Google's Pixel is one of those devices that I look forward to reviewing every year. Despite some strange missteps throughout the years, it's a device that never fails to delight. This year, it's still as great as ever, but it's also missing a wow factor, and I think that's on purpose.
Google notably turned things down a notch this year. The Pixel 5 doesn't have an XL variant, and it doesn't have a Snapdragon 8 series processor, with it being replaced by the Snapdragon 765G. It finally has an edge-to-edge display, like we first saw on the Pixel 4a, and the telephoto lens has been replaced by an ultra-wide sensor, rather than just using all three.
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G 2.4 GHz + 2.2 GHz + 1.8 GHz, 64-bit|
|Body||144.7x70.4x8mm (5.7x2.8x0.3in), 151g|
|Display||6 inches, 19.5:9, 1080x2340, Flexible OLED, 432ppi, 1,000,000:1 contrast, 90Hz|
|Battery||4,000mAh, 18W wired charging, Qi wireless charging, reverse wireless charging|
|Camera||12.2MP f/1.7 + 16MP f/2.2 107-degree field-of-view, Front - 8MP f/2.0|
|Video||4K - 60fps, Front - 1080p - 30fps|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 2.4 GHz + 5 GHz 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2x2 MIMO
Bluetooth 5.0 + LE, A2DP (HD codecs: AptX, AptX HD, LDAC, AAC)
GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS
|Colors||Just Black, Sorta Sage|
|Material||100% recycled aluminum enclosure
Corning Gorilla Glass 6 cover glass
IP68 water and dust resistance
The Google Pixel 5 comes in two colors: Just Black and Sorta Sage. Google sent me the latter, and it's definitely the prettier way to go. It's green, but it's not a particularly bold or flashy flavor of green. It's quite stylish. And of course, it's made out of metal; well, kind of.
The Pixel 5 is metal but with what Google calls a bio-resin on top. It's pretty much plastic. It also cut a hole in the aluminum, which is what makes it work with Qi charging. For years, companies have made phones out of plastic or glass, because metal doesn't work with wireless charging. Google made it work.
The nice thing about the build is that it's not as fragile as your typical glass sandwich. When companies started using glass backs on smartphones, they added another thing that can break, and of course, that's twice as much surface area that you have to pay to fix if you drop your phone. The Pixel 5 doesn't compromise between feeling premium and wireless charging.
Another thing that's different is that the design is, frankly, dull. For the first three generations, Google used a two-tone design that had a glossy top and matte bottom, and it was unique. For the Pixel 4, it has a flat, matte back and a different color border, reminiscent of the HTC Desire days. With the Pixel 5 and starting with the Pixel 4a, it's just a unibody.
The square camera housing with rounded corners looks nearly identical to what it looked like on the Pixel 4 series, and one thing to make a return is the fingerprint sensor. Google, like Apple, made the decision last year to go all-in on facial recognition and ditch the fingerprint sensor completely. Of course, then a pandemic happened and many of us are wearing masks when we go out in public. Seriously, you'd have to be completely tone-deaf to make a premium smartphone with facial recognition and no fingerprint sensor in 2020.
On the bottom of the device, you'll find the USB Type-C port for charging. Just like last year, there's no 3.5mm audio jack, as Google continues to go along with the industry-wide trend of only putting the legacy port in devices that cost less money.
On the right side of the device, there's a volume rocker and above that, the power button. Rather than being a different color this year, the power button is a metallic shade of green that makes it look more sophisticated than the more playful look we've seen in the past.
On the left side, you'll find the nano-SIM slot, which you presumably won't be using much.
Here's the thing about the Pixel 5 design. I like it. I think it feels premium with its metal-ish chassis, and it fits just right in my hand. I don't love it though. There's no 'wow' factor when I look at this device. Honestly, I'm not sure if that even matters since most people will just put a case on it, and Google's fabric cases are quite nice.
