There’s been no official announcement that Google has a Pixel 5a in the works, but it’s a safe bet that the company has another budget phone on the way. Google’s last effort — the Pixel 4a — impressed with its top-performing camera and sub-$400 price. In fact, it’s been at the top of our best cheap phone list.
As successful as the low-cost Pixels have been, Google faces some serious competition from other phone makers who’ve found value in producing value-priced models of their own. Just last year, Apple revived the iPhone SE, while OnePlus now offers a new Nord product lineup that packs in some high-end features into low-cost phones. Motorola has already launched three Moto G series phones this year, all of which cost less than $300.
That’s a lot of different phones trying to make hay in a category where past Pixel phones have shined. So how will the Pixel 5a stand out from the crowd? A handful of details about the Pixel 5a have startled trickling out, including potential specs. Here’s what we know so far.
Pixel 5a release date
Google has a little bit of a track record for when it releases its budget Pixel models, though the onset of the coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench into the phone maker’s usual schedule. In 2019, the Pixel 3a debuted at Google’s developer conference, traditionally held each May. The Pixel 4a was expected to appear at the 2020 conference, but that event was cancelled in the wake of COVID-19 concerns about large public gatherings.
Instead, the Pixel 4a arrived in August. It’s unclear if that lengthy delay was due to production issues or just Google trying to time the release of the phone for when more people were ready to shop.
That leaves us with some uncertainty as to when the Pixel 5a might show up. It’s largely assumed the phone would once again debut during Google’s spring developer conference — but it’s not exactly clear if Google is going to host such an event this year. Just put down “spring 2021” as the tentative release date for the Pixel 5a until we hear otherwise.
Pixel 5a price
The Pixel 5a’s potential price is another area where the rumor mill has been mum so far. But price figures to be a major focus for this phone, not only because of the stepped-up competition but because the Pixel 4a’s low cost was one of that handset’s biggest selling points.
The Pixel 4a debuted with a $349 price. That was $50 cheaper than the iPhone SE as well as a $50 drop from the Pixel 3a’s original price. Since then, competitors have undercut the Pixel 4a on price — the OnePlus Nord N10 5G is available for $299, for example.
You would think that Google will want to keep the Pixel 5a under the $400 threshold, or even at its predecessor’s $349 price. That could be complicated by the fact that Google may want to add 5G connectivity to this year’s model, and that can drive up a phone’s cost. The Pixel 4a doesn’t have 5G, for example, while the Pixel 4a 5G does, and that latter phone costs $150 more.
Pixel 5a design
Here’s where we’ve seen some hints as to what Google might have planned for the Pixel 5a, thanks to renders posted by noted leaker Steve “OnLeaks” Hemmerstoffer. The bottom line: if you’re familiar with the Pixel 4a, you already have a good idea of what the Pixel 5a looks like.
Hemmerstoffer followed up that initial post with a second look at the Pixel 5a — this one a 360-degree view that lets you see Google’s upcoming phone from all angles.
Hemmerstoffer’s posted renders look a lot like last year’s budget phone from Google, from the punch-hole camera cutout in the upper left corner of the display to the square camera array on the phone’s back. Presumably, the Pixel 5a will be made out of plastic like its predecessors — one of the ways Google has been able to keep costs down on this part of its phone lineup.
Based on leaked Pixel 5a specs accompanying Hemmerstoffer’s render, it sounds like the new phone will have a lot more in common with the Pixel 4a 5G than the Pixel 4a. The Pixel 5a is expected to feature a 6.2-inch OLED display with full HD resolution. That’s the same size as the screen on the Pixel 4a 5G. At an expected 6.1 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches, the Pixel 5a would be the same size as the Pixel 4a 5G as well.
While some may be disappointed that Google is making few changes from last year’s phones, it’s not surprising that the Pixel 5a would share so much in common with its immediate predecessor. The point of this particular phone is to give consumers a lower-cost option; Google probably figures to reserve more substantial changes for its pricier flagship Pixels, like the Pixel 6 expected later this year.
