Google Pixel 5a Review: More Than Just An Update
The Pixel 4a 5G was arguably Google's best phone of 2020, striking the perfect balance between cost and specs. We're big fans, so there's nothing wrong with an update and price drop. In all, the Pixel 5a inherits its predecessor's overall design and layout, mid-range Snapdragon 765G SoC, and excellent camera system. Still, we'd have liked to see wireless charging or a 90Hz screen added to the menu.
But here we are. So, what's this new Pixel 5a like? Is it just as good as the Pixel 4a 5G or did Google drop the ball? Does it bring more value to the table? Read our full review to find out.
Google Pixel 5a Hardware And Design
It's probably thicker to accommodate the larger battery (4680 vs. 3885mAh), and the weight increase is likely related to the unibody material switching from polycarbonate to aluminum. Google says the Pixel 5a's body is made of metal, but it feels more like the Pixel 5 to us -- an aluminum shell that's covered in some kind of resin. Unlike last year's “Just Black” Pixel 4a 5G, this “Mostly Black” Pixel 5a looks more like a dark olive green.
Otherwise, everything's exactly where you expect it to be. In the back, you'll find that familiar camera pod in the top left corner; a black glass square with the same 12MP main shooter, 16MP ultrawide, and LED flash as before, alongside the capacitive fingerprint sensor. There's a punch hole in the screen's top left corner for the 8MP selfie camera, and a slit above the display for the earpiece (which doubles as one of the stereo speakers).
Along the sides, you'll find a pale green (and pleasantly textured) power/lock button and black volume rocker on the right, plus a nano-SIM tray on the left. The bottom edge is home to the main speaker, USB Type-C port, and primary mic, while the headphone jack and secondary mic are located on top. In all, this is unmistakably a Pixel. This design looks somewhat bland, but is still rather unique, and this handset feels great in hand.
Here's our unboxing video before we dive into the specs...
|Processing and 5G Platform||Qualcomm
|Display||6.34" FHD+ AMOLED, 2400x1080 resolution, 60Hz|
UFS 2.1, No microSD
|Rear-Facing Cameras||12MP f/1.7 OIS,
dual-pixel PDAF - 16MP f/2.2 107º ultrawide
|Video Recording||Up to 4k @ 60fps, 1080p @ 60fps, 1080p slow-mo|
|Battery||4680 mAh, 18W wired charging, no wireless charging|
|Dimensions||156.2 x 73.2 x 8.8mm|
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth v5.0+LE, NFC, USB-C, LTE, sub-6GHz 5G
|Pricing||Find the Google Pixel 5a @ Amazon, Starting at $449
Google Pixel 5a Display Quality
Google Pixel 5a Camera Performance And Image Quality
By now, eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that those shooters are identical to the ones in the Pixel 5 and 4a 5G (minus the flicker sensor), and obviously, performance is very similar. So let’s recap the Pixel 5a’s shooting modes before we check out the results. Photo modes include portrait and Night Sight (Google’s amazing night mode) and both are available on all three cameras. The Panorama and Photo Sphere modes are both limited to the main shooter.
On the video front, you’ll find slow motion (720p 240fps and 1080p 120fps on the rear cameras only) and time lapse (4k/1080p 30fps), plus four stabilization modes (Standard, Locked, Active, and Cinematic Pan). Video recording maxes out at 4k 60fps with the main shooter, 4k 30fps or 1080p 60fps with the ultrawide, and 1080p 30fps with the selfie camera -- all stabilized, and with stereo audio. As usual with Pixel handsets, video quality is fine, but not spectacular.
Google Pixel 5a Audio, Data, And Call Reception
Audio is another one of the Pixel 5a’s strengths, thanks to stereo speakers, a headphone jack, and lossless audio support (LDAC and aptX HD) over Bluetooth. The Pixel 5a’s speakers sound pretty good, but aren’t quite full and loud enough to really hit the sweet spot. Wired audio performance is solid thanks to a quality DAC and amp. The 3.5mm jack even handles high-impedance headphones and earbuds better than we expected.
Google Pixel 5a Performance And Battery Life
In terms of battery life, the Pixel 5a easily beats its predecessors thanks to a larger 4,680mAh battery. Our PCMark battery test ran for 15 hours and 47 minutes, which is really impressive. Basically, this handset will last for two days of normal use on a full charge. Filling up is relatively quick too; the Pixel 5a supports 18W wired charging (Power Delivery 2.0) and includes an 18W brick in the box. Unfortunately, there’s no wireless charging.
The rest of the specs are pretty standard. You get sub-6GHz 5G, 4G LTE, WiFi 5 (802.11ac), Bluetooth v5.0 + LE, NFC, and A-GPS / GLONASS, Galileo / QZSS and / BeiDou positioning -- plus the usual array of sensors. The Pixel 5a also features an eSIM to complement the nano-SIM. Finally, haptics are top notch thanks to a quality vibration motor, and the rear-mounted capacitive fingerprint sensor is quick and reliable.
Google Pixel 5a Software And User ExperienceLike its predecessors, the Pixel 5a runs an almost stock build of Android 11. Google’s approach to Android has always been delightfully clean, refined, and speedy, with a few helpful (and very Google-y) tweaks thrown in for good measure. These include features like Call Screen, Hold For Me, Recorder, Now Playing, and Personal Safety (to name a few). We suggest you read our Pixel 5 review for more info. Go ahead, we’ll wait!
With Pixel phones, you also get a minimum of three years of timely OS and security updates -- like Android 12, which is coming soon -- and zero pre-installed bloatware out of the box. Other than Google’s familiar app suite, our review unit was squeaky clean. Just beware of Play Store Auto Install, which sometimes installs carrier apps during setup, depending on your SIM. To avoid this, use Wi-Fi to setup, without a SIM installed.
Google Pixel 5a Final Verdict
The larger (taller and narrower) screen and metal build are also nice bonuses. But, most importantly, the Pixel 5a nails the basics by offering excellent shooters, great audio features, and solid performance, not to mention Google’s ultra-polished Android experience. In all, we highly recommend the Pixel 5a -- it’s simply greater than the sum of its parts. And once you consider the price, it makes even more sense.
You can pre-order the Pixel 5a today (Aug 17) or wait until Aug 26 to buy it for $449 (unlocked) from the Google Store and Google Fi ($15/month subscription) here in the US, and for ¥51,700 from the Google Store and Softbank in Japan.