Google’s Pixel 5 was the last of its kind


Several Google Pixel phones are on sale at Woot today

From time to time I’ll grab a random device from the edge check closet and spend a week or two on it. Mostly out of random curiosity and to compare “old” products with the newest and best. Most recently I was drawn to Google’s Pixel 5. So I factory reset it, upgraded the phone to Android 12 and have been using it as my daily driver for a few days.

The experience was fantastic. I have very large hands – an iPhone 13 Pro Max doesn’t look out of place in them – and I prefer big screens, so I don’t think I could fully switch to the Pixel 5. But it’s such a good “small” phone (by 2022 standards) that certainly tempted me. The Pixel 5 makes it easy to do everything I need with one hand. Its mid-range processor performs better than ever on Android 12, and this phone still looks unique alongside the competition.

Most notably, I’m disappointed that Google abandoned the style and size of the Pixel 5 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 shrinking things slightly with the upcoming 6A. With the A-Series models, however, you’re missing out on niceties like the 90Hz display and wireless charging. In this way, the Pixel 5 could be the last of its kind in Google’s lineup. So much for the straight bezels.

The Pixel 5 is smaller than the Pixel 5A and 6A – with higher quality hardware to boot.
Image: Google

I now wish that Google would keep the 5 as an “iPhone SE” style product that gets updated with hardware upgrades every few years – without losing what it does well. Let’s cover 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 go a long way toward making the phone comfortable and one-handed to use. And the textured “bio-resin” coating on the 5’s body provides a unique feel and reassuring grip when you hold it in your hand all day. The volume rocker shares this texture, while the power button is made of shiny metal, making it easy to distinguish between the two by touch. Because of its tactile feel and palm-sized size, the Pixel 5 is one of those phones that can go without a case without causing a lot of confusion.

Before Google went with the usual “glass sandwich” design with the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, earlier models in the series often used signature materials and textures that helped the phones stand out. With the Pixel 2, it was the almost coarse rear shell 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 that finish – Google went for a simpler in-hand feel with last year’s flagships.

The power button is plain instead of having a pop of color

Pixel 5’s bioresin finish provides a unique in-hand feel.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

A better screen: The Pixel 6’s OLED panel seems perfectly fine based on first impressions. But honestly, it’s mediocre. There are many threads on Reddit complaining about uniformity issues, an unsightly green tint at lower brightness levels, and other shortcomings. The Pixel 6 Pro’s gorgeous LPTO panel doesn’t exhibit any of these issues, so it’s clear that Google settled for less to achieve the $599 price tag for the 6.

Even the Pixel 5’s screen seems a bit more premium to me than the 6 Series that replaced it. They’re both 90Hz displays, but the white point, uniformity and overall look of the 5 is just a tad nicer to my eyes. This can sometimes be due to variations between individual units, but I’m hoping to see better from the Pixel 7.

Rear fingerprint sensor Pixel Imprint: I’m still disappointed that the phone makers collectively decided to move the fingerprint reader from the back of the phone, where your index finger normally rests while you hold it, under the display. Google’s pixel imprint scanners may have been the fastest and most durable in the entire Android ecosystem, and let’s just say the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro’s in-screen sensor has never matched it — even after Google pushed the performance through software updates had improved .

Constant camera performance: Google has spent several years optimizing its computational photography for the 12-megapixel main camera that the Pixel 5 and its predecessors share. 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 range. I don’t like the awkward looking background blur you sometimes get from the 6’s larger sensor, but that’s something Google will no doubt improve.

The Pixel 6A will soon be Google’s smallest phone.
Image: Google

The Pixel 5 isn’t perfect

While I’m mostly happy with the Pixel 5’s smooth performance and overall responsiveness on Android 12, there are still instances where the mid-range Snapdragon 765G processor hits a wall and stalls. Snap a photo and the frustrating lag while the phone processes the shot persists. The 5 can also get stuck if you get too ambitious when multitasking.

While I’m confident in the look and feel of the Pixel 5, Google’s hardware quality assurance isn’t always the best. Many devices have a small gap between the display and the housing. After the phone’s release, the company said the gap wasn’t a cause for concern – but it’s just the kind of little thing I find annoying.

And then there’s that awful under-screen speaker, which for the most part 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 with these downsides, there’s still something special about this phone. I’m about to buy one from Woot, who is selling new, unopened Pixel 5s for $450. Apparently, Google must have stumbled upon extra inventory in a warehouse somewhere. With Apple’s mini-iPhone reportedly being dropped from the upcoming iPhone 14 range, small phones seem to be on the way out (again). That makes this an enticing moment 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 tiny Pixel that doesn’t skimp on hardware features and doesn’t follow as courteously after its bigger siblings.

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