Google's Pixel 5 Got Tiny Upgrades In All the Right Places

By Julian Chokkattu

What's just as nice is that the back of the Pixel never feels grimy or littered with fingerprints, because it's 100 percent recycled aluminum instead of goop-grabbing glass. That's also one less part you need to worry about shattering (if you're still concerned, I like this eco-friendly case). The aluminum has a soft-touch coating that feels nice, and the "Sorta Sage" color looks like speckled, minty toothpaste. It's a pretty phone!

You might be wondering how Google got wireless charging to work here, considering the tech usually doesn't play well with metal. Well, it cut a little hole in the back of the phone, right over the coil, and ... filled it with a piece of plastic. It's smart. I'd love to see more phone-makers ditch breakable glass for this approach.

Speaking of charging, one of its other new tricks is Battery Share, informally known as reverse wireless charging. It's something we've seen before from the likes of Samsung and Huawei: Pop another device that's capable of wireless charging on the back of the Pixel, and voilà, it will siphon power from the phone. Handy when you want to juice up your wireless earbuds, or even a friend's phone.

Another treat is the display. I'm pro–dark mode, and I'm always in awe of how inky black it looks on OLED panels like the Pixel's. The colors here are nice and punchy too. Paired with the slim edges around the screen and a single, unobtrusive hole-punch selfie camera on the top left, it's chef's kiss. The screen also gets plenty bright enough to read outdoors. At least it did on the one non-overcast day we had here in New York.

Like the Pixel 4, the screen supports a 90-Hz refresh rate, something you won't find on the newest iPhones. It makes the entire interface feel buttery smooth and responsive, but that's also thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor powering it (and the 8 gigabytes of RAM). No, this is not the 2020 flagship processor you'll find in competing phones, but I haven't found that to matter one bit. This phone's performance has yet to stutter. If skipping the high-end chip is what brought the price down from its predecessor, I'm all for it.

Water resistance and three years of Android security and version updates round out the feature list. There are stereo speakers as well, but they don't get too loud, and they sound average. The only other things I could have asked for would have been a headphone jack and a MicroSD card slot so you can expand on the 128 gigabytes of storage, but I think those particular ships have long since sailed.

Excellent Cameras

The Pixel 5's main camera uses the same exact 12.2-megapixel sensor as the one in the Pixel 4, except it's "less prone to bad lens flares," according to Google, and there are some improvements to its ability to capture images with a high dynamic range. Google says this sensor still gave it the best results over newer ones, as it has had the most training with the company's imaging algorithms. And instead of a secondary zoom lens, you now get a 16-megapixel ultrawide, a lens setup that matches the similarly priced iPhone 12.