The pixel 6 is just around the corner but before google brings that and its tensor mobile trip to market it’s updating its entry level offering with the 449 pixel 5A.
The whole point of the a family is to give you the basics at a reasonable price without sacrificing too much of the pixel experience that means a relatively clean version of android some ai tricks and a heavy focus on photography but apparently google thinks they nailed it last time out with the pixel 4a 5g because the pixel 5a is basically the same exact phone now there are some differences notably the addition of ip67 water and dust resistance.
But most of the tweaks are extremely minor even the processor and ram are the same so if we said you could do better way back in october of 2020 what does that mean for the 5A in the fall of 2021 well for one it makes the pixel 5A about as unexciting as a phone can be but look boring isn’t necessarily a bad thing especially when you’re talking about the lower end of the market by keeping things kind of staid google is able to focus on things like battery life and performance optimization and just like the last generation of pixels.
The 5a feels pretty responsive despite the aging snapdragon 765G inside that said the 765g was hardly top of the line last year and it’s starting to show its limits while scrolling through the UI and doing simple things like sending emails and text messages the pixel 5A is indistinguishable from any flagship phone it even handles most mobile games without a hiccup.
We spent some time playing the elder scrolls blades and wild castle and the phone barely broke a sweat but we did notice it stutter a few times while navigating youtube and editing photos and jotting down thoughts for this review in evernote now the latter of those we are willing to chalk up to evernote’s questionable development decisions over the last few years but the pauses when switching to full screen and youtube and changing filters in google photos are a little bit more concerning the plus side of going with something slightly older and lower powered is power efficiency the 4a 5g was already something of a beast in this department it lasted over 17 hours in our battery drain test before reviews editor shirlin low simply gave up and moved on with her life now that device had a 385 milliamp hour battery the 5a has a 4680 milliamp hour battery it lasted almost 23 hours in our battery rundown test after 24 hours of heavy usage playing games repeatedly running 5g tests installing apps watching videos on youtube and even playing sleep sounds overnight the battery was still at 40 percent it didn’t finally crap out on until 2 a.m on day 2.
If you turn on extreme battery saver things will get even more absurd fairly confident that under normal usage you should have no trouble getting a full 48 hours out of the pixel 5a battery life isn’t the only difference between the 5a and 4a 5g the new phone also has ip67 rating for water and dust resistance at a time when most smartphones have at least some form of water resistance the pixel 4 a5g was somewhat of a disappointment in fact the lack of waterproofing was one of the big cons we cited in our review but the pixel 5a should easily survive getting caught out in the rain or being dropped.
The 5A has a metal unibody as opposed to a polycarbonate one but the finish is still matte and very similar to the soft touch on the previous models and the upgrade to gorilla glass 6 from gorilla glass 3 is notable but not noticeable in everyday use now the 5a comes in just one finish mostly black some might find it a little bit dull and it’s certainly on the utilitarian side but actually quite like the feel of the phone the finish is a nice contrast to the seemingly endless sea of smooth glassy surfaces out there and the heft is just right now the 5a is ever so slightly larger and heavier than the 4a 5g but you’re talking about a few millimeters and grams here even if you had a pixel 4a 5g and a 5a in each hand you’d be hard-pressed to figure out which is which now the change in size is mostly down to the slightly larger screen the oled panel here is 6.34 inches versus 6.2 on the 4a 5g otherwise though the screens are basically the same the increased resolution of 2400 by 1080 makes up for the size difference so they both have a density of 413 pixels per inch and both also sport a contrast ratio of 100000 to 1 and support HDR and are stuck at a pretty outdated 60 hertz refresh rate and both are just bright enough to use outside in direct sunlight though high brightness mode is definitely a necessity if you plan to watch videos outdoors even the hole punch for the front-facing camera is in the same place that said we do appreciate google’s four fun wallpapers that camouflage that hole by incorporating it into the design.
The camera becomes the hole at the center of an lp and that eight megapixel front-facing camera by the way is one of the five a’s weak points it does the job in perfect lighting and for video calls but details can be a bit soft in low light it gets noisy and portrait mode is hit or miss overall we found google’s portrait feature to be a bit too aggressive even on the main camera now you can dial in the blur and depth after the fact but the default settings could stand to be a touch more subtle the selfie cam though is the same one found on the pixel 4A 5g so none of this is a surprise in fact all the cameras are the same the two sensors around back though are significantly better than the one on the front there’s a 12.2 megapixel main shooter with optical image stabilization and a 16 megapixel ultra wide lens they have a somewhat moody vibe when compared to shots from an iphone or a galaxy device but they’re not obviously inferior and even though images taken with the wide angle lens can get a little bit fuzzy if you start trying to zoom in too much.
On the details google’s processing does a really excellent job at minimizing barrel distortion google isn’t at the top of the smartphone camera heap anymore but it’s not far off and photography is still an undeniable strong suit of the pixel family there’s nothing new to report though these are all the same excellent photography features you got last year portrait lighting can help clean up and add contrast to pictures of people night sight turns on automatically in dim settings and can at times produce mind-blowing results and the video stabilization features are excellent cinematic pan in particular which combines slow motion with super smooth movement is fun also just like every other a model pixel this one has a headphone jack and all.
The pixel 5a with 5g so guess what it has 5g connectivity that’s not really surprising since the snapdragon 765g has an integrated 5g modem but unlike the pixel 4a 5g there is no millimeter wave variant and even though technically it’s capable of c-band support it’s not currently enabled and google won’t commit to enabling it in the future now that’s not a huge deal right now since there are no active c-band networks in the us but it might irk some when a t and verizon start flipping the switch most likely later this year that being said full c band rollout isn’t expected to happen until at least late 2023.
Those caveats out of the way 5g still seems stuck in a state of arrested development we tested the pixel 5a on google five which means we was essentially on t-mobile’s network and speeds were all over the place in our home it was often slower than verizon’s lte network averaging about 35 megabits per second down quick note by the way verizon is still engadget’s parent company but two and a half miles up the road at a local subaru dealership was routinely getting over 300 megabits per second down and topping out at 370.
5G and excellent cameras aren’t really a rarity at this price point anymore mid-tier phones have come a long way in the last few years the problem for google is it no longer clearly owns the mid-range part of that is down to price while the 5A is 50 cheaper than the 4A 5g it’s not the obvious bargain that the 4a was at 350.
The samsung a52 5g is slightly more expensive at 500 though it’s regularly on sale for less and it also has a slower snapdragon 750g chip but its super amoled screen clearly outclasses the pixels and it has a 120hz refresh rate plus its camera system is much sharper and feature packed but that doesn’t necessarily mean better in addition to the primary camera and the ultra wide lens there’s also a macro shooter and a depth sensor for helping with portrait mode and while both the a52 and the 5a ship with 128 gigabytes of storage.
The samsung phone has a big advantage here in that it has a micro sd card slot of course if you’re more into ios than android the seemingly obvious comparison would be the iphone se it’s the same price as the pixel 5a for a 128 gigabyte model but uh it does feel quite a bit dated it still uses the old iphone 8 form factor with a touch id home button instead of face id it’s positively minuscule at 4.7 inches and it doesn’t support 5g frankly if you’re dead set on ios i might save up your pennies a little bit longer and spring for the 699 dollar iphone 12 mini so no google doesn’t own the mid-range anymore.
The pixel 5a is almost aggressively boring but it’s not a bad phone in fact if you want the pixel experience and don’t want to break the bank this is the obvious way to go but if you’re just looking for the best bang for your buck the choice is less clear.