Google Pixel 5 Review
While 2020 begins a brand new decade, it also ushers in a new philosophy at Google when it comes to their lineup of Pixel phones. While rumored for most of the year, Google did in fact launch a Google Pixel 5, but did not include an XL model as in previous years. Google also opted to aim for a brand new price point with the Pixel 5, one that detangles them from the high end market and places them more appropriately in that mid-tier level. But with a number of downgrades to the device over the Google Pixel 4 XL, is there a reason to upgrade to the Pixel 5?
Right off the top, I’m not sure the reasoning is the 5G capabilities. While fantastic, a 5G connection isn’t Canada wide at the moment. While up in Toronto you are able to get a fairly decent 5G connection – depending on your Canadian carrier – down in rural Ontario, you are stuck using LTE, and even 3G in some areas! While great, 5G is NOT the reason to upgrade your Google Pixel 4 XL to either this phone, or even the Google Pixel 4a 5G. There are other reasons, but lets talk design first.
Pixel 5 Build and Features
This is a solid phone, and the aluminum body feels great. Rounded sides makes the phone easy to grip – even easier with the Google fabric case – and it’s the perfect size in my opinion at just 6 inches. For those that have found current phones becoming too big – *raises hand* – the 6 inch screen seems to be an ideal size for my hand, allowing me to quickly use my entire screen all with on hand, something I couldn’t do on the Pixel 4 XL. Phone are getting to big, and Google seems to have realized this faster than most.
The phone sports Gorilla Glass 6, has a 90Hz refresh screen at a 2340 x 1080 resolution. With the bezel to bezel screen, with a small hole punch for the front facing camera, Google as done away with a lot of the tech that was originally available in the Pixel 4 XL. With no major cutout atop the phone, it should come at no surprise that features like face unlock, and gesture control, are gone in the Pixel 5. Google has decided these were not features used often enough to justify a) a larger cutout atop the phone, and b) and increased price. While I haven’t missed the gesture features since beginning to use the Pixel 5, I am missing face unlock, even during a pandemic. The speaker at the top of hte phone, however, is greatly missed. Google has instead imbedded this beneath the glass itself, using vibration to produce the audio experience. It isn’t the greatest audio experience, unfortunately, but does work really well for phone calls.
On the backside of the phone, Google has bucked the current market trend of placphoing a large, ugly camera bump on the back of their phone – I’m looking at you Note 20 Ultra – and instead brought over the clean camera look from the Pixel 4 Xl. They also included a simple finger print scanner that will replace the face unlock for those who previously owned the Pixel 4 XL. When asked by a friend to describe the look of the Pixel 5, I came up with a well-thought out, “It’s fine.” And it is, but that’s it. It’s not flashy, and with only a few colours to choose from – we received the black one from Google – there really isn’t anything flashy about the phone. Side rocker buttons are subtle and don’t pop, the Google logo is clean and crisp, and everything else, on my phone at least – is a flat matte black.
In summary. It’s fine. Google was nice enough to provide a fabric case for the Google Pixel 5, and that ‘s where your phone can get some character. The orange buttons and Google logo on my particular case make the phone pop in ways it just cannot on its own!
Camera on the Pixel 5
If you’ve enjoyed the camera on the Pixel 4 XL, then you’ll enjoy the camera on the Pixel 5. Updates have been made to the camera in small ways – some of which will be rolling out to older phones as well – but you are going to get the same quality you’ve come to expect from Google. While still a leader in the mobile phone industry in my opinion, other companies are making strides and catching up fast, so it would have been nice to see Google attempt something as grand as Night Sight for 2020. With the onboard photo processor taken out of the Pixel 5 – likely to keep costs down – it does take a bit longer than before to have Google process your photos and provide you with your final, fantastic shot. With Google, it’s never about the hardware, but it’s all about the software. And it’s fantastic once again.
Portrait mode is the focus of Google’s work in 2020, with Night Sight being added to portrait mode, as well as a few other enhancements that will make portraits look just a bit better than before. When comparing shots between my old Pixel 4 and my new Pixel 5, you can definitely see the edits that you might have made. Google now allows you to quickly remove background colour, turn an entire image into black and white, and most impressive, provide virtual lighting to a photo. Have a photo where one side is just a bit too dark because of your real world lighting? Using this new Google feature can clean that up in a matter of seconds, and it really is brilliant.
For those asking, wide angle lens is back, and the telephoto lens is gone. Pick your side, and decide if you care. Google cannot seem to win with this one!
Video has also seen a significant boost from Google this time around. We were able to capture fantastic video while at the Zoo in Toronto recently – video to come once I put it together! The stabilization improvements are fantastic. We used the Pixel 4 XL often when on Disney Cruise Line, and when walking around the ship, the movement was significant and very noticeable. While the camera cannot fix all my amateur video taking problems, stabilization alone can take a bad video and make it pretty OK. Even when moving around the zoo and panning around exhibits, the video itself is much cleaner and less gittery than it would have been had I been shooting on my Pixel 4 XL.
Not a “Flagship” – So what is Missing?
While the Google Pixel 5 is now Google’s flagship phone, it’s not a flagship phone in the general sense of the term. At just 799 in Canada, this high end phone from Google comes in much cheaper than alternatives from Samsung and Apple. While those flagships will begin costing Canadians almost 1500 after taxes, Google is opting for something different, and obviously will come with some ‘downgrades.’ Here are just a few we noticed when comparing the Google Pixel 4 XL (a 1029.99 phone for 64 GB of built in storage at launch):
- No more face unlock
- No more gesture controls
- Smaller processors – Pixel 5 is using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G (current flagships are using Snapdragon 865 or 865 Plus
- Smaller phone
- Cheaper build materials
- No more squeeze for Google Assistant
The list is much longer, but this is just a start. Google took their Pixel 4 XL – and likely phones from the competition – and looked at how they could cut costs while still providing that great Google experience. And after a few weeks with the Google Pixel 5, I don’t miss my more powerful phones in the slightest. I can still run some of the most demanding games available on the Google Play Store with no issues. I have a gorgeous 90Hz refresh screen. I have a bezel-to-bezel screen that looks great when watching Netflix and Disney+. I have a fantastic battery that last me almost 48 hours, depending on my usage. I get the best photo quality on the market today, regardless of phone price.
I get a lot.
And ultimately, I think Google nails it here with the Google Pixel 5. It’s stripped out nice-to-have, niche features that most people will quickly forget about, and instead delivers a fantastic Google experience that we all expect with a few necessary upgrades, specifically to the battery. What good is super powerful phone if it cannot get you through the day?
Yes you can play games. Yes you can take pictures. Yes you can multitask multiple apps. Is there more you want out of a mobile phone? Did we mentioned reverse charging? While not having it all, it still feels like Google Pixel 5 has it all, and we would recommend this Google flagship to anyone!