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Google Pixel 5a revisited: The good and the bad a year later

The Pixel 5a is about to be replaced by a successor, but how does the 5a hold up in 2022?
By
July 20, 2022

Historically, the Pixel and Pixel A series have had several key differences between one another in terms of processor power, IP ratings, camera additions, and more. The Google Pixel 5a broke many of these trends, bringing greater feature parity between Google’s flagship and budget entries. A year later, the Pixel 6 is now available, and the 6a is on its way this week. With the Pixel world quickly changing, let’s revisit the Google Pixel 5a and examine how the phone holds up nearly a year later.

Over the last six weeks, I’ve used the Google Pixel 5a as my daily driver, setting aside the Pixel 6. While the Pixel 5a might not be directly available much longer, is it worth keeping onto or getting at a discount in 2022? Let’s dig in and I’ll do my best to answer just that.

The good

We awarded the Google Pixel 5a 4.5/5 stars and it holds Recommended status in our official review. At the time, we noted that the phone was a great and unassuming phone that just worked without costing a fortune. On the flip side, we also felt its processor and cameras were starting to age even at release. A year later, most of these points remain unchanged.

Design and display

the google pixel 5a on a piece of cement showing its back in mostly black color
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

If you were to put the Pixel 5 and Pixel 5a side-by-side, probably the biggest difference you’d notice is the size. Thanks to its larger 6.34-inch display and beefy battery, the Pixel 5a is chunkier than the Pixel 5. It is also over an ounce heavier too.

Speaking of the display, the screen actually pretty solid for a mid-range device. It’s big and bright, and it’s especially easy to see what’s on the display when out in direct sunlight. I would have liked to see a 90Hz refresh rate here, but the 1080p panel still performs admirably for basics. It’s really only gaming where I noticed it wasn’t as impressive as other phones I’ve used over the last couple of years — most of which have 90 or even 120Hz refresh rates.

The Pixel 5a has a few other key differences and interesting design bits that help set it apart from the Pixel 5 and other Pixels.

The Pixel 5a is unassuming and basic, which is what I love about it.

While the Pixel 5a is the first A series phone with a metal back, it’s not exactly the same as the one on the Pixel 5. In contrast to the Pixel 5’s rougher surface, the Pixel 5a has a softer, almost plastic-like finish that feels great and is less prone to slipping than my Pixel 6. Sure the Pixel 5 might seem a bit more premium, but I prefer the Pixel 5’s design even if they are very similar.

The Pixel 5a has a headphone jack, something you won’t find on the Pixel 5 or even the upcoming Pixel 6a. I’ll be honest, this isn’t something I use often, but I have Bluetooth headphones with wireless pass-through, so it’s nice to have the option if my headphones die before I can get to a charger.

Google Pixel A phones tend to cut extras like water and dust resistance, or at least they did until the Pixel 5a. The 5a packs an IP67 rating. While this isn’t the same as the IP68 rating on the flagship Pixel series, it can still handle submersion in fresh water up to one meter for 30 minutes.

Some might say the Pixel 5a is a pretty plain or even boring-looking handset. Personally, I love the unassuming look and prefer the design over my Pixel 6. It isn’t flashy and so it’s perfect for the everyday user who isn’t looking to make a fashion statement with their phone. For those that like bigger phones, it’s also worth noting that the Pixel 6a slims down the display and so that alone might make you want to hold on to your 5a a bit longer.

Battery life

pixel5a vancouver 5

When we first reviewed the Pixel 5a we immediately fell in love with the massive battery. Our reviewer found he could easily get up to two days of use without needing to charge the phone up. A year later, my experiences are pretty similar.

What makes the Pixel 5a’s battery life so fantastic is twofold. First, the 4,680mAh battery is bigger than most reasonably-sized flagships out there, including the Pixel 6 with its 4,614mAh battery. The second reason is that the mid-tier processor and 1080p display aren’t exactly battery-guzzlers. The combination means you really have a phone that never runs out of juice unless you’re trying to.

If I really try to push the phone with more intensive apps like mobile games and streaming, sure, the battery might drop down faster. Even so, I found the days I pushed it to its max still saw nearly a day and a half’s use on just one charge. When I took it easier, pushing to two days (or even slightly over that) wasn’t too hard to reach either.

Most of the time I found myself not charging at night anymore at all, as the battery lifespan was so good it felt unnecessary. Instead, I’d just plug it in for an hour or so each day while working.

