Google Pixel 5 – A Long Term User Review After 90 Days!
Table of contents
The Google Pixel 5 is the long awaited successor to the Pixel 4, which had its own issues, but that shouldn’t be surprising because with every Pixel device there is always a thing that does eventually get addressed through software updates. Another issue is that Google’s asking price for that phone just didn’t make any sense, and as a result I found it really difficult to recommend it last year. Thankfully, here we are in 2021 with the Pixel 5 and Google’s strategy with this phone is completely different from their previous generations.
They have cut a lot of features, they have eliminated the XL model, and they reduced the price to $700 USD. Now I have been using the Pixel 5 for the past 3 months, and it has been an interesting switch for my OnePlus 8 Pro and my Pixel 4 XL. There are certainly some things to love about this smartphone, but there are some annoying aspects like Google’s questionable choice when it comes to internal components. It also made me question whether or not it’s worth buying for the average consumer. So sit tight because here is my experience with the Pixel 5 after 3 months of daily use.
Design & Build Quality
The first thing that stood out to me with the Pixel 5, right after I unboxed it, was its form factor. Having used bigger phones in the past this was a breath of fresh air. It’s the right size for people with smaller hands, and as someone who has big hands I also started to appreciate the size as it’s easier to manipulate with one hand. Also, this might sound really weird, but I really like the feeling of this phone being inside my pocket, especially when I’m wearing jeans, because it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, like when I’m using other phones like OnePlus 8 Pro and the Pixel 4 XL. It’s slim, it’s compact, and I just love it.
The design is very understated on the Pixel 5. Google didn’t go all out with premium materials like a glass back and metal railings, but instead the entire body is mostly made out of recycled aluminium and they have wrapped it with a bioresin finish, which is a fancier term for plastic. The reason why Google did this is because they wanted to add support for wireless charging, which works really well through glass, but not through aluminium so what they did is carve out a portion on the back of the phone to add the charging coils and then they wrapped the rest with the bioresin finish to maintain consistency. Now how does that translate to durability? Well over the past 3 months I haven’t experienced any issues, but that is because I have been using a case for the most part. But if you use your phone naked, then do expect the exterior finish to wear off because it is made out of plastic and that texture/finish just won’t age well.
With that being said, I love how low-profile the camera bump is. It doesn’t stick out as badly as the Note 20 Ultra or even my OnePlus 8 Pro, so I think Google did a really good job in that area. The display is edge-to-edge, and I appreciate the flat layout instead of curved edges because it makes handling the phone a million times better. The screen itself spans across 6-inches, it is 1080P AMOLED with a refresh rate of 90Hz. It is adaptive just like the Pixel 4, so it’s not really an upgrade, but that being said it’s not a bad screen. In fact, I really enjoyed my time viewing content through Instagram, YouTube, Netflix, and even editing photos using Lightroom. It’s sharp for the size, I love the deeper blacks, and peak brightness is pretty decent outdoors. I have enabled the forced 90Hz option through the developer settings, and the animations are much fast and fluid so I can’t really complain with the responsiveness. However, having used 120Hz phones in the past, I do have to mention that I don’t actually miss that feature because in my opinion 90Hz is the perfect sweet spot for that responsiveness and great battery life, which I will get to later on.
What’s Missing & Issues
I want to shift gears and talk about the features that Google has taken away from the Pixel 5, the first one being Face Unlock. If you recall last year with the Pixel 4 Google implemented infrared sensors at the front for a more secure way of unlocking your device. It worked really, really well, even in darker environments, and it was one of my favourite features of that phone. Sadly, that is gone due to design choices, but they brought back the fingerprint reader from the Pixel 3 and I love the location at the back because it’s so ergonomic. Interestingly enough, if you swipe your finger down it pulls the notification tray, which is nice. Does the sensor work really well? Initially it was pretty good, but over time I did notice that if there is any moisture built around that area it’s just not going to work. Once you wipe it off it’s taken care of and I guess that is just something that you have to expect with rear fingerprint sensors. I do prefer that over in-display readers, for sure.
