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Pixel 5a Review: The Best A-series Phone Yet

Rating: 9/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $449
The Pixel 5a leaning on a wall
Justin Duino / Review Geek

It’s that time of year again: time for a new A-series Pixel phone. All the A-series phones have been great up to this point, and Google made some truly meaningful upgrades in the 5a. It’s easily the best $450 phone you can buy right.

If you want to get right to the point, here it is: this is basically the lovechild of a Pixel 4a 5G and a Pixel 5. It’s similar to both in so many ways, though a few corners have been cut to keep costs down. You get the same processor and cameras as last year’s flagship, but it’s missing wireless charging. The screen is larger than both the 4a 5G and the 5, but is 60Hz instead of 90Hz like the 5. As expected, 5G is along for the ride. The 5a is also $50 cheaper than last year’s 4a 5G.

Notably, Google threw in an IP67 rating for the first time in an A-series phone, which is a big win. To me, that was easily the weakest link of the previous A-series phones. As much as I would have liked to see wireless charging, I think the decision to go for an IP rating instead was a smart one. Far more practical.

If those sound like tradeoffs you can live with considering the $450 price, keep reading.

Hardware and Build Quality

The Pixel 5a vs the Pixel 5
Left: Pixel 5a; Right: Pixel 5 Justin Duino

To look at any of the A-series Pixels up to this point is to look at the Pixel 5a as well. It has the same basic, smooth, flat finish on the back and only comes in one color. Where last year’s models came in “Just Black,” this one is “Mostly Black,” and in the right lighting looks more like a deep olive green. I’m so into it.

As for hardware, the list should look pretty familiar:

  • Display: 6.34-inch 2400×1080 (413 PPI)
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Storage: 128GB
  • Cameras: 12.2 MP standard shooter, 16 MP ultrawide; 8 MP front
  • Ports: USB-C
  • Headphone Jack: Yes
  • Battery: 4680mAh
  • Fingerprint Sensor: Rear-mounted
  • Connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 2×2 MIMO; Bluetooth 5.0
  • 5G Compatibility: Sub-6 n1/2/5/12/28/41/66/71/77/78
  • Android version: Android 11
  • IP RatingIP67
  • Colors: Mostly Black
  • Price: $449

The biggest noteworthy change here is with the 5G bands: the 5a drops mmWave support, which both the 5 and 4a 5G (Verizon version) had last year. That could make the 5a a non-starter for anyone on Verizon or a Verizon MVNO (like Visible). If you’re on a GSM LTE or Sub-6 carrier, however, you should be good to go.

Past that, this very much feels like an A-series phone, just bigger. Despite having a 6.34-inch display compared to the 4a 5G’s 6.2-inch panel, however, the 5a is only slightly bigger. It’s about 2.3mm taller, 0.8mm narrower, and .6mm thicker. It weighs about 15g heavier. Overall, it feels like a wash to me—the size difference is barely noticeable. If anything, the narrower build makes it a little easier to hold.

The Pixel 4a, 4a 5G, 5, and 5a side by side
L to R: Pixel 4a, 4a 5G, 5, and 5a. Cameron Summerson

Also like past A-series phones, this one is slippery. The plastic has no texture to it, so it’s super smooth and hard to hold onto. You’re going to want to put this one in a case. The good news? Google also has cases for the 5a. They’re not the cloth cases of previous models, but they still look really nice. I have the green, which I find to be absolutely hideous, but I’m sure someone out there will like it. And at least it feels well made.

Overall, this is very much an A-series phone. If you’ve ever held or used the Pixel 3a, 4a, or 4a 5G, you know what to expect here. If you haven’t, you can expect a well-built plastic phone that punches above its price point—this is true in terms of build quality and software.

Oh, and it has a headphone jack. For some people, that will be reason enough to buy this phone.

Display and Cameras

The Pixel 5a with the screen on, showing reviewgeek.com
Justin Duino

This is the biggest display you can get in a Pixel phone today, so if the Pixel 5 was too small for you, then this is your phone … at least until the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are released. Much like literally everything else about this phone, the display is very good. Not great, mind you, but very good. Par for the course for Pixels. No complaints from me.

And the cameras? Pixels are known for their cameras. Shockingly (to no one), the 5a has the same cameras as the Pixel 5 and the 4a 5G. So, guess what? The photo quality is the same—it’s great. I’ve never been happier with any camera than a Pixel, mostly because they just take all the work out of taking great pictures.

