Most years Google have launched two new devices, a smaller one, and a larger XL version with bigger battery and slightly different design.
This time around things have sort of switched a little, there is a larger Pixel 4a 5G which I recently reviewed, and a flagship Pixel 5 which has a smaller screen but better specs, there is no Pixel 5 XL this time.
As mentioned above I covered the Pixel 4a 5G and was very impressed with what Google had managed to put together for the price they are asking, so when Vodafone contacted me and asked if I would like to get hands on a Pixel 5 to review I was looking forward to seeing the differences.
The loan device I was sent was the Just Black Pixel 5 which was sent to me by Vodafone UK to use for a 3 week period as my main device, once the review was over I arranged to send the phone back, no payment was made for any coverage, and none of the coverage has been approved by anyone before publishing, these are all my own words and thoughts, but thank you to Vodafone for the loan of the device.
At 151g in weight, the Pixel 5 feels quite light in the hand thanks to the 100% recycled aluminum materials used, this also helps add a premium feel to the phone whilst also being able to keep the weight down.
The screen has a large 6.0 inch OLED display with a 1080p resolution that means you get great colours and deep blacks as well as punchy colours without having a big impact on battery performance and with Dark Mode enabled you get great battery performance benefits too.
These days a high refresh rate is all the rage as it lets you experience silky smooth scrolling between applications as well as improvements in gaming with a higher frame rate.
The Pixel 5 has a 90hz panel which is right in the middle ground between the standard 60hz that a lot of phones, including the Pixel 4a 5G have, and the 120hz that a lot of the more expensive phones have which puts up price.
Looking at the phone up top you have a small speaker housed in the very small bezel, so small you can hardly even see it is there which is a good thing as it really shows off the display.
Thankfully the large top bezel has been reduced down to nearly nothing from the Pixel 4, mainly because there is no more radar built in which the Pixel 4 had called Soli, it never really caught on so was removed and this allowed for a thinner frame with less wasted space.
Voice call quality is very clear and loud thanks to supporting HD Voice calling technology which does a great job at blocking out unwanted noise such as on a busy road or in a shopping centre for example.
In the top left corner you have the front facing 8 megapixel camera for selfies and video, this will be covered in a lot more detail later in the review along with some sample videos and photos it can take.
The bezels on the whole are very minimal which is good news, it really makes the screen stand out without making the phone feel large or heavy, and I really appreciate this in daily use.
Over on the left side you have the SIM card tray near the bottom, this is where you can use your Nano SIM of choice if you decide not to use eSim, you will also notice no MicroSD card, this is because like all Pixels, storage is internal only, mainly because Google expects you will want to use its own suite of online backup options such as Google Drive or Google Photos for example.
Over on the right hand side you get a volume up and down button for controlling in call and system volume, with a power button just above.
As with the Pixel 4a and 4a 5G, the Pixel 5 has done away with the squeezable sides to access the Google Assistant so before you start wondering how to enable it in the settings, you won’t be able too.
Looking up top, you have one of the dual microphones that helps with recording video and audio, plus helps with the noise cancellation on voice calls.
Down the bottom you have a set of dual speakers which are very loud and has decent quality when it comes to playing back any video or music content such as YouTube or Netflix, however the disappointment comes as the lack of a headphone port meaning you need to use either a USB-C pair or a Bluetooth set, this is a shame as the larger, and cheaper Pixel 4a 5G did have a 3.5mm jack for audio.
In between the two speakers you have a USB-C port for data transfer as well as charging, and if you use the charger in the box you get that 18W charging power to recharge at a reasonable time.
Over on the back you have the camera system in the top left corner which is where you get the dual lens as well as the LED flash for helping with photos or using as a flashlight in the dark.
Below is a fingerprint reader which Google refer to as Pixel Imprint, this is just their fancy term for a quick fingerprint sensor which was great to have back considering we are a year in to a COVID-19 pandemic and contact less payments are preferred most places, and means you don’t have to remove your mask to authorise the payment either,
The materials have been given a bump over the plastic Pixel 4a 5G, with the Pixel 5 made from 100% recyclable aluminum as mentioned before, it gives the whole feel a more premium and stronger experience and makes the phone feel more expensive than it really is.