The Google Pixel 5 has a six-inch screen, which is very small. If you're comparing it to the six-inch Nokia Lumia 1520, keep in mind that this device is 70.4mm wide, and the Lumia 1520 was 85.4mm wide, so it was over 21% larger. I wanted to make that point because people tend to think that since the number of inches on a screen size is getting bigger, that means that displays are getting bigger.
They're not, or at least not in a conventional sense. Screens are measured diagonally, and the closer you get to a square, the more surface area you'll have from a diagonal measurement. In other words, six inches at 16:9 was a whole lot bigger than it is now at 19.5:9. The bezels are smaller now too, of course.
Speaking of bezels, Google did a great job of making them uniform on all four sides, or at least as close to it as possible while not showing a visible difference. That top bezel that was used for Soli radar in the Pixel 4 is gone now too, so we get an edge-to-edge screen with a hole-punch cut-out.
The specs of the display aren't tremendously impressive. It's FHD+ instead of QHD+, although I still don't believe that anyone can honestly tell the difference. It's also 90Hz, so it has a nice and smooth refresh rate. Sure, 120Hz would be better, especially since we're seeing it on the $50-more-expensive OnePlus 8T, but there's not as much of a difference between 90Hz and 120Hz as there is between 60Hz and 90Hz.
The screen is pretty, just as you'd expect from OLED. In fact, it seems identical to the Pixel 4 series. There really doesn't seem to be any change to how colors are rendered here.
As usual, the Pixel 5 does offer an always-on display, and it does have my very favorite feature: Now Playing. Now Playing automatically tells you what song is playing, no app-launching required. It shows up on the AoD, but if the phone is awake, it can show up on the lock screen or in the notification shade.
Last year's Pixel 4 series was the first Pixel to have a dual-lens rear camera, adding a telephoto lens. Google caught criticism for not including an ultra-wide sensor though. After all, most premium smartphones have all three. This year, the Mountain View firm swapped out the telephoto lens for an ultra-wide sensor, once again choosing to not use all three.
I'm not sure the telephoto lens ever really mattered though. Google's Super Res Zoom is really good, and while you can't take it up to 8x like you could on the Pixel 4, you can get pretty close with similar quality.
The main sensor is 12.2MP f/1.7, the same as last year's, and honestly, I think that the technology that Google's using is starting to show its age a bit. The company has tried time and again to do things with software that other companies need additional hardware to do; for example, Google was the first to manage portrait mode with a single camera lens. While it's done a great job, I think it's time to show what it could do with its computational photography chops combined with some better hardware.
Aside from the ultra-wide sensor, there are some other improvements, such as Night Sight on portrait mode. Yes, now you can get all of the low-light creamy goodness while getting that magnificent bokeh effect. Google also added automatic Night Sight, so you don't have to manually switch to a night mode to use it. In fact, the Camera app is almost completely redesigned.
One thing that the firm swore off last year was adding the ability to switch between lenses. That's here this year though. Last year, Google was very clear that it didn't want the user to have to think about what lens the camera was using, something that I applauded. Sadly, that tune has changed.
One other thing that I want to point out is that the Pixel 5, along with the Pixel 4a 5G, supports recording 4K 60fps video. First of all, this is the first Snapdragon 7 series-powered device I've ever seen that has that capability, and second of all, it's the first Pixel. The Snapdragon 8 series has had 4K 60fps capture support since the Snapdragon 845, and the feature still isn't available on the Pixel 3 or 4.
You can clearly see the difference with Night Sight in portrait mode. It's quite impressive. Of course, regular Night Sight is impressive too, as it always has been, and it does work with the ultra-wide sensor.
Google has historically had one of the best cameras on the market, even if the hardware seemed subpar. It's one of the reasons that I've fallen in love with every Pixel that I've used, and in fact, I use a Pixel to shoot pictures of products for reviews. Even the device pictures of the Pixel 5 were shot on, you guessed it, a Pixel 4 XL.
Performance, battery life, and 5G
Some people seem to think that 5G affects battery life, and I'm here to tell you that that's simply not true. The reason it's not true is 5G is nearly meaningless. Yes, millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G does use more battery life, but millimeter wave really doesn't work.