Prefer phones with big batteries? Check out our guide to the phones with the best battery life

Software and updates

the google pixel 5a display with app icons on the pixel launcher home screen

Pixel phones don’t usually push the boundaries on specs all that much because they have a secret weapon: software optimization and a (relatively) clean UI. If you like a more pure Android experience, the Pixel 5a definitely offers that. Sure it’s not technically stock Android, but it’s pretty close.

As someone who has regularly used a Pixel device, I found the whole UI to be easy to use, and really there wasn’t much of a difference from any other near-stock Android device. That’s what I like: consistency. For those who want something simple, minimalist, and clean — it’s a great UI. Even better, the software additions Google adds actually tend to be really useful too, like a screen calling feature that makes it easy to deal with telemarketers without having to answer directly.

Google's software might not be flashy, but the additions it does add are often truly useful.

The Pixel 5a promised at least three years of OS and security updates, though it’s now a third of the way through that guarantee. It’s not as good as the three-year OS and five-year security pledge you’d find with the Pixel 6, though. The big question is how well has Google kept its promise? Pretty well actually. It’s constantly attempted to squash bugs over the last year. Early on, many users reported issues like overheating and app crashing, and mostly, that doesn’t seem to be an issue for me at all here in 2022.

The OS side of things has also been handled well. The Pixel 5a shipped with Android 11, but mine is fully updated to Android 12. Android 13 beta is also fully supported by the Pixel 5a, which should mean the latest version of Android will hit the handset relatively shortly after its official release.

There’s little to complain about when it comes to the Pixel 5a’s software or its update schedule, though it’s important to note that Samsung actually beats Google here. Earlier this year Samsung started offering up to four years of OS updates and five years of security patches for select phones, including several devices that compete with the Pixel 5a on price. If long-term support matters to you, Google is still pretty solid but Samsung has really upped the competition.

Camera

pixel5a vancouver 8

Okay, the Pixel 5a camera is using a pretty old sensor. Aside from some minor tweaks, the camera used here is the same one as the Pixel 3 series. I can also honestly say pictures from the Pixel 6 series’ upgraded camera suite look better to my eyes, but we have to remember something here: this is a budget phone. It’s hard to find a much better camera at this price.

If you’re a true photography nut, you’ll find that the camera isn’t as good as you’ll find with a flagship. But let’s be honest, most of us just want quick snaps of our food, kids, family, and friends so we can share them on social media. The Pixel 5a excels at those basics, with accurate colors and above-average exposure levels. It also has a fairly wide dynamic range.

The Pixel 5a has a 16MP ultrawide lens with a 107-degree field of view. Pixel 5a photos will come out great almost every time in the daylight, but even night shots manage to hold up pretty well thanks to Google’s Night Sight mode. Really, the only situation where the Pixel 5a’s camera doesn’t perform like a more modern flagship is when zooming in. The 12MP sensor and lack of a telephoto are recipes for disaster at anything beyond 2x, and even then the images just come out kind of blurry. Google’s Super Res Zoom technology is good but it can’t work miracles.

Check out: The best camera phones

For those that love taking selfies, you’ll find the 8MP front-facing sensor does the job just fine. I didn’t really have much to report, though our original reviewer noted that Google’s software can struggle with blurring out hair or the edges of glasses, but that’s usually the case for portrait shots. I didn’t notice it, but to be honest I also didn’t take tons of selfies during my time with the phone.

Yes, the Pixel 6a has a better camera on paper due to it borrowing the Pixel 6’s ultrawide shooter (we’ve yet to fully test it), but the main camera is unchanged as far as hardware goes. It’s no surprise then that the 5a still holds up just fine in 2022 and is still one of the best in the mid-range market. It’s also one of the more stable and consistent camera experiences. Its camera app opens much faster than most other budget phones and 90% of the time, the photos you take are going to look great, even if the lighting isn’t perfect. That’s certainly more than many other budget devices can say.

The not so good

The Google Pixel 5a is intended as a phone for basic users and so obviously not everything about it is going to be perfect. Compared to other mid-rangers, it’s a bit expensive for starters. Aside from price, there are a few other downsides worthy of discussion.

Aging processor and minor performance hiccups

the google pixel 5a on a bench with water splashed droplets
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

The Google Pixel 5a uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G, a chipset that first hit phones in early 2020. For a mid-range phone, this is still a pretty capable processor, though there are newer options. In actual performance, the Pixel 5a performs similarly to other mid-range phones such as the Samsung A53 5G. That means for most basic functions it performs amazingly.

The Pixel 5a actually performs about the same as your typical flagship when it comes to the basics like browsing, checking social media, and doing other simple tasks. Playing more intensive games like Real Racing 3 or Fortnite showed noticeable hiccups, however. They were still playable, but you could feel things slowing down a bit. The lack of a higher refresh rate on the display is also noticeable if you’re coming from a high-end phone. If you stick to the basics, you won’t notice this is a mid-range experience, but just be aware that more advanced apps and games will really push the hardware to its limits.

