Google Announces Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5: Focusing on the Mid-Range?by Andrei Frumusanu on September 30, 2020 5:00 PM EST
Today through the company’s rather short virtual launch event, among other novelties, Google has officially announced the new Pixel 4a (5G) and the new Pixel 5. Both phones had been teased for some time now as Google had pre-announced them back in in early August with the announcement of the Pixel 4a.
The new Pixel 4a (5G) is very much what its name implies, a variant of the Pixel 4a with added 5G connectivity through the addition of a Snapdragon 765 SoC. The phone here is very similar to its 4G variant, although Google had to grow the device’s dimensions a bit, and a more apt name for it would have been the 4a XL (5G) but that’s quite a mouthful.
The new Pixel 5 is a quite different phone for Google’s mainstream line-up as here the company has abandoned any attempts at making a flagship device, relegating itself into the mid-range to premium price segment. Also featuring a Snapdragon 765, the phone’s other specs are quite more conservative compared to other devices in 2020 – it’s somewhat of a risky move at a still rather high $699 price point.
|2020 Google Pixels
|Pixel 4a (5G)
2x CA76 @ 2.2GHz
6x CA55 @ 1.8GHz
1x CA76 @ 2.4GHz
1x CA76 @ 2.2GHz
6x CA55 @ 1.8GHz
|128GB UFS 2.1
2340 x 1080 (19.5:9)
2340 x 1080 (19.5:9)
2340 x 1080 (19.5:9)
18W Fast Charging
18W Fast Charging
18W Fast Charging
|12.2MP 1.4µm Dual Pixel PDAF
f/1.7 77° lens with OIS
f/2.0 84° lens; fixed focus
3.5mm headphone jack
|802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 5.0 LE + NFC
(LTE Category 12/5)
DL = 600Mbps
UL = 150Mbps
(LTE Category 18/13)
DL = 1200 Mbps
UL = 150 Mbps
(5G NR Sub-6 + mmWave*)
DL = 3700 Mbps
UL = 1600 Mbps
*excludes non-mmWave model of 4a(5G)
*excludes mmWave in non-US markets
|1x nanoSIM + eSIM
|$349 / 349£ / 349€
|$499 / £499 / €499
|$699* / £599 / €629
Starting off with the heart of the phones, both the new 4a (5G) and the Pixel 5 are powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G SoC. For the Pixel 5 this is a rather obvious choice given Google’s new targeted price range for the phone, although more on that later.
For the Pixel 4a (5G) this actually represents a rather larger bump in specifications compared to the Snapdragon 730G of the Pixel 4a, and the reasoning for the whole upgrade seems to have been 5G, and more specifically, the Snapdragon 765G’s ability to support mmWave connectivity.
Looking at Google’s pricing and different models that they’re releasing in different markets, it’s easily to see that mmWave connectivity has been a rather integral part of why Google made some of their component choices in the new Pixel devices. In the US, both the 4a (5G) and 5 support 5G connectivity with mmWave, however the 4a (5G) also comes with a 5G sub-6-only variant that’s actually $100 cheaper – this one is the publicly marketed $499 unit Google was showcasing during the launch. The Verizon Pixel 4a (5G) on the other hand costs $599. The Pixel 5 in the US costs $699 and only has a mmWave model. More on the international pricing later in the article.
RAM and storage wise, the Pixel 4a (5G) continues the 6GB configuration we’ve seen on the Pixel 4a, whilst the Pixel 5 upgrades that to 8GB. Both new phones feature 128GB of storage, however Google didn’t exactly specify the storage grade – it’s likely the 4a (5G) uses the same UFS 2.1 as on the 4a, whilst we don’t yet have confirmation on what the Pixel 5 is deploying.
On the matter of connectivity, it’s disappointing to see that Google is avoiding Wi-Fi 6 / 802.11ax in even the Pixel 5, meaning it won’t be as future proof – however given the lower price compared to a conventional flagship that’s somewhat of an acceptable compromise.
The Pixel 4a (5G) is of a similar build and design to the Pixel 4a, essentially representing a larger device that frankly could have been called the Pixel 4a XL (5G) if one would have to give it a more apt description.
The phone is still made of a polycarbonate plastic and it features a now larger 6.2” OLED screen coming in at 2340 x 1080 resolution. There’s no high refresh rate to be found here as Google is sticking to 60Hz.
As noted, it’s a larger phone and the critical dimension for ergonomics is the width, which has grown from 69.4mm to 74.0mm. The weight of the phone has also gone up from 143g to 168g for the sub-6 model and 171g for the mmWave model of the device.
The Pixel 5 employs a very similar design to both the 4a and the 5a (5G) – to the point that you actually wonder wouldn’t know that these devices are named after different generations – if that even has any kind of meaning anymore given the 4a (5G) and the 5 are almost identical in specifications.