Software on the Pixel range is what Google wants you to use without any of the additional services or applications added by the manufacturers for their own custom skins.
Because of this, Pixel owners are some of the first to get the latest updates as they become available, and can also opt in to the Android Beta program to test out future versions.
The Pixel 5 comes with the latest version out of the box, Android 11 and this is a nice improvement over the older Android 10, polishing up on features instead of adding a wide range of new ones.
Digital Wellbeing is a big area Google is looking into showing off on Android, and the built-in app shows you everything from the amount of notifications you have, to how many times you pick up your phone to check if you missed anything.
Results can be pretty scary when you see just how much you use your phone in a single day, and some people might use this to help improve their phone use by cutting down when possible, something we could all do with doing sometimes or another.
If you own a Pixel you know you will always get the latest versions and security updates as they become available, but Google has gone a step further with a series of Feature Drops that roll out over time, adding new services or features without needing to switch to a new phone, this is great as it brings new life to a phone later on down the time of owning it.
Whilst you might not get a lot of pre-installed content such as what you get on say a Samsung phone and the initial startup looks quite bare, there is so much available in the Play Store to download it means you are only getting the apps you want to use, and not filling storage up on bloatware you will never open.
It is so easy to look at the processor number and think the lower the number the slower, and therefore worse experience you will be getting to cut corners and lower the price, and nothing could be further than the truth….. In most situations.
The Pixel 5 uses the same Snapdragon 765G that the Pixel 4a 5G uses, and whilst this isn’t the flagship Snapdragon 865 many people would have hoped for, the 765G is still a very capable chip and also very power efficient too which is important for getting the best out of the battery performance.
You get 8GB of RAM which is plenty enough for multitasking and does an ok job at playing games such as Call of Duty or Pokemon Go and gives you the extra 2GB over the Pixel 4a 5G which comes in at 6GB.
You may see some other smartphones out there with 12GB of RAM, but for most people this is overkill and not needed, 8GB still gives you plenty of performance when it comes yo speed of loading applications as well as multi-tasking, even large data heavy apps, 8GB will easily breeze through day to day tasks.
Storage is 128GB and as with all Pixel phones, is not able to be expanded by MicroSD cards, instead you can use online services including Google apps such as Drive or Photos.
One app which many people use to store and show their photos is of course Google Photos which offers unlimited photo storage free of charge, however a change in policy from Google means to get the unlimited storage you will have to use a Pixel phone going forward from June 2021, all other devices will have photo storage taken out of their Google Drive allowance.
This could be a big selling point for buying a Pixel phone over a different Android model as you wont have to worry how many photos you are taking, Google will back them up for you and give you the 128GB on device storage for other content such as apps, videos and other large files.
Now on to the battery where the Pixel 5 comes with a reasonable 4000mAh capacity which is up from the 3800mAh on the Pixel 4a 5G, but down from some of the other flagships out there which have up to a massive 5000mAh capacity.
However with the better power management of the Snapdragon 765G, paired with the software optimisation of running on a Pixel and you get what is one of the best battery performances on a smartphone in 2020, it really is that good and was very impressive to see.
The battery supports 18W quick charge which although not the fastest, is still fast enough to give you a topup should you need too, you also get QI wireless charging too which is handy and with more and more wireless stands appearing in the high street you are never too far away from a quick topup of juice without needing to plug in to a wall socket somewhere.
Another nice feature to have was reverse wireless charging, this option when enabled allows you to charge other devices from the Pixel 5, and is mainly there to be used for accessories such as the Pixel Buds if you are running low, it will technically charge a phone, but the low voltage means it will not make much of a difference to the device you want to charge.
With networking you of course get WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, NFC which every phone will have these days, on the mobile network side you get 2G/3G/4G/5G, this with the Pixel 4a 5G are the first Pixel phones that can connect to the new 5G networks for super fast downloading.
There is an option for eSim as well as a single NANO SIM, and at the moment you can only use one at a time, however there has been information that in a future update you will be able to use both SIM cards at the same time for true Dual-SIM support.
With the current lockdown situation because of COVID-19, I was unable to travel to my nearest 5G location to test out speeds, however I do get very quick 4G+ and was able to get over 100Mbps easily in certain locations thanks to 4 Carrier Aggregation if your network supports it.
