Google Pixel 5 Review: Google's Best Technology Grouped for Simplicity

"The Pixel 5 is the best of Google's software and hardware capabilities. It is packaged in a compact, lightweight, but slightly dull-looking body."

  • Compact and light

  • Detailed 90Hz screen

  • High performance camera

  • Two days of battery life

  • Boring design

  • I miss this weird Google feature

I'm all for getting rid of gimmicks on smartphones, firstly to lower the price, and secondly because not everyone uses these "functions" very often. So I was pretty excited about that Pixel 5which focuses on the camera, battery life, software, and most importantly this year, price.

I've been using the Pixel 5 for a while and the frustrating thing is that Google has gone a little too far in their normalization efforts. Gone are the quirks that made old Pixels warm, and while the camera is still a winner, it hasn't advanced the game as much as Pixel 4. I'm a bit ahead here, so let's get into the details.

Hardware and design

Google has never been one to give the Pixel a wild design, but it's very good at making a reasonably sized phone and the Pixel 5 is spot on. The metal body is welcome as it is warm to the touch, not covered with fingerprints, and should also be durable. The nicely rounded sides make it easy to grasp and hold, and the 8mm overall size and thickness – similar to other well-proportioned phones like the iPhone 11 Pro – is spot on. At just 151 grams, it's also amazingly light.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

All of this makes it very easy to live with, and the Pixel 5 will appeal to anyone who thinks many recently released phones are too big. Most competing Android phones are much larger, and only the iPhone 11 Pro comes close to the Pixel 5's perfectly judged dimensions. By removing some of the quirky features from previous Pixel phones, Google decided on a phone that was sized just right. And with a slightly larger screen than the Pixel 4, you'll never feel overwhelmed while watching videos or playing games.

However, it's impossible to be delighted with the way the Pixel 5 looks, especially when you buy the black one. It's an understatement to the point of invisibility and doesn't really have the all-important premium air. The fingerprint sensor is a good example of this. It's on the back rather than under the screen so it works very well, but it also ages the design of the device. It's annoying that it isn't backed up with a secure face-unlocking system like the Pixel 4 did. There's actually no face unlock at all.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The side buttons are made of metal but feel just as clicky as the plastic buttons on the Pixel 4a, which is almost half the price. That's great for the Pixel 4a, but not so good for the Pixel 5. There really isn't much else to say about the design. This is an important indication that Google's simplification efforts have gone too far. Without a fun experimental Google feature on board, like the Pixel 4's squeezable sides, the Pixel 5 is a bit bland on the surface. It is best to look for the Sorta Sage color (also known as green), which gives the phone a certain character.

Screen and audio

The 6-inch OLED screen has a refresh rate of 90 Hz and a resolution of 2340 x 1080, is covered with Gorilla Glass 6 and supports HDR10 +. It's bigger than the Pixel 4 and 4a screens, but not as big as the Pixel 4 XL or 4a 5G. Google's decision to remove the sensors required for Soli gesture controls and infrared face unlocking means that the large bezels of Pixel 4 have disappeared, resulting in minimal bezels of a uniform size for Pixel 5. The selfie camera is located in a hole cutout.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

If you've never used a 90Hz refresh rate phone, it's time to pamper yourself. It's definitely more easy on the eyes than a phone with a 60Hz screen, which leads to less fatigue. Combined with the smoothness of Android 11, it makes scrolling through Twitter, Chrome, and other apps very enjoyable.

It's a beauty too. It's bright and detailed, but cooler than the Galaxy S20 FE and with less saturation. Carfection's Aston Martin Vantage Roadster test highlights these differences: The silver car looks significantly more silver on the Pixel than on the Samsung phone, while the blue sky is more pronounced on the Galaxy phone. It's similar with the OnePlus 8T, but contrast the Pixel 5 with the cheaper Pixel 4a and the performance is barely distinguishable.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The speakers are decent, but they lack a bit in both volume and bass, and they can't compete with the rounded, deeper sound of the OnePlus 8T and Galaxy S20 FE. Most importantly, the Pixel 5's screen, while attractive, is no better than the competition. Since the speakers are a bit weak, the OnePlus 8T and Galaxy S20 FE offer a better video experience.

Cameras

The main camera on the Pixel 5 is the same 12.2-megapixel, f / 1.7-aperture, phase-detection autofocus (PDAF), and optical image stabilization (OIS) camera found on the Pixel 4a and Pixel 4. One second, the wide-angle camera with an aperture of 16 MP f / 2.2 connects it to the Pixel 5, and it can also be found with the Pixel 4a 5G, but the Pixel 5 doesn't have the telephoto camera of the Pixel 4 – one Switch that Pixel fans asked for last year.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The physical cameras are only part of the story, and Google's computer photography is the star. According to Google, the software for the new phone has been seriously updated so that it can use the same sensor as before. There are a few new features, including Night Sight portraits and new portrait editing features.

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Let's talk about this first as this is a good demonstration of Google's software capabilities. Portraits can be edited extensively. You can adjust the background blur, remove the background color, and convert the entire image to black and white. This is done at the touch of a button, and you can also edit the blur, depth, and color more precisely. All of this works whether you're taking portraits with the rear or front camera. There is a special mode to adjust the light source with portrait selfies. See above for examples of what is possible. It's really fun, very effective, and quite easy to use.

