Google has a pair of new phones, the Pixel 4A 5G and Pixel 5, and they’re two of four products the company unveiled today at its brisk and brief virtual event.
Competitors like Microsoft, Samsung, Motorola, and LG have shipped experimental phones this year, touting dual displays or folding and swiveling screens. But 2020 isn’t the year for Google to try something new. In fact, it opted not to include the unique Soli radar chip that debuted on last year’s flagship, which enabled Face ID-like authentication (and a quirky way to change music tracks with hand-waving actions). Both new Pixels are your standard-fare candy bar smartphone, with the classic rear-mounted fingerprint sensor and all.
The 4A 5G shares some similarities with the budget Pixel 4A that went on sale in August, but unlike 2019’s bright and orange Pixel 4, the fifth-generation Pixel is not a traditional flagship phone anymore. It doesn’t have the fastest Qualcomm Snapdragon processor this year, like the Samsung Galaxy S20. It’s subdued, in both its features and muted coloring. It’s also slightly more affordable, at $699.
The only notable addition, outside of the usual spec upgrades, is support for 5G. It’s the new cellular network technology succeeding (and complementing) 4G LTE, but its rollout is far from widespread in the US. Even if you have a 5G phone (with a compatible 5G data plan), you’ll be using 4G LTE a vast majority of the time.
There isn’t much new here to impress if you’re looking for the bleeding-edge in mobile hardware, but that was never the case with Pixel phones. Google has always prided itself on its smart, machine learning-powered software experience and stellar cameras, and that’s what continues to shine through.
Both the Pixel 5 and 4A 5G share the exact same processor inside—Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G—a mid-range chip that’s a step down from the flagship Snapdragon 865 inside phones like the Samsung Galaxy S20. The chip should still perform just as snappily (we’ve seen it on other phones like the OnePlus Nord, especially with the Pixel 5’s 8 GB RAM and the 4A 5G’s 6 GB RAM, and it’s further indication that you don’t need top-of-the-line hardware for strong performance these days. This system-on-a-chip comes with Qualcomm’s X52 modem, which is what enables 5G support.
The camera systems are a match, too. A 12-megapixel main camera is paired with a 16-megapixel ultrawide, as well as an 8-megapixel selfie shooter. What’s distinct from last year’s Pixel 4 is the lack of a 2x zoom lens; the ultrawide lens has replaced it, but Google says you can still get high-quality close-ups thanks to Super Res Zoom, a computational photography feature it introduced on the Pixel 3 that enhances anything you zoom in on. The image sensors on both are the same from the Pixel 4, but Google says it’s using a “brighter, sharper, more reliable lens that’s less prone to bad lens flares.”
Google says it’s also made improvements to HDR+, so the phones will fare even better in high-contrast scenes, with a new feature called HDR+ Bracketing. It means the phone will take multiple photos with different settings per image to nail a well-balanced shot. Portrait Mode now works with Night Sight so you can get better bokeh effects in low light, and there’s also a “Portrait Relighting” effect you can use to change the lighting on your face. It’s similar to the Portrait Lighting feature Apple introduced a few years ago on the iPhone. Google says a redesigned Google Photos editor will let you use this effect on previously snapped photos, too.
The video side of things hasn’t been ignored. You can finally shoot at 4K 60 frames per second, and Google added three new stabilization modes so your footage looks smoother: Locked, Active, and Cinematic Pan. The latter slows down all motion by 2x for a Hollywood-movie effect.
Outside of the camera, other new software features include Hold for Me, which has Google Assistant monitor a phone call and send an alert when you’ve been taken off hold (no need to listen to elevator music again). And there’s Extreme Battery Saver, which limits the phone’s features to keep the lights running for more than 48 hours. These two features will come to older Pixel devices at a later date. Google says to expect more as a part of its “Feature Drops,” a relatively new initiative that brings new features over a Pixel phone’s lifespan.
The two phones look alike as well, continuing the squircle redesign Google ushered with the Pixel 4. On the front, however, they’re closer to the newer Pixel 4A (our favorite Android phone), which has the same “hole-punch” cutout for the selfie camera and slim edges around the screen. All three models have fingerprint sensors on the rear, a dramatic shift away from the Pixel 4’s facial recognition tech, and you also get 128 gigabytes of internal storage. That’s where the similarities end.
Google’s Pixel 5, which comes in green or black and costs $699, is smaller with a 6-inch OLED screen (OLED has darker blacks) and an extra smooth 90-Hz screen refresh rate like its predecessor. Its body is made of 100 percent recycled aluminum, and it fits a 4,080 mAh battery inside (a step up from the Pixel 4, of which battery life is a sore point).
It’s also IP68 water resistant, supports wireless charging, and adds reverse wireless charging so you can charge other devices with your phone, like the cases for wireless earbuds. Wireless charging usually doesn’t work well with metal, but Google says it manufactured a hole in the back for the wireless charging antenna, which is covered with a thin layer of plastic.
The $500 Pixel 4A 5G is made of plastic, like the 4A ($350). It has a slightly larger 6.2-inch OLED screen, paired with a larger 3,885-mAh battery capacity. It only comes in black, and there are no other perks like wireless charging or water resistance, though it does have a headphone jack. In essence, the $150 markup over the Pixel 4A gets you 5G, a snappier Snapdragon 765G processor, possibly a bit more battery life, an ultrawide camera with some other imaging enhancements, plus a bigger screen.
As usual, these Pixels get three years of Android version upgrades and security updates, something Samsung now matches, but it’s still shorter than the five+ years of support Apple offers on its iPhones.
Just the Basics
Outside of Hold for Me, Google did not highlight any substantial improvements to Google Assistant, the voice assistant that powers its many smart speakers, a strange omission as software is where Google often really shows off. You’ll still find existing Pixel features such as Now Playing, which indicates songs playing based on your surroundings (without the need for an internet connection), and Call Screen, which checks if incoming calls are spam.
If you buy either of these phones, you’ll get a three-month Stadia Pro and YouTube Premium subscription, 100-gigabytes of storage in Google One, and more. Preorders are live now for the Pixel 5 at various retailers, which arrives on October 15, but you can only join a waitlist for the Pixel 4A 5G (it’s not launching until November).
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