Today, Google finally revealed its newest Pixel smartphones: the Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5. The unveiling was done during a virtual keynote which lasted a half hour where the company also revealed a new Nest smart speaker and Chromecast with Google TV. I’ll have more details on those products in separate articles. This one will focus on the new smartphones.
It’s worth pointing out that we’ve known about the two phones for quite some time. After Google debuted the Pixel 4a in August, they came out and confirmed that a 4a 5G and fifth-gen Pixel were on their way. It’s likely because the 4a was delayed so many times due to COVID-19 that cannibalizing their own sales was a major concern. So right up front, they let everyone know “hey, we’ve got more stuff in the pipeline so stay tuned.”
Pixel 4a 5G
I’d like to start off with the Pixel 4a 5G. It’s a souped-up version of the standard 4a and costs $499, $150 extra. Obviously, its marquee feature is 5G which includes both sub-6GHz and mmWave connectivity. But when you take a closer look, you realize just how much different it is compared to the standard 4a.
The 4a 5G retains the same overall design as the 4a with a plastic build, rear fingerprint scanner, top-mounted headphone jack, and bottom-mounted USB-C port. However, the physical size is much larger thanks to a new 6.2-inch Full HD+ OLED display. That’s in stark contrast to the 5.8-inch panel present on the normal 4a. It has the same resolution and refresh rate, but it’s bigger now.
Thanks to the larger size, Google grew the battery from 3,140mAh to 3,885mAh. That should accommodate for the extra power the device will suck up using 5G, the larger display, and more powerful processor.
Speaking of which, the chipset is also being upgraded from the Snapdragon 730G to the Snapdragon 765G. The 765G has made it into plenty of phones already this year like the OnePlus Nord, LG Velvet, and Motorola Edge. It offers plenty of performance for normal use, but it does tend to struggle when you try to run graphics-heavy applications. Overall though, you should be fine with this chipset, especially since it’s coupled with 6GB of RAM.
The 4a 5G also ships with 128GB of storage with no option to expand.
In the camera department, Google is finally adding a feature people have been begging for ever since the Pixel 4 came out: an ultra-wide camera. Alongside the 12.2MP f/1.7 main lens is a 16MP 107-degree f/2.2 shooter which captures more of a scene in one photo. It’s a pretty simple addition, one that Google argued last year wasn’t necessary because zooming in was more important. Now, the company has switched its tone, and that’s for the better.
The company didn’t stop at the ultra-wide lens, however. The Pixel 4a 5G also adds Night Sight compatibility to portrait mode so you can take portrait shots in the dark. You also get 4K 60fps video capture alongside much better stabilization. There’s also a new Cinematic Pan feature which help add a dramatic effect to your videos. Improved HDR+, a better Google Photos editor, and portrait lighting tools are also onboard.
On the front of the device, you’ll find an 8MP f/2.0 selfie camera which can record 1080p 30fps video.
Out of the box, the Pixel 4a 5G ships with Android 11 which has been coupled with a handful of new features. Hold for Me allows the Google Assistant to handle a call you’re currently on hold in so you can do other things on your phone without hearing hold music. The Assistant will then prompt you that someone has picked up. Google Duo is also improved with the ability to share your screen in a video call. Finally, the Recorder app now lets you edit recordings through their transcriptions in addition to generating videos of recordings for sharing on social media.
Compared to the Pixel 4a 5G, the Pixel 5 isn’t all that different. However, where it does differentiate itself, it’s plenty meaningful.
The Pixel 5 has a smaller screen at 6 inches with the same Full HD+ resolution and OLED panel. However, it ups the refresh rate to 90Hz for improved smoothness. The body is made out of aluminum and is IP68 rated. In exchange, you lose the headphone jack, but I’m not sure how many people will actually miss it.
Since the Pixel 5 is the direct successor to the Pixel 4 and 4 XL, it’s worth pointing out that the device ditches the Motion Sense tech that lived up in a huge forehead on last year’s phones. Instead, the Pixel 5 just has a fingerprint reader on the back with minimal bezels around the screen and a hole-punch cutout for the selfie camera. In the era of mask wearing, I appreciate the addition, although I do still enjoy unlocking my 4 XL with my face.
The phone ships with the same Snapdragon 765G processor and 128GB of storage, but it increases the RAM to 8GB which should make jumping between apps much more fluid. The camera setup on the Pixel 5 is identical to the 4a 5G which means you’ll be getting the ultra-wide lens. Of course, it also ships with Android 11 with the features I detailed earlier.
Interestingly, the battery department is where you’ll find the biggest difference. The Pixel 5 ships with the largest battery Google has ever included in a Pixel: 4,080mAh. You can use the 18W fast charger in the box to refuel if you want, but you can also wirelessly charge the cell.
If you know anything about smartphone tech, you know you can’t wirelessly charge a battery through aluminum. As it turns out, Google uses a window (likely made of plastic) that covers the charging coils which is then painted over to blend in with the rest of the phone. This allows for an aluminum build that still supports wireless charging. It’s kind of squirrely, but at least it works.
Google also threw in reverse wireless charging so you can charge your earbuds or another phone on short notice.
Which should you buy?
Other than that, there’s not much else that differentiates the Pixel 5 from the 4a 5G. If a 90Hz display, wireless charging, more RAM, and an aluminum design are worth $200 more to you, get the 5. Otherwise, you’ll probably be fine with the 4a 5G.
Pricing & Availability
Speaking of which, the Pixel 4a 5G costs $499 while the Pixel 5 will go for $699. We know the Pixel 5 will launch on October 15th in eight different countries, then on October 29th in the U.S. at Google Fi, Verizon, and Google’s store. AT&T will carry the phone later. It isn’t clear when the 4a 5G will launch, but we do know it’ll be available unlocked and at Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.
The Pixel 4a 5G will be available in Just Black and Clearly White. Meanwhile, the Pixel 5 will be sold in Just Black and Sorta Sage.
I’m working on getting review units so be sure to stay tuned for more coverage.
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