Google Pixel 5A Review: Boring, but better than ever

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This year, Google will unveil a phone where it pulls all the stops and gets big with an advanced, internally designed SoC, updated camera data, and a bold new look.

This phone is not a Pixel 5A.

If you are looking for such performance stop improvements, then then I want to point you to Pixel 6, will come this fall. On the other hand, the new Pixel 5A is a boring upgrade in comparison. The screen is a bit bigger this time, the water resistance is IP rated and the battery gets a decent boost. That’s it.

Here’s the thing, though: the Pixel 4A and 4A 5G were already really good mid-range phones, and instead of confusing the winning formula, Google has made some strategic improvements to keep the 5A at the top of its class. Even better, 5A costs $ 449-50 less than the 4A 5G demo price.

Pixel 5A is good, but it’s not quite a slam dunk. There are a few drawbacks to note: its security policy is good, but not class-leading. It also strangely lacks software-level support for C-band 5G frequencies, which U.S. operators will begin using in the next few years. It is only published in the United States and Japan, and not even in the United States it is sold through major operators.

But despite all this, Google has managed to fix some of the weaknesses of its previous A-Series models while lowering the price. Not a bad boring update.

The 5A’s display is slightly larger than the 4A’s 5G, 6.34 inches.

Google Pixel 5A display, performance and battery

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. It’s not huge in any way, especially compared to the 6.5-inch and larger panels that are common on budget Android phones. It also uses the standard 60 Hz refresh rate, so you don’t get a smoother scrolling experience at faster 90 or 120 Hz frequencies. It is a feature that has been constantly leaking from the flagship class and is available on devices for around 5A, $ 300 OnePlus N10 5G90 Hz display $ 500 Galaxy A52 5G120 Hz panel.

So the 5A’s display isn’t distinctive, but it’s big enough that it doesn’t look quite as stationary next to the competition as the 4A and 4A 5G. It’s also just a high-quality display – OLED technology delivers rich contrast and is bright enough to be viewed outdoors in direct sunlight without too much effort. The same cannot be said of some of the competitors’ screens, even if they are large.

4A 5G processing or memory data does not change: Pixel 5A uses the same Snapdragon 765G chipset with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The apps open quickly and I didn’t notice any significant delays or disruptions in daily tasks and social media scrolling.

Complex image processing tasks are also performed in a second or two, and this happens in the background, so you can continue taking photos in portrait mode without waiting for each frame to finish processing. Someone who takes too many portraits of their cat hoping to get the right picture, I really appreciate it.

The battery life jump compared to its predecessor is a bigger story for the Pixel 5A. It gets a 4680 mAh cell compared to 4A 5G’s 3885 mAh. It is much closer to competitors ’common 5,000 mAh batteries. Google calls it “all-day” performance, up to 48 hours of endurance if you enable extreme power savings.

I got better results in my real-world testing — a day of reasonable use that includes about three hours of viewing time, typically dropped it to just 70 percent. Heavy users should get the day comfortably out of the battery, and if you’re a lighter user who spends more time on a Wi-Fi network, you can expect to get 48 hours even without power savings.

One of this year’s casing options, “probably lime,” features bright green accents.

Google Pixel 5A IP rating and build quality

The Pixel 5A has a dust and water resistance rating of IP67, so it can be immersed in about three feet of water for up to 30 minutes. Official IP ratings are rare on a bracket of less than $ 500 outside of the Samsung A52 5G and iPhone SE, so this is one area where the 5A rises to the top of the class.

The front panel features Gorilla Glass 6 to protect the screen, and underneath is the phone’s outer plastic cover, which is metallic. The plastic panel has a matte finish that I appreciate – it’s less slippery than a glossy finish and doesn’t show stains as easily.

This year there is only one color option: black. You can spice things up with one of the colorful casing options designed to protect you from drops and bumps. Some are more neutral, like “black moss” and “maybe the moon” (and also sound like the names of Neko Case songs?), But I chose “probably lime” with my inspection unit, and reader, I don’t like it. It has a great 1990s Nickelodeon feel. Give the fabric case back, please.

At startup, 5A is only available in black.

Google Pixel 5A software and 5G connectivity

The 5A comes with Android 11 and is supported by Google’s typical three-year operating system and security update policy. It has a longer shelf life than most budget phones, but Samsung recently began offering four-year security updates on its budget-A-series devices, and Apple will offer the latest operating system update for the six-year-old iPhone 6S this fall.

