After months of leaking, seeking, and geeking, Google’s latest and greatest Pixel phone is finally here.
The Pixel 5a, as we’ll refer to it henceforth, made its way into the world via a fittingly low-key announcement earlier this week. The phone will start shipping in the U.S. and Japan a week from today, on August 26th.
This isn’t the 2021 Pixel everyone’s really excited about. That’s the Pixel 6, which is the two-model beaut with a striking new design, a host of fresh camera capabilities, and a homemade Google processor that could introduce some incredibly interesting new elements into the equation. This Pixel, in comparison, is pretty ho-hum. It’s understated and unexciting. And strange as it may sound, that’s all very much part of what makes it appealing.
With its $449 price tag, the Pixel 5a is one hell of a value. I’ve been using a loaner review unit of the device for the past several days, and it really is as solid of an all-around Android experience as you could possibly ask for. It’s pretty much everything anyone has ever asked for in a phone of this price — impressive performance, an exceptional screen, better-than-ever battery life, and a best-in-class camera setup paired with pure Google software and an unmatched guarantee of timely and reliable operating system updates. Plus, it even has a premium-feeling body, with a sleek metal casing, and the rare gem of a headphone jack, to boot.
When you look at the Pixel 5a from a holistic all-around-experience and value perspective, it’s painfully clear that nothing else in this price range even comes close. And there’s not much negative to be said about the thing beyond the fact that it lacks some of the higher-priced niceties its flashier flagship-level cousins can offer.
As we ponder the latest dizzying shift in what the Pixel brand represents and where it fits into the greater Android ecosystem, these questions will get us mulling over some important points about what’s next and where things go from here.
Pixel question No. 1: What will next year’s Pixel ‘a’ model be like?
The flagship Pixels may be the most exciting devices to drool over and the subject of all of our Googly geek lust, but out in the real world, the Pixel “a” phones are the ones most phone-seeking mammals are actually buying. Year after year, signs consistently suggest that the more modest, lower-priced Pixel “a” options are moving at a pretty nice pace while the higher-priced Pixel flagships remain mostly niche products. Тhis year, the Pixel 5a follows an awkward season where we saw two Pixel “a” phones — seemingly the result of a last-minute pandemic-caused shuffle. And consequently, this year’s Pixel “a” phone looks and feels like a subtle hop forward from last year’s eerily similar Pixel 4a 5G.
The upcoming Pixel 6, meanwhile, has a whole new visual language and feels like a reinvention of what the Pixel brand represents. Perhaps most critically, it also has that homemade Google chip— which should go a long way in setting the phone apart in both its capability and its capacity for long-term support.
The Pixel “a” domain will definitely be a place worth watching as the current Pixel evolution continues. And that brings us to the second big Pixel question…
Pixel question No. 2: How long ’til we get the Pixel ‘b’ line?
Up until this year, the Pixel “a” phone had been on the upper-end of the budget level. The original Pixel “a” model, 2019’s Pixel 3a, sold for $399 at the time of its launch. Last year’s regular Pixel 4a follow-up brought that price down to $349.
Both of those phones were built to be affordable, with lower-end internals and a pleasant but noticeably plastic build in place of the glass or aluminum exteriors higher-end phones tend to have. The Pixel 5a, meanwhile, essentially takes the place of last year’s Pixel 4a 5G, with its higher-end internals, aluminum build, and more midrange-level price tag to match.
So if the Pixel 5a is more of a midranger — the 2021 equivalent of last year’s in-betweener 4a 5G offering — is Google gonna supplement that spot with a firmly budget-level alternative in 2022?
Google made no secret of the fact that it wants the Pixel to become a significant player in terms of its overall market share. And both Google’s own past stats and the general smartphone market trends make it undeniable that the low-priced level is where those gains are most easily made.
For now, Google has said it “hopes” to continue selling last year’s Pixel 4a for as long as it can secure all of the necessary parts. But that’s clearly not a long-term solution, and it comes with the caveat for potential purchasers that the phone’s already a full year into its life and thus down to less than two years of remaining support.
Things sure are getting interesting here in the land o’ Googly matters, and all signs suggest what we’re seeing right now is still only the start of the story.