From time to time I grab a random device from the roadside reviews the cabinet and spends a week or two with it. It’s usually out of random curiosity and to compare “old” products with the latest and greatest. Most recently, I was drawn to Google’s Pixel 5. So I gave it a factory reset, updated the phone to Android 12, and have been using it as my daily driver for the past few days.
The experience has been fantastic. I have really big hands – an iPhone 13 Pro Max would fit – and I prefer big screens, so I don’t think I could switch completely to the Pixel 5. But it’s such a good “small” phone (by 2022 standards) which I have certainly been tempted. The Pixel 5 makes it easy to do everything I need with one hand. Its midrange processor performs better than ever on Android 12 and this phone still looks unique among the competition.
Google gave up on the design and size of the Pixel 5 way too quickly. Been using one for the past week. It’s now even smoother on Android 12. Still looks and feels unique.
This should be the Pixel version of the iPhone SE and will be updated every few years. pic.twitter.com/UXLfrms4p0
— Chris Welch (@chriswelch) June 20, 2022
Most of all, I’m disappointed that Google gave up on the Pixel 5’s style and size after just a year. The smallest phone in the company’s lineup is currently the Pixel 5a, which has a 6.3-inch display. To its credit, Google is narrowing things down a bit with the upcoming 6A. But with the A-series models, you give up niceties, such as the 90Hz screen and wireless charging. That way, the Pixel 5 may be the last of its kind in Google’s lineup. So much for the even bezels.
I now find myself wishing Google would keep the 5 as an “iPhone SE”-esque product that gets brought up to speed with hardware upgrades every few years – without losing what makes it good. Let’s go over some of the Pixel 5’s strengths.
Design and materials: The Pixel 5’s 6-inch OLED display is surrounded by thin, symmetrical bezels that make the phone comfortable and usable in one hand. And the textured “bio-resin” coating on the body of the 5 provides a unique feel and reassuring grip when you hold it all day. The volume rocker shares this texture, while the power button is shiny metal – making it easy to distinguish the two by touch. Because of the feel and palm size, the Pixel 5 is one of those phones that can go caseless without causing much consternation.
Before Google went all-in on the usual “glass sandwich” design with the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, earlier models in the series often used distinctive materials and textures that made the phones stand out. With the Pixel 2, it was the almost coarse back of the black model. The Pixel 4 had grippy side rails. But after the bio-resin of the 5 — I’m still a big fan of the Sorta Sage green colorway with this finish — Google opted for a more basic hand feel with last year’s flagships.
A better screen: The Pixel 6’s OLED panel may seem fine based on first impressions. But in all honesty, it’s mediocre. There are plenty of threads on Reddit complaining about uniformity issues, an unsightly green hue at lower brightness levels, and other imperfections. The Pixel 6 Pro’s gorgeous LPTO panel shows none of these issues, so it’s clear Google settled for less as part of hitting the $599 price point of the 6.
Even the Pixel 5’s screen seems to me to be of a slightly higher quality than the 6 it replaced. They’re both 90Hz displays, but the white point, uniformity and overall image of the 5 are just a bit nicer to my eyes. This can sometimes come down to variance between individual units, but I hope to see better from the Pixel 7.
Pixel Imprint rear fingerprint sensor: I’m still disappointed that phone makers decided in unison to move the fingerprint reader from the back of the phone, which your index finger often rests naturally on while holding it, to below the screen. Google’s Pixel Imprint scanners were arguably the fastest and most consistent across the entire Android ecosystem, and let’s just say the on-screen sensor on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro has never matched — even after Google had the performance. improved through software updates.
Consistent camera performance: Google has spent several years optimizing its computational photography for the 12-megapixel main camera shared by the Pixel 5 and its predecessors. And while it lacks the dynamic range of the Pixel 6/6 Pro and doesn’t offer features like Real Tone or Magic Eraser, the Pixel 5 is a consistent shooter. You know what you’re going to get, which can’t always be said of the Pixel 6 line. I don’t like the obnoxious-looking background blur you sometimes get from the larger sensor of the 6, but this is something Google will no doubt improve on.
The Pixel 5 isn’t perfect
While I’m mostly pleased with the Pixel 5’s smooth performance and overall responsiveness to Android 12, there are still instances where the mid-range Snapdragon 765G processor hits a wall and gets stuck. Snap a photo and the frustrating lag while the phone is processing the shot remains. The 5 can also get stuck if you get too ambitious with multitasking.
While I’m sold on the look of the Pixel 5, Google’s hardware quality assurance isn’t always the best. Many units have a small gap between the screen and the case† After the phone’s release, the company said the gap was nothing to worry about, but it’s just the kind of small detail I find annoying.
And then there is that awful speaker under the screen, which in most cases still sounds tinny even after Google tried to improve it with an “adaptive sound” setting. Those symmetrical bezels didn’t come without compromises.
But even when those drawbacks are taken into account, there is still something special about this phone. I almost bought one from Woot, who sells new, unopened Pixel 5s for $450. Apparently, Google must have come across some extra inventory in a warehouse somewhere. With Apple’s mini iPhone rumored to be dropped from its upcoming iPhone 14 lineup, it looks like small phones are on their way (again). That makes this a tempting time to buy. The only asterisk to consider in Google’s case is that software support for the Pixel 5 will end in October 2023.
But maybe by then, Google will reintroduce a little pixel that doesn’t skimp on hardware features and isn’t so bland after its bigger siblings.