Google made the jump to flagship pricing with the introduction of the Pixel line in 2016. The Pixel series has only gotten more expensive since then, with many clamoring for an affordable alternative. Google answered the call in 2019 with the Pixel “a” series that’s reminiscent of Google’s Nexus smartphones. The affordable series has gotten better with every iteration, with the latest one — the Pixel 5a — being an easy phone to recommend in 2021.
The Pixel 5a offers everything Google smartphones are known for. Solid performance, an excellent software experience, and some of the best smartphone cameras you can get. It also brings key improvements in build quality and battery life but is somehow cheaper than its predecessor.
If you have an older Pixel device, is it time for an upgrade? We look at how the Pixel 5a stacks up against all the other Google phones that came before it! Before we start, just a quick note to say that if you’re still using a Google Nexus phone, it’s well overdue time to upgrade! We know, they were great, but it’s time to move on.
Our verdict: Google Pixel 5a review
Google Pixel 5a vs Pixel 2 series and older
The Pixel 2 series continued the trend of premium pricing that started with the first Pixel smartphones. While the Pixel 2’s base price stayed the same as that of its predecessor at $649, the Pixel 2 XL was priced to take on Samsung and Apple flagships of its time. Unfortunately, it fell short in key areas. Apart from the display and battery issues that plagued the device, it didn’t come with expected flagship features like wireless charging or water resistance. Ultimately, it was only the price that matched the competition.
That’s not to say that these phones were bad by any stretch. Everything that the Pixel series would come to be known for started with the Pixel 2 devices. The 12.2MP rear camera would become a staple of every Pixel smartphone in the future. You also got flagship performance with these phones thanks to the Snapdragon 835 chipset, with the software experience making everything even better.
See also: Everything you need to know about Google hardware
That said, if you’re still rocking a Pixel 2 series or older smartphone, it might be time for an upgrade. Google’s excellent software support ensured that the Pixel 2 made it to Android 11, but that’s the end of the road as far as major software upgrades are concerned. Also, while the Pixel 5a might be a mid-ranger in 2021, it offers better performance than the 2017 flagship. You’ll also get more RAM, 5G support, improved camera performance, and far better battery life with the Pixel 5a. And it’s only $449.
Google Pixel 5a vs Pixel 3 series
Pricing controversies would continue to surround the Pixel line with Google’s next generation of smartphones. The Pixel 3 saw a massive $150 price hike, and the $50 increase for the 128GB storage version of the Pixel 3 XL would see it touch the $999 mark. Once again, this seemed to be done to price-match the competition, but the Pixel 3 XL introduced some useful additions.
Google took the complaints about the Pixel 2 XL’s display issues to heart, with both Pixel 3’s featuring excellent P-OLED screens. There’s also that unseemly notch, but it was at least a sign of getting with the times. The larger Pixel 3 XL also has a more premium build quality, an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance, wireless charging, and a dual-camera setup for your selfies. The Pixel 3 missed out most of these, though, apart from the dual front-facing cameras, making its $800 price at launch much harder to justify.
See more: How has Google’s Pixel pricing changed over the years
If you still have the Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL, you could potentially hold off on an upgrade for another year. The Snapdragon 845 processor is quite capable, and the camera can still take excellent shots. The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL will also get Android 12, but that’s the final major upgrade for these phones.
The Pixel 5a isn’t without its advantages, though. Once again, you’ll get better performance, more RAM, 5G support, and fantastic battery life. If you absolutely want to upgrade this year and are looking for a great deal, the Pixel 5a is the way to go. If you’re willing to splurge, you might want to wait and see what the Pixel 6 series will bring to the table.
Google Pixel 5a vs Pixel 3a series
The Pixel 3a series was the start of what would eventually lead to the excellent Pixel 5a. It was a welcome shift in Google’s smartphone strategy, and many appreciated the availability of an affordable entry point to the Android ecosystem. This wasn’t a return to the Nexus days, though, with the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL being mid-rangers through and through.
A plastic body, the Snapdragon 670 processor, and virtually no “extras” ensured a low starting price, but these were certainly not the premium devices the Pixel line was previously known for. That said, the trade-offs were more than acceptable because the Pixel 3a retained what Google’s smartphones were known for. The Pixel 3a and 3a XL featured the same camera setup and shooting capabilities as the flagship Pixel 3 series, and of course, you also got a fantastic software experience with both.
Related: The best budget camera phones you can buy
The Pixel 3a is a couple of years old at this point, and mid-rangers tend to show their age sooner than flagships. You’ll still have a solid camera experience, and the Pixel 3a series will be upgraded to Android 12. However, if you’ve decided to upgrade, the Pixel 5a is a better phone in every way.
You’ll get far better build quality, faster performance, improved cameras, and superior battery life. The Pixel 5a is also the first of the line to come with dust and water resistance. Because the Pixel 3a launched at $399 ($479 for the 3a XL), the $449 price tag of the Pixel 5a is even more impressive.
