Google Pixel 5 first impressions: Where was this phone last year?

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I think we can all agree that last year's Pixel 4 (and Pixel 4 XL ) was Google's worst smartphone showing thus far . It was so bad, it raised questions about whether or not Google should even continue its Pixel line of phones , if for no other reason than a lack of interest in truly moving the product line forward. 

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More simply put: Google's Pixel vision felt lost. 

However, with the release of the Pixel 4A a couple of months ago, and now the upcoming launch of the $699 Pixel 5 and $499 Pixel 4A (5G), I can't help but feel that Google's finally found the right direction for the Pixel lineup. 

The Pixel 5 is the first of the two new phones to launch in the US, with preorders live right now and an original ship date starting Oct. 15. The Pixel 4A (5G) won't be available until Nov. 19. 

I've only had the Pixel 5 in my hands for about 24 hours now, so I'm nowhere near ready to offer a thorough review. I haven't even taken a single picture yet. But I have been using the new hardware and software experience, with Android 11. 

So, while I finish testing and using the Pixel 5, here are some of my first impressions of Google's latest high-end mid-range smartphone. 

The price is right

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At $699, Google isn't competing with the flagship phones pushing the $1,000 mark, as was the case last year with the Pixel 4 XL. But the problem then was that the Pixel 4 XL had far fewer features, at least on paper, and felt like it wasn't worth the asking price. 

With the Pixel 5, it has all of the features you'd expect from a flagship phone -- waterproof, wireless charging, reverse wireless charging, high-quality display -- but it's reasonably priced. 

The Pixel 5 feels very much like a $700 phone, and that's a good thing. 

The fingerprint reader is a must-have right now

Google already ditched the facial recognition feature used with the Pixel 4, going back to a fingerprint reader on the back of the phone. Normally this is where I'd opine about how much better I think face unlock is than fingerprint sensors -- and I still do -- but with the fact that most of us are wearing face masks all day long, especially when out in public, face unlock is all but useless. 

The fingerprint sensor on the back of the Pixel 5 means you can reliably and consistently unlock your phone without having to enter PIN codes or passwords, as is the case right now when I'm using my iPhone 11 Pro Max in public. Talk about frustrating. 


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

A comfortable size

Normally, I opt for the biggest available version of a phone. With the Pixel 5, you only have one choice, with its 6-inch OLED display. 

It's big enough that I don't feel like I'm missing any information when reading an email or looking at a spreadsheet, but it's small enough that I don't have to consciously think about how I'm holding it when watching a video or taking a picture. And it slides in my pocket rather easily and isn't noticeable. 

Truth be told, it has me rethinking whether or not I want to buy the iPhone 12 Pro Max and its 6.7-inch display. At some point, phones are just too big. 

The software experience is still a delight

Even though I wasn't the biggest fan of the Pixel 4 XL, I have never given up on the Pixel software experience. Sure, it's Android at its core, but there are small tweaks and customizations that Google makes to the experience that you just don't get anywhere else. 

For example, Call Screen will answer incoming calls for me and let Google Assistant talk to solicitors. The Recorder app will transcribe interviews in realtime, and it just received a big update that makes it easier to search and find what I'm looking for. 

But then there's smaller features like app suggestions on the home screen, or the shortcut menu for home automation devices and Google Pay cards when I long-press the power button. 

Granted, some of those features are also on the Pixel 4 XL, but with the new hardware and refined approach of the Pixel 5, the experience just feels right. 


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

5G? Maybe one day.

I don't have 5G coverage where I live, so, sadly, I haven't been able to test 5G speed and connectivity yet. I'll have to drive an hour if I want to run some speed tests, but truth be told, I doubt it's worth it at this point. 

I'm not going to go out of my way to test 5G, but if I happen to see the LTE icon change over to 5G (and not 5Ge), you can bet I'll run a few tests and include it in the full review. 

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I haven't had enough time to fully test the Pixel 5 quite yet. I don't know how long the battery lasts, and I need to take some photos to test out the new night sight features. Oh! And there's that new Hold for Me feature where you can have Google Assistant wait on hold for you when you call a customer service number. I should have used that this afternoon when my Comcast service cut out during the Apple event.

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Where To Buy

Google Pixel 5 (128GB, Just Black)

Part Number: GA01316-US