Google Pixel 5a 5G Review: A Well-Executed Battery Life King

Google Pixel 5a Review: More Than Just An Update

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After weeks of leaks and rumors, and a mere ten months since the original's launch, Google just revised its mid-range Pixel 4a 5G and lowered the price by $50. Behold the slightly larger and heavier Pixel 5a ($449), which bumps the display size from 6.2 to 6.34 inches, increases the battery capacity from 3,885 to 4680mAh, swaps the plastic body for a metal shell, and adds water resistance.

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

Without putting them side-by-side, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the Pixel 5a and 4a 5G apart. The design, layout, and color (black) are essentially identical. At 156.2 x 73.2 x 8.8mm and 183g, the Pixel 5a is 2.3mm taller, 0.8mm narrower, 0.6mm thicker, and 15g heavier than the outgoing Pixel 4a 5G. It’s also IP67 water and dust resistant. The footprint difference can be attributed to the taller but narrower display (6.34-inch 20:9 vs. 6.2-inch 19.5:9).

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Pixel 5a (L) vs. Pixel 4a 5G (R)

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).

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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...

Google Pixel 5a
Specifications & Features
Processing and 5G Platform Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
Display 6.34" FHD+ AMOLED, 2400x1080 resolution, 60Hz
Memory 6GB LPDDR4+
Storage 128GB UFS 2.1, No microSD
Rear-Facing Cameras 12MP f/1.7 OIS, dual-pixel PDAF - 16MP f/2.2 107º ultrawide
Front-Facing Cameras 8MP f/2.0
Video Recording Up to 4k @ 60fps, 1080p @ 60fps, 1080p slow-mo
Battery 4680 mAh, 18W wired charging, no wireless charging
OS Android 11
Dimensions 156.2 x 73.2 x 8.8mm
Weight 183 grams
Connectivity 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth v5.0+LE, NFC, USB-C, LTE, sub-6GHz 5G
Colors Mostly Black
Pricing Find the Google Pixel 5a @ Amazon, Starting at $449

Google Pixel 5a Display Quality

The Pixel 5a features a 6.34-inch FHD+ (2400 x 1080 pixels, 413ppi) AMOLED panel with a 20:9 aspect ratio and a 60Hz refresh rate. Bezels are reasonably thin, and there’s a small punch hole in the top left corner for the front shooter. It’s a lovely screen, with vibrant colors, inky blacks, and wide viewing angles. Brightness isn’t the best in direct sunlight, and we were really hoping for a 90Hz display, but overall we have no complaints.

Google Pixel 5a Camera Performance And Image Quality

Pixel phones have always delivered superb imaging performance, and the Pixel 5a is no exception. Like its predecessors, it combines relatively pedestrian camera specs with Google’s vast expertise in computational photography. In back, there’s 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. Selfies are handled by a 8MP f/2.0 1.12-micron front camera.

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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.

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Pixel 5a main camera

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Pixel 5a ultrawide

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Pixel 5a main camera (2x zoom)

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Pixel 5a main camera (4x zoom)

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.

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Pixel 5a main camera (night mode)

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Pixel 5a ultrawide (night mode)

Photography is where the Pixel 5a truly shines. It benefits from every one of Google’s imaging tricks, including HDR+, Night Sight, AI portrait mode, and astrophotography. The resulting images are detailed, with accurate colors and exposure. Dynamic range is high thanks to HDR+, low-light performance is impressive thanks to Night Sight, and zoomed shots are crisp up to 4x thanks to Super Res Zoom. Even portraits are superior to the competition in this price bracket.

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Pixel 5a main camera "macro" (2x zoom, close up)

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Pixel 5a selfie camera (portrait mode)

Without a doubt, the Pixel 5a offers the best shooters on any phone at this price. Still, we can’t help but think that Google is resting on its laurels here. Ultrawide aside, you can get the same outstanding pictures from a Pixel 3. The camera app is decent, but still lacks a manual (pro) mode or something like Apple’s ProRaw. Let’s hope Google cranks things up a notch (especially with video capture) on the upcoming Pixel 6 and 6 Pro.

Google Pixel 5a Audio, Data, And Call Reception

We tested the Pixel 5a primarily on Verizon’s sub-6GHz 5G and 4G LTE networks in San Francisco and New York City, and didn’t experience any issues. Calls sounded loud and clear, and data speeds were on par with other devices on these networks. The Pixel 5a supports sub-6GHz 5G and 4G LTE for all three major US carriers (T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon), plus Google Fi, naturally, but lacks mmWave 5G.

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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

The Pixel 5a inherits Qualcomm’s mid-range Snapdragon 765G from last year’s Pixel 5 and 4a 5G. It’s paired here with 6GB of LPDDR4x RAM and 128GB of UFS 2.1 storage, just like on the Pixel 4a 5G, but as usual, there’s no microSD support. While this isn’t Qualcomm’s most recent Snapdragon 700-series 5G chip, it’s still a very compelling option since it delivers snappy performance at a reasonable price.

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pcmark Pixel 5a

antutu Pixel 5a

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sling shot Pixel 5a
A simple round of benchmarks (above) confirmed that the Pixel 5a performs about the same as the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G. And indeed, the Pixel 5a feels quick and responsive. It ran everything we threw at like a champ -- from our usual social media and work apps to games like Asphalt 9: Legends. On paper, this phone isn’t as fast as a flagship, but other than hard-core gamers, we’re pretty confident that most folks will be satisfied.

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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 Experience

Like 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!

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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

It’s easy to be cynical and dismiss the Pixel 5a as just a minor update to the Pixel 4a 5G, but there really is more to the story. The Pixel 5a is a fantastic mid-range handset, especially for $449. While some things remain the same, like the Snapdragon 765G, RAM, storage, cameras, and design, others are significantly better. Who’s going to complain about a bigger battery or water resistance for $50 less?

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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.

  • Excellent shooters
  • Quality display
  • Great audio features
  • Impressive battery life
  • Water and dust resistant
  • Stock Android

  • 60Hz screen
  • No wireless charging
  • Only comes in black
  • Only US and Japan

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