Now let’s talk speakers because coming from the Pixel 4 XL I was a bit disappointed. You are still getting stereo speakers, but the top one is hidden underneath the display and that really affects the stereo imaging. I noticed when I compared it to my Pixel 4 XL that the trebles were a bit muffled that is obvious because the speaker is underneath. There is not a lot of clarity, and it just a weird experience when you are watching videos, especially in landscape mode when you have your hand crossing one of those speakers. Overall, it is definitely a step-down compared to the Pixel 4. Call quality also takes a bit of a hit as well, so that forced me into using my wireless earbuds. It is innovative to have speakers underneath the glasses, but you know at what point do you actually sacrifice functionality for innovation? I guess that is a question that needs to be answered.
The haptic motor inside isn’t that great either, I have missed so many calls when I have had this in my pocket. Also I have experienced poor cell reception with the Pixel 5. Every morning when I exit my garage this thing takes at least 5 to 10 minutes to connect to the cellular network, and in some instances I just can’t make a phone call even when I’m outside. This is so annoying and it’s a big deal. Now keep in mind, I live in Toronto and there are plenty of towers everywhere, and I have tested numerous smartphones in the city without ever experiencing something like this before. I think this has to do with the aluminium body, or maybe I might have a dud sample, but that was one of the most annoying things about this phone.
The squeeze to activate Google Assistant feature is also gone. I actually used that feature a lot on my Pixel 4 XL to control my smart home devices instead of saying “Okay Google…” to do it. Also Google did eliminate the Pixel Neural Core chip, which used to accelerate HDR processing with images and voice algorithms. Even the specs don’t make up for the price that this phone retails for. It comes with a mid-range Snapdragon 765G SOC, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of UFS 2.1 storage, which is far behind the competition offering UFS 3.1 storage that helps a lot in terms of performance.
Now specs obviously don’t convey the whole story, and it ultimately all comes down to the user experience. I would say that over the course of these past 3 months performance has been pretty good. Apps launch quickly, memory management is also improved thanks to the additional 2GB of RAM, but I did notice that the CPU did struggle to process images every now and then when I tried to capture them. Also, multitasking was a bit of a hit or miss, sometimes when I’m on a phone call and then if I’m browsing something through Instagram or YouTube it does tend to get a little jittery. I’m not saying that it’s completely unusable, it works, but for $700 USD I would have preferred something a little bit faster. On the other side, there is a major benefit going with this chip…
You see Google jam packed the Pixel 5 with a 4,000mAh battery, and when you pair that with the power efficiency that the 765G offers you get a phone that will easily last you for more than a day. This is probably one of my favorite things about the Pixel 5, because for a phone this size I’m getting close to 6 or even 7 hours of screen-on time, which is just amazing. That is something that I struggled to hit with the OnePlus 8 Pro, which is a phone that has similar battery size, but it has monster specs. Also keep in mind that I have enabled the “Force 90Hz” option through the developer settings, and I also use the phone in dark mode, which certainly helps. If you need to top of the battery you can use the standard 18W fast charger that is included in the box, or you can wirelessly charge the phone. A cool addition this time is the support for reverse wireless charging, which tops out at 5W. That is perfect to juice up your wireless earbuds or any low power devices that support Qi.
Moving on to the software experience, and honestly there isn’t a whole lot to talk about here because Google continues to deliver a clean stock Android experience that a lot of users value, including myself. You are always first in line to receive software updates, which is a huge selling point. They have added security measures that scans for spam calls and text messages. They have built an audio recorder app that got a few updates like being able to find certain portions of your audio transcript. They have also added a few customization options like being able to change the style of the app icons, the font choice, the colour scheme. Google’s Now Playing feature is still here, and what I really love about this is that you can go into your history and find the songs that have been playing in the background that you may have missed. These features are specifically geared towards Pixel devices, it’s not something that you will be able to find on a Samsung or OnePlus or LG device. With a Pixel 5 it’s all about getting Android in its purest form. Have I experienced glitches with the software? Yes, the volume levels have frozen on me a couple of times, and sometimes Gboard just doesn’t show up when I needed it to, but Google has addressed that in an update earlier this month.
