With the Pixel 5, Google is taking a different approach to smartphones: there's no 2020 flagship from the tech giant, as there was in 2019 with the high-end Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. Instead, we have an upper-to-mid-ranger that's on sale for a more affordable price.
It means Google isn't directly going up against the likes of Samsung, Apple and Huawei at the very top end of the premium smartphone spectrum, where handsets cost a substantial chunk of money and look every bit as expensive and as packed with power as they are.
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Given the times we're living through, that's perhaps sensible – but it also means it's less easy to distinguish the Pixel 5 from the Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 4a, which are both very fine phones. Google is packing the mid-range with more handsets than it perhaps needs.
In this Google Pixel 5 review we'll take you through everything you need to know about the phone, from the quality of that famous Pixel camera, to what you can expect from the battery life. That should help you figure out whether or not this is the best phone for you.
Google Pixel 5 review: price and availability
The Pixel 5 is out and available now, yours for £599 in the UK and $699 in the US – you can buy it direct and SIM-free from the Google Store (opens in new tab), as well as from third-party retailers. In the UK, it's also available on a variety of pay monthly contract details from the likes of O2, Vodafone, EE and Three.
Google Pixel 5 review: design and screen
The Pixel 5 comes sporting a 6-inch screen, which is smaller than a lot of high-end phones these days. The OLED, HDR10+ screen runs at a refresh rate of 90Hz and a resolution of 1080 x 2340 pixels – it's fluid, sharp, bright and difficult to find fault with. A single punch hole notch for the selfie camera sits up in the top left-hand corner, while the bezels are nice and thin all the way around the screen.
As for the rest of the design, the aluminium metal body is covered with a matte texture that feels almost like plastic – it's pleasant to hold, and makes a difference from the shiny, slippy glass that you tend to get at the more expensive end of the smartphone market. Like Pixels gone by, the Pixel 5 isn't flashy or particularly premium in terms of its looks and build, but it's solid and appealing nevertheless.
Around the back the dual-lens camera is up in the top left-hand corner, and there's a fingerprint sensor here too. It's a shame that Google has ditched the advanced face recognition technology of the Pixel 4 phones, presumably to save costs – having your phone immediately unlock and go straight to the last app you were using was one of our favourite features of last year's Google handsets, though you'd hardly say it's essential.
You can buy the Google Pixel 5 in a simple black or a much more interesting sage colour – though the latter seems in short supply at the moment. The phone is officially IP68-rated, which means it's able to survive being submerged in water at a depth of 1.5 metres (nearly 5 feet) for up to 30 minutes, which gives you some extra peace of mind. There's no headphone jack here, just a USB-C port.
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Google Pixel 5 review: camera and battery
Ever since the first Pixel, these phones have shone in terms of photo-taking – not in the raw specs, but in the quality of the image processing that Google is able to apply through its software. That continues with the Pixel 5, though it drops the Neural Core processor from the Pixel 4 handsets, which means the processing takes longer. The Pixel 5 also ditches the 2x optical zoom telephoto lens, opting for an ultrawide instead.
The 12.2MP+16MP camera setup in operation here isn't a huge leap forward from the configuration we saw in the Pixel 4 or indeed the Pixel 3, but it does the job very well indeed. Photos are again excellent, with sharpness, colour reproduction, detail and dynamic range all impressing. Cameras on other phones have more lenses and more tricks – and Google's competitors are definitely catching up – but Pixel photography remains the high bar for images that look great and are effortless to take.
As with previous models, the Night Sight mode can do wonders for dark photos (if you can keep your phone still for a second or two) – our only complaint would be that it makes some shots look unnaturally bright. Unless you're trying to shoot in the pitch darkness though, your low light shots will come out with plenty of detail and colour, especially when it comes to close-up photos.
The Pixel 5 offers 18W charging and wireless charging. In our standard two-hour video streaming text on maximum brightness, the 4080 mAh battery dropped from 100 percent to 78 percent, suggesting around 9-10 hours overall. In day-to-day use, the phone keeps its charge well, with some battery left in the tank by the end of the night even if you've been using it constantly throughout the day.
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Google Pixel 5 review: other specs and features
The Pixel 5 supports 5G and runs on a very respectable mid-range Snapdragon 765G processor from Qualcomm, which is paired with an ample 8GB of RAM and a reasonable 128GB of internal storage (with no memory card expansion slot). These aren't the best specs you'll find on an Android phone this year, but they're more than enough for everyday use, even if you do have to wait a beat or two extra for demanding games and complex webpages to load.
From gaming to photo editing to email, we didn't notice any lag or stutter from the Pixel 5 during our time testing it. The Geekbench 5 scores that it recorded in our tests – 526 for single-core, 1497 for multi-core, and 1035 for OpenCL – also indicate a phone that's not quite top of the ladder in terms of performance but still very capable. For comparison, the same Snapdragon 765G chip runs the OnePlus Nord and the Nokia 8.3 5G, which are both cheaper than the Pixel 5.
The Pixel 5 display and stereo speakers work well for watching shows and movies, and although the screen isn't huge, it's perfectly fine as a media player. You get all the Google apps preinstalled of course, plus a couple of useful Pixel exclusives – including a Recorder tool that can transcribe spoken text in real time for you (useful if you need to record an interview, phone call or lecture, for example).
Besides the cameras, the clean software has always been one of the best reasons to buy a Pixel phone, and nothing has changed this time around. You're guaranteed to get Android updates before anyone else for the next couple of years, and there isn't anything in the way of bloatware or unnecessary apps. It's perhaps not the most exciting version of Android you can find, but it is the leanest and most focused.
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Google Pixel 5 review: price and verdict
Google hasn't aimed too high with the Pixel 5, and while we miss some of the features of the Pixel 4 – Face Unlock, the top-tier CPU, the telephoto zoom – the new phone does come in at a more affordable price, which we think will be an acceptable trade-off for most people, especially in 2020. Comparisons with last year's flagships aside, this is a well-built, speedy phone with an excellent camera and software, and very good battery life.
Perhaps the biggest problem for the Pixel 5 is the cheaper Pixel 4a 5G – that phone has a bigger screen, the same processor, a little bit less RAM, no 90Hz refresh rate and slightly inferior materials in return for a saving of £100 in the UK or $200 in the US. That price vs performance calculation makes the Pixel 4a 5G arguably the better value phone.
The reasons you would buy a Pixel phone continue to be the reasons you would buy a Pixel 5: primarily, speedy Android updates for the next 3 years, a bloat-free software experience with some nice Google-y tweaks, and a camera that's going to outperform most of the others on the market at the moment. You can also say that about the Pixel 4a 5G though, and indeed the slower and cheaper Pixel 4a.
Where the Pixel 5 earns its price premium is in the aluminium metal finish, the 90Hz refresh rate on the screen, and the IP68 rating for better waterproofing – they're features that we appreciate for sure, but they might not be worth the extra cost to you. All in all, the strengths of the Pixel phones remain the same here, and whether the Pixel 5 is the right Pixel for you really depends on how much you want to spend.
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