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Google Pixel 5 review

We put Google's flagship phone to the test, but how does it compare to the competition?

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
£599
Google Pixel 5 review

Our review

A fuss-free Android phone with 5G and a fantastic camera.
Pros: Slender, light, and compact
Reliable camera
Simple interface
Cons: Low power-to-price ratio
No zoom camera
No memory card slot

Google probably wants you to think of the Pixel 5 as the safe bet Android phone. After all, choosing a new Android phone can be a lot more complicated than upgrading an iPhone. There are thousands available for starters, and Android phones are made by hundreds of different manufacturers.

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Thankfully, Google keeps things simple with the Pixel 5. It isn’t too pricey, nor is it too big, and with fun styling matched with the Pixel line’s critically acclaimed camera system, it should tick most boxes. Reality is seldom so simple, though.

The Pixel 5 costs £599. While that isn’t Apple iPhone 12 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra expensive (both £1,000+), the Pixel 5 definitely isn’t a budget phone. Take a peek under the hood, though, and it’s powered by a modest processor – a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G. You can pick up phones with matching power for less than half that price – so what’s going on?

Google has squeezed a number of seriously premium flagship features in the Pixel 5, perfect if you don’t need gaming phone power but want some everyday flourishes. It features wireless charging, for example, not to mention IP68 dust and water resistance, so it can handle a splash or quick dunk, as well as a gorgeous, silky smooth, high-refresh-rate AMOLED screen.

The question is, does the Pixel 5 strike the right balance between performance and flagship perks to justify its price, or has Google missed the mark?

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Google Pixel 5 review: summary

A fuss-free Android phone with 5G and a fantastic camera.

Price:
£599

Key features:

  • Dust and water resistance
  • Available in two colours: Just Black and Sorta Sage
  • 5G mobile data speeds
  • 12MP main camera matched with an ultra-wide camera
  • 4K video capture
  • Fast wired charging
  • Supports wireless charging

Pros:

  • Slender, light, and compact
  • Reliable camera
  • Simple interface

Cons:

  • Low power-to-price ratio
  • No zoom camera
  • No memory card slot

What is the Google Pixel 5?

The Google Pixel 5 is Google’s most premium Android phone, released in 2020. It combines a mix of high-end features, including water resistance for splash and spill-proofing, wireless charging and a smooth, high-refresh-rate screen, with mid-range power. While it won’t be the obvious choice for gamers, therefore, its highlights shine in everyday use, whether you’re swiping through Google’s Android 11 interface, watching Netflix, or taking photos on its fantastic 12MP camera. With fast 5G mobile data speeds, it’s also future-proofed from a network point of view, and at £599, the Pixel 5 undercuts flagship competition from Apple and Samsung even if it can’t match other high-end phones when it comes to power.

What does the Google Pixel 5 do?

  • Showcases a punchy 6-inch screen with 90Hz smoothness
  • Matches a great display with good, not great sound for its size
  • Delivers a reliable photography experience, day or night
  • Shoots high-resolution, steady 4K video
  • Falls behind similarly priced competition when it comes to power
  • Charges quickly and conveniently thanks to fast wired and wireless charging

How much is the Google Pixel 5?

The Google Pixel 5 retails for £599 and is available at Argos and Amazon.

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Google Pixel 5

Is Google Pixel 5 good value for money?

Depending on who you are, the Google Pixel 5 is either great value or terrible value.

Casual smartphone users who love to take photos, stream a few episodes of Netflix’s series du jour, and WhatsApp and Facebook message friends will love the charming little Pixel 5. It’s compact and slender, has a soft, curvy finish compared with the rigid glass and metal slab-like competition, and in its Sorta Sage colour, looks very fun. Fans of more stoic design can also enjoy it in Just Black. The Pixel 5 is also a pleasure to tap and swipe through. Its screen is both punchy and deep thanks to its premium AMOLED technology, and it’s smooth, with a silky 90Hz refresh rate, so menus and Instagram and Twitter feeds glide. If all that sounds like a winning combo to you, there’s a good chance the Pixel 5 will give you all the smartphone you need.

What the Pixel 5 isn’t, however, is a great gaming phone. Sure, it can handle casual 2D and 3D games – Candy Crush, anyone? But its processor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G, falls behind the similarly priced competition from Apple, OnePlus and Samsung when it comes to power.

We didn’t find the Pixel 5 slowed down in day-to-day use, and there’s a good chance you won’t notice any performance limitations in your time with the phone. That said, for button basher gamers in need of maximum frames per second and minimum latency, the Pixel 5 won’t cut the mustard.

Google Pixel 5 features

The Pixel 5 is one of the smallest, slimmest high-end Android phones you can buy, and while it’s disarmingly playful (who names a phone colour ‘Sorta Sage’? Google, that’s who), it’s also pointedly practical.

While the Pixel 5 misses out on the gaming power many don’t need, it crams in IP68 dust and water resistance. More than just splash-proof, the Google phone can actually survive a dive; whether it accidentally makes its way into a pint or a bathtub, it should live to play another day.

Also mightily practical is the phone’s wireless charging. Combining faster wireless charging than older Pixels with nippy plugged-in charging, Google’s £599 smartphone puts Apple’s £1,000+ iPhones to shame, powering up in a fraction of the time.

The Pixel 5 also keeps you connected over WiFi and fast 5G. That means whether you’re at home or out and about, you should get broadband speed mobile internet if you’ve got a 5G mobile plan.

The phone’s software is also very clever, with our favourite feature being the voice recorder. Really – the voice recorder? Yes, really. Going that extra mile, the Pixel 5 records audio, transcribes it (incredibly well), and indexes your transcribed audio, so you can search the transcription and audio recording in tandem – incredibly handy for journalists and students alike.