Last but not least: Cameras. Google didn’t go crazy by adding 4 different sensors like every other flagship smartphone. They kept it pretty simple by going with just 2 sensors, one of them being a 16MP ultra-wide angle, which I’m sure a lot of people will appreciate considering that was one of the features that was lacking on the Pixel 4, and then you have a standard 12MP sensor.
Let’s start with the ultra-wide angel sensor. The results did turn out pretty good when you give it plenty of light. It is sharp enough, but I did notice that the dynamic range suffered a little bit. Also the colours were a bit muted, so I would have preferred a little bit of boost in that area. Nevertheless this will do wonders with landscapes, and if you need to tweak a few things here and there this is a great start since you are not stuck with a super saturated or highly over sharpened image. The low light performance with the sensor is pretty good, but I got mixed results depending on the lighting situation. In a moderately lit room setting you will see noise in the shadows, and in some cases you will also lose some detail as well. I was honestly hoping for Google’s software enhancements to iron out those issues, but perhaps the lack of the Neural Core chip is to blame here.
Switching over to these standard lens, and honestly I’m starting to see a pattern here, especially coming from the Pixel 4. Don’t get me wrong the images turn out great, there is excellent detail, good balance of contrast, and saturation. I loved shooting subjects on this device, but I’m pretty sure I can replicate these results on a Pixel 4 or even a Pixel 3, because Google is still using the same hardware. They haven’t changed anything, which is really disappointing. It’s crazy how far they have pushed their software enhancements. There is a 2X digital zoom feature, which yields pretty good results, but having tested phones featuring optical zoom with larger sensors the Pixel 5 does not even come close in terms of detail. Edge detection works really well with most subjects, except for ones where the subject has a similar colour palette as the background. I still love using this every now and then, and I think it’s one area where the competition still has to catch up.
The selfie camera is good, I like how the sensor treats skin tones and there are a few crop modes built in. I still prefer using the widest setting as it captures more stuff, and it is great for group selfies.
When it comes to the video quality of the front facing camera I do wish that this camera had an ultra-wide angle lens because when filming a have to really stretch out my arm and it’s pretty cropped in too. The dynamic range is also not the greatest, the skies are pretty much overexposed and there is no sort of stabilization built into the front facing camera. However, when you switch things over to the rear facing camera that is when things get really interesting. Google has implemented some really cool stabilization techniques that are software based and the results actually turned out pretty good. The footage makes it look like the phone is on a gimbal so that is really, really interesting. The dynamic range is also pretty good too. Also the microphone sounds nice. Overall, I’m actually impressed with what Google has done with the video quality on the Pixel 5.
I think it’s time to wrap up my thoughts on the Google Pixel 5. Now remember how I mentioned that Google’s strategy for this phone is completely different compared to the Pixel 4 and the Pixel 3. The reason why I said that is because Google was trying really hard to compete with the premium flagship Android market for the past few years, and I think they were not successful at that. When they realized that they came up with a phone that focused on getting the essentials right, like a compact form factor that a lot of people love, great battery life, good quality display, software that is up-to-date and clutter-free, and a phone that takes good photos.
The problem is its price. This is not a $700 phone. If you are looking to spend that kind of money, there are better alternatives out there. In fact, if you are looking for a Pixel-like experience, and if ultimately all you want are the features that only come with a Pixel phone, then look no further than the Pixel 4a 5G or the Pixel 4a, which costs half as much as the Pixel 5. On that note, thank you so much for reading this long-term review. I hope you were able to take away something from this, and let me know what you think about the Pixel 5. If you have picked one up are you enjoying your experience with it, or if you are considering the Pixel 5 what has stopped you from buying one?