Friday, 11 December 2020

Pixel 5 - More Features Dropping

I've been using the Pixel 5 as my main phone with my primary SIM Card in it now for the last couple of months so thought it might be time to reassess where I'm at with it, pros and cons and thoughts of it as a long-term investment for someone on a contract. Is there enough here to keep the user happy for two years or more, I wondered. The short answer is a positive one!

People like us who switch between phones to review them regularly are often accused of not paying attention to one for long enough to assess it properly. There may be some truth in that and we often turn to our online community members to feed back as they find aspects to report on with their loved devices as time goes on - and we're onto the next thing. I hope to be able to hang onto this one so that I can report back much more as we move forward with Google.

You know what you're getting with a Pixel to some degree. Firstly, and possibly most importantly, very prompt updates of the Android OS and Security Patches and a pure Vanilla Android experience (at least as Google intended it to be for Pixel users with their own additions). The same purity that iPhone users expect from Apple, knowing where you are, what works and (laying aside blips and experiments) as it should work. Users are also in at the nub-end with Google as they roll out new features and apps, giving the Pixel user a feeling of being a part of some sort of permanent Beta.

It is precisely because of the above that others can be unhappy. Many want the flavours of Android that their favourite manufacturer has applied over the base-line. Many, and with fair points, are able to enjoy different and in some cases, better hardware attributes such as Samsung with DeX and HDMI-Out, fancy Always on Display options, better speakers, different camera options and so forth. As always, users have a choice - which was always going to be as a direct result of Google enabling anyone who fancies it running with Android and doing what they like with it. In recent times, some of that has been locked down more (usually in the name of security) but certainly there is still huge scope for manufacturers to do their own thing.

Google made some different decisions in 2020 in terms of the direction of their hardware rollout, focusing on (in some respects) mid-range specs, pricing options and hardware elements. The boundary-pushing of the 2019 Pixel 4 range with Soli Radar and FaceID were shelved for now (maybe to make a reappearance sometime) and instead, a more pragmatic approach to three models. I have reviewed the £349 Pixel 4a and £499 Pixel 4a 5G and compared the £599 Pixel 5 with my Pixel 3 as well, the latter being my daily phone up until a couple of months ago.

I think that this has been a hit, providing something-for-many across three price-tiers and giving people a less expensive way into the Pixel line of phones. More people who can enjoy all the above, as well as Google's Feature-Drop every quarter giving them a look at what the latest features are and what's being worked on. As I said above, sometimes that may feel like a test-bed, but many of us enjoy that. The December 2020 Security Update came along with an interesting Feature Drop which included 
Adaptive Sound using the phone's microphones to assess the acoustics nearby and adjusting the output to make the most of the speakers, Adaptive Connectivity to save battery by automatically switching between 4G & 5G auto-decided on what you're needing at the time, Adaptive Charging which protects the health of the battery by deciding how much to charge, at what rate and when based on learned usage patterns, Hold for Me call-waiting (USA Only for now) which manages your place in a queue for you and lets you know when you're at the front and Extreme Battery Saver shutting stuff down to keep the phone alive as long as possible when battery is very low.

There's some 3D mapping stuff which improves GPS in certain cities (again USA only for now), the fabulous Now Playing can now export songs from the list to a YouTube Music playlist, Google Duo screen sharing is supposed to work but it may also be USA Only for now as we can't seem to get it to work in the UK - and a load of other stuff less visibly significant. Some of these features were already on the 5, 4a 5G and 4a, some are new to the Pixel 3 and 4 range as they filter down. It's all great fun to play with new toys and admirable that Google are enabling new features as far back down the line as they can, taking into account hardware limitations.

I continue to be very impressed with the battery life of the Pixel 5. It's the best performing battery on any Pixel yet - and not far off being the best performing battery of any phone yet! I've tested many, many phones over the years and laying aside specialist units (mainly from the far-east) and Moto Mods, it really is a leader. I continue to be very impressed with the speakers output, regardless of the under-glass unit making up the 'left' stereo channel. Held away from the head, yes alright, the stereo effect is minimal, but the overall sound output is more than good enough and not that far behind the more traditional speakers setup of the Pixel 3/4.

The capacitive rear-mounted fingerprint scanner continues to impress me and I will happily trade in the loss of access on desktop for the quick, easy and reliable 'old fashioned' method. Until under-glass scanners are significantly better than they are now, this remains a winner. Under the bonnet, the chipset may not be flagship level, but it seems fast enough to me in ongoing use. I never experience any slowdown over the time I have been using this phone and task switching feels delightful, supported by the 8GB RAM. The screen is bright and colourful, always-on-display great and for those who can see it, that 90Hz refresh rate. All come together to make this a great little phone. One could argue a phone-sized-phone kicking against the pricks of the giant phones trend which seems to be littering the phone world just now. It's beautifully made with that aluminium back and pebble-like curves but unlike many, retaining a flat screen. It has my vote!

I would still like a microSD Card slot personally, but I know that Google are trying to get us all to live online and in the cloud. I get that, but I'd still like it! Second best is the increase of the baseline models from 64GB storage to 128, so I guess that's something. The camera remains class leading (pretty much) because of the partnership in photography with smart software and results defy the specs of the hardware. Nobody can complain really except those who would rather have a telephoto than wide-angle. On the other hand, cropping in on images to attain closer views is handled so well in software that again, it's hard to complain.

It's an excellent phone and will continue to hold my SIM Card as long as I have it. It's not quite the perfect phone, but I doubt that we'll ever see that! It comes a very close second for me, topped off with Qi Charging with Reverse too and that excellent 2/3 day battery. I hope to be able to continue to report back on the evolution of the Pixel line as monthly updates and quarterly feature-drops roll out. I'll do that for as long as I am able and report back my findings at each stage along the way with Steve Litchfield in The Phones Show and our Phones Show Chat podcast.

For now, I'm probably recommending this phone as my absolute No.1 device certainly for 2020 and possibly, for me at least, of all time! With all that richness of updates from Google, three years of support, going back to my original question, there's no phone that I would rather recommend to anyone entering even a long phone contract.

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