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Pixel 5 Review

Posted on Wed, Dec 30, 2020 LArbuckle Technology Google
We've been saying that the Pixel 5 having midtier specs is a bad thing. It's not. It shows that Android is catching up on the areas its lagging behind in when compared to Apple.

I walked into the phone shop in the city during a free period at school (actually I'm pretty sure I was skipping class, but it was four days before graduation - so who cares) when I made a decision to upgrade from the Samsung S10e, that I'd used for around 18 months, to the Google Pixel 5. There wasn't really any discerning feature that made the Pixel 5 a must-have for me. The previous generation Pixel 4, in my opinion looked better than the Pixel 5, the internet is so bad in Australia that I couldn't really see the point of having a 5g phone at this point, and apart from the astrophotography features (which, I'll admit, was something I was craving) the camera on my S10e did everything I wanted it to. I had fallen in love, like many once-reluctant Samsung users, with the One UI Android "skin" and had managed to make it work for me.

This is not to say that I didn't like Samsung devices. But the biggest problem with Android, as many agree, is the fragmentation across device manufacturers that leads to each hardware creator, for example Google or Samsung, creating their own "skin", or version of Android. Samsung's previous iterations before One UI had been heavily criticised, but with an emphasis on clean design and one-handed use, the new Samsung look - from its launcher to its notification pane - was being universally acclaimed as something that may be able to combat "plain" Android.

But after two months on the Pixel 5, using my Samsung whenever I'm testing things out just feels weird and almost ugly, sort of how it would feel if you were forced to go back to the UI of iOS 6. It's not just the software - the feel of the phone, from its sharp camera bump to its all-metal casing feels almost second-rate compared to the "plasticky" nature of the Pixel 5 - however things like the notification shade, which I once praised, felt incredibly dull and uninspiring compared to the UI of my new phone.

Also weighing on my mind was that my phone was coming up to the two year mark, and I was unsure of whether it would see Android 12, or even Android 11. Due to the fragmented nature of Android, very few device manufacturers release Android updates for their devices on time.

These things only really matter to people who favour the customization nature of their phones and other devices, but fear not - there's plenty of other, more mainstream reasons to consider upgrading to the Pixel 5.

Pixel Build Quality

I'm the first to admit I like my metal phones. Whether it be my first iPhone or my S10, my most pleasurable experiences when it comes to phones has been with phones with that metallic or glassy feel. The S10, for example, had an aluminium side panelling with a high-quality glass back (which helped enable wireless, and reverse wireless charging). It was a big surprise for many people when we found out that the Pixel 5 would have a seemingly cheap plasticky feel. For a flagship, we felt that this was unsatisfactory. At first.

We know that wireless charging doesn't work through metal. Having a glass back not only gives the phone a premium feel, it is the standard for flagships in recent years from leading manufacturers. It wasn't the first time that Google had tried mixing materials for their smartphone lineup, but after 2 months of using the phone - both with and without a case - I can definitely forgive them for this design choice. Don't get me wrong - the Pixel 4 was probably the most premium phone in terms of the physical design and feel. It had its problems, but for material choice it gets a massive tick. The Pixel 5 definitely doesn't feel like flagship we were hoping to get for a year, apart from the internals and build quality the launch experience wasn't what we expected either. But I feel that that's due to the recent history when it comes to Android flagships and it's going to be something we'll discuss more when we talk about the stock Android experience.

A lot of people have been claiming that they're having issues with the screen; these rumors started surfacing pretty quickly after the release of the 5. It's widespread enough that Google would have heard about it and will definitely be taking that on board when it comes to the planning of the 6 - but similarly, just like with the iPhone 6 "Bendgate" fiasco, it's not applying to everyone. It's affecting a huge number of people - anything greater than 0 in this case is just below bar - but it doesn't seem to be an instant phone destroyer and due to the widespread nature it should be easy to get it repaired for free by Google as it's not user-caused damage. Apart from this issue with the screen, there haven't really been any complaints at all about the 5's build quality.

Camera & Comparisons

The camera specs when compared to the 4 are very similar, with a 12MP rear-facing camera and an 8MP front-facing camera. We now have a super-wide angle secondary camera rather than a zoom lens, and although these numbers may seem low when compared to other flagships in 2020 - and even 2019 or 2018 - what makes the Pixel 5 have the best camera on any modern smartphone is simply the extremely good Google Camera app.

We see an almost identical camera quality in these two photos, however it does suggest that the Pixel 5's rear facing camera has a slightly better dynamic range, which helps focus on the darker parts of the image. Thanks to the removal of the zoom secondary lens, the Pixel 5's software tends to focus more on removing noise than allowing you to zoom in on a photo and still have a relatively crisp image. Differences become more apparent as we move to areas with more contrasting lighting conditions, with the Pixel 5 doing better overall.

Overall, the camera on the Pixel 5 isn't good enough to justify upgrading straight from a 4, but it's good that the iterative improvements are doing what they're supposed to do - improve the phone - and Google is not only committed to making the software better for the camera, they're going to knock the hardware out of the park in 2021 with the 6.