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Google's Pixel 5 was the last of its kind

Google's Pixel 5 was the last of its kind

From time to time, I'll grab a random tool from the Verge review closet and spend a week or two with it. This is mostly out of random curiosity and comparing "old" products against the latest and greatest. Recently, I was drawn to Google's Pixel 5. So I factory reset it, updated the phone to Android 12, and have been using this as my daily driver for the past several days.

The experience has been amazing. I have huge hands—an iPhone 13 Pro Max doesn't look out of place in them—and I prefer bigger screens, so I don't think I can switch to the Pixel 5 entirely. But it is very good. The "small" phone (by 2002 standards) is what I'm definitely tempted to do. The Pixel 5 makes it easy for me to do anything with one hand. Its midrange processor performs better than ever on Android 12, and the phone looks unparalleled even after the competition.

Above all, I'm disappointed that Google abandoned the Pixel 5's style and size after only a year. The smallest phone in the company's lineup is currently the Pixel 5a, which sports a 6.3-inch display. To its credit, Google is taking things a little less with the upcoming 6A. But with the A-series model, you're giving up on niceties like a 90Hz display and wireless charging. In those ways, the Pixel 5 could be the last of its kind in Google's lineup. Same for the bezels.

Now I wish Google would keep the 5 as an "iPhone SE"-style product that's brought up to speed with hardware upgrades every couple of years — without losing what makes it good. Let's cover some of the features of the Pixel 5.

Design and Materials: The Pixel 5's 6-inch OLED display is surrounded by thin, symmetrical bezels that go a long way in making the phone comfortable and usable in one hand. And the textured "bio resin" coating on the 5's body results in an unparalleled feel and reassuring grip when you wear it all day. The volume rocker shares this texture, while the power button is shiny metal - making it easy to differentiate between the two by touch. Due to its feel and palm-able size, the Pixel 5 is one of those phones that can be unwieldy without a hitch.

Before joining the distinctive "glass sandwich" design with the Google Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, previous models in the series often used specific materials and textures that helped the phone stand out. With the Pixel 2, it was almost the thicker rear shell of the Black model. The Pixel 4 had grippy side rails. But after the 5K Bio resin — I'm still a big fan of the sorta sage green colorway with this finish — Google opted for a more basic in-hand feel with last year's flagship.

A better screen: The Pixel 6's OLED panel may look fine based on first impressions. But in all honesty, it's mediocre. There are plenty of threads on Reddit complaining about uniformity issues, an unsightly green tint at low brightness levels, and other imperfections. The Pixel 6 Pro's gorgeous LPTO panel doesn't exhibit any of these problems, so it's clear that Google settled on less as part of reaching the 6's $599 price.

Even I think the Pixel 5's screen is a bit higher quality than the 6's, which replaced it. They're both 90Hz displays, but the white point, uniformity, and overall image of the 5 are a bit good for my eyes. This can sometimes come down to variation between different units, but I expected to see better from the Pixel 7.

Pixel Imprint Rear Fingerprint Sensor: I'm still disappointed that phone makers decided to move the fingerprint reader from the back of the phone, where your index finger often rests naturally, to be placed under the display. Google's Pixel Imprint scanners were probably the fastest and most consistent in the entire Android ecosystem, and, well, let's say the in-screen sensors on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro have never matched — performance via a software update by Google. Even after improving .

Consistent camera performance: Google spent years optimizing its computational photography for the 12-megapixel main camera shared by the Pixel 5 and its predecessors. And while it lacks the dynamic range of the Pixel 6/6 Pro and doesn't offer features like Real Tone or Magic Eraser, the Pixel 5 is a consistent shooter. You know what you're going to get, which can't always be said of the Pixel 6 line. I don't love the obnoxious-looking background blur I sometimes get from the 6's larger sensor, but it's something Google will undoubtedly improve upon.

Pixel 5 is not perfect
Although I'm mostly satisfied with the Pixel 5's smooth performance and general responsiveness on Android 12, there are occasions where the midrange Snapdragon 765G processor hits a wall and gets stuck. Snap a photo, and frustrating delays exist when the phone processes the shot. The 5 can also hang if you get overly ambitious with multitasking.

While I'm sold on the look and feel of the Pixel 5, Google's hardware quality assurance isn't always the best. Many units have a small gap between the display and the body. After the phone's release, the company said the difference was nothing to worry about - but it's precisely those minor details that I find annoying.

And then there's that terrible under-screen speaker, which still sounds tinny in most cases, even though Google has tried to improve it with an "adaptive sound" setting. Those symmetrical bezels didn't come without tradeoffs.

But even with those shortcomings, there is still something special about this phone. I've come close to buying one from Woot, which is selling the new, discontinued Pixel 5s for $450. Apparently Google must have got some extra inventory in a warehouse somewhere. With Apple's mini iPhone rumored to be cut from the upcoming iPhone 14 lineup, it looks like smaller phones are (again) on the way. This makes it a tempting moment to buy. The only asterisk to consider in Google's case is that software support for the Pixel 5 will end in October 2023.

But maybe until then, Google will reintroduce a smaller Pixel that doesn't skimp on hardware features and doesn't do as well after its bigger siblings.

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