Google Pixel 5 battery

With one of the smallest batteries of any phone around, you’d be forgiven for thinking that, on paper, the Pixel 5 doesn’t stack up well when it comes to power management. That said, what the Pixel 5 misses out on is a gargantuan screen and a behemoth of a processor – two power-hungry elements most flagships pack. The result is a phone that lasts for a full day on a single charge without any issues.

Smarter than your average smartphone, the Pixel 5 features some clever Google tech called Adaptive Battery. This feature helps the phone get to know how you use it and optimises power consumption accordingly, so you don’t need to worry about forcing close background apps manually.

For those times when you’re away from a charger for an extended period, there’s also a Battery Saver feature, which turns off location services and prevents apps from draining power when not in use. Anyone intent on eking out the last ounce of power from the Pixel, Extreme Battery Saver is the ultimate evolution of the phone’s power management. This can be activated manually or set to fire up when the Pixel’s battery has a specific amount left. Limiting apps and connectivity to within an inch of their functionality, while we wouldn’t suggest living with Extreme Battery Saver on, it can get you through a long weekend on a single charge if the need arises, which is impressive for a modern-day smartphone.

Google Pixel 5 camera

The Google Pixel line of smartphones has become best known for excellent photo-taking capabilities, day or night, and the Pixel 5 keeps the photography torch burning bright.

Unlike some triple or quad-camera smartphones, Google loads up the Pixel 5 with only two cameras around the back: a primary camera and an ultra-wide-angle alternative (which gets more in-frame, kind of like a GoPro action cam). The main camera is where the magic mainly happens, with its superior performance even in challenging scenes, but having two viewpoints is handy.

With a humble 12MP resolution, the Pixel 5’s main camera doesn’t sound like anything special on paper – phones like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and Xiaomi’s Mi 11 feature 108MP cameras! It isn’t all about hardware, though. Google’s Pixel software works magic with that 12MP.

Why is Google such an imaging pro? Because Google Images is part of the world’s largest search engine and processes over a billion images every day. This understanding of what makes a searched-for and clicked-on image feeds into Google’s genius Pixel photo processing and turns almost every photo taken on the Pixel 5 into a well-balanced, Instagram-ready snap.

While the Pixel 5 isn’t a 108MP behemoth, the hardware isn’t bad per se. Its 12MP sensor is matched with optical image stabilisation (OIS), so compensates for handshake. There’s also a wide-open f/1.7 aperture, so the lens lets plenty of light in.

Google’s camera interface is a fine balance of simple and effective, with limited manual controls and reliable automatic modes. It even features an astrophotography feature, so if you’re shooting on a clear night and have somewhere to prop it up, the Pixel 5 can capture a four-minute exposure photo and reveal a world in the sky invisible to the human eye.

With 4K video recording, Google’s phone also records high-resolution footage loaded up with detail, and no less than four different types of video stabilisation make sure your home movies look smooth.

Rounding off with a mighty selfie camera that takes beautifully balanced photos, as a camera phone, the Pixel 5 nails it.

Pixel 5 design and set-up

Google Pixel 5 Black Cover

When you pick up the Pixel 5, you might think – hmm… is this plastic? That’s exactly what we thought. Then we tapped it, scratched it with our fingernail, and were none the wiser. That’s because the Pixel 5 is made of a marriage of materials. Its frame is metal, which is why it has a reassuringly solid build to it. The phone’s front is glass, which curves elegantly into the curvy sides and corners. As for the confusing back, it’s actually a matte resin laid atop the Pixel’s metal body, so it doesn’t have the starkness of glass or metal, nor the scratchability of plastic. While we didn’t love it at first, we grew to appreciate its playful, inviting softness – something missing from most high-end phones.

In the centre of the phone’s back is a fingerprint scanner, so you can securely unlock the Pixel 5 with a fingertip, while at the base is a USB-C port, which is used for data transfer, wired charging and headphone-plugging (with a converter, sold separately).

Power up the Pixel 5, and the phone runs Android 11, the very latest version of Google’s mobile operating system (OS). Given the phone and OS are made by Google, there’s a cohesiveness to the Pixel 5 experience missing from most Android mobiles. It runs Google apps flawlessly, always sports the latest security updates, so it should be amongst the safest of phones for anyone worried about smartphone viruses, and it also has excellent app support, unlike some Android phones like the otherwise stellar Huawei Mate 40 Pro.

Our verdict: should you buy the Google Pixel 5?

The Google Pixel 5 is a perfect phone for anybody in need of a compact Android with more brains than brawn. It definitely won’t satiate gamers after full-throttle 3D action, and you can get better value elsewhere, but if you can justify stumping up the £599 asking price or find a great deal on it, there’s a good chance you’ll be perfectly happy pulling a Pixel 5 out of your bag or pocket.

Thanks to an exceptionally reliable camera, the Pixel 5 is a fuss-free point and shoot snapper, capable in all but the darkest conditions. And its video camera does a fine job of grabbing 4K footage too.

With a playful design, we love the Pixel 5 in its Sorta Sage colour. The phone’s soft, rounded edges and disarming finish may not scream premium, but it’s very comfortable to use and sits well in the hand and pocket.

More than just a charmer, the Pixel 5 combines smart software, a quick-to-unlock fingerprint scanner, and a high-quality, smooth display.

Ultimately, Google strikes a wonderful balance in the Pixel 5, making it a handsome, clever smartphone with plenty of mass appeal.

Rating:

Features: 4/5

Battery: 4/5

Camera: 4.5/5

Design and set-up:  4/5

Overall rating: 4/5

Where to buy Google Pixel 5

The Google Pixel 5 is available from a number of retailers:

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Interested in comparing the Pixel 5 to its predecessor? Check out our Google Pixel 4a 5G review.