If you are into your network you may know there are currently two different versions of 5G depending on where you are, Sub-6 and mmWave.
The Pixel 5 supports Sub-6 which is what we have in the UK and across Europe, but it does mean you won’t get these 2Gbps crazy speeds like on Verizon in America, but it does mean coverage travels further so you will get stronger coverage even when you turn your back on the mast.
Some of this content is the same as the Pixel 4a 5G review as both devices use the same software and camera setup so is identical. The photos and videos are different though and were taken on the Pixel 5 device I was sent.
The camera is one of the most iconic selling points for any Pixel phone, but in the past and these new ones too, but how good are they in day-to-day testing when so much of the competition has started to catch up?
When it comes to the selfie camera you get 8 megapixels for still photos and 1080p max resolution for video recording.
Google has often used some magic to make Pixel photos some of the best on any phone, but normally it is the selfie camera that lacks the love the back camera has.
With the Pixel 5 you get both Portrait mode if you want to take those snazzy selfie portraits to post on social media, but also the Night Sight mode if you are in less than perfect condition and want to snap that face to send to your friends.
Whilst it is nice to have these, you still need a decent amount of lighting because edge detection does suffer when lights go down, and even the amazing Night Sight mode whilst it tries it’s best to compensate for the poor lighting, there is a lot of smudging going on in my samples I noticed, but at least Google are looking at both the selfie camera as well as the rear improvements.
Over on the back is where most of the Pixel camera magic happens with a new set of lenses from the older Pixel 4/XL range.
The main camera has the same 12.2 megapixel sensor which gets some of the best points and shoot photos possible, this means even the most amateur photographer can get some amazing shots if the conditions are right.
The second camera is the new one, and this is what everyone was asking for, finally an ultra wide shooter instead of a telephoto, this time a 16 megapixel lens for capturing a lot of detail in those wide angle situations.
Most of the camera work is done on the software side, just point and shoot and let the phone do most of the work for you.
There are some extra modes you can play around with such as Portrait and Panorama, however the Night Sight mode gets a lot of the attention when the conditions are just right and you can capture some stunning night photos full of colour and detail that will impress even the most professional camera user out there.
Below is a quick example of the difference with Night Sight switched on and off, the left one being with the mode turned on and results in a clearer brighter photo, of course this may not be the result you want to achieve so may want to use only in certain situations.
Below are a mixture of photos in all different modes so you can see what the different settings can result in.
As good as the still photos are on a Pixel phone, it is often the video recording that has let them down in the past, so Google has tried to aim to improve this to get it on par with other flagships out there, especially with a lot of people posting on YouTube now.
Video recording goes up to 4K and there are a few different modes you can pick with including a new Cinematic one for smooth panning and slowing down the recording, this is on top of improving the OIS and EIS for stabilisation when you are on the move.
The interface is very simple and what you find on most other smartphones out there with a sliding bar of modes to pick between with lots hidden under the More section.
Over on the left side you have a few other settings such as changing the timer, size of frame and flash settings.
During my time with the Pixel 5 it was strange at first getting back to using a smaller phone considering the other phones I have covered recently all have 6.4 inch or larger displays, this compared to the 6.0 inch on the Pixel 5.
The big decision for everyone this time around is are the extra features such as stronger glass, wireless charging and a more pocketable size that some people will like worth the extra £100 you will have to pay to get one over the 4a 5G?
If the screen size is fine for how you use the phone, and like having the option of not only wireless charging, but reverse wireless charging as well, then this makes the Pixel 5 an easy pick over any other Pixel phone, and with the great camera included and 5G for faster data speeds, the Pixel 5 is a great all round phone for a decent price.
The main selling point of a Pixel is not only the fast software updates that come first to all Pixel phones as they are released, but it is the fact Google have one of the best camera experiences possible on a smartphone, that is also a breeze to use.
If you are in the market for a new smartphone, don’t want to have to pay a fortune to get the top of the range specs, but want a decent Android phone with one of the best camera systems out there, then the Pixel 5 is a great choice and well worth looking at spending your money on.
A big thank you to Vodafone UK for sending the device over for review.