The Pixel 5a could be looking at even more of an uphill battle than its predecessors this year as while "riding the coattails" of a Pixel device has never been a huge boost, the Pixel 3a and Pixel 4a at least benefited from strong reviews of the higher-end device they got their name from.
Not so this time around. The Pixel 5 wasn't panned, but due to Google's deliberate shift downmarket with that device, it wasn't in the discussion with the best flagships. It was further buried by the emerging $699 price bracket including the likes of the Galaxy S20 FE and iPhone 12 mini. With all of that said, if the Pixel 5a comes close to the Pixel 5 while hanging on to its $349 price point, it could still grab attention among the best budget phones.
Here's a look at all of the latest rumors and our own research on the Pixel 5a including the expected release date, pricing, design, specs and more.
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Pixel 5a release date
Rumors that the Pixel 5a was cancelled ultimately led Google to confirm the existence of the phone in a statement to Engadget that also indicated the phone would arrive around the same time as "last year's a-series phone." The Pixel 4a was released on August 20, 2020, so we can expect the Pixel 5a sometime in August. FCC certification for the device was spotted on July 8 by @Cstark_27 lending further credence to an August release.
The other crucial detail here was that the Pixel 5a will not be shipping globally, according to Google it will only be available in the U.S. and Japan.
Pixel 5a price
There have been no leaks regarding the price of the Pixel 5a just yet. But it’s hard to imagine the phone moving from the $349 price point of its predecessors given the level of success it has enjoyed.
With that said, it is difficult to project exactly what Google will do with Pixel pricing this year. It’s shaping up to be a transitional year for Google’s smartphone lineup with the Pixel 6 returning to a true flagship-class phone and rumors of a Pixel foldable still circulating.
The FCC certification confirmed that the phone will use the same Snapdragon 765 processor as the Pixel 4a 5G, so perhaps with 5G support, Google will justify moving up to $399.
Pixel 5a design
We’ve had one real leak regarding the design of the Pixel 5a, but it’s a good one. Steve Hemmerstoffer (a.k.a. OnLeaks) released a series of renders based on alleged spec leaks that he received. While he doesn’t have a perfect track record, he’s been quite reliable over the years.
If you loved the design of the Pixel 4a and Pixel 4a 5G, then you are in luck because the Pixel 5a looks nearly identical based on these renders. The hole-punch camera is in its same familiar position in the upper-left corner with fairly minimal bezels surrounding the screen.
Hemmerstoffer of course, had full dimensions to use for these renders. At 6.1 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches, it is just slightly smaller than the Pixel 4a 5G (6.3 x 2.9 x 0.33 inches). Considering the screen is supposed to be the same 6.2-inch FHD (2340 x 1080-pixel) OLED as the 4a 5G, this would suggest the top and bottom bezels will be trimmed down.
Considering its place in the lineup, it isn’t surprising that Google wouldn’t make significant design moves with the Pixel 5a. We hope to see some real change come with the Pixel 6 this year and for those to trickle down to a Pixel 6a in 2022.
Pixel 5a cameras
Google’s stagnancy with camera hardware in the Pixel lineup has become the stuff of legend, so there’s good and bad news for the Pixel 5a.
The bad news is that Google isn’t introducing any completely new camera hardware with the Pixel 5a. But the good news is that it appears to be bringing the Pixel 5 cameras to the cheaper model with a 16MP ultra-wide lens and that tried-and-true 12.2MP main sensor. Google inadvertently confirmed the ultra-wide lens in a research blog post on HDR+ by leaving the EXIF data for the sample photo below intact, 9to5Google noticed this and was able to identify it as taken with the Pixel 5a.
While details regarding the sensor for the front-facing camera haven't surfaced yet, the physical size of the hole punch selfie camera on the Pixel 5a could be noticeably smaller than previous models as 9to5Google found references in the Google Camera code to a 55-pixel radius for this camera, down from 65 on the Pixel 4a 5G.
As always, the real magic of the Pixel camera is in computational photography. While it has arguably been overtaken on the high-end, no one is challenging in the sub-$400 price range, and this hardware update will make that true again in 2021.
Pixel 5a performance
According to the FCC certification and code in the Android 12 Developer Preview uncovered by 9to5Google, the Pixel 5a will use the exact same Snapdragon 765G chipset as the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G. While it isn't a powerhouse flagship processor, this is fantastic news for a phone in this price range.
It's also worth noting that while the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G weren't stunners when it came to performance, we were overall satisfied with them for real-world usage. It was primarily from a value standpoint that we didn't like the Snapdragon 765G in the Pixel 5. The phones also saw a significant 50% GPU performance boost following an update in April and presumably, the Pixel 5a will benefit from that same unlocked performance.
Pixel 5a outlook
There’s no question that all of the attention is on the Pixel 6 this year with Google trying to right its flagship, but the Pixel 5a shouldn’t be ignored. Despite all the of the positive signs, Google has yet to prove it can deliver a truly high-end phone to compete with the best from Samsung and Apple. However, it has definitively proven that it can produce some of the best budget phones on the market.
If the Pixel 5a can deliver 90% of the Pixel 4a 5G/Pixel 5 experience at $349 or $399, that would be enough to make it easily one of the top recommendations for anyone looking to spend less than $500 on a new phone in 2021.