What’s different about the Pixel 5 that you wouldn’t recognize in the pictures is that it’s made out of aluminium, which is quite interesting as we haven’t had a unibody aluminium device by a manufacturer in quite some years. One odd thing about this aspect of the phone is that Google is still employing wireless charging – so what must be happening is that there has to be some sort of cut-out in the back that’s covered in paint or some sort of layer that is hiding a non-electrically-conductive part of the back cover.
The front of the Pixel 5 looks almost identical to the 4a (5G), defined by a uniform bezel and a camera hole cut-out in the top left corner of the screen which houses the same 8MP 1.12µm f/2.0 camera that’s sported on the 4a, 4a (5G) and the 5 units.
The display is still a 2340 x 1080 resolution OLED unit, but is slightly smaller at 6.0” diagonal. The good news here is that Google at least is employing a 90Hz refresh rate on this model.
The Pixel 5 actually being of a similar form-factor to the 4a, actually is able to house a significantly larger battery at 4000mAh typical capacity – quite a large jump over the 3140mAh unit of its budget sibling. That’s actually even larger than the 3885mAh typical capacity of the new 4a (5G), even with the Pixel 5 weighing less at only 151g.
On the camera side of things, there’s good news and bad news. The good news for the Pixel 4a (5G) is that it’s using the same main camera module as on the 4a and previous generation flagship Pixels. The 12.2MP unit with 1.4µm pixels and an f/1.7 aperture optics module is still quite good in this range.
Google has evolved its HDR+ algorithm and notes that with this generation it has introduced exposure bracketing capture ability – meaning instead of stacking several captures of low exposures, it’ll now do stacking of several different exposure lengths. Hopefully this will help the phone increase its dynamic range capture abilities.
The bad news is that the Pixel 5 still continues to feature this main camera sensor.
The unit had been used since the Pixel 3 with only minor upgrades in the sensor versions. We don’t know if Google is planning to release a higher-end Pixel device above the Pixel 5 any time soon, so what this means is that Google needs to counteract with software an increasingly large hardware gap that’s kept on growing compared to the competition. The Pixel 4 already lost out to last year’s iPhone 11 series in picture quality and the Pixel 5 will unlikely to change much in that regard, as even Google’s own PR image samples of the camera show pronounced noise and lacking dynamic range.
Another positive is that there’s now an ultra-wide-angle camera module alongside the main unit. It’s been widely agreed upon that Google’s telephoto unit with the Pixel 4 was a faux-pas in a year where essentially everybody else has had or had introduced UWA cameras. Seemingly this year with the Pixel 5 Google has realised that people use phones in tighter spaces more often than shooting long distances, and opted for the UWA instead. This is a 16MP 1.0µm unit with an f/2.2 aperture and a 107° field-of-view. It’s likely amongst the narrowest UWA units out there, but I still prefer this to a telephoto – although other competitors out there don’t force you to make this choice and give you a full trifecta of camera modules to choose from.
Focusing on the mid-range? Or giving up on the high-end?
The Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5 are devices that I’m having a hard time rationalising. Last year, I noted that Google had failed with the Pixel 4 – not that it was a bad device, it was just overpriced for what it delivered.
This year, Google at least made the change to their pricing structure to allow for more affordable devices, with the Pixel 5 coming in at $699, and the 4a (5G) coming in at $499 ($599 with mmWave). The problem I have is not with the prices, it’s with what Google actually delivers at those prices.
Right now, if you’re in the US you’d have to be utterly insane in considering the Pixel 5 at $699 given you have the option of a Galaxy S20 FE 5G for $599, with an SoC that obliterates the Pixel 5’s, a better higher-refresh rate screen, bigger batteries, Wi-Fi 6, and a more complete camera module setup – although I’m sure there’s arguments to be had in regards to the software processing front of things. Software support is also no longer a valid argument given that Samsung has started 3 year OS upgrade commitments going forward.
Google’s UK pricing is also frankly a bit absurd, especially on the Pixel 4a (5G) which costs $499/£499/€499 – yes there’s taxes included in the European prices, but the pound sterling hasn’t yet fallen in value like that. In these markets where we have fiercer competition available from the Asian vendors it also begs the question whether you buy a single Pixel 4a (5G) or you get two Xiaomi Mi 10 Lite’s for almost the same price – both Snapdragon 765G phones by the way. OnePlus here also undercuts both the 4a (5G) by 100€/£121 with the Nord, whilst the Pixel 5 is attacked by a slew of other flagship devices that have since fallen in price.
When I had reached out to Google asking for Pixel 5 samples, my local PR contact I’ve been relegated to replied that Google has no plans to release the device in Belgium & Luxembourg, and as such “he can’t help me further”. At this point I’m not sure what Google’s Pixel division is even trying to achieve – if you don’t even make an effort to even release the phones in most markets, and barely make the minimum effort of covering your devices during your launch event (A literal 7 minutes out of a 30 minute show) – then you’re just doomed to fail. The Pixel 4a (5G) and the Pixel 5 just feel dead on arrival for me.
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