Of course, the Pixel 5A also has a 5G connection. It supports less than 6 GHz 5G on all major U.S. carriers, and unlike 4A 5G, it is not sold in a mmWave-compatible version. Verizon wants to sell phones that can connect to its super-fast, hard-to-find mmWave 5G network, so like many other device manufacturers, Google has developed a version of 4A 5G that is compatible with the more expensive network on Verizon’s retail shelves. This time it won’t happen, and no one will miss it.

mmWave 5G is not a big loss, but the lack of 5A C-band support at startup is more worrying. The C-band is a good mid-band item that operators will gradually start adding at the end of this year and over the coming years. The Pixel 5A has hardware support and is FCC-certified to use C-band, but Google has not implemented software-level support on these frequencies. It may increase support in the future, but does not commit to it.

There are currently a number of budget and mid-range phones on sale that fully support C-band, starting at the $ 279 Galaxy A32, so it’s weird that Google isn’t committing to supporting it. T-Mobile customers don’t have to worry so much because it doesn’t trust the C-band much. But if you’re using Verizon or AT&T and plan to use your phone for the next two or three years, this could become a real downside, as these operators enable C-bandwidth and (in theory) strengthen their 5G networks.

The Pixel camera is still a champion of low-light in the budget class.

Google Pixel 5A camera

The 5A’s camera hardware is another place where it doesn’t look particularly exciting on paper, but it adds much more than the sum of its specifications. The 12.2-megapixel main camera has an optical image stabilizer that is hard to find for under $ 500. This kind of lens-based stabilization helps ensure that most images are sharp, which is especially convenient in low light.

The camera comes with a 16 megapixel ultra wide and 8 megapixel selfie camera. This may not look very much next to the three- and four-rear camera sets of other phones, but these third and fourth cameras are usually low-quality macro and depth sensors that aren’t really very useful.

If this information sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same hardware as the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4A 5G, and it’s really good for this model. Even without new sensors or lenses, the 5A still offers the best image quality in the middle class, thanks in large part, of course, to Google’s intelligent image processing. Many of the Pixel 5A’s competitors can take good pictures in bright outdoor light, but Google is still the champion of low-budget light.

Not surprisingly, what was true of the image characteristics of 4A and 5 also applies to 5A. It handles very high contrast scenes and reproduces colors a little more naturally than a Samsung phone. Portrait and night mode images are the best you can get with a medium-sized phone, but you can certainly spot their limitations in more difficult subjects. Google has more work to do to equip the Pixel 6 to compete with Samsung and Apple’s world flagships. In the budget class, it can afford to stand still for another year just because it got off to a good start.

There is no wireless charging here, and 5A is the last Pixel to have a charging bar sold.

The $ 400 and $ 500 phones have flash standard features like the Google Pixel 5A. The Samsung Galaxy A52 5G has a large 6.5-inch screen with a refresh rate of 120 Hz. The TCL 20 Pro offers a flagship curved display and wireless charging. The Motorola Moto G pen has a huge screen and (of course) a stylus.

But the Pixel 5A is just a good versatile device with a great interface, fast software updates and all the basics at a reasonable price. The 4A 5G was already a good phone, and the smart enhancements to the 5A, such as waterproofing and a larger battery, make it easy to recommend this phone to many people.

It’s unfortunate the C-band 5G case and whether Google will add support for it in the future. It’s hard to imagine a company refusing to support it when frequencies are widely used, but we firmly believe you shouldn’t buy the gadget today based on a possible upgrade tomorrow. Verizon and AT&T customers should consider this.

It is a pity that the release of the Pixel 5A is limited both in the countries where it is available and where it is sold (and not sold) in the United States, as it is a phone that I recommend to a lot of people. It outperforms the competition in a few ways, such as a class-leading camera and waterproof, and fills it in other ways, such as just a large enough screen and better battery life.

Because its availability is more limited, it probably looks like it will become a “if you know you know” device and not the phone you tell your uncle to buy when he asks you what you get with a two-year carrier upgrade. It’s too bad because this is a very boring and very good phone that I think a lot of people want.

Photo by Allison Johnson / The Verge

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