Google Pixel 5 Review: Soft Reboot
- Great price
- Stunning camera
- Sleek software
- Softcore specs
- No Face Unlock
Google’s latest Pixel is more interested in being better value than just plain better.
Price$ 999.00 (AUD)
Should you buy the Google Pixel 5?
Rather than raise the price and stakes, the follow-up to last year's Pixel 4 drops a few thrills, learns a few new tricks and tries to position itself as the no-compromise candidate for those who want a premium Android experience but don’t want to spend upwards of $1000. It’s a soft reboot that’s iterative and familiar enough to satisfy fans but still cheap enough to entice newcomers.
Ultimately, Google’s latest Pixel is more interested in being better value than just plain better.
Processor: Snapdragon 765G
Operating System: Android 11
MicroSD slot: No
Headphone Jack: No
Fingerprint sensor: Yes, Rear-mounted
Connectivity: 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, GPS
Rear Camera: 12.2-megapixel (f/1.7) + 16-megapixel (f/2.2) ultrawide
Front-Facing Camera: 8-megapixel (f/2.0)
Dimensions: 144.7 x 70.4 x 8 mm
In Australia, the Google Pixel 5 has a recommended retail price of AU$999.
Following an October 15 launch date, Google says that the phone will be available outright through the Google Store, JB Hi-Fi, Officeworks and Harvey Norman.
In addition to above retailers, the Google Pixel 5 will also be available on post-paid plans through all three of Australia's major telcos: Telstra, Vodafone and Optus.
For comparison, last year's Google Pixel 4 started at AU$1049. It's clear that Google has a natural hierarchy in mind here, with the basic Pixel 4a priced at AU$599 and the more-future-proof Pixel 4a 5G priced at AU$799.
Design - Look, Feel, Features and Camera
Despite being one of the biggest tech companies in the world, Google’s brand has never quite gelled with the established expectations of the premium end of the smartphone market.
For the most part, previous Pixel phones have been exceptional in sheer functionality. However, when it comes to looks, they haven’t really reflected much interest on Google’s part when it comes to matching the glamorous, gilded and gauche appeal found in Apple’s priciest iPhones or Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra.
Regardless of whether we’re talking about software of hardware, the appeal of Google’s best products and services has always hinged on their universal affordability. After all, most of the things that Google makes are free. For the last few years, Google’s pricey Pixel hardware has felt a little in tension with the ideals represented by the rest of the brand.
To that end, the Google Pixel 5 itself boasts a Snapdragon 765G processor, a 6-inch OLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, a 4080mAh battery and a dual-lens rear camera. If you’re just looking at the spec-sheet, this thing simply doesn’t play in the same league as powerhouses like the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra or the Oppo Find X2 Pro.
It’s an implicit pushback against the status quo of the high-end smartphone market here. With the Pixel 5, it feels like Google are giving up on the numbers game and trying to shift the goal posts. Rather than try and differentiate themselves from the competition through specs or gimmicks, Google have opted to play to their strengths and eschew novelty in order to hit a humbler asking price.
“Why play the same old game and pay extra for experimental but largely-superfluous features you’re probably not going to use when you could save money and still end up with a more than decent device?”
This thrifty attitude is the thing that’s arguably the most compelling about Google’s 2020 flagship. The Pixel 5 errs away from excess and argues that the future shouldn’t just be better but it should be better value. Sitting comfortably relative to the Pixel 4a and Pixel 4a 5G, $200 feels like a modest fee to pay for wireless charging, IP68 water resistance and a second lens on the rear camera.
There is however one important aspect of the experience that’s been in translation here. The Motion Sense tech responsible for the Pixel 4’s hands-free gestures and 3D face unlock has been cut entirely.
The upshot of this is that the Pixel 5 offers a more regular amount of screen to work. It won’t outshine the best-in-class mobile viewing experiences of the iPhone 11 Pro or Galaxy Note 20 Ultra but, aside from the holepunch notch on the left-most corner of the screen, it hits the right notes.
The downside is that, in lieu of the in-display fingerprint sensors found elsewhere, Google have opted for a dated-looking (and feeling) rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. It’s been three years since Apple introduced FaceID and brought 3D Face Unlock into the smartphone lexicon. The fact that Google finally matched that feature in 2019 and are now backsliding on it speaks ill of Android as a platform. In my opinion, it’s the single worst thing about the Pixel 5.
