Review of the Pixel 5a with 5G: Uncompromised $449 value combats a wave of expensive flagships

Many people thought the Pixel 5a would just be a rebadged Pixel 4a 5G before its release. After using it, though, I think the Google Pixel 5a with 5G carries the torch of the Pixel 5 in the fight against pricey premium smartphones.

Google debuted the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G last fall, two upper-midrange phones that shared a chip and cameras but were otherwise very different. The $699 Pixel 5 adopted a flagship design strategy with extra features like a 90Hz display and wireless charging that was painstakingly built to continue functioning despite the phone’s aluminum body.

With a plastic body, no wireless charging, less memory, no water resistance, and a 60Hz display, the Pixel 4a 5G chose the path of compromise. It was apparent that the $499 Pixel 4a 5G was the best bargain of the two despite the considerable feature loss. In his review, our own Damien Wilde summed it up best:

In essence, even though the Pixel 4a 5G was challenging to review in many respects, it turned out to be a very simple Pixel to recommend. It boasts one of the best cameras on the market, a nice bigger display, excellent audio, and all the other Pixel magic without the price tag with that suggested $500 MSRP. There isn’t anything to complain about here, really. This could actually be the greatest model among the 2020 Google phones.

Google decided to produce the Pixel 5a with 5G, a device that shares almost too many similarities with the Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5 that came before it, despite the fact that both phones have been around for almost a year already. It has nearly identical fundamental specifications to the Pixel 4a 5G, including a Snapdragon 765 processor, 6GB of RAM, and a 60Hz display. It was difficult to understand why Google would need to build the Pixel 5a at all given how many things would remain the same.

DESIGN RULES THE WORLD When I hold the Pixel 5a in my hand, it tells a different tale. Its weight is the first thing you’ll notice about it. The phone’s body is really made of metal, which should provide far better durability than the three previous Pixel A-series phones, despite how it looks and how much it costs. There is an external layer over the metal that feels more robust but less luxurious than that of the Pixel 5.

The Pixel 5a, also unlike any Pixel A phone before it, has IP67 water resistance, which theoretically allows it to survive being submerged up to 1 meter. Although many people value IP67 for spills and similar situations, I discovered that the water resistance gave me the confidence to bring the phone into a steamy room without worry.

When you look at it, it’s simple to assume that the Pixel 5’s single hue, Mostly Black, is just a modernized version of Just Black from earlier Pixel models. However, it becomes much simpler to realize that the phone is actually an exceedingly subtle dark green if you see the forest green of the lock button. The hue is as distinct as day in direct sunshine.

In terms of the lock button itself, Google has also taken a fresh approach by deciding to go with ridges rather than a smooth surface. To maintain continuity, such ridges are even present in the new official cases for the Pixel 5a with 5G.

Turning to the display, it’s clear where Google was able to make savings for this cost-effective phone because the Pixel 5a has a limited viewing angle. Whites nearly instantly change to pinks and greens when viewed at an angle. However, the hue shift isn’t a big deal until you’re constantly staring at something starkly white, like the Google Docs software I’m using to compose this phrase.

Additionally, Google lowered the Pixel 5’s 90Hz display to a more conventional 60Hz display. Although the change in frequency was undoubtedly unpleasant for my eyes, after a few days, being on 60Hz felt quite natural.

Positively, the Pixel 5a with 5G manages to reduce the size of the cutout for the selfie camera, making the perpetual black circle less obvious than it was on phones from last fall.

A more noticeable modification to the 5as form, despite a minor increase in width, is the 20:9 aspect ratio as opposed to 19:9 on the Pixel 5. The Pixel 5a mostly just feels like a taller, fatter Pixel 5 in general. The notification shade, for example, is admittedly just out of reach with this form, but the Pixel series has always had the ability to open the shade with a swipe of the back fingerprint sensor. Later this year, this should also become irrelevant thanks to Android 12’s One-Handed Mode gesture.

There is no disputing the Pixel 5a has a pleasing hand taste, as LG so vulgarly put it, thanks to the power button ridges, the coated metal surface, and the overall size and weight.

DAY-LONG POWER Given that the Pixel 5as uses the same upper-midrange chipset as both of last year’s fall Pixel phones, its performance feels quick. While the same might be said for the $500 Pixel 4a 5G, this phone in no way behaves like a $450 device. The only time I was able to slow it down was while I was taking several pictures in the bright sun. Other than that, the Pixel 5a is capable of handling almost anything, including multitasking and running games at a respectable framerate.

