Regardless, one of the biggest reasons I can recommend you buy this phone is the performance. Like previous A-series Pixels, you can comfortably run pretty much any app or game, and you’ll rarely encounter any slowdowns. I was able to play one of the most graphically demanding mobile games, Genshin Impact, and it was hardly frustratingly slow. (Granted, I had to play it with the Low graphics option, but the game still looked fantastic.)
Then there’s the software. As is standard with Pixel phones of every stripe, Google has included some genuinely smart and helpful features that you won’t find on any other line of phones. Call Screen is my favorite; I can screen calls from unknown numbers so I never have to answer a pesky robocall. The voice recorder app is another saving grace—it automatically (and accurately!) transcribes spoken-voice recordings and backs them up online. But my all-time favorite remains Now Playing, which automatically detects music in your surroundings and lets you know the artist and song name, even if you’re offline. I’ve discovered so many artists through this feature that it’s the first thing I turn on in every Pixel I use. I’ve rounded up all the smart features here in our Pixel guide if you want to hear about the others.
The Pixel 5A comes with three years of security updates and three Android OS upgrades, which is more than most of the budget competition. Samsung’s the only Android manufacturer that recently began outpacing Google here, promising four years of security updates. Hopefully, Google plans on matching or exceeding that, but at the very least, you will get additional software features every quarter as part of Google’s “Feature Drops,” which might even include new tricks from the upcoming Google Pixel 6.
The cameras on the 5A aren’t any different from what’s on the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4A 5G, but Google’s photo processing software continues to improve. That means you’re getting flagship-quality photos without spending a fortune. (That includes some of the new video features Google introduced last year too.) Seriously, I’ve been testing the Pixel 5A alongside Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip3, a $1,000 phone, and I frequently prefer Google’s results.
Thanks to Night Sight, a dedicated nighttime mode in the camera app that stitches multiple images together taken at different exposures, you can capture detailed low-light photos that beat images from phones that sell for twice the price. Put this thing on a tripod and point it at the sky in a dark enough area, and you can even snap the stars with the Pixel’s Astrophotography mode. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better ultrawide camera at this price range too. Most ultrawide cameras on budget and mid-range phones fail spectacularly when night falls, but not the Pixel’s.
I also compared the camera to the $400 Moto G Stylus 5G, and while Motorola’s phone did surprisingly well, the Pixel exceeded it in almost every test. This remains the best camera under $500, and that’s another cornerstone of what makes the 5A such a mass-appeal phone.
As I mentioned earlier, there are a few features you’ll find on other phones that are absent here. One of them is a high screen refresh rate. Most phones have 60 Hz screens, meaning the display refreshes images 60 times per second. The current trend is to bump this up to 90 or 120 Hz so that the display shows you 90 or 120 frames per second, which makes the screen look and feel more responsive. It’s a small but nice perk, and one that’s becoming common even on sub-$300 phones. Considering that Google introduced a 90-Hz screen to last year’s Pixel 5, I expected to see it here. Alas.
There wasn’t much else I missed. For the third year in a row, Google proves you don’t need to drop anything close to $1,000 for a great smartphone. Sure, the Pixel 5A isn’t exciting. It doesn’t fold, there are no flashy colors, and it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. I’d have liked to see the company push the bar. But if what you get is an exceptionally reliable phone that still leads the pack, then that’s priceless.
Pixel 5A preorders open today, and the phone fully arrives on the market on August 26. It works on all major US carriers, even if it’s not directly sold by them. You do get a charger in the box, but just know that this will be the last Pixel to include one. Google’s going the way of Apple and Samsung and nixing the power adapter on its phones in the interest of curbing electronic waste.