That aside, there’s still plenty to like about the Pixel 5’s overall design. The recycled aluminum build serves to lend the device an off-beat feel-factor that stands out among the rest. I can’t emphasize enough how fresh it feels like behold a flagship smartphone that isn’t yet another glass sandwich.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Pixel 5’s camera meets expectations. It’s more of a riff on the formula of the Pixel 4 than a fresh take or meaningful evolution.
Still, Google has traded out the telephoto lens for an ultrawide one with the promise that algorithms will address the inevitable and obvious downsides of the swap. Google’s argument here is basically that, thanks to their Super Res Zoom tech, it’s possible to make up enough of the difference that they don’t necessarily need to rely on a dedicated telephoto lens.
In action, the Pixel 5’s camera doesn’t feel significantly better or different to that of the Pixel 4. Portrait shots and landscapes look sharp and crisply colored and, when it comes to low-light, this thing is basically unbeatable. At least, until we get a proper look at this year’s iPhone 12 Pro.
One important detail to note here is that the Pixel 5 drops the dedicated Neural Core image processor. This meant that captured images often took a second or two to load and optimise. The Pixel 3a featured a similar shortcoming and while I wasn’t thrilled to see it recur here, it is a small price to pay for smartphone photos that look this good.
Ultimately, it would be overstating things to claim that the Pixel 5’s camera is a massive leap ahead of its predecessor. But it does more with less - and it costs less as well - which makes it a little easier to endorse than most of its competition.
Performance - Software, Benchmarks and Battery Life
When it comes to software, buying a Google Pixel in 2020 gets you the creme de la creme of sleek and slick Android experiences.
The device itself runs on the latest version of Android 11 right out of the box and comes with Google’s usual promise of 2 years of software updates and 3 years of security upgrades inspires plenty of confidence. Nevertheless, I’m still irked that Google no longer free unlimited full-resolution image backup via Google Photos for Pixel owners as they did with earlier hardware generations.
Like the camera, the emphasis here is on working smarter more so than working harder. The 90Hz refresh rate managed to distract me from the fact that the PIxel 5 runs on a slower class of processor than most of this year’s flagships more often than not. Is that difference in snappiness noticeable? Yes. Does that mean that the Pixel 5 feels slow or underpowered? Not really.
Most of the time, the Pixel 5 runs smoothly enough that I found no cause for complaint. It’s no powerhouse but, with the bar for mid-tier processors being as high as it is, I didn’t find myself holding that against the Pixel 5 as much as you might expect.
Given that Google’s latest flagship smartphone ditches the usual 800-series Snapdragon processor, it should not surprise that it didn’t hit the same highs as the rest of the 2020 flagship cohort when it came to benchmarks. Google doesn't seem interested in competing on this front and the results below reflect exactly that.
3DMark SlingShot Extreme (OpenGL): 2636
3DMark SlingShot Extreme (Vulkan): 2570
GeekBench (Single-Core): 582
GeekBench (Multi-Core): 1587
GeekBench (Compute): 1041
Given that battery life was the achilles heel of last year’s Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, it’s hardly surprising that Google has looked to reinforce this aspect of the equation with the Pixel 5. What is surprising, however, is just how much better the battery performance of Google’s latest flagship actually is.
Where the Pixel 4 rarely lasted me a full day, the Pixel 5 usually managed a comfortable day and a half. Even with intermittent 5G connectivity and 90Hz display enabled, I’d usually end up yielding around six or so hours of screen time per charge. Part of this is down to the larger battery. I suspect part of this is also down to the Snapdragon 765G processor.
Burned out via streamed video on YouTube, it took the Google Pixel 5 14 hours and 8 minutes to go from 100% to zero.
Like the previous flagship Pixel, the Pixel 5 supports 18W fast wired charging and wireless charging via Qi. Unlike the Pixel 4, it also supports reverse wireless charging.
The Bottom Line
At this stage, it’s hard to discern whether the Pixel 5 is meant to be a soft reboot for the line or an anomalous effort to capitalise on a global downturn for the premium smartphone market.
It’s easy to imagine a return to business as usual in 2021, where Google debuts a powerhouse Pixel that pushes the boundaries of what you should expect from an Android smartphone through smart software and cutting-edge hardware. However, after a week or two relying on the Pixel 5, I’m far more intrigued by the alternative..
Where the Pixel 5’s traditional rivals are sticking to the tried and true course of delivering premium smartphones that raise the stakes through excessive specs or futuristic innovations like foldable screens, Google are changing their tune to a more catchy melody: the idea that the future should be better value, as opposed to just plain better.
In form and function, the Pixel 5 boldly proclaims dares you to not spend $2000 on your next flagship. A world where that message cuts through and inspires other brands to follow in its wake is one I want to see.
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