Google Pixel 5 Review: The flagship with anti flagship

The new Google Pixel 5 is different from all previous Pixel phones. To what extent Google has changed its strategy with the new “flagship” and why you shouldn’t write off the Android smartphone immediately, I’ll tell you in the test.

For years, Google has been involved in the smartphone upper class. There was a new Pixel phone every year that took on the current iPhone and the countless Android flagships out there. The Pixel 3a followed in mid-2019, a technically stripped-down Pixel 3 for the middle class with success. For around 450 euros less, there was a lot of technology from the flagship model of the previous year, which was well received.

The disappointment at the launch of the next flagship was all the greater. The Pixel 4 looked like an immature experiment in technology and failed on important points such as the battery life. The disappointment went so far that it was discussed whether Google should continue the Pixel series at all (although my colleague Patrick didn’t go that far in his test of the Pixel 4). The pixel series was now continued, but differently than before.


Difficult differentiation from the Google Pixel 4a

The new alignment of the Google Pixel 5 as an upper middle class comes at a memorable time: This year’s “flagship”, with which Google actually said goodbye to the flagship competition, appeared only a short time after the Pixel 4a, which is even more evident in the Classifies as middle class. In addition, Google announced the Pixel 4a 5G at its hardware event at the end of September, which, like the new Google Pixel 5, supports the fast 5G network. The differentiation between the various Google innovations is therefore not that easy. Therefore, in the following, we take a closer look at this year’s top model from Google.


Google Pixel 5 Design: Aluminum that feels like plastic?

New to the Pixel 5, for example, is the design. While Google remains true to its basic line and always does everything a little differently than the smartphone mainstream, a different material is used this year. According to the manufacturer, the housing of the Pixel 5 is made from 100 percent recycled aluminum. Wait a moment! The Pixel doesn’t feel like it at all. This is because a cover slip was also used. But you don’t think of glass first when you pick up your Google phone. I personally like the feel, which is more reminiscent of plastic cell phones. One could say nicer: The back of the Pixel 5 feels slightly rough like paper. This not only makes them impervious to fingerprints. So the smartphone is also more secure in the hand than the smooth 1,000-euro-and-higher bolides from Samsung and Apple.

The Pixel 5 is available in two colors: Just Black and Sorta Sage, a pastel mint green. The color of the power button no longer stands out as clearly as it did with the Pixel 4. If you miss this look, you can use a matching Google textile case, which in my opinion is also a real flatterer.


Google Pixel 5 Display: The pixel phone with the narrowest bezels

With the Pixel 5, Google has also achieved something that has lagged behind so far. In the past, we’ve often criticized the Pixel Phones for not being entirely contemporary. For a long time, the display bezels in particular were significantly larger than those of the competition. Fortunately, this is no longer the case with the Pixel 5. The 6-inch OLED screen can be accommodated in a barely larger housing. The edges are finally the same on the sides as well as above and below and the front camera is inconspicuous in a small round “punch hole” in the upper left corner.

The display technology is also up to date. The OLED screen offers a full HD + resolution of 1,080 x 2,340 pixels, an always-on function, a refresh rate of 90 Hz and supports HDR. The Pixel 5 is therefore quite competitive in the upper middle class.

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Google Pixel 5 Performance: hardware vs. software

As a plus point, I give Google the renunciation of experiments with the Pixel 5. This year it no longer feels as if the company is packing all of the hardware into its top model that the engineers are currently working on. There are no longer any questionable features such as a pushable border for the Google Assistant or gesture control using radar. Google has completely dispensed with the latter this year, instead of face recognition there is again a solid fingerprint sensor on the back. It’s not innovative, but it works.

The paradigm shift is clearly noticeable in the choice of processor. Instead of an upper class chip, the Pixel 5 uses a middle class processor. The Snapdragon 765G is 5G capable and is supported by 8 GB of RAM, but for Pixel 4 owners switching to the new model would mean a step backwards in performance. In a Geekbench 5 test, the Pixel 5 beat my Pixel 3, but only in the single-core test. The multi-core score on my two-year-old Pixel was higher than on the new smartphone. In other tests, the top model was even left behind by the cheaper Pixel 4a with Snapdragon 730.

However, after my test I have to put it all into perspective. If you talk about slow and fast nowadays, then mostly at a very high level. When using the Pixel 5, I hardly noticed any differences to everyday life with the Pixel 3, with which I am still satisfied. The Pixel 5 may not be for hardcore cell phone filmmakers with ambitions for mobile video editing and mobile gamers. For almost everyone else, at least in terms of performance, of course yes!

That certainly has to do with the fact that Google phones are getting the purest Android version. With the Pixel 5, the focus is more than ever on what Google is good at: software. This makes the current Pixel phone extremely user-friendly. Android 11 runs smoothly and is fun. Not to forget: Google promises three years of updates for the smartphone. So not only do you have an up-to-date device now, you will still have it, at least in terms of software in 2023.


