Google makes a lot of claims about the Pixel 5a. One is uncomfortable

Google's launch of the Pixel 5a was curiously muted. If only the company had muted one piece of its marketing.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer on

Nothing to speak of?

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Instead of a shout, a whisper.

Google's launch of the Pixel 5a had, on the Richter scale of surprises, all the force of a pebble being tossed into a lake by a four-year-old.

Some may see it as a perfectly nice phone -- one that looks remarkably like the perfectly nice Pixel 4a. Others may rejoice that Google is being true to a constant reinforcement of the Pixel brand.

Yet, just as the company has promised to put the full weight of marketing behind the Pixel 6, I wanted to see what Google had to say about the 5a.

The briefest answer is: nothing.

The company released a little ad that had all the requisite images of a hypnotically spinning phone set to hypnotically spinning music.

The ad itself was entitled "The All-Around Amazing Pixel 5a with 5G." It said absolutely nothing. Quite literally. Music, pictures, no words.

I found it hard to believe Google really didn't want to say anything about this competitively priced device.

Thankfully, there was another ad hiding on YouTube, longer and with actual information.

Immediately I learned that "it's the lowest priced 5G Pixel ever." Immediately, I felt a touch uneasy.

I enacted my emergency self-control systems, of course. For the ad also told me that this phone has a wonderful camera, truly superb security, with a secret folder for your very special photos.

Then, a curious promise -- "like a fine cheese, the Pixel 5a gets better with age." "How does Google know?," I hear you sniff. "It's only just been released."

Oh, this is all about "all kinds of cool features" being slipped onto your device every three months. No, you can't have them now. Why? Just because.

There followed other fine features. Water resistance and collision detection, for example.

But then, just as I was beginning to think this was an excellent value phone, Google intoned: "What if I get bored?"

I'm sure you, too, have your own tech-based methods of alleviating boredom. Google, though, claims: "That's an easy one."

It seems that Pixel 5a works on 5G -- it's in the name, don't you know -- so you can, apparently, sit on a boring bus ride, download an action movie and, to quote Google: "Boom!."

Please forgive me, but I'm very tired of tech companies -- everyone from AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Apple, oh all of them -- selling 5G as if it's, how can I put it, an easy one.

The democracy-embracing Washington Post darkly offered its assessment of 5G not so long ago: "The 5G lie: The network of the future is still slow."

More recent studies have suggested the same.

Even Google itself, in the footnotes to this YouTube video, offered: "Requires a 5G data plan (sold separately). 5G service not available on all carrier networks or in all areas. Contact carrier for details. 5G service, speed and performance depend on many factors, including carrier network capabilities and signal strength. Actual results may vary. Some features not available in all areas. Data rates may apply."

In essence, then, good luck with that 5G thing. Yet it seems every new phone and every old carrier tout 5G as if it's everywhere now, offering Olympic speed. Handset makers have to put 5G into the name itself. Just in case, I suppose, you find some pocket of America where this mythical 5G is supremely fast.

I understand that Google is merely getting on the 5G-train, believing these are the rules of engagement. I also realize that 5G may eventually be inspiring, at some wondrous moment.

Overpromising, though, is a troubling way to live life and equally unhelpful when you're selling a phone.

It's a very good phone, with 5G capabilities. Is that not enough?

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