Google Pixel 5A review
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The Google Pixel 5A review
The Pixel 6 is just around the corner. But before Google brings it and its Tensor mobile chip, the company is updating its entry-level offering with the $449 Pixel 5a. The whole point of the “a” family is to offer the basics at a reasonable price without sacrificing too much of the Pixel experience in the process. That means a relatively clean version of Android with a ton of AI tricks and a heavy focus on photography.
But apparently Google feels like it’s more or less nailed that formula with the Pixel 4a 5G, because the 5a is basically the same. phone. (Note: The Pixel 5a isn’t a direct successor to the 4a, which was a much smaller device.) There are some differences — most notably the addition of IP67 waterproofing — but most of the customizations are extremely minor. Even the processor and RAM have not changed. So if we said back in October 2020 you could do better, what does that mean for the 5a in Fall 2021?
The Pixel 5A is good, but it’s not exactly a slam dunk. There are a few drawbacks: The security support policy is good, but not industry-leading. It also oddly lacks software-level support for C-band 5G frequencies that US carriers will start using in the coming years. It is only released in the US and Japan, and even in the US it is not sold through the major airlines.
But all things considered, Google has managed to address some of the weaknesses in its previous A-series models while cutting the price. Not bad for a boring update.
At 6.34 inches, the screen of the 5A is slightly larger than that of the 4A 5G.
The Pixel 5A uses a 6.34-inch 1080p OLED display, which is slightly larger than the 6.2-inch display on the 4A 5G. That’s not huge by any means, especially when compared to the 6.5-inch-and-beyond panels common on budget Android phones. It also uses a default refresh rate of 60Hz, so you won’t get the smoother scrolling experience of higher 90 or 120Hz speeds. That’s a feature that is steadily trickling down from the flagship class and is available in devices around the price of 5A, starting from the $300 OnePlus N10 5G’s 90Hz display up to the 120Hz panel of the $500 Galaxy A52 5G.
So the 5A’s screen doesn’t stand out, but it’s big enough that it doesn’t look too out of place next to the competition compared to the 4A and 4A 5G. It’s also just a good quality display – the OLED technology delivers rich contrast and is bright enough to be viewed outdoors in direct sunlight without too much effort. The same can’t be said for the screens of some of its competitors, no matter how big they are.
There is no change in the processing or memory specs of the 4A 5G: the Pixel 5A uses the same Snapdragon 765G chipset with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Apps open quickly and I didn’t notice any significant slowdowns or stutters in my daily tasks and social media scrolling.
Complex image-processing tasks are also done in a second or two, and it’s done in the background, so you can keep shooting in portrait mode without having to wait for each frame to finish processing. As someone who takes too many portrait shots of her cat hoping to get just the right shot, I really appreciate that.
The jump in battery life compared to its predecessor is a bigger story for the Pixel 5A. It gets a 4,680 mAh cell compared to the 4A 5G’s 3,885 mAh. That’s much closer to the 5,000 mAh batteries common among the competition. Google calls it “all day” performance, with up up to 48 hours of endurance if you enable extreme battery saver.
I got better results on my real-world testing — a day of moderate use, including about three hours of screen time, usually drained it to just 70 percent. Heavy users should comfortably go a day without a battery, and if you’re a lighter user who spends more time on Wi-Fi, you can expect to get 48 hours even without the battery saver turned on.
The Pixel 5A has an IP67 dust and water resistance rating, which means it can be submerged in about a meter of water for up up to 30 minutes. Official IP ratings are rare in the $500 and lower bracket outside of the Samsung A52 5G and iPhone SE, so this is one area where the 5A rises to the top of the class.
On the front panel is Gorilla Glass 3 for screen protection and below that the phoneThe outer plastic shell is a metal unibody. The plastic panel features a matte finish which I appreciate – it’s less slippery than a glossy finish and doesn’t smudge as easily.
There is only one color option this year: black. You can flavor things up with one of the colorful case options, which are designed for extra protection against drops and bumps. Some are more neutral, like “black moss” and “maybe moon” (and also sound like Neko Case song titles?), but I chose “probably lime” on my review unit and, reader, I don’t like it. There’s a subtle ’90s Nickelodeon vibe about it. Give me back the cloth cover, please.
The 5A ships with Android 11 and is backed by Google’s typical three-year OS and security update policy. That’s a longer shelf life than most budgets phones, but Samsung recently started offering four years of security updates with its budget A-series devices, and Apple will offer its latest OS upgrade to the six-year-old iPhone 6S this fall.
There is, of course, also 5G connectivity on the Pixel 5A. It supports sub-6GHz 5G on all major US carriers and, unlike the 4A 5G, will not be sold in a mmWave-compatible variant. Verizon pushes to sell phones that can connect to its super-fast, hard-to-find mmWave 5G network, so, like many other device manufacturers, Google came up with a more expensive version of the 4A 5G that is compatible with Verizon’s retail shelf network. That won’t happen this time and no one will miss it.
mmWave 5G isn’t a big loss, but the 5A’s lack of C-band support at launch is more concerning. C-band is the good mid-band stuff that carriers will gradually add at the end of this year and years to come. The Pixel 5A has the hardware support and FCC certification to use C-band, but Google hasn’t enabled software-level support for these frequencies. It could add support in the future, but makes no commitment to do so.
There are plenty of budget and midrange phones now on sale that fully supports the C-band, starting at the $279 Galaxy A32, so it’s strange that Google isn’t committed to supporting it. T-Mobile customers don’t have to worry as much as it won’t rely on C-band much. But if you use Verizon or AT&T and plan to get your phone for the next two to three years this could become a real drawback as those providers enable C-band and (in theory) amplify their 5G networks.
the pixel camera is still the low-light champion in the budget class.
The 5As camera hardware is another place where it doesn’t look particularly exciting on paper, but it adds up to much more than the sum of its specifications. The 12.2-megapixel main rear camera includes optical image stabilization, which is hard to find under $500. This kind of lens-based stabilization ensures that more of your shots are sharp, which is especially helpful in low-light conditions.
Wrap up Google Pixel 5A review
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