Tech review: What’s the difference between Google’s newest phones? | Technology
For the longest time, Google made the Android operating system and just gave it away for anyone to use.
Based on a modified version of the Linux operating system, Android was introduced in November 2007, and the first Android device went on sale in September 2008. (Anyone remember the HTC Dream?)
Android would become the most popular mobile operating system, but for the hardware of other companies, not Google.
Fast-forward to 2016, when Google introduced its own Android phones, the Pixel and Pixel XL.
They were heralded as devices that ran a clean version of Android.
Other manufacturers customize Android with their own software additions to help their devices stand out from the crowd.
As the maker of Android, Google gave the user a pure Android experience.
Just to give a little sales perspective, according to International Data Corp., in 2019 Google sold 7.2 million Pixel phones, while Apple sold 196 million iPhones and Samsung sold more than 296 million phones.
Now Google has released the Pixel 5 5G ($699) and the Pixel 4a ($349) and 4a 5G ($499), which are updates to last year’s Pixel 4.
These phones can be purchased at store.google.com/us/category/phones.
I was planning to write about the Pixel 5 5G, but there are a lot of people who think the Pixel 4a 5G is a better value, so let’s compare them.
Pixel 5 5G
Let’s run down the specs of the Pixel 5.
It has a 6-inch OLED display with a resolution of 2,340 by 1,080 pixels for a pixel density of 432 pixels per inch. The screen is covered in Corning Gorilla Glass 6.
The always-on display has a refresh rate of up to 90 hertz and it has HDR (high dynamic range) support.
The phone measures 5.7 by 2.8 by 0.3 inches and weighs 5.3 ounces.
It has a 4,000-milliamp hour battery with 18-watt fast charging and wireless charging, and it can reverse charge to provide a charge to other wireless devices. It ships with a 18-watt USB-C power adapter and a one-meter USB-C cable.
It runs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor and the Adreno 620 graphics processor with 8 gigabytes of RAM and 128 gigabytes of onboard storage (there is no slot for additional storage).
It ships with Android 11 and will get a minimum of three years of operating system and security updates.
There are two rear cameras — a 12.2-megapixel main camera with optical and electronic image stabilization. The lens has an f/1.7 aperture and a 77-degree field of view.
The other camera is ultrawide with a 16-megapixel sensor, f/2.2 lens and a 117-degree field of view.
The front camera has an 8-megapixel sensor, f/2.0 lens with 83-degree field of view and the lens is fixed focus.
The Pixel 5 can shoot 4K video at 30 and 60 frames per second.
It has a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor for unlocking the phone.
The phone has 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0. It runs on both Sub-6 and mmWave 5G.
It has one SIM slot and can use an eSIM.
The body is aluminum and it is IP68 dust- and water-resistant.
Pixel 4a 5G
The 4a 5G has a larger screen at 6.2 inches with the same 2,340 by 1,080-pixel resolution. Because the OLED screen is larger, the pixels density is slightly lower at 413 pixels per inch.
The screen is covered in Corning Gorilla Glass 3.
The 4a 5G has HDR support, and it does not have the dynamic refresh rate of the Pixel 5.
The phone measures 6.1 by 2.9 by 0.33 inches and weighs 5.93 ounces.
It has a 3,885 mAh battery with fast charging, but it does not have wireless charging.
The box includes an 18-watt USB-C power adapter and a 1-meter USB-C cable.
The 4a 5G runs the same Snapdragon 765G CPU and Adreno 620 graphics processor, but it has only 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage.
The 4a 5G also runs Android 11 and will get updates for at least three years.
The front and rear cameras on the 4a are exactly the same as the Pixel 5.
The phone is made of plastic, so it is not water-resistant, but it does have a headphone jack.
So which phone do you buy?
I have to wonder about Google’s sales expectations for the Pixel 5 vs. the 4a 5G. They have some differences, but they were both released at the same time, so Google knew people would have to make a choice between them.
Let’s look at the major differences.
The Pixel 5 has a screen with a higher refresh rate, but 98% of you won’t really notice the difference.
The Pixel 5 has two more gigabytes of RAM, but again, most of you won’t notice.
The 5′s battery is slightly bigger but not enough to make a difference.
The 5 has wireless charging, which I use every day on my iPhone.
Perhaps most important, the Pixel 5 can take a dunk in the pool, and it has stronger glass on the front.
The two phones have the same cameras, the same CPUs and graphics, and the same storage. They both have 5G.
You can also use either Pixel phone to provide fast 5G internet to your other devices via their Wi-Fi hotspot feature.
The way I see it, you’re paying $200 for an extra two gigabytes of RAM and wireless charging.
I know people who would not blink at paying an extra $200, but I also know people who have no interest in wireless charging. My mom and dad have always plugged in their phones, and if I told them you could pay extra for the ability to wirelessly charge, they’d think I lost my mind.
So I’d have to recommend the Pixel 4a 5G, especially for people who don’t absolutely have to have the latest and greatest.
Google Pixel 5 5G
Pros: Great screen, wireless charging, water-resistant, great cameras.
Cons: The CPU isn’t the fastest, limited storage options.
Bottom line: Good phone that is overshadowed by the cheaper Pixel 4a 5G.
Google Pixel 4a 5G
Pros: Big screen, great cameras.
Cons: Plastic body, no wireless charging.
Bottom line: The many strong features this phone shares with the Pixel 5 make it a slightly better choice.
Jim Rossman writes for The Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.