Aug 17th, 2021

This here is the all-new Pixel 5a from Google. Now, typically, I get excited when Google releases a new smartphone, especially their A-series device since they have always offered great value and an incredible camera experience when compared to other budget-friendly devices, but things are a bit different this time around.

So what makes this phone different from other devices we’ve seen from Google these past few years? The issue is that we’re a bit confused as to which phone this is replacing, the Pixel 4a or the 4a 5G. The good news is that it’s better than both of those phones, at a price that’s somewhat reasonable — $450.

On the surface, we’re getting more of the same, especially when it comes to the design. It honestly feels like Google’s design team spent about 5 minutes on this phone, stretching out the design of the Pixel 4a from last year, slapping on the camera module from the Pixel 5, and calling it a day. I know that’s not what really happened here, but I think we can all agree that this design is played out at this point, especially since it’s only available in black. If Google has given us a few fun color options, I might have given them a pass.

If you like large-screen smartphones, the Pixel 5a has the largest display on a Pixel phone you can buy right now with its 6.34-inch FHD+ AMOLED panel, though you’ll have to contend with a 60Hz refresh rate. If we’re comparing specs, that’s a half-inch larger than what we got on the Pixel 4a. The quality of the panel is about the same with a hole-punch cutout for the 8MP selfie camera and symmetrical bezels all the way around.

Pixel 5a specifications

  • Display: 6.34-inches, FHD+
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Storage: 128GB
  • Battery: 4680 mAh with 18W charging
  • Rear cameras: 12.2 MP, f/1.7, 27mm (main), 16 MP, f/2.2, 107˚ (ultrawide)
  • Selfie camera: 8 MP, f/2.0, 24mm
  • Size: 156.2 x 73.2 x 8.8mm
  • Weight: 183g
  • Other: IP67, 3.5mm headphone jack, stereo speakers, 5G, Wi-Fi 6
  • Price: $449

A confusing price

But let’s talk about that price of the phone for a minute since it’s a bit contentious and brings us back to the Pixel 4a and 4a 5G comparisons. At $450, this phone is $100 more expensive than the Pixel 4a. That’s a 29% year-over-year price hike, but if we compare it to the Pixel 4a 5G, it’s $50 cheaper. And there lies the conundrum that this phone finds itself in. On one hand, it’s quite a bit more expensive than its predecessor and on the other hand, it’s slightly cheaper than another variant in Google’s lineup that it’s also replacing. If you wanted another $350, you’ll be disappointed, but if you do have that extra 100 bucks to spare, the $450 Pixel 5a is one of the best smartphones you can buy in the US.

Big improvements over the Pixel 4a

That higher price tag actually gives you quite a bit more. As mentioned already, the display is half an inch larger, the 4,680 mAh battery is 49% larger as well, Google’s doubled the internal storage from 64GB to 128GB and you also get a slightly faster processor with the Snapdragon 765G which offers about a 5-10% performance bump over the 730G.

And then there’s also the improved camera system. OK, so maybe it’s not an improved overall system since the main and selfie cameras are the same as its predecessor, but that’s only because Google’s been using the exact same sensors for those cameras on all its phones for a few years now. What’s different is the addition of the ultrawide camera, giving the Pixel 5a camera parity with the Pixel 5 which is a $700 smartphone.

Needless to say, the photos you get out of this phone are phenomenal, even when compared to high-end devices like the Galaxy S21. If you’re matching this phone up against any other smartphone in the sub-$500 segment, the results aren’t even close. You get all of Google’s computational photography goodness with AI-enhanced portrait shots, Night Sight, and Astrophotography Mode for truly stunning results. Google’s video capture results haven’t always been the best, but when the phone has a $450 price tag, I really have no complaints.

First water-resistant Pixel A smartphone

Earlier, I did knock Google’s design team for giving us pretty much the same design as its predecessor, but they actually did do some extra work on the inside, delivering the first a-series phone that’s dust and water-resistant with an IP67 rating. You don’t have to be an outdoorsy person or someone who wants to take underwater photos to appreciate this feature. Most water-damaged smartphones either get dropped in the toilet, the pool or simply get a little too wet when you get caught in the rain. Having the IP67 rating just means that you don’t really have to worry about any of those situations and what they might do to your phone.

Simple software that’s up to date

I’ll touch on the software real quick, simply to point out that this phone is running the latest version of Android 11 with Google’s usual Pixel experience. Personally, I love to look and feel and if you want the latest version of Android as soon as it drops, this phone will deliver just that.

Battery

As usual, I’m gonna wrap things up with the phone’s battery life. Google’s Pixel-A series have always gotten pretty good battery life, but the 4,680 mAH battery paired with the Snapdragon 765G is a match made in heaven, lasting just over 16 and half hours in our battery benchmark test. Google’s claim that this phone will last you two full days on a single charge is spot on as I was only able to cycle the better on this phone 4 times in the week that I’ve had with the phone.

As you’ve probably guessed, it doesn’t have wireless charging since there are very few $450 smartphones that do, but I am definitely disappointed that Google’s still using just 18W charging with such a large battery. If you do drain the cell all the way to 0%, make sure you have at least two hours set aside to charge it all the way back up. That’s ridiculously low these days – even compared to Samsung.

Final thoughts

While I’m not as enthusiastic about the Pixel 5a as I was with last year’s 4a, I have to say that this is a great device — especially for those in the US market since we don’t see very many of the amazing mid-range Android phones. The only real competition that Pixel 5a has is from Samsung’s Galaxy A52 which is $50 more expensive with a dramatically inferior camera system and software that’s a bit too bloated and perpetually out of date.

If I had to choose between this and the Galaxy A52, I’ll be spending my money on the Pixel 5a.

Pixel 5a Rating: star_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_50 (4.4 / 5)

The Good

  • Incredible cameras
  • 2-day battery life
  • Up-to-date software directly from Google
  • Great value
  • IP67 rating

The Bad

  • $100 more expensive than the Pixel 4a
  • Outdated and boring design

The Bottom Line

The best way to describe the Pixel 5a is simply to say it’s a Pixel 4a 5G with an IP76 rating, a bigger battery, and a price that’s more appealing. If you don’t care about waiting for a discount on the Galaxy A52 from your service provider, the Pixel 5a is the best mid-0range smartphone you can buy.

 

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