The battery life of the Pixel 5a is where it really shines. According to all accounts, this phone is a tank, managing a 4680 mAh capacity that lasts almost two days. I’m sure that would extend even longer if the always-on display was turned off. In general, I’ve only needed to recharge the Pixel 5a with 5G every other day, with the exception of a Google Meet that drained a ridiculous amount of juice for an hour.

Unfortunately, the Pixel 5a does not yet support wireless charging, but in the long run, this may be for the best. Only wired chargers are compatible with the built-in Adaptive Charging feature, which slowly charges your battery overnight to protect its health.

Even without activating low power mode, it’s an uncommon feeling to know that a phone would easily last the remainder of the day when the battery is at 30%, but that’s exactly what this tank of a phone offers. The capacity to go longer without charging, though, might not be as significant now that the Work from Home period is still in effect.

PIXEL CAMERA IS PREDICTABLE With its 12.2MP main sensor and 16MP ultrawide, the Pixel 5a with 5G features virtually exactly the same camera configuration as the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a with 5G. Therefore, I don’t think it’s necessary to linger on the Pixel 5a’s camera features. Since the Neural Core was dropped after the Pixel 4 model, you may anticipate nearly comparable quality to the flagship Pixel 5s cameras, with the same issue of slow image processing rates.

You can explore a collection of high-resolution images in our Google Photos album or see some examples of the Pixel 5as camera quality below.

The absence of a spectral/flicker sensor, which enables the camera to adjust to the flicker rate of objects like displays and fluorescent lights, is the sole physical difference. In actual use, this would imply that the Pixel 5a isn’t the ideal for capturing screen shots, but I haven’t had any concerns.

SOFTWARE If you’ve used a Pixel phone in the past few years, you probably know precisely what to anticipate from the Pixel 5a: a customized version of Android that manages to maintain its originality. That implies the experience won’t require top-tier hardware to function properly, there won’t be any bloat in the design, and there won’t be any annoying, uninstallable apps (apart from a few of Google’s own).

Google’s phones continue to be the only ones who decide how the New Google Assistant works, and the best features of the Pixel series OS are almost all powered by the Google Assistant. Additionally, the Pixel 5a nearly sells itself with to features like Hold For Me and Assistant Call Screening that automatically block the majority of spam calls without even ringing your phone (let the Google Assistant wait on hold instead of wasting your day listening to muzak ).

Better yet, very early in its lifecycle, the Pixel 5a should get the update to Android 12, which promises a reinvented aesthetic and a more customized experience. After that, updates should continue to be released on a monthly basis at least until Android 14, which is more than can be said for the majority of phones in the pricing range.

VIBRATION AT ODDS AND ENDS I must talk about the vibration in my review of this phone. The Pixel 5a vibrates loudly, which may be due to its metal body or the thicker design that allows for a larger mechanism. There is no way to avoid hearing the sound if your phone vibrates when it lies flat on a table in the adjacent room. These can be muted by 50% in the settings app to a more tolerable level, which I did right away.

AUDIO The audio quality and capabilities of the Pixel 5a with 5G are a significant additional feature. The 3.5mm headphone jack was previously removed from the Pixel flagship phones, but it has been kept on in the A series ever since, and the Pixel 5a is no exception. The Pixel 5a’s bottom-facing speaker and appropriate earpiece speaker are its most notable features.

The less expensive Pixel 5a is unquestionably superior than the more expensive Pixel 5 in terms of playing music due to its more robust sound when compared to the under-display speaker on the flagship Pixel 5. Additionally, phone conversations’ voices sound a little bit clearer. Despite this, the Pixel 5a’s speakers are still nothing exceptional, and at higher volumes, cymbals sound especially thin.

ARE YOU SUITABLE FOR THE PIXEL 5A WITH 5G? When viewed as a whole, the Pixel 5a with 5G is surprisingly among the best smartphones Google has ever produced, regardless of price. It has specifications that are more than adequate for the majority of users, a battery that seems to last forever, and the traditional Google Pixel camera, all housed in a sturdy metal body. Even better, the total cost is only $449.

Anyone looking to purchase a Pixel phone may not have a choice in the matter given that the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5 have both been out of supply on the Google Store for several weeks. Thankfully, until the Pixel 6 is released this fall, the Pixel 5a with 5G is a respectable replacement for even the Pixel 5.

More broadly, the Pixel 5a is the ideal illustration of how to avoid the typical drawbacks of a cheap phone while still paying less than $500, while top Android phones like the Galaxy S21 and the impending Pixel 6 Pro continue to increase in price.

Only the United States and Japan presently have access to the Pixel 5a with 5G, which can be pre-ordered from the Google Store and Google Fi .

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