Google Pixel 5 Review: Refined And Feature-Rich With Caveats

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Google Pixel 5: A Fantastic 5G Phone With A Killer Camera But For A Price

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Google’s phone strategy has always been a bit of a mystery. While it successfully entered the mid-range market with last year’s Pixel 3a and -- more recently -- the $349 Pixel 4a and $499 Pixel 4a 5G, it’s been struggling to find its place at the high-end. Pixel flagships have always been interesting options in the market, especially for those who want a stock Android experience. However, they're sometimes overpriced, with high-end configurations in some ways (processors) but also lacking in some areas (RAM and storage options).

So, Google appears to be taking a gamble and trying something different this year. It’s targeting the popular $600 to $750 price range and joining the wild world of premium mid-range phones and affordable flagships with the $699 Pixel 5 -- its very own Snapdragon 765G-equipped 5G “flagship.” Does the Pixel 5 finally deliver the goods? Should you buy the similar but more affordable Pixel 4a 5G instead? Read on in the pages ahead to find out...

Google Pixel 5 Hardware And Design

Let’s start with that amazing color -- Sorta Sage. You might not like it, and that’s OK. But we love it, and the alternative is, well, Just Black. How will people know you’re rocking the Pixel 5 when the black one looks almost identical to the Pixel 4a and 4a 5G? Because, design wise, the Pixel 5 is a dead ringer for its siblings, slotting right between them in terms of display size -- 6.0 inches vs. 5.8 and 6.2 inches, respectively. It's a small device.

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Speaking of the 1080p screen, it’s the same overall design too, with a hole punch in the top left corner for the 8MP selfie camera, and thin bezels all around. Another design element the Pixel 5 inherits from its siblings is the back-mounted capacitive fingerprint sensor and black square camera pod, which is shared with the Pixel 4a 5G -- including the same 12MP main lens, 16MP ultrawide, LED flash, and flicker sensor.

What’s different then? The Pixel 5 packs a 90Hz display, 8GB RAM, 4080mAh battery, and bi-directional wireless charging, but lacks a headphone jack and a visible earpiece. It’s also IP68 water and dust resistant, and made of aluminum instead of plastic. Unlike other unibody designs, a groove is machined into the aluminum shell for the wireless charging coil, then filled with a resin which spills over to coat the entire phone.

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This makes the surfaces of the Pixel 5 feel like paper, which is both unique and pleasant to hold. Hopefully, it’s also durable. Everything else is what you’d expect. There’s a metallic green power/lock button and sage volume rocker on the right side, and the SIM tray is located on the left. You’ll find the primary mic, USB Type-C port (USB 3.1), and speaker along the bottom edge, plus a secondary mic on top.

Watch our unboxing video before we dig into the details...
 

Google Pixel 5
Specifications & Features
Processing and 5G Platform Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
Display 6.0" FHD+ OLED, 2340x1080 resolution, 90Hz, HDR 10+
Memory 8GB LPDDR4X
Storage 128GB UFS 2.1
Rear-Facing Cameras 12MP f/1.7 OIS, dual-pixel PDAF - 16MP f/2.2 107º Ultra-Wide
Front-Facing Cameras 8MP f/2.0
Video Recording Up to 4K @ 60fps, 1080p @ 60fps, 1080p slow-mo
Battery 4080 mAh
OS Android 11
Dimensions 144.7 x 70.4 x 8mm
Weight 151 grams
Connectivity 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.1+LE, NFC, USB-C, LTE, 5G
Colors Sorta Sage, Just Black
Pricing Find the Google Pixel 5 At Amazon, Starting at $699

Google Pixel 5 Display Quality

Google outfitted the Pixel 5 with a beautiful screen. It’s a 6.0-inch FHD+ (2340 x 1080 pixels, 432ppi, HDR10+) OLED panel with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio and 90Hz refresh rate. Bezels are minimal, and there’s no chin, which is rare. The front shooter peeks through a punch hole in the top left corner. Overall, this is a nice display -- colors are vibrant, blacks are deep, and viewing angles are great. It could be brighter in direct sunlight, though.

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Now let's discuss all of the Pixel 5's cameras in specific detail...

Pixel 5 Camera Hardware, Software, Performance And Image Quality

Camera performance has always been outstanding on Pixel phones, and the Pixel 5 continues this tradition. Basically, it features the same rear sensors as the Pixel 4, but with an ultrawide lens replacing the telephoto -- a welcome improvement. This new setup (shared with the Pixel 4a 5G) consists of a 12MP f/1.7 1.4-micron main shooter with dual-pixel PDAF and OIS, and a 16MP f/2.2 1.0-micron 107-degree ultrawide.

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In front, the Pixel 5 uses a 8MP f/2.0 1.12-micron selfie camera (also shared with the Pixel 4a 5G). But specs only tell half the story. Google’s computational photography chops are still second to none. Most of the Pixel 5’s imaging goodness comes from proven features like HDR+, Night Sight (night mode), AI portrait mode, and astrophotography. And now there’s even more, thanks to a new camera app and updated Photos app.

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Google Pixel 5 main camera

First, Night Sight now works for portraits as well as regular photos, and will automatically turn on when necessary (this can be disabled). Second, Portrait Light lets you illuminate your subjects after the fact using a virtual light source. It’s similar to Apple’s Portrait Lighting, but is only available when editing portrait images in the Photos app. It also lets you position the virtual light source anywhere relative to your subject.

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Google Pixel 5 ultrawide

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Google Pixel 5 main camera

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Google Pixel 5 main camera (2x zoom)

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Google Pixel 5 main camera (5x zoom)

There are also new video stabilization modes. Beyond Standard, these include Locked (for zoomed scenes), Active (for heavy motion), and Cinematic Pan (for smooth pans). It all works, and it’s super slick. The rest of the shooting modes are pretty familiar (panorama, Photo Sphere, slow motion, and time lapse), but the camera app still lacks a pro/manual mode, which is rather disappointing. Are you listening, Google?

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Google Pixel 5 main camera (auto)

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Google Pixel 5 main camera (night mode)

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Google Pixel 5 ultrawide (auto)

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Google Pixel 5 ultrawide (night mode)

Pictures taken with the Pixel 5 are spectacular for a smartphone. Exposure and white balance are always on point, dynamic range is excellent (thanks to HDR+), and low-light performance is impressive (and even better with Night Sight). Google’s Super Res Zoom, which enables clear shots up to about 4x with the main sensor -- plus the new ultrawide lens -- makes the Pixel 5 (and the Pixel 4a 5G) an extremely versatile shooter.

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Google Pixel 5 selfie camera (portrait mode)

The Pixel 5 captures video at up to 4k/1080p 60fps with both rear cameras, and up to 1080p 30fps with the front shooter -- all stabilized. Audio is recorded in stereo, and there’s a new audio zoom setting. Time lapses max out at 4k/1080p 30fps, and slow motion supports either 1080p 120fps or 720p 240fps. While video performance still lags behind what Apple and Samsung have to offer, it’s better than previous Pixel handsets.

Next up: audio, benchmark performance, and battery life...


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