Google Pixel 5a vs Pixel 4 series
Google upped the ante once again with the Pixel 4 series and tried a few new things with its 2019 flagships. The lack of a notch was a welcome design change compared to the huge notch of the Pixel 3 XL, but it felt out of place against the competition. The “forehead” served a purpose, though, housing Google’s Motion Sense and Soli radar system. The Pixel 4 and 4 XL were also the first to come with dual-rear camera setups and displays with a 90Hz refresh rate.
Motion Sense and the Soli radar system were unique hardware additions, but the resulting reliance on Face Unlock and the removal of a fingerprint scanner took everyone by surprise. The new features also hurt battery life, which was, to begin with, average at best. There were plenty of issues with setting up and using the higher screen refresh rate and also had a huge impact on battery life. Google’s willingness to experiment is great, but that doesn’t always make for a good mainstream flagship competitor.
Also read: Everything you need to know about the Pixel 4 series
However, the point here isn’t whether the Pixel 4 and 4 XL were good phones. If you already have one of them, is it worth upgrading to the Pixel 5a? Probably not. 2019 flagships remain excellent performers in 2021, and the camera and software (which you will be able to upgrade to next year’s Android iteration) are its strongest features. You get the same camera setup with the Pixel 5a, but you miss out on a higher display refresh rate and wireless charging.
That said, if the Pixel 4 series’ battery life is giving you nightmares, the Pixel 5a falls at the opposite end of the spectrum. And for some, that might be reason enough to upgrade to the newest Pixel.
Google Pixel 5a vs Pixel 4a series
The Pixel 4a was an interesting addition to the Pixel a series. It introduced a new, more modern look with its punch hole display but held on to “classics” like a capacitive fingerprint scanner on the back and a headphone jack. Of course, its camera capabilities and software experience were also as good as ever. It missed out on 5G support, but the Pixel 4a was $50 cheaper than its predecessor.
However, there’s no denying that the Pixel 5a is the better phone. The former comes with a faster processor, more premium build quality, improved camera setup, better battery life, 5G, and dust and water resistance. The Pixel 4a’s smaller footprint might be attractive to some, and its $100 lower price tag is even more compelling, so it just depends on what you’re looking for. If you already have a Pixel 4a, though, it might be too soon for an upgrade.
See more: Is there any difference between the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5a?
If you have the Pixel 4a 5G, you definitely don’t need to upgrade to the 5a. The Pixel 5a comes with a few useful extras like water resistance, the battery life is longer, and it’s a better performer despite having the same processing package. But the two phones are otherwise the same. Camera performance is identical, you get the same software experience, and the handsets even look the same. So unless something like water resistance is an absolute must-have, the Pixel 4a 5G is definitely good enough.
Google Pixel 5a vs Pixel 5
Let’s just get this out of the way. The Pixel 5a isn’t an upgrade over the Pixel 5. But, there are a handful of surprising similarities that make the former a very compelling option.
To start with, there’s practically no difference in the design. The Pixel 5a is bigger and thicker, courtesy of its larger display and bigger battery. You also get the same processing package in the Snapdragon 765G, 5G support, and identical camera and software experiences. That’s quite impressive when you consider that the Pixel 5a is $250 cheaper than the Pixel 5 was at launch.
See more: Google Pixel 5 vs Pixel 5a — What’s the difference?
Google’s 2020 flagship has a few tricks up its sleeve, though. It comes with a higher display refresh rate (90Hz vs 60Hz), slightly better dust and water resistance rating (IP68 vs IP67), more RAM, and wireless charging. The Pixel 5a brings the fight with better battery life and a headphone jack. But that’s likely not enough to make a switch.
If you were deciding between the two, the Pixel 5a’s much lower price might give it the edge. The Pixel 5 is the better device overall. That’s a moot point, however, as Google discontinued the Pixel 5 following the launch of the 5a.
Should you upgrade to the Google Pixel 5a?
Looking at an overview of the Pixel lineup, you realize that not much has changed over the years. Yes, you get the expected upgrade in performance, and a handful of attempts at new features have come and gone. But what defines the series — camera and software — are somewhat similar even if you go back to the Pixel 2.
If you’re still rocking a Pixel 2, Pixel 3, or Pixel 3a, it’s time to consider an upgrade.
The 12.2MP primary shooter is present throughout, albeit joined by a secondary camera in recent years. And because of excellent software support, even the Pixel 2 is running Android 11. That said, the Pixel 5a is definitely better than the Pixel 2, Pixel 3, and Pixel 3a phones. So if you’re considering an upgrade, the Pixel 5a is the way to go.
Things are a little bit murkier when it comes to more recent releases. You can definitely still hold on to the Pixel 4, 4 XL, and especially the 4a. The Pixel 5a has its advantages over them, but it might be too soon for an upgrade. On the other hand, there’s little reason you’d make the switch from the Pixel 4a 5G, and absolutely no point in replacing your Pixel 5 with the 5a.
Water resistance comes to the Pixel A-series
- $449 at Google Store
Will you be upgrading from an older Google smartphone to the Pixel 5a? Let us know in the comments!