Google is revealing a phone this year where it’s pulling out all the stops and going big on a cutting-edge, in-house designed SoC, upgraded camera specs, and a bold new look.
That phone is not the Pixel 5A.
If those kinds of show-stopping improvements are what you’re looking for, then I’d like to point you to the Pixel 6, coming this fall. The new Pixel 5A on the other hand, is kind of a boring update by comparison. The screen is a bit bigger this time around, there’s an IP rating for water resistance, and the battery gets a decent boost. That’s about it.
Here’s the thing, though: the Pixel 4A and 4A 5G were already really good midrange phones, and rather than messing with a winning formula, Google has made some strategic tweaks to keep the 5A at the top of its class. Even better, the 5A costs $449 — $50 less than the 4A 5G’s introductory price.
The Pixel 5A is good, but it’s not exactly a slam dunk. There are a few drawbacks to note: its security support policy is good but not class-leading. It’s also weirdly missing software-level support for C-band 5G frequencies that US carriers will start using over the next few years. It’s only being released in the US and Japan, and even in the US it’s not being sold through the major carriers.
But all things considered, Google has managed to address some of the weak points in its previous A-series models while also bringing the price down. Not bad for a boring update.
Google Pixel 5A screen, performance, and battery
The Pixel 5A uses a 6.34-inch 1080p OLED screen, which is a bit bigger than the 6.2-inch screen on the 4A 5G. That’s not huge by any means, especially compared to the 6.5-inch-and-beyond panels that are common on budget Android phones. It also uses a standard 60Hz refresh rate, so you don’t get the smoother scrolling experience of faster 90 or 120Hz rates. That’s a feature that’s been steadily trickling down from the flagship class and is available in devices around the 5A’s price, from the $300 OnePlus N10 5G’s 90Hz screen up to the $500 Galaxy A52 5G’s 120Hz panel.
So the 5A’s screen isn’t a standout, but it is big enough that it doesn’t look quite as out of place next to the competition compared to the 4A and 4A 5G. It’s also just a good quality screen — the OLED technology delivers rich contrast, and it’s bright enough to be viewable outside in direct sun without too much effort. The same can’t be said of some of its competitors’ screens, big as they may be.
There’s no change to the processing or memory specs from the 4A 5G: the Pixel 5A uses the same Snapdragon 765G chipset with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Apps open quickly, and I didn’t notice any significant delays or hiccups going about my daily tasks and social media scrolling.
Complex image processing tasks are also carried out in a second or two, and that happens in the background so you can keep taking portrait mode photos without having to wait for every frame to finish processing. As someone who takes too many portrait mode photos of her cat in hopes of getting just the right shot, I truly appreciate that.
The jump in battery life compared to its predecessor is a bigger story for the Pixel 5A. It gets a 4,680mAh cell compared to the 4A 5G’s 3,885mAh. That’s much closer to the 5,000mAh batteries that are common among the competition. Google calls it “all day” performance, with up to 48 hours of stamina if you turn on extreme battery saver.
I got better results in my real-world testing — a day of moderate use including around three hours of screentime typically drained it down to only 70 percent. Heavy users should comfortably get a day out of the battery, and if you’re a lighter user who spends more time on Wi-Fi, you can expect to get 48 hours even without battery saver enabled.
Google Pixel 5A IP rating and build quality
The Pixel 5A includes an IP67 dust and waterproof rating, meaning it can be submerged in about three feet of water for up to 30 minutes. Official IP ratings are rare in the $500-and-under bracket outside of the Samsung A52 5G and iPhone SE, so this is one area where the 5A rises to the top of the class.
On the front panel there’s Gorilla Glass 6 for screen protection and underneath, the phone’s outer plastic shell is a metal unibody. The plastic panel features a matte finish that I appreciate — it’s less slippery than a glossy finish and doesn’t show smudges as easily.
There’s just one color option this year: black. You can spice things up with one of the colorful case options, which are designed for added protection against drops and bumps. Some are more neutral, like “black moss” and “maybe moon” (and also sound like Neko Case song titles?), but I opted for “likely lime” with my review unit and, reader, I do not like it. There’s a subtle 1990’s Nickelodeon vibe about it. Give me the fabric case back, please.