Google Pixel 5 Review

Google Pixel 5 Review

Google's in-house phones have picked up something of a reputation since they replaced the Nexus line of devices - and it's been a very good one. They have been consistently well made, well performing phones that make the absolute best use of the vanilla Google Android OS. They rarely do anything surprising, but what the do, they do very well.

The Pixel 2 XL has been our work horse phone since release and the only reason we're looking to retire it right now is because it's just starting to feel its age and suffer from the long-term effects of wear and tear.

So, it's with some anticipation that we're now here reviewing the brand new Google Pixel 5.

First Impressions

The Pixel 5 arrives, in the usual Google style, in a solid but unremarkable box. It's a much smaller package than many devices are shipped in and still manages to pack in a full charger alongside the phone. With many devices now shipping without chargers this is refreshing to see.

There are two colours available - 'Just Black' and 'Sorta Sage'. The Pixel 5 features an aluminium shell, which is something that is reasonably novel in a device that supports wireless charging. It will likely be far more resilient than the glass backed devices that make up the other current Pixel line-up.

The phone is relatively simple in design - there's the smallest of bezels on the front while the back features just the slightly indented fingerprint sensor and the slightly more obvious camera bulge in the back. When it comes to phones we're firmly in 'the simpler the better' camp so this is all good.

Specifications

The most obvious thing to discuss here is the fact that the Pixel 5 runs the same Snapdragon 765G chipset - which sets it apart from the rest of the flagship Android phones on the market, and not really in a good way. The 765G is a decent chipset but it's not top-tier and this instantly puts the phone at a disadvantage against the Samsung Galaxy S20. While the difference isn't going to be huge in day-to-day use, shipping a flagship on a non-flagship chipset isn't something to be pleased about.

In terms of raw benchmarks the Pixel 5 hits around 1500 in multi-core performance; which in all honest is a little embarrassing when the OnePlus 8 breaks the 3,000 mark. It's actually not that big a step up compared to our workhorse Pixel 2 XL which turns in an impressive-for-2017 1,352 score. It's also a significant step down from the performance of the Pixel 4.

Thankfully, despite this, the Pixel 5 performs well thanks to the lack of bloat in the Android interface - something that other handsets, including the Samsung Galaxy S20, suffer from. The leaner, meaner, vanilla Android runs smoothly and gives little reason to complain.

The aluminium backing has a nice texture that aids grip.

It should be noted that the Pixel 5 AND the Pixel 4a 5G run the same chipset and offer pretty much identical performance - something that sets the cheaper model in good stead.

The processor is backed up with a more respectable 8GB RAM - this gives plenty of room for multiple apps to run without noticeable slowdown.

The Google Pixel 5 is 6 inches across the diagonal with a resolution of 2340x1080 offering 432ppi. It's nice and sharp and the OLED display is vibrant.

The Pixel 5 also offers a 90Hz refresh rate and this results in a noticeably smoother feel to scrolling in apps. The higher refresh rate was most obvious to us when using the camera app in low light - there was noticeable banding on the Pixel 4a 5G whereas side-by-side comparison with the Pixel 5 revealed a rock solid image.

Camera

The Pixel range has always been impressive for photography - especially when you consider that the actual tech in the cameras is actually now quite long in the tooth. The built in software processing however turns relatively average cameras into suitably strong devices for photography in a variety of light types.

The Pixel 5 has two main cameras - the 12.2 megapixel main camera features a f/1.7 aperture and 1/2.55 inch sensor. The 107 degree wide-angle camera offers 16 megapixels and an f/2.2 aperture. This compares well with the Samsung Galaxy S20 which features similar specs but unfortunately that handset and most of the other flagships on the market in 2020 also offer a third camera with telephoto or hybrid zoom for long-distance photography.

Pixel 5 at full magnification
Pixel 2 at full magnification

Some even feature depth-based camera options too.

Despite this, the Pixel 5 turns in some of the best Android captured images we've seen. They're more natural than the Samsung and Huawei devices we've checked out with more delicate colours. While the Pixel 5's might offer less of an impact on first view they feel nicer to look at and more realistic.

The post-processing is one of the more processor intensive activities the Pixel 5 has to do and this is probably the one area where the underpowered CPU is most obvious to the end user with a second or two wait while the handset performs all of the work it needs to do before showing you the final grab.

The video camera has had a bit of an improvement here too with the option to capture fully stabilised 4K footage at 60fps - it's impressive and turns in quality results that put it close to industry best. It's arguable that the Apple iPhone 11 just about pips it in terms of actual detail captured but as with the photos the Pixel video looks that little bit more natural.

Battery Life

The Pixel 5 packs in an impressive 4,080 mHa battery - and it impresses. Not only does the battery give plenty of time between charges with heavy use, the built-in battery preservation functionality in Android 11 means that even when you get down to single-digit figures in terms of charge left you still have plenty of time to use the phone with power-heavy background tasks paused to preserve charge for your use. We've consistently managed to achieve a couple of days between full charges.

Other features

One of the cool new features we've got with the Pixel 5 is the addition of wireless charging. That means that you can pop any devices that are compatible - headphones for example - on the back of your Pixel 5 and the phone will actually wirelessly charge those devices from its own battery.

It also offers standard wireless charging and dual-SIM support (via a nano-SIM and a digital e-SIM) - great for anyone switching contracts when picking up the new handset.

Summary

We'd love to be in love with the Pixel 5 - it's a reliable, well performing device that does everything it needs to very well. It just doesn't have that WOW factor - but with that comes the reassurance that you have a phone that is up to the job, nice to use and is likely to last you far longer than your average phone contract.

The obvious elephant in the room however is the fact that the Pixel 4a 5G is also here and that offers all of the main benefits of the Pixel 5 with just the wireless charging and waterproof smarts of the more expensive device really setting them apart. The Pixel 4a 5G offers a bigger screen and the same camera functionality that might actually make it a better option for many even without the price differential taken into account.

Pros

  • Solid performance
  • Reasonable price
  • Good screen
  • Good camera performance
  • Nice to use

Cons

  • Slightly dated chipset
  • No expandable storage
  • Not very exciting
  • No 'WOW' features
  • The Pixel 4a 5G might be a better and cheaper option for many

Overall

A solid, reasonably powerful mid-range phone that showcases Android 11's best features and does everything asked of it very, very well...

7

out of 10
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