The Pixel 5a camera
Justin Duino

If I want to spend a lot of time getting the perfect shot, I’ll use my DSLR. But when I’m in an environment where I’m shooting with my phone, I just want it to work. No guessing, no fiddling. Just point, click, and boom—a good picture. That’s what you get from pretty much any Pixel, and the 5a does nothing to change that.

Here are some samples from the 5a’s camera, both indoors and out. Click for the full-size image.

A porch light on the side of a house Some dirty water (?) using the 5a's ultrawide lens Some dirty water (?) using the 5a's main lens Some dirty water (?) using the 5a's 2x zooim Tis but a plant a closeup of a leaf on said plant a macro shot of dust on a car interior. Justin needs to clean his car.  Another outdoor shot using the wide angle lens Indoor shot, a closeup of guitar headstocks in low light Indoor shot, a bike in low light

Software and Battery Life

Unsurprisingly, the Pixel 5a ships with Android 11. Pure Android goodness that is just easy to use. I love Pixel Android because it’s just such a clean, simple experience. And while there are other phones out there with a mostly vanilla experience, the stuff that Pixels bring to the table are the icing on the cake.

I’ve written about Pixel phones’ calling features before, and to me, this is one of the best reasons to buy a Pixel. Not sure who is calling? Call Screening is where it’s at. Have to wait on hold? Let Google Assistant do it for you instead. Need to look up a business for a quick call? Just search the dialer.

The top of the Pixel 5a's screen
Justin Duino

Seriously, the Pixels’ phone features are the best. That’s really part of the benefit of buying a Pixel, and the best part is that it’s not just reserved for the high-end flagship models. Even the A-series phones get all these features.

Past that, however, you also get the promise of timely OS updates and monthly security updates. These things are rarely a given in the Android world, with many manufacturers taking weeks or even months to push full OS updates, and relegating security updates to quarterly releases instead of monthly. If updates are important to you and you don’t want an iPhone, the Pixel series is once again where it’s at.

The benefit of getting the best features that the Pixel has to offer in a package this affordable cannot be overstated. The Pixel 5a has everything Pixel has to offer at a price that makes it impossible to deny.

And then there’s the battery life. The Pixel 5a has a massive (for a Pixel) 4680mAh battery, which leads to some truly impressive battery life. I was very pleased with the Pixel 5’s battery when I reviewed it last year, and the same is true for the 5a. The Snapdragon 765G seems to be a pretty efficient processor, so it’s not shocking that the 5a is able to eke out some pretty incredible numbers.

On average, I was able to get about three days out of the Pixel 5a with around four hours of screen on time. Three days out of a smartphone battery is pretty impressive, but that will drop if you use your phone more. Still, extrapolating from that, I’d say you could easily get 7-8 hours of screen time on a single charge if you needed to.

Conclusion: 90% of the Pixel 5 for 65% of the Cost

The back of the Pixel 5a
Justin Duino

If you considered buying a Pixel 5 but didn’t want to spend $700 on a smartphone, the Pixel 5a is for you. If you thought about the 4a 5G but didn’t like the fact it didn’t have an IP rating, the Pixel 5a is for you. As a bonus, it’s also more affordable than both.

We know the Pixel 6 is coming, but the 5a is still almost certainly enough phone for nearly everyone—my Pixel 5 is still kicking with no signs of slowing down. That’s a good indicator of what to expect for the 5a.

All in all, if you can live without wireless charging and a 90Hz display (read: you can) and you’re ready for a phone upgrade, there’s no reason not to consider the 5a. Most of the Pixel experience is provided in the software anyway, so you’re really not missing out on anything over a higher-end Pixel—at least right now.

While we’ll have to see what the forthcoming Pixel 6 will hold, I can tell you for certain one thing that it will bring: a much higher price tag.

Rating: 9/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $449

Here’s What We Like

  • Excellent value
  • Killer battery life
  • IP67 rating
  • All the benefits of owning a Pixel

And What We Don't

  • No wireless charging
  • Boring aesthetic

Cameron Summerson Cameron Summerson
Cameron Summerson is Review Geek's former Editor in Cheif and first started writing for LifeSavvy Media in 2016. Cam's been covering technology for nearly a decade and has written over 4,000 articles and hundreds of product reviews in that time. He’s been published in print magazines and quoted as a smartphone expert in the New York Times. In 2021, Cam stepped away from Review Geek to join Esper as a managing Editor. Read Full Bio »