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Pixel 5 review: Google gets back to basics

Guardian Technology 16 Oct 2020 06:00
The Pixel 5 has a 6in screen, slim bezels and a textured body that makes it easy to hold and use. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Pixel 5 is Google’s top smartphone for 2020. It comes with 5G and a simplified design that’s very similar to the excellent, cheaper Pixel 4a.

It’s available in either black or green and costs £599, fitting in above the larger but cheaper £499 Pixel 4a 5G and the smaller £349 Pixel 4a.

Google has ditched the hi-tech Soli radar system and face recognition from the Pixel 4 and gone back to basics for a much simpler design. It is all-screen on the front, with an aluminium body that’s texture-coated aiding durability and grip.

Side by side with the slightly smaller Pixel 4a it is very difficult to tell the phones apart. The Pixel 5 has a larger screen (6in v 5.8in on the diagonal) that has a faster 90Hz refresh rate, which makes scrolling and animations visibly smoother. The screen is bright, colourful and crisp enough, but can’t quite match the best from Samsung, OnePlus or Apple.

Weighing just 151g, the Pixel 5 is light compared with most rivals, which makes it one of the easiest smartphones to handle.

Lower-performance chip with good battery life

The Pixel 5 may be Google’s top smartphone, but it doesn’t have a top-spec processor. Instead, it uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G, which is a 5G-capable upper- to middle-range chip recently found in the £379 OnePlus Nord and in the cheaper £499 Pixel 4a 5G. Most flagship smartphones use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 chip or similar, which is almost twice as fast on paper.

Google’s new extreme battery saver system will extend battery life greatly, when needed, by only allowing a select group of apps to run and suppressing all others.

Google does not provide an estimate for the expected number of full charge cycles from the Pixel 5 batteries. However, the typical lifespan of a smartphone battery is at least 500 cycles while maintaining at least 80% capacity. The Pixel 5 is generally repairable. Out-of-warranty repairs cost £110 for the screen or about £60 for the battery through one of Google’s repair partners, iSmash, or via the Google Store.

The Pixel 5 is one of the first smartphones to be released running the latest version of Android 11 and can expect a minimum of three years of operating system and security updates, which is still some way behind Apple’s five-year support for iPhones.

Google continues to be the market leader in adaptable point-and-shoot photography in most lighting conditions. On the back, the Pixel 5 has a standard 12.2MP camera alongside a 16MP ultrawide camera, but no telephoto camera for optical zoom. Instead, Google is relying on its SuperResZoom technology, which is a type of digital zoom that is arguably capable of matching a 2x optical zoom, but has its limits beyond that.

  • Indoor 5G reception was weaker than the OnePlus 8T or Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2.

  • The new bedtime mode allows you to turn on do not disturb, turn off the always-on display and other bits either on a schedule or when you plug in the phone at night.

  • The screen vibrates to produce sound instead of having a separate speaker at the top, which is great for phone calls, but mediocre for stereo sound on videos – most of the sound comes out of the bottom of the phone instead.

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Samuel GibbsGoogleThe GuardianOnePlusQualcomm
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