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Google Pixel 5 review: 5 things to know

The Google Pixel 5 is all about 'premium' affordability.

Google Pixel 5 review: 5 things to know
14 October 2020

'Affordable flagship' is the buzz phrase for 2020 when it comes to phones. We have had many a manufacturer offer up devices that are way under the extortionate £1,000 mark but come packing specs that pitch them against these ultra-premium phones.

The latest is the Pixel 5, Google's flagship phone which - rather confusingly - sits between the tiny Pixel 4a and the Google Pixel 4a 5G in screen size. It's got a 6-inch OLED screen, compared to the 4a's 5.81-inch variant and the 4a 5G's 6.2-incher.

Size-wise, it's pretty much bang on the Pixel 4a, though, so we are certainly talking about a phone perfect for those one handers.

It's priced at £599/$699 which is on the top end of affordable but way below some of the phones that have recently been announced (*iPhone 12, cough*).

So, what do you actually get - or not get - for the price? Here are 5 things to know about the Google Pixel 5 before you buy.

1. The Pixel 5's chassis is both brilliant and confusing

Google Pixel 5 review: 5 things to know

Pick up the Google Pixel 5 and you would be forgiven in thinking that the phone had a case on it. That's because Google has dabbled in the black magic world of bio-resin plastic to create a material on the back of the device which feels rather lovely to touch but also puts you off of the scent that this is an aluminium phone.

That's right, it's a phone with a chassis made of metal but it's also a phone that allows wireless charging - again, magic is afoot as that's not the way wireless charging works. Google has quite cleverly cut out enough aluminium in the chassis to expose the charging coil though and we have to commend this design ingenuity.

As for the feel of the bio-resin, it's rather nice - it does just enough to make you feel like it isn't going to slip out of your hand, but isn't course enough to feel strange.

Other premium touches include the metal power button on the right-hand side, another button below this, USB-C slot and speaker grilles on the bottom, a fingerprint sensor on the back, the camera bump on the back too and nothing on the top.

That's right, the Pixel 5 ditches the headphone jack and crushes your retro headphone dreams.

2. The Pixel 5 redefines what a flagship is

Google Pixel 5 review: 5 things to know

We will be the first to admit that the constant ratcheting up of specs year on year is starting to take its toll on the smartphone market. We are currently drowning in a glut of impressively specc'd phones that do pretty much the same as the phones they are replacing, but 'a bit' better.

Google is sort of side-stepping this (in the same way that the phone we've been using is Sorta Sage).

It isn't offering top-of-the-line specs here. Hell, it's even stripped some of its own features away for the launch of the Google Pixel 5. The good thing is - for us at least - we simply didn't notice.

Gone is the gimmick of Active Edge, where you could squeeze the sides of the phone to launch Google Assistant (now you just summon it with your voice). Face recognition has disappeared and replaced with fingerprint scanning. But don't go thinking that fingerprint sensor is in the display, it's back to the back for this one.

You know what, though, the scanner on the back is the perfect place for your index finger and the amount of times we squeezed previous Pixels by mistake and it felt like we had summoned the devil, we don't mind that feature going, too.

It's even decided to not upgrade (and up the price) to the Snapdragon 865, opting for the more reasonable Snapdragon 765G. Do you notice a difference? Well, no.

This isn't a phone where you will be hammering the high-end games on - the size of the screen just doesn't lend it to that. We never felt the phone letting us down through the likes of playing Among Us or watching Netflix and powering up a Google Doc and rinsing Gmail.

It feels like Google has Mary Kondo'd this phone, ridding the clutter and making sure when it does the tasks you want it to, it bloody well does them.

3. The Pixel 5's screen is amazing but not the best

Google Pixel 5 review: 5 things to know

This can also be seen with the screen. The Google Pixel 5 is the best screen in the Google Pixel range right now, but not the best (specs wise) in the market. It's not 120Hz for a start, but a respectable 90Hz. You need more Hz for buttery smooth game playing and the like but if there was judder here, we just didn't notice it.

Resolution is 2340 x 1080 pixels which, on paper, looks under nourished. But this is a 6-inch screen we're talking about and at that res, with the 90Hz that you won't want to shift down (like you do with many 120Hz phones) we are utterly impressed.

Colours ping, text is clear and watching the likes of Netflix (other streaming platforms are available) was a joy, especially because of HDR 10+ support.

4. There are some brilliant new features

Google Pixel 5 review: 5 things to know

One of the great things about getting a Pixel phone is that you get the latest Android box fresh. And Android 11 is ace, with chat bubbles and a new notification for conversations.

The Pixel 5's Battery Saver mode and Adaptive Battery feature really do work. And then there's the updated Recorder feature where it will transcribe conversations for you - it's superb and you can now highlight quotes. While we don't quite know how welcomed this feature will be for the public, for this journo it's ace.

5. The camera is still great, if lacking a third lens

Google Pixel 5 review: 5 things to know

Google is famed for creating amazing cameras without actually creating amazing lenses. That's because a lot of image processing goes on behind the scenes which means that sometimes the hardware on show is a little moot.

Take, for instance, Night Sight. Easily one of the biggest phone camera innovations of recent years and it's pretty much a software play. Night Sight is back here and while we didn't notice any real improvements it is still superb for what it does.

There are only two camera lenses on show here and that feels a little lacking. Google thinks it can replace a telephoto lens with software but it doesn't quite match that with the results we got from the camera.

The two lenses on board, though, are great at what they do - the rear camera has the same 12MP sensor Google has been using for a while now and a16MP wide-angle lens. The sensor is the same but, again, no bad thing.

Google Pixel 5: Final Verdict

Google Pixel 5 review: 5 things to know

The Google Pixel 5 is for those who like their flagship phones to do the things you want them to do properly, with a distinct lack of pomp and ceremony.

For the most part, we just can't fault the Google Pixel 5 and that's despite it not having top-notch specs. In fact, what it's taken out helps the phone. By not upgrading to the 865 chip for its 5G, it stops the battery being sapped. By taking out some other features it, again, makes sure the battery isn't pushed to its limits - an issue that was found with the Pixel 4.

What we have here is a flagship for the mid-range. A brilliant phone from a company seemingly fed up with competing with the A-List and is happy to hang out in the bar with the rest of us, thrilling us with its wares.

The Google Pixel 5 is available from the Google Store, priced at £599.