Here's the deal. There are different kinds of 5G: low-band sub-6GHz, mid-band sub-6GHz, and mmWave. The lower the band, the further it will reach and the cheaper it is to roll out. That's why T-Mobile has its 600MHz nationwide network that most people have access to. Sub6 5G has never shown increased battery usage in my testing, but it also offers only modest improvements over 4G LTE, if any at all. T-Mobile is improving by adding Sprint's 2.5GHz mid-band, and 5G as a whole will use a combination of all three.
Millimeter waves are what you'll need, at least right now, to get the multi-gigabit speeds that you're seeing in the Verizon promotions. The only problem with mmWave is that for it to work at all, you need to be in line-of-sight with a 5G tower. The frequency is so high that it can be blocked by anything you can imagine, such as a window, a piece of paper, a tree leaf, or anything else. Use your imagination on this one. It won't even work in your pocket.
The Google Pixel 5 is one of few unlocked phones that supports both sub6 and mmWave 5G. Samsung and Apple are the only other ones doing it as far as I know, and the Pixel 5 is the most inexpensive option, with Apple's iPhone 12 mini coming in at $729. Most phones are sub6-only, although the 5G phones made for Verizon support both, because for a long time, Verizon only had mmWave.
The problem here is something often referred to as the mmWave tax. Phones that support both mmWave and sub6 just cost more. For example, the Pixel 4a 5G costs $100 more if you get it on Verizon (the unlocked model does not have mmWave support), and the Pixel 5 costs less in other countries because it doesn't have mmWave support there.
Like I said, 5G mostly doesn't matter right now, but I'd also never recommend buying a smartphone that only has 4G LTE support. 5G might be useless right now, but you're going to want it during the lifetime of the device.
Battery life is pretty solid. I was a bit worried at first, but eventually things evened out. I never had an issue getting through a full day, and why would I? You'd never guess it by holding this thin, light, and compact device, but it has a 4,000mAh battery.
Performance is fine, but it's worth noting that Google uses a Snapdragon 765G this year, and it's the first time that it strayed away from the Snapdragon 8 series. While anyone who buys it should be happy with performance, the bad news is that the Pixel 4 has much better performance with a Snapdragon 855.
For benchmarks, I used Geekbench 5, AnTuTu, and GFXBench.
You can see that in Geekbench 5, which tests the CPU, the Snapdragon 765G beats the Snapdragon 845 in single-core but loses in multi-core. Back when I reviewed the Pixel 3 XL, Geekbench 5 wasn't out yet. When I ran it now, it got 361 on single-core and 1,722 on multi-core. It also got 229,230 on the latest version of AnTuTu. So sure, maybe the Snapdragon 845 in the Pixel 3 XL doesn't do quite as well in most cases.
The Google Pixel 5 solves my two biggest complaints about the Pixel 4, which to be fair, weren't complaints last year. One is that there's a fingerprint sensor; as I said earlier, any company that made a phone without a fingerprint sensor in 2020 would have to be completely tone-deaf. The other one is that it adds 5G, because as I just mentioned, I wouldn't recommend anyone buy a 4G-only smartphone.
It's not perfect though. There's something about the design that's just not googly. Google still gives the colors quirky names like Just Black and Sorta Sage, but the design is frankly bland. It's also more expensive than it needs to be, making people pay for mmWave when most users don't even have access to it. Also, there really should have been an XL model for people that like a bigger screen and a bigger battery.
But it's a Pixel, so it has all of the good stuff too. The display is much improved, as Google has a bad history with bezels. Surely, we all remember the bathtub notch on the Pixel 3 XL and the big top bezel on the Pixel 4. Now, it's an edge-to-edge display with a hole-punch cut-out, and it finally looks modern.
And of course, you get that Pixel camera, which is always fantastic. Personally, I think the user gains more from having an ultra-wide sensor than they lose by not having the 2x telephoto lens. But still, I'd much rather have all three camera lenses than mmWave support.
The Google Pixel 5 is an excellent device for its price point of $699. If you want to check it out, you can pre-order it here.