I will from time to time edge Review the closet and spend a week or two. This is mostly out of random curiosity, and to compare “old” products to the latest and greatest. Recently, I’ve been drawn to Google’s Pixel 5. So I factory reset it, updated the phone to Android 12, and have been using it as my daily driver for the past few days.
The experience was great. I have big hands — the iPhone 13 Pro Max doesn’t look out of place in it — and I prefer bigger screens, so I don’t think I’ll be able to switch to the Pixel 5 entirely. But it’s such a good “small” phone (by 2022 standards) that I was certainly tempted. The Pixel 5 makes it easy for me to do anything I need with one hand. Its mid-range processor is doing better than ever with Android 12, and the phone still looks unique among its competitors.
Google was quick to drop the Pixel 5’s design and size. Been using it for the past week. Now it’s smoother on Android 12. The look and feel remains unique.
This should be the Pixel version of the iPhone SE, and it’s getting faster every few years. pic.twitter.com/UXLfrms4p0
— Chris Welch (@chriswelch) June 20, 2022
Most importantly, I’m disappointed that Google dropped 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 downsizing a bit with the upcoming 6A. But with the A-series model, you’ll be giving up details like a 90Hz display and wireless charging. In these respects, the Pixel 5 could be the last in Google’s lineup. The same goes for even bezels.
I now find myself wishing Google would keep the 5 as an “iPhone SE” style product, speeding it up with hardware upgrades every few years — without losing its goodness. Let’s walk through some of the Pixel 5’s strengths.
Design and Materials: Thin, symmetrical bezels surround the Pixel 5’s 6-inch OLED display, which goes a long way toward making the phone comfortable and one-handed. 5 Textured “bio-resin” coating on the body provides a unique feel and reassuring grip when you hold it all day. The volume rocker has this texture, while the power button is glossy metal—it’s easy to tell the two apart by touch. Thanks to its feel and palm size, the Pixel 5 is a phone that can go without a case without causing too much panic.
Before Google went all-in with the common “glass sandwich” design of the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, previous models in the series often used unique materials and textures to help phones stand out. For the Pixel 2, it’s an almost rough rear case for the black model. The Pixel 4 has grippy side rails. But after the 5’s bioresin — I’m still a big fan of the Sorta Sage green colorway with that finish — Google opted for a more basic feel on last year’s flagship.
better screen: Based on first impressions, the Pixel 6’s OLED panel might look perfect. But honestly, it’s mediocre. There are many threads on Reddit complaining about uniformity issues, an unsightly green tint at low brightness, and other flaws. The Pixel 6 Pro’s gorgeous LPTO panel doesn’t suffer from any of these issues, so it’s clear that Google settled for less on the way to the 6’s $599 price tag.
In my opinion, even the Pixel 5’s screen quality is slightly higher than the 6 that replaced it. They’re both 90Hz monitors, but the 5’s white point, uniformity, and overall image are a little better for me. This sometimes boils down to differences between units, but I’d like to see better results from the Pixel 7.
Pixel Imprint Rear Fingerprint Sensor: I’m still disappointed that phone makers have unanimously decided to relocate the fingerprint reader from the back of the phone (where your index finger normally rests naturally when you hold it) to under the display. Google’s Pixel Imprint Scanner is probably the fastest and most stable scanner in the entire Android ecosystem, well, let’s just say the in-screen sensor on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro never matched it — even at Google After improving performance through software updates.
Consistent camera performance: Google has spent several years optimizing computational photography for the 12-megapixel main camera shared by the Pixel 5 and its predecessor. 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 getting, and that wasn’t always the case with the Pixel 6 series. I don’t like the unpleasant background blur you sometimes get from the 6’s larger sensor, but that’s something Google will no doubt improve.
Pixel 5 isn’t perfect
While I’m pretty happy with the Pixel 5’s smooth performance and overall responsiveness on Android 12, there are still cases where the mid-range Snapdragon 765G processor hits a wall and gets bogged down. Take a photo, and the frustrating lag while the phone processes the photo remains. The 5 might also hang up if you’re too ambitious with multitasking.
While I’m happy with the look and feel of the Pixel 5, Google’s hardware quality assurance isn’t always the best. Many units have a tiny gap between the display and the body. After the phone was released, the company said it didn’t need to worry about the gap — but it’s the kind of little detail that I find annoying.
Then there’s that dreaded under-screen speaker, which still sounds tinny in most situations, even after Google tried to improve it with the “Adaptive Sound” setting. Those symmetrical bezels aren’t without tradeoffs.
But even accounting for those shortcomings, there’s something special about this phone. I’m close to buying one from Woot, which sells a new unopened Pixel 5s for $450. Apparently, Google must have stumbled across some extra inventory in a warehouse somewhere. With rumors that Apple’s mini iPhone will be dropped from the upcoming iPhone 14 lineup, it appears that small phones are (again) on the way out. This makes this an enticing buying moment. In Google’s case, the only asterisk to consider is that software support for the Pixel 5 ends in October 2023.
But maybe by then, Google will reintroduce a small Pixel that doesn’t skimp on hardware features and doesn’t follow its larger siblings so gently.