If you stick to the basics you won't have any performance issues, but advanced apps and games push the hardware to its limits.

I also had some overheating experiences, mostly when outdoors — but at least once it happened to me indoors as well. Whether playing a game or using the camera, I noticed “your phone is overheating messages” were very common occurrences in the middle of our current summer heatwave in the midwest USA. While this isn’t too surprising, I will say I’ve not really had this same issue with other phones.

Still, most of the time, the performance is actually very good. Just be aware of what you’re getting into. If you’re upgrading from an older flagship like the Pixel 3 XL, you’ll feel like the Pixel 5a is as just as fast or slightly more. Those wanting more might want to pony up a little more cash and go for a newer Pixel with Google’s custom Tensor processor.

Its fast charging isn’t particularly fast

The Google Pixel 5a case in Maybe Moon in hand showing the usb-c charging port and speakers.
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

Earlier, we applauded the Pixel 5a for excellent battery life, but big batteries come at a cost. The 4,680mAh battery takes over two hours to charge from zero to 100% with the supplied 18W charger. This is much slower than not only today’s flagships, but several budget options like the Galaxy A53 5G edge it out at least a little too.

Should you care about this at all? In my experience, no, as the excellent battery life makes it less of a concern. But it’s important to remember that if you use this phone all the way to near depletion, charging it won’t be a fast affair. Then again, if you plug in every night, you’ll never even notice this as a major issue.

Price/Value

When the Pixel 5a launched last year, I’d say it was a pretty excellent value since it was priced about $150 less than the Pixel 5. But then the Pixel 6 came out and you could easily buy the Pixel 5 second-hand for much less than the 5a. We also saw more mid-range competitors offering aggressive price tags over the last year.

Currently in mid-2022, the Pixel 5a’s most obvious competitor is actually the Pixel 6a ($449). The newly upgraded phone is priced the exact same but has quite a few improvements. Then we have the Galaxy A53 5G ($449) which is priced the same and in some ways is actually a better phone than the 5a. The A53 5G has a 120Hz display, a longer software support guarantee, and a slightly larger battery (though actual performance is about the same). You also get 25W charging over 18W. If you care about these things, the A53 5G is really tempting. If cameras matter more to you, the Pixel 5a is still the better option.

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We also can’t leave out the iPhone SE (2022) ($429). The design might be pretty old school and the cramped display is even more outdated, but underneath is a very powerful phone with a reliable camera and a reputation for great update support on its software.

If you move beyond the States, you’ll find a few other phones that offer faster processors and more cutting-edge features at a budget, like the Poco F4 and Nothing Phone. Short of importing, there’s no easy way to get ahold of these models in the US though.

Ultimately, the Pixel 5a is a good phone, but it’s not the best value in 2022.

Google Pixel 5a review revisited: The verdict

pixel5a vancouver 2

When I first started using the Pixel 5a I could really tell the difference from my more expensive Pixel 6, but then I started to slowly forget I was even using a different phone. In most situations, the speeds were similar for day-to-day use, and the size and weight aren’t too different either. That’s a pretty big compliment for a phone that costs $150 less new and can be found even cheaper online at places like eBay and Swappa.

Google set out to make a basic-looking phone that could handle everyday users without breaking the bank. It succeeded.

One thing you might have noticed is that nearly all my “not-so-good” points weren’t all that bad. That’s on purpose, as really there wasn’t too much to complain about without some nitpicking. The Pixel 5a is a great phone, and if you currently own it, I’d hold on to it for another year at least. For those upgrading from an older phone, you are probably wise to wait just a few more days until the Pixel 6a hits stores or just consider the Pixel 6 for an extra $150. But if you want to pick it up second-hand for cheap after the Pixel 6a launch, we are certain it should be more than capable as your daily driver for at least a few years.

Google set out to make a basic-looking phone that could handle everyday users without breaking the bank, and even in 2022, that holds true. It’s not the sexiest phone, and it doesn’t have a lot of flashy extras. And that’s exactly the point.

Next: Google Pixel 5a problems and how to fix them

Google Pixel 5a
Killer battery life • Versatile, easy-to-use cameras • Three years of updates • Solid performance
Just don't think of it as a successor to the Pixel 4a.
The Pixel 5a may not look all that new, but it's an easy-to-recommend smartphone. It takes the winning formula of the Pixel 4a 5G, adds a metal build and water resistance, and drops the price by $50.