Is the Pixel 5 worth buying in 2021?
This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
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If you’re not a fan of Samsung, the first alternative you see on the Android side of the market is often a Pixel device. But sales-wise, Google is far, faaar behind Samsung, so many users don’t have first-hand experience with its smartphones and might be wondering if it’s worth giving Pixels a chance.
While we already have a review of the Pixel 5, I decided to spend some quality time with it over the holidays to see if it still has a place on the market or will the wave of new phones sweep it away into oblivion.
So, let’s get to it!
What’s worth buying the Pixel 5 for
The size and feel
The first impression you’ll get from the Pixel 5 as soon as you put it in your hands is how small and light it is. Compared to the tall and heavy glass sandwiches that phone manufacturers have been making for the past few years, the Pixel 5 feels like a completely different device. And in a good way. It has an aluminum body but the coating removes the feeling of cold metal against your hands and adds grip, which some of you will surely appreciate.
The Pixel 5 feels like a device that’s made to serve you and not for you to pamper with cases and screen protectors. And while you shouldn’t treat it like a rugged phone, that feeling gives a sense of freedom and peace of mind I really appreciated.
Besides, the compact size has some real benefits. Being able to reach corners of the screen easily and easily putting it in and pulling it out of your pocket are just some of them. While Apple introduced the iPhone 12 mini last year, most Android manufacturers have all but forgotten about small form-factor phones. It’s a characteristic that, if it’s important to you, you can’t replace with anything else.
Yes, I know, the Pixel 5’s camera hardware is aging and the phone regularly loses battles against iPhones and Galaxies in our camera comparisons. But when you don’t have other photos from top-tier phones to compare to the one you just took with your Pixel, that quickly becomes irrelevant.
Because the Pixel 5 photos are awesome. And I mean simple shots you take in your daily life, not some amazing scenes you went out specifically looking for. There were plenty of times I took a picture and then thought “Wow, that was made by a phone.” There’s something about the colors that makes the photos lively and a joy to look at.
Sure, the Pixel 5 can’t zoom in on that clock tower or far away bridge, but for most people it’s exactly what they’re looking for in a smartphone camera.
The bloat-free software
While you can always find a way to deal with third-party apps on your phone, uninstalling them when possible and hiding them in a folder when not, I like to know that I’m using everything that has come included with my phone. In that regard, the Pixel 5’s software was just to my liking.
The battery life
Despite the small size, the battery life of the Pixel 5 is great. Not having to power a giant display, the 4,080mAh battery kept the Pixel alive for nearly two days. And that was with heavier use than usual, at least for me, since I didn’t spend as much time in front of computers during the holiday.
What might stop you from buying the Pixel 5
The software (yes, again)
While I do appreciate the lack of bloatware on the Pixel 5, what I don’t feel so good about is the bugs and glitches the software Google puts on its own phones has. And if that’s somewhat excusable for OEMs that have to adjust their software to the base Android, it’s not for Google. The Pixel 5 should be the pinnacle of Android experience but it sure doesn’t feel like it and its been months since the phone’s release. I find that quite disappointing.
I agree that most modern flagships offer more performance than what users need or will actually make real use of, but while that’s true today, in a couple of years that extra horsepower will come in handy. The thing is, for the Pixel 5, there’s not much, if any, extra horsepower to speak of. The phone isn’t slow and far from frustrating to use, there is an obvious lack of snappiness to it, which is characteristic for high-end phones. And it will only go downhill in the future. If you’re the type of user that likes to try out apps and new games all the time, this isn’t the phone for you.
The “fast” charging
I feel like at some point the definition of fast charging should be changed. I might be spoiled by the tech I’ve used but when I plug in the Pixel 5 at around 20% battery left and see that it will take almost an hour and a half until full charge, it doesn’t feel fast. Other phones can now top up at half that time. And sure, we can talk about battery health and so on, but when you talk about fast charging, faster is better, end of story.
This is very taste-dependant, of course, but what’s certain is that you’re not impressing anyone with the Pixel 5. Although I like it, I can see it being too simple-looking for some people, or just not premium enough. And while it’s not a $1,000 phone, it’s still not cheap. The back panel might be good for comfortable handling of the phone but the texture gathers smears and smudges that aren’t removed by a quick wipe with a cloth like they are on glossy, glass-backed phones.
I’d also sacrifice a few milliseconds when unlocking the phone for a more comfortable under-display location of the fingerprint reader. But that, again, is a matter of personal preferences. Not having even simple face unlock available, however, is a major drawback in my book.
Despite its good qualities, the Pixel 5 is overpriced. That might have not been the case if the Pixel 4a 5G didn’t exist, but as it stands, the added features the Pixel 5 offers aren’t really worth the higher price tag, unless you really want wireless charging or the smaller size.
Luckily, deals on Pixel phones aren’t hard to come by, so if you have the opportunity to snag it with a $100 or more shaved off the price, go for it.
Obviously, there's no single answer to the question, it depends on how you feel about each of its strengths and weaknesses. But I'll say that: If you're a tech enthusiast, this phone isn't for you. It's for people that don't care much about brands or specs or fancy features. They just want a phone to browse social media from, take nice pictures of their pets, kids and trips and proudly share them. And for that purpose, it's a great phone. The flashy new flagships that will come out in the next weeks and months won't really affect how the Pixel 5 owner feels about their phone, they'll still love it. Because they won't care what else is out there.