Google’s new Pixel 5a phone is quite impressive – and its wider significance is quite significant as well.
After months of leaking, seeking, and geeking, Google’s latest and greatest Pixel phone is finally here.
Not that one. This is the Pixel 5a – or “Google Pixel 5a with 5G,” to use its comically awkward full name. (I, ahem, disagree.)
The Pixel 5a, as we’ll refer to it henceforth, made its way into the world via a fittingly low-key announcement earlier this week. The phone will start shipping in the U.S. and Japan a week from today, on August 26th.
I know: This isn’t the 2021 Pixel everyone is so enthused about. This is the two-model Pixel 6, which combines a striking new design, a variety of new features and an in-house Google processor that adds an incredible amount of flexibility to the equation. The Pixel looks pretty dull in comparison. There is nothing exciting about it. All of that combines to make it very appealing, despite sounding strange.
Image Source: Computerworld
Pixel 5a’s $449 price tag makes it a great value. I’ve had the device on loan for several days, and it’s a great Android experience all around. This phone has pretty much everything anyone could ever ask for in a phone of this price – impressive performance, an exceptional screen, better battery life, a best-in-class camera setup, and clean Google software paired with an unbeatable guarantee of timely and reliable operating system updates.
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When you consider the Pixel 5a holistically, and from a value perspective, there is no other smartphone even close to it in this price range. Apart from the fact that it lacks some of the pricier features its more flashy flagship-level cousins have, there isn’t much negative to say about it.
This information does not need to be told to you. There are pages upon pages of thoughtful reviews in this mossy old internoot. I’m not sure how much more I can add to that discussion.
I would like to focus here on the bigger Pixel puzzle and a couple of thought-provoking questions the Pixel 5a raises about Google’s plans for the future. These questions will make us ponder some important questions about the future of the Pixel brand and where it fits into the larger Android ecosystem as we contemplate the latest dizzying shift in the Pixel brand.
So put on your pondering hat, grab your favorite mulling beverage, and let’s get to thinking.
Pixel question No. 1: What will next year’s Pixel ‘a’ model be like?
Even though it may seem like a simple question, I keep coming back to it whenever I think about the current crop of Pixel phones. When it comes to the future of the Pixel program, its answer is of the utmost importance.
Remember: The flagship Pixels may be the most exciting devices to drool over and the subject of all of our Googley geek lust, but out in the real world, the Pixel “a ” phones are the ones most phone-seeking mammals are actually buying. Year after year, signs consistently suggest that the more modest, lower-priced Pixel “a” options are moving at a pretty nice pace while the higher-priced Pixel flagships remain mostly niche products.
We saw two Pixel “a” phones this year – the result of a last-minute pandemic-related shuffle, apparently. As a result, this year’s Pixel “a” phone looks and feels like a slight step up from last year’s eerily similar Pixel 4a 5G (gesundheit!).
The Pixel 6, meanwhile, has a whole new visual language and feels like a(nother) reinvention of the Pixel brand. It also has that homemade Google chip (the processor, not the tortilla kind) – which should make it stand out in both capability and long-term support.
So now that a fresh reset has taken place and all the new Pixel 6 elements are in place, what will Google do with the Pixel 6a next summer? Will the phone maintain the current Pixel “a”-line visual identity and framework, or will it end up being a year-later version of the Pixel 6? When will we see a new version of Google’s midrange-level processor that powers it and potentially extends software support to the midrange tier?
As the Pixel evolution continues, the Pixel “a” domain is definitely a place to watch.
This brings us to our second big Pixel question…
Pixel question No. 2: How long ’til we get the Pixel ‘b’ line?
The Pixel “a” phone had been at the upper end of the budget range until this year. Pixel 3a, the original Pixel “a” model, sold for $399 at launch. The Pixel 4a follow-up dropped the price to $349 last year.
Both of those phones were built to be affordable, with lower-end internals and a pleasant but noticeably plastic build in place of the glass or aluminum exteriors higher-end phones tend to have. We’ll be honest: They were very successful because of their positioning.
Meanwhile, the Pixel 5a essentially replaces last year’s Pixel 4a 5G with its higher-end internals, aluminum build, and more midrange price tag. $449 may not seem like a big jump from $349 or even $399, but something about veering into that $400 range makes a phone feel significantly less affordable. Although it’s a matter of interpretation, in my mind once you cross $400, you’re no longer in the budget realm, but in the midrange.
In 2022, if the Pixel 5a is more of a midrange device – the 2021 equivalent of last year’s in-betweener 4a 5G offering – is Google planning on offering an affordable alternative?
I agree with you, it seems less of an if question than it does a when question. Google has been open about its goal of making the Pixel a significant player in terms of market share. Both Google’s past statistics and general trends in the smartphone market make it undeniable that gains are most easily made at the low-priced level. You can ask OnePlus.
Back when rumblings about a midrange Pixel first started, I suggested that it was inevitable that such a move was just the beginning. Go gadget quoting machine:
It’s not a question of if a midrange Pixel phone will be released, but when. It’s the time it will take for that device to become available everywhere — and how long it’ll take for the next new model, either at another price point or with some other sort of form-oriented distinction, to show up after.
Three years later, we’ve got a flagship likely to be 1,000+ dollars and a midrange, still-premium $449 handset.
For now, Google has said it “hopes” to continue selling last year’s Pixel 4a for as long as it can secure all of the necessary parts. But that’s clearly not a long-term solution, and it comes with the caveat for potential purchasers that the phone’s already a full year into its life and thus down to less than two years of remaining support.
There is still one obvious piece missing from this puzzle. I’d wager that it’s only a matter of time before we see a lower-end Pixel “b” phone to complete the Pixel picture and fill in that last void.
All signs suggest that what we’re seeing right now is only the beginning of what’s going on in the land of Googley matters.
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Author Name: JR Raphael