Fast, full-featured 5G phone under $ 500
Google has never sold so many Pixel devices. They are generally not marketed by operators (other than Google itself) and never have the flashiest specs. But they’ve generally been good value for money if you want a pure Android experience, quick access to new versions and updates, and the latest Google software magic. So far, the Pixel 5a is no exception. Like the original Model T, it comes one way only: black, with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of internal storage, and a dual rear camera.
I was happy to see the addition of an ultra-wide rear camera and an IP67 water resistance rating. If you can use an eSIM on a carrier, there seems to be good dual SIM support too. For full information on the Pixel 5A’s specs, head over to our review sister publication PCMag.
Pure Android, Pure Google, Easy Update
Upgrading to a new Android phone has gotten easier over the years. In particular, switching from one Pixel to another is the easiest thing I’ve ever experienced, especially if you use a password manager. I wired my 4th to my 5th and basically everything was found. As a pleasant surprise, even my Bluemail accounts were automatically migrated (except for passwords).
This level of convenience might seem pretty normal, but I was setting up a Note 9 on the same day. What a difference. The Note was full of Samsung bloatware and confusing messages about things like backing up photos to Samsung instead of Google, using Samsung’s Find My Device instead of Google, and tons of versions of “specially designed for Galaxy” apps. they all need to annoy you with their TOS. That experience reminded me why I used to download custom ROMs on my phones. Of course, if you are already purchased from the Galaxy ecosystem, then the situation could be reversed and you will find it much easier to upgrade to another Galaxy device.
The ugly side of connected devices
While the process of updating from phone to phone has improved over the years, most of us have more and more connected devices: wearable devices, IoT devices, and that smart water pump you forgot the password for. In my case, the simplest devices to access from my new phone were the ones that use Wi-Fi and have friendly password manager apps. Some devices insist on having opaque login pages, which at best means looking up the password manually and at worst resetting it if it was never stored.
Re-pairing Bluetooth devices is another time-consuming and often annoying process, especially if you’ve forgotten how to put your devices into pairing mode or whether to pair each of them via Android or its app. Fitbit handled this very well, as the device is connected to a user, so once I logged in (and turned off my old phone for a while), the 5a found my Sense right away. Garmin required me to “add a new device” and link it manually. My various headphones were a mix. My Pixel Slate seems permanently confused about which phone to use as I have so many of them lying around. Overall, I’d love for device information transfer to be as easy as app migration.
Pixel 5a ergonomics
The 5th is a bit bigger than my 4th which is a bit bigger than the 3 it replaced. It is still quite narrow, which means that it is no more difficult to use with one hand and it is well balanced. So overall, a bit more weight is probably worth it for the sake of the bigger screen, dual cameras, and bigger battery. However, I don’t like using a substantial case, so I would have preferred the initial rumor that the 5a would come with Gorilla Glass 6 rather than Gorilla Glass 3. On the bright side, two great features of the 4a that the 5a has remain. a headphone jack and a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. I’m a huge fan of the fingerprint sensors on the rear. They are easy to press when you pick up the phone. The power button sensors are fine too, but the sensors under the display seem annoying and an additional source of work for me.
Succumbing to the dark side: the appeal of bigger phones
For years I have tried to keep the line moving towards bigger and bigger phones. It is one of the reasons why I buy the “a” version of Google devices (besides, I am cheap). But it has become increasingly difficult. On the Apple side, my colleague Joel was willing to use his old cracked screen iPhone forever until Apple finally updated the SE to a newer version. Yet somehow, starting from my original HTC Aria, every new phone I end up buying is a little bit bigger than the last. It’s not that I care about a big screen, it’s that I really like the ability to slip my phone into my shirt pocket without it looking massive or dropping. Also, a narrow phone is easier to use with one hand.
Danger: this is not a phone for vloggers
For some inexplicable reason, first the Pixel 5 and now the Pixel 5a overheat when shooting 4K video at 60fps. With my phone, 4K 60fps recording would turn it off or get warnings about reduced video quality due to overheating within a minute or two. If you then try to switch to 30fps with the camera already hot, the phone still complains. The back of the phone feels hot at that point, but the phone itself continues to function normally otherwise. I found that if I started at 30fps and never tried 60, I could shoot long clips without overheating. I certainly hope Google can fix this, as it has the potential to ruin the phone’s appeal for many users.
On the contrary, I am very happy with the quality of the photos I get from my 5th. It is fast and produces natural colors. Plus, I get the ultra-wide camera that I really need for a lot of my photo projects. I still carry my Nikon D850 for serious work, but increasingly I travel with just a phone or two for photography.
I’m not sure how much I care if it’s a 5G phone
Even in 2021, I’m not sure I would have paid more for a 5G capable phone given where I live (where the last reliable G we got was 2) and where I travel (other than for trade shows, mostly in areas rural or outside the country). ). But I’m happy enough to have it, as they are going to inflict it on us more and more. So it doesn’t bother me that it doesn’t support mmWave 5G, but it is capable of speeds of around 100Mbps. As a consolation, about half the time AT&T lists our pathetic home wireless coverage as “5G E”.
Overall, the right phone for me
Obviously, the 5a doesn’t have some of the novelties like the Tensor chip planned for the Pixel 6, and it’s not quite as robust as a Samsung flagship. But the Pixel 5a 5G packs a huge chunk in a sub $ 500 phone, including a refreshing and hassle-free Android experience. Speaking of, I’m looking forward to updating mine to the Android 12 beta that I’ve been running on my 4a. All in all, I am very happy that I bought it.