Whether through a stroke of luck or an ingeniously-timed move, the Google Pixel 5 was a smartphone perfectly adapted to the era it was released in. After a series of Pixel flagships, the regressive mid-ranger seemed like a disappointment on paper, but it proved to be just enough in everyday life, amid long confinements and a calmer lifestyle. With things slowly going back to normal now, 2021 calls for a new and more aggressive approach from Google.
Like every Pixel before it, the fifth iteration of the line-up was much maligned by the tech enthusiast community when it was leaked and announced. That fate seems to be unavoidable for Google’s products — remember the Pixel 2’s hated display quality, the Pixel 3’s maligned notch, or the Pixel 4’s loathed big forefront? Yet as every one of these devices sat in the hands of users long enough, most of them came to the realization that these weren’t real issues. The proof is that come summer time, we’re all criticizing the upcoming leaked Pixel and putting the existing one on a pedestal, forgetting all about the display or notch or forefront that appeared like major deal-breakers a year earlier.
The Pixel 5 probably received more complaints than any of its predecessors, but here we are, many months later. Is it the extremely powerful flagship Google could’ve released in 2020? No. But has it been just about perfect for the year it landed in and the life we’ve been living? Damn yes.
The backslide from the Pixel 4’s face unlock to a rear fingerprint sensor proved to be well-adapted to a mask-wearing society. I used the Pixel 4 several months before the 5 came out and let me tell you, it was not fun to type the PIN code every time I wanted to unlock my phone while in a public space or inside my pharmacy. If you’re in line at a payment terminal, you don’t want to be the one fiddling with your phone trying to unlock it, nor do you want to lower your mask to scan your face. Contrast that with the ease of just putting your index on the sensor of the Pixel 5 and seeing the screen light up immediately, and it’s clear who the winner is.
The drop from the Snapdragon 800 series to the 700 series has also turned out to be not such a big deal. The 765G is no slouch and it’s not like we’re all using Maps while playing Stadia and streaming Spotify. For everyday use, it can handle whatever you throw at it, and let’s face it, most of us have been cooped up in our homes for months talking to friends and family, playing some games, or browsing the web. I’m not the pickiest of users and, honestly, I couldn’t tell you if there were a single performance difference between my Pixel 4 XL and Pixel 5. They both do what I ask them to do in a swift manner, and that’s all that matters. For more intensive tasks, many of us can just walk the two steps it takes to get to our computers and benefit from a larger display and more powerful processor.
On paper, the Pixel 5 made a few additional concessions compared to the Pixel 4 — a smaller size, a lower-resolution display, an ultra-wide lens with a reliance on software to achieve portrait photos — and you know what? Some of these ended up being advantages instead of letdowns. We got a phone that doesn’t badly injure you if it falls on your face, more battery life for lounging on the couch playing games or taking video calls for hours on end, and a camera that can take excellent wide-angle indoor shots without you having to walk back into every wall to fit everything in. And like previous Pixels, we were still able to take incredibly clear photos and videos of our new plants, our failed/victorious baking and cooking attempts, and our family’s or roommates weird new-found hobbies.
The real winning point of the Pixel 5, though, has been its value proposition. We got just enough features for a price that’s arguably just right — at least if, like me, you didn’t pay the US 5G tax. I even got a free Bose QC35 II pair with my order in France, so the value here was undeniable. The equation definitely changes for the US crowd, making the Pixel 4a 5G or Pixel 4a more appealing options, but I still think Google lucked out with this regressive approach. And I’m not being apologetic for the sake of it, it’s just that most of us really had no use for an over-powered flagship last year, period.
But we do need one this year. With many of us going back to a quasi-normal life in mid-2021, going out and leaving the luxuries of our homes, travelling, and enjoying the company and proximity of people, there’s room for a more powerful flagship in our Googley lives, for a device that can take a beating and come out swinging. The Pixel 6 leaks would have us believe that the higher-ups in Mountain View understand that too.
If the rumors turn out to be accurate, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro will have Google’s own home-made Whitechapel chip, a very capable GPU, ultra-wideband support for tracking nearby objects, a brand-new design, and a bunch of cameras and sensors on the back. That’s a winning list, if I’ve ever seen one. And for once, you, our readers and the biggest Pixel lovers and detractors on the planet, don’t seem to be complaining much about a new Pixel’s leaks. Whoa.
Personally, a few performance improvements don’t mean much to me, but I’m really looking forward to see what Google can achieve with more cameras. I love taking pics with my phone, so the versatility of (potentially) having a regular lens, a wide-angle, and a telephoto on top of the Pixels’ famous post-processing and image quality is very promising. I just have to make my peace with the fact that Google doesn’t seem to be doing a proper small flagship this year. I got so used to the Pixel 5’s tiny and female jeans pocket-friendly size, it’d be hard to part with it and go back to a ginormous phone.