G, or flashy DSLR-esque tricks of the Huawei P40 Pro+ but there are few that can go toe-to-toe with Google when it comes to computational photography.
It’s a pure show of strength here, just with a more flexible set of modes and a better level of customisation. You can now easily play around with shadows after taking a portrait selfie, go wide-angle without any distorted edges, and even use the stand-out Night Mode in Portrait Mode. Processing seems to take slightly longer than in previous Pixels, but the results are clearly better.
Admittedly, we would have liked if Google kept the telephoto lens from last year’s Pixel 4 line and we would then have a triple camera set up that would really be something to brag about. Right now though, as impressive as Google’s computational magic for improving digitally zoomed images, it still can’t match an optical lens solution.
There are now several different stabilisation modes to help people shoot better, more cinematic 4K videos, pulling out features that’d usually be reserved for a high-end smartphone gimbal. “Locked” mode mimics the use of a tripod to minimise shake in videos, while “Active” keeps it steady when there’s fast movement, making it great for action shots. “Cinematic Pan” would be my favourite though, slowing down panned shots in real-time so you can get these really dramatic Hollywood-like shots that look incredible, even if the mode drops the resolution from 4K to 1080p.
Under the hood, you’ve got a Snapdragon 765G processor with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage. Google simply isn’t interested in making the Pixel 5 a powerhouse like other 2020 flagships, so they’ve used an explicitly mid-range chipset that lacks the punchy processing power of a typical 800-series snapdragon. The 8GB RAM and 90Hz VRR pick up the slack so that functions still feel fluid and seamless, and by no means is the 765G a weakling on the market, but more intensive multitasking and gaming will be a sore spot for many.
At €618.77, the Pixel 5 sits well below the typical price tag of a flagship, comfortably somewhere between mid-tier and premium. That’s a new market all-together, making a strong case against the need for €1,000+ smartphones at a time when people are looking at ways to curb their spending given the current economic climate and the market is only getting more competitive.
With Samsung’s S20 Fan Edition coming in at just €40 more at €669, with better specs, the Pixel 5’s has some stiff competition. That’s not to mention the newly announced Pixel 4a 5G, which sits at €490 and has a largely similar spec sheet, taking a lot of the features of the OG Pixel 4 and refining them for a phone that offers better far more value.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed my time with the Pixel 5 much more than I thought I would. It’s become my main phone for the last week and I’m growing to like it more and more. Yes, I wish the screen was bigger and yes, I wish their was an optical zoom sensor but everything else is so well thought out and practical, the Pixel 5 really makes a strong case against the need for €1,000+ handsets moving forward.