That generally sums up the Pixel 5's camera very well. It's really a great point-and-shoot process as you can be sure that no matter the setting or conditions, a great photo will be captured. That simplicity and ability is addicting and fun to snap a lot of pictures just to see what you can get. The wide angle offers versatility and opportunity for dramatic shots, but some will miss the telephoto lens. Unfortunately, Google is not ready to please everyone by including both.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Pixel 5's camera is brilliant, but it's not a huge generation leap over the Pixel 4, and not only does the much cheaper Pixel 4a take basically the same great photos, but the competition has caught up with Google on the software side. Samsung's cameras are consistent these days, but it's the camera on the Apple iPhone 12 and 12 Mini that Google should be most concerned about, as the hardware surrounding the camera is more desirable than the Pixel 5's – and the prices are similar are.

Performance and software

On paper, the Pixel 5 isn't a "flagship" as it uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor rather than the Snapdragon 865 or 865 Plus. This is another way to bring the price down. Unless you're obsessed with a spec sheet, it's not a massive deal. I consider myself a normal user, using the camera, using social apps, making video and voice calls, playing a few games, watching videos, and keeping up with work items.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

It does all of these tasks without interruption – and without the feeling of being under-challenged. Play Asphalt 9 Legends and it's every bit as impressive and fluid on the Pixel 5 as it is on the OnePlus 8T. If anything, there are times when the Pixel 5 runs smoother than some more powerful phones, such as B. when the screen in YouTube is rotated from portrait to landscape and vice versa. Much of this is due to Android 11, the latest version of Google's software. This is an advantage that Pixel 5 has over the competition.

Android 11 on the Pixel 5 (and the Pixel 4, Pixel 4a, and Pixel 4a 5G) could be called boring, as might the design, but the dullness is its strong point. There is no garnish or additional branded apps, just fast, smooth, and simple software. However, I have encountered a few issues with my phone that have proven to be frustrating.

The first problem was an intermittent bug with the microphone where it would not activate, preventing callers from hearing me and my voice messages being mute. The problem is resolved by turning the phone off and then on again. However, you won't know when the problem occurs until it's too late. My Pixel 5 cleared my WiFi signal more than other phones and consistently has one less reception bar for both WiFi and cellular connections. Maybe this has to do with the metal body.

The front desk issue isn't a deal breaker, but something to consider if you already live in an area with poor reception. It should be noted that the Pixel 5 naturally has 5G, which also opens up new network possibilities. The microphone problem might only be a problem with my phone. After notifying Google before it posted here, I'm expecting a replacement checking model to see if the problem persists. This issue has not yet affected the phone's score.

battery

Battery life is one of the biggest improvements over the Pixel 4. My phone lasted a day with normal use without any problems, and if I turn it off overnight it will last most of the second day as well. After the sad Pixel 4, this is very welcome. It's also conservative on the power supply: with light use on a busy day where I ignored my phone, the battery was still over 80% at 4:00 p.m.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The phone comes with an 18 watt wired charger and supports wireless charging. This is a clever trick considering that the body of the phone is made of metal. Google cut a hole in the back and filled it with a resin that is visually indistinguishable from the rest of the body. Place another device on the back of the Pixel 5 and the battery will wirelessly charge with its own power. This worked with my iPhone 11 Pro, but unfortunately not with my Sony WF-1000XM3 headphones. These reverse wireless charging systems can all be a bit fussy.

Price and availability

The Google Pixel 5 is priced at $ 699 or £ 599. It is available in a version with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage space and is available now Google, Amazon and other retailers. It supports 5G provided you are in an area with network coverage and have the correct carrier plan. The Pixel 5 in the US also has mmWave 5G support for the Verizon network (and increasingly for T-Mobile and AT&T).

Our opinion

When you buy the Pixel 5, you get a well-proportioned phone with a beautiful screen, great camera, fast performance, and easy-to-use software. What else do you need? Not much, technically, but it would be nice to look at the Pixel 5 and feel something instead of just ambivalence.

Is there a better alternative?

There are several great alternatives to the Pixel 5. The main challengers are the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE and the OnePlus 8T. Both use the Snapdragon 865 processor and high quality designs, and while the cameras aren't quite as good as the Pixels, most people will find them perfectly decent.

The Apple iPhone 12 is emerging as a definite challenger, and the upcoming iPhone 12 Mini can take over the Pixel 5 too. Perhaps the best alternative, however, is the Pixel 4a 5G, which can do almost everything the Pixel 5 can, but for $ 200 less at $ 499. If you're not worried about the wide-angle camera or 5G, the $ 349 Pixel 4a is excellent too.

How long it will take?

The Pixel 5 is an excellent long term smartphone purchase. The conservative look means it will never look more dated than it does now. It offers 5G for the future as well as a two-year guarantee for important Android software updates. It is IP68 waterproof and the metal case is more sturdy than a glass phone. Also, Google has some attractive cases to complement the Pixel 5. There's no reason the phone won't serve you well for two to three years.

Should you buy one?

Yes, the Pixel 5 is Google's top smartphone of 2020 and while it doesn't look all that exciting, it has the best of Google's software and hardware capabilities at an affordable price.

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