If you’re seeking a smaller and affordable handset with stock Android 12, rapid updates, 5G connectivity, and a camera that can punch way above its weight, the Pixel 5a might be for you. However, since the Pixel 6 arrived, the 5a is already looking past it.
- New low price now under $400
- Camera over-performs
- Android 12 and guaranteed updates
- Vibrant display
- Feels old hat now Pixel 6 is here
- Only 60z display
- USARRP: $399
Snapdragon 765G The mid-range chipset is from 2020. No Google Tensor silicon here
Dual CameraSame rear camera array as the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G
Android 12 available nowFresh update available out of the box with at least 2 more major and timely operating system guaranteed
The Google Pixel 5a remains elusive for UK smartphone lovers, with Google opting for a US-only release for its 2021 mid-range Android phone. It sits as an Android equivalent to the iPhone SE 2 and an alternative to this year’s phones like the Moto G200 5G and the Samsung A52 5G.
The differences between the Pixel 5a and the Pixel 4a 5G are modest, to be honest. They have the same processor and camera as the 2020 model and the design is extremely similar. However, you do get a slightly larger screen and battery, while this is the first A-Series phone to benefit from an IP rating.
However, with the Pixel 6 making such a giant leap forward for the range and costing from just $200 more (after the recent price cut), the gap between the flagship and A-Series phones is larger than ever. Is it even possible to justify a Pixel 5a purchase even with the price being trimmed to $399? Let’s take a closer look.
Design and screen
- Vibrant FHD+ OLED 6.34-inch panel
- Only 60Hz refresh rate
- First Pixel with IP67 water resistance
This design will be familiar to Pixel 4a users and will be familiar to Anyone who has used a mid-range Android phone in the last, ooh, five years. Decent screen to body ratio, single punch hole camera in the top left corner, USB-C charging, dual camera on the back and a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone.
However, the build feels reassuringly solid despite its plastic exterior and lacks that cheap featherlight feel you may associate with some low-to-mid-range Android handsets. It’s 183g overall. Missing a glass or aluminium frame doesn’t feel like too big a miss, aside from the way the polycarbonate matte finish can look a little greasy from time to time, like you’ve been scoffing fish and chips and picked up your phone.
Overall, the design is quite minimal with the fingerprint sensor and unobtrusive indent in the upper centre below the rear camera. It’s fast and effective and satisfying to use, provided you take a little care over where you place your finger.
The dual camera bump protrudes only modestly from the top left corner. Elsewhere the ribbed power button and volume rockers are placed handily for the right thumb, while the retained 3.5mm audio out is on the top of the phone, slightly left of centre.
However, there is one big build upgrade. The presence of an IP67 waterproof rating, which enables the phone to be submerged in 1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes without sustaining damage. It’s slightly lower than the IP68 rating on the Pixel 6 though.
The display is a real highlight for this phone. It’s slightly larger than 2020’s Pixel 4a and Pixel 4a 5G, which were 5.8 and 6.2-inches respectively.
Here there’s a 6.34-inch FHD+ (2400 x 1080) OLED panel with a pixel density of 413ppi. It’s bright and vivid and responsive. While there is support for HDR content, it’s not the best option for gaming. Google has once again opted for a 60Hz refresh rate, despite hopes it would join other mid-range Android phones at 90Hz. It’s not a deal breaker and it’s unlikely those serious about mobile gaming are considering this phone in the first place. You may, however, notice scrolling through webpages isn’t as smooth if you’re used to a handset with a higher refresh rate. In saying that the new Android 12 Material You design language looks great on this screen and it was a joy to use throughout our testing.
The handset does a good job in sunlight, which I greatly appreciated here in The Sunshine State. Viewing angles are good too, making it possible to see content on the display quite easily even if you’re not looking right at it.
- Camera specs match 5a: 2 x 12.2-megapixel main and ultra-wide
- Excellent HDR and low light performance
The Pixel phones have always overperformed the specs, thanks to Google’s excellent computational photography tools, and the Pixel 5a is no different. There are dual cameras on the back of the phone including a 12.2-megapixel (1.4um pixel width, f1.7 aperture, OIS) and a 16-megapixel ultrawide (1.0um pixel width, f2.2 aperture). These specs match the Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5.
Google has long prioritised its camera software over packing its phones with the most advanced sensors and that continues here with the Pixel 5a. Colours are bright and vivid in most situations with excellent dynamic range performance in outdoor settings. Google’s automatically enabled Night Sight behind-the-scenes tech pioneered improved low light photography in smartphones and it performs excellently again on the Pixel 5a. Dusky and dark images have greater clarity and colour range than you’d expect from a phone at this price point, all without the grainy texture you see from some
Colours pop without necessarily brightening the entire low-light scene to the point you lose sight of the fact it was taken at night. The train station and the Christmas reindeer shots below look particularly impressive. They were taken in late November at 6pm.
An example of Night Sight mode on the Pixel 5a
Images taken of the autumn foliage on a gloomy day did lack the same pop though, with the overall greyness dominating the scene. It’s a difficult balance to strike, because you risk images looking cartoonish and artificial if those orange and red leaves pop too much amidst the glum skies, but colours didn’t match those observed with the naked eye.
Autumn foliage on the Pixel 5a feels dull compared to the naked eye
Detail on images taken in close quarters is impressive
The Portraits are excellent. The bokeh effect doesn’t feel quite as pronounced as it is on the iPhone 13, say, but overall it feels easier to execute on Google’s phones. Because there’s no telephoto lens in play here, the tech is completely software based and works well. When enabled, the Color Pop edit looks particularly good.
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