That’s not a bad thing at all. The generic design means less divisive opinions about the way it looks, and the performance hardware didn’t need upgrading.
The differences are subtle and important. For one, the Pixel 5a 5G is $50 cheaper than the Pixel 4a 5G. And most importantly, it has a significantly larger battery, resulting in superb battery life.
The result is a phone that one could argue is “perfect.” It looks “universal,” it runs well, it has excellent cameras, it has long battery life, and it’s affordable. I couldn’t find anything to complain about while testing out this phone.
|Google Pixel 5a 5G||Specifications|
|Display||6.34 FHD (2,400 x 1,080) OLED|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G|
|Memory and storage||6GB RAM, 128GB storage|
|Rear cameras||12-megapixel wide, 16-megapixel ultra-wide|
|Battery||4,680mAh, 18W charger included|
|5G Connectivity||Sub6 5G|
Design and display
Google’s Pixel 5a 5G is confidently bland and inoffensive — you can’t say it’s ugly or beautiful. The Pixel 5a 5G’s metal unibody design ensures that it looks and feels closer to a premium phone than mid-rangers usually adorned in plastic. Save for the display and buttons, it’s all metal, and it feels solid and durable. It’s also rated at an IP67 water resistance, which is unusual for mid-rangers.
Google only offers the Pixel 5a 5G in a color the company calls “mostly black,” which actually has a slight greenish tint to it. And that’s fine — you add a splash of color with a case, or keep its ultra-generic profile without one.
Just a few years ago, the Pixel 5a 5G’s 6.34-inch OLED display with 1080p resolution wouldn’t feel out of place in a premium phone that cost twice as much. Today, we’d expect expensive premium phones to come with a high-refresh rate screen for that buttery-smooth experience, but it’s not expected at the Pixel 5a 5G’s price point. Some mid-rangers, like the Galaxy A52, have higher refresh-rate screens, but that luxury usually comes with a compromise, like performance or camera quality. And as I elaborate below, the Pixel 5a 5G does not compromise on performance or camera quality.
Performance and battery life
The Pixel 5a 5G‘s specifications, performance, and price hit the ultimate sweet spot for phones available in the US. Only Apple’s iPhone SE beats the Pixel 5a 5G in terms of value and performance, but the Pixel 5a 5G’s superior camera quality, not to mention its design and battery life, sends the Pixel 5a 5G into another league entirely, but more on that later.
To be sure, the Snapdragon 765G turning the wheels in the Pixel 5a 5G isn’t quite as snappy or smooth as more powerful processors, like the Snapdragon 888 you’d find in premium phones that cost twice as much. Still, the Pixel 5a 5G is pretty speedy, and it’s hard to argue that the premium performance gains are worth twice as much.
Our usual benchmarking tool, Geekbench 5, wasn’t available on the Pixel 5a 5G at the time of writing. However, the Pixel 5a 5G has the same performance specs as the previous Pixel 4a 5G, and even the “flagship” Pixel 5 that cost $700 at launch. With that in mind, we can extrapolate that the Pixel 5a 5G would score around 590 for single-core performance, and around 1,630 for multi-core performance.
Strangely, those are lower scores than the $400 Galaxy A42, which runs on the Snapdragon 750G that scored around 640 for single-core performance, and 1,865 for multi-core. However, despite those scores, the Pixel 5a 5G and the Snapdragon 765G run noticeably more reliably and smoother than the Galaxy A42. It’s a perfect example that benchmark scores don’t tell the whole story.
The phone’s battery life is truly excellent. It lasted 14 hours and 45 minutes in our standard battery test, wherein we stream a video at full screen brightness, and at the 1080p resolution supported by the screen. That’s over an hour more than the Galaxy A52 and Galaxy S21 lasted in the same test, and two hours longer than the iPhone 12’s 12 hours.
While we’re on the topic of battery life, it’s worth mentioning that the Pixel 5a 5G comes with a charger — you have to pay extra for a charger these days if you’re spending over $700 on a premium phone. The 18W charger is nothing special in terms of charging speed, but it’s faster than the 15W charger you get with Samsung’s A42 and A52.
The Pixel 5a 5G has — by a long way — the best cameras on a phone that costs under $500. The Pixel 5a 5G can even compete in the big leagues alongside premium phones, too. Only the Apple iPhone SE competes in this price range, but it only has a single lens, while the Pixel 5a 5G is more versatile with its standard wide lens and ultra-wide lens.
The photos above taken with the Pixel 5a 5G‘s main and ultra-wide cameras with mixed lighting put the phone’s HDR, colors, and clarity to the test, and it excels beautifully in all three aspects.
The Pixel 5a 5G doesn’t have a zoom lens, but the camera has a 2x zoom button that zooms in using the main camera lens. The result is still surprisingly good, with plenty of detail and clarity, despite the fact that zooming is achieved digitally rather than optically. Details will get lost if you zoom in any further, however. Still, I’d rather have two amazing cameras than three middling ones.
One of the things I appreciate about Google’s phone cameras over others is how they keep more natural colors and lighting rather than trying to make a photo look better with excessive processing. In my opinion, Samsung phones are culprits of over-processing, often resulting in photos with overly boosted colors and lighting that looks flat rather than dynamic, for example.
Should you buy the Google Pixel 5a 5G?
If it’s not already clear, the answer is very much “yes.” Not only is the Google Pixel 5a 5G the best phone for people with budgets under $500, it’s a phone that premium phone fans should consider buying, should they have any ambition to save money these days.
Spending more on premium phones compared to the Pixel 5a 5G offers rapidly diminishing returns. The performance gains from spending more are somewhat noticeable, but hardly worth the extra hundreds. Plus, you’re not getting a better camera by going with an $800 Galaxy S21, or even the $800 iPhone 12.
What are your alternatives?
Samsung’s Galaxy A42 or Galaxy A52 are your best alternatives to the Pixel 5a 5G. We’d rather recommend the Pixel 5a 5G for its superior performance, cameras, and battery life, but the Samsung phones have bigger screens, if that appeals to you.
The bottom line
The Google Pixel 5a 5G is a champion of a phone that everyone should buy. With that said, people who like premium phones and don’t mind paying the extra money may not be swayed.
Pros: Under $500, speedy for the price, great screen, excellent battery life, premium wide and ultra-wide cameras, headphone jack, 18W fast charger included, IP67 water resistance