Pixel 5a cameras
For the Pixel 3a and Pixel 4a, Google’s philosophy has been that one camera lens is good enough, especially when the company’s photo processing software is on hand to do all the heavy lifting. But the Pixel 5a may take a page out of the Pixel 4a 5G’s book and add a second lens — an ultrawide angle shooter joining the main camera, according to leaked specs from Hemmerstoffer. There will reportedly be a phase detection auto focus module as well.
In essence, that means the Pixel 5a will be adopting the Pixel 5’s rear camera module, which features a 12.2MP main sensor and a 16MP ultrawide angle lens. Past budget Pixel phones have similarly adopted the optics introduced in the flagship Pixel six months earlier, so such a move would be in line with what Google’s done in the past. As with previous Pixels, the true standout camera feature will be Google’s flair for computational photography, with capabilities like Night Sight and Super Res Zoom stealing the show.
An early leak claimed that the Pixel 5a would adopt a feature yet to appear on any of Google’s phones — an under-display front camera. That leak first appeared on SlashLeaks, but it’s been widely dismissed — and for good reason. Very few phones offer that feature at this point, and it’s unlikely to appear on one of Google’s budget handsets before it shows up on a flagship.
Pixel 5a performance, 5G and battery
Other Pixel 5a specs remain unclear at this point, though we can do a little guesswork to guide some expectations for the upcoming phone. The Pixel 4a used a Snapdragon 730G mobile processing platform. Qualcomm has since introduced the Snapdragon 732 as the follow-up to that chipset, and it promises a CPU with a faster clock speed as well as a GPU with a 15% boost in graphics rendering over the 730G.
What the Snapdragon 732 doesn’t have is a 5G modem, though. (To offer 5G compatibility, the Pixel 4a 5G opted for the more expensive Snapdragon 765G system-on-chip.) If Google plans to bring 5G support to the Pixel 5a, it’s going to have to look to a different chipset.
Fortunately, Qualcomm has since started rolling out less expensive 5G-ready chipsets, including last year’s Snapdragon 690. (That’s the mobile processor OnePlus uses in the Nord N10.) That’s allowed 5G support to find its way into mid-range phones, and it could give Google the ability to include 5G support with the Pixel 5a without boosting the cost of the phone.
The size of the Pixel 5a’s battery will likely depend on whether Google includes 5G support with the phone. The Pixel 4a featured a 3,140 mAh battery while the Pixel 4a 5G and its power-hungry modem and larger screen turned to a 3,885 mAh power pack. Since neither 4a model set the world on fire with battery life — both ran out of juice in less than 9 hours on our battery test — we’re hoping Google turns to a bigger battery for the Pixel 5a.
Pixel 5a: What we want
We’re assuming that delivering the best camera phone features at an affordable price will remain the Pixel 5a’s raison d’etre as it’s been for similar Google handsets. But we hope that’s not the only thing Google’s working on for this iteration of its budget phone. Here’s what we’re hoping to see when the Pixel 5a debuts.
A low price (with 5G): Just as important as the camera features on this particular phone is how much it costs. Google found the sweet spot with the Pixel 4a’s $349 price, and we hope the phone maker is able to keep its new model in that ballpark, even as it adds features like 5G support. We can live with an ordinary design or more modest processor, but a Pixel 5a with a ballooning price tag would be a step back for Google.
Faster refresh rate: This could be a long shot, especially if Google’s already having a hard time keeping the price of this phone below the $400 mark. But the Pixel 5 features a screen with a 90Hz refresh rate, and it would be nice to see that feature make its way down to the company’s budget phones. Google could argue that faster refreshing screens is one of the ways it sets its flagship phone apart, but OnePlus has had no problem with adding a 90Hz refresh rate to its dirt cheap Nord N10 5G phone.
Better battery life: The subpar battery life on both the Pixel 4a and Pixel 4a 5G was the standout flaw on either of last year’s models. And there’s really no reason for it. Low-cost phones make up many of the entries on our best phone battery life list, so the pressure’s on Google to figure out a way to eke out more battery life on its handsets, whether that requires a bigger battery, more efficient processor or software tweaks.