Google Pixel 5 Camera: Hardware vs. Software… and again

With the camera, I can only repeat myself: the software is great, the hardware, well. The Google Pixel 5 contains a camera sensor from Sony that is now four years old. So I can’t get the question out of my head how good the Pixel camera would be with the latest hardware.

Don’t get me wrong: the main camera does a really good job. I think the decision to swap the telephoto lens of the Pixel 4 for an ultra-wide-angle lens is praiseworthy. The Pixel 5 has a 12.2 megapixel main camera with optical image stabilization and a 16 megapixel lens for wide-angle shots. This way you get a lot of friends, a lot of landscape or a lot of a narrow space on the picture.

The main arguments for the pixel camera are provided by the software. Google’s night vision mode, for example, takes amazingly great photos in low light and with the astrophotography mode you can even take pictures of the starry sky. Thanks to the software, you can also take portrait photos without a telephoto lens, the results are good on average, here and there there are some outliers where the transition between foreground and background is not correctly recognized. There are also new editing options for portraits, such as the ability to optimize the lighting for individual image areas afterwards and to highlight the face.

For the first time, videos can also be recorded in 4K with 60fps with one pixel. The Pixel 5 still relies on a mix of optical and electronic image stabilization, but the software also brings new functions here. The tracking shots are stabilized, played more slowly and thus immediately appear more dramatic.

But: Google must slowly say goodbye to the ranks of the top camera smartphones. The higher priced competition now simply offers more. More lenses, more resolution, more zoom or other features. With DxOMark, the Pixel 5 therefore ends up in the middle of the field of current smartphones and only scores above average in the camera basics such as exposure, color rendering and autofocus. Google no longer has a lead over the competition, as the Pixel 2 camera still had. The question remains, what if the manufacturer finally upgraded the camera hardware for the next Pixel?

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Google Pixel 5 Battery: Makes all Pixel 4 buyers jealous

The Pixel 5’s battery receives little criticism. The energy storage of the new model holds at least 4,000 mAh, why at least? Due to a production breakdown, the manufacturer cannot say how much the battery of each individual Pixel unit can hold. However, the range is only 4,000 to 4,080 mAh. In any case, that should be enough for a day of regular use, thanks to the clever software, with some settings, you can even get a lot more here.

The main criticism of the Pixel 4, namely its below-average battery life, has been eliminated. At the same time, Google has managed to keep the Pixel 5 wireless charging enabled despite its aluminum housing. The new Pixel phone does not charge as quickly as other current Android smartphones. But that’s a trade-off that I’m happy to make for the lower price. And hey, dear Pixel 4 owners, thanks to the battery sharing function, you can get some battery from Pixel 5 users.


Google Pixel 5 Conclusion: a step back in the right direction

The Pixel 5 is different from its predecessors. It is Google’s top model for this year, but no longer mixes in the smartphone upper class. Instead of comparing it with the new iPhone 12, a comparison with the iPhone 11 is more appropriate which, by the way, my colleague Alex did at this point. The Pixel 5 currently costs 613.14 euros from the manufacturer and is looking for a place in the upper middle class. But this is not that easy. There are smartphones in this class that cost a lot but offer more, for example the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, the iPhone 12 mini or the OnePlus 8T or that offer a similar price but cost less, for example the Samsung Galaxy A71 or the OnePlus Nord.

The biggest competition for the Pixel 5 probably comes from in-house. The only recently presented Pixel 4a brings almost the same features and the Pixel 4a 5G even supports 5G. If you can do without the higher quality feel and the more stylish, slimmer design of the Pixel 5, you can save up to 270 euros here.

Despite the mixed reports regarding the performance of the Pixel 5, I am reluctant to return the new Google phone after the test. In my opinion, Google is showing with the Pixel 5 that taking a step back is sometimes not that wrong. Instead of installing innovative, sometimes immature hardware, the company is focusing on the essentials. It is the software that makes the Android smartphone extremely user-friendly and future-proof. With the Pixel 5, you could say: Don’t just think about the smartphone you buy today, but also the one that you want to have in one or two years. On the software side, the Pixel phone will remain up to date for a long time. We’d only really have to talk about the camera again, Google…!


Google Pixel 5 Pros:

  • + Body made from recycled aluminum with a slightly rough paper feel
  • + Nice form factor thanks to the narrow display bezels
  • + Camera software with many optimization options
  • + Three years of secure Android updates
  • + Long battery life
  • + Wireless and reverse charging

Google Pixel 5 Cons:

  • – Comparatively slow processor
  • – Outdated camera sensor
  • – Only one storage option (128 GB) available
  • – Doubtful product policy (Pixel 5 vs. 4a vs. 4a 5G)
  • – Higher price than technically comparable competition

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