Here’s why the Pixel 5a makes sense
The Google Pixel 5a just launched this week. For many, shiny new hardware is always the star of the show, but this time is definitely different. The Pixel 5a has a lot of the same features as the Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5, right down to the camera, chipset, software, and more….so what’s the point? That’s a question we’ve been pondering ever since we heard rumors of the device, but the picture has started to become a lot clearer now that the phone is out.
Generally speaking, the Pixel “a” series is comprised of mid-tier Pixel phones that gets released in the middle of the year with the same camera as the flagship model. A mid-range smartphone with a Pixel camera is a unique selling point in and of itself, and it has given Google modest success when it comes to the mid-range smartphone segment. The trade-off is usually in performance, as both the Pixel 3a and the Pixel 4a had lower-tier chipsets compared to their flagship relatives. In contrast, the new Pixel 5a packs the same chipset as not only the Pixel 4a 5G but the Pixel 5 as well. The Pixel 5 has been discontinued, which may give us our first clue as to what exactly Google is planning here.
Did Google improve the cameras? From a cursory glance, it seems the Pixel 5a even packs similar cameras to the 4a 5G and 5, though it’s worth pointing out that the 5a actually drops the laser auto-focus module on the back. It’s hard to envision what exactly Google was going for with its release. In fact, I think an argument can be made that Google knows the Pixel 5a is in a weird spot. Months ahead of its launch, Google announced that the Pixel 5a will only launch in the U.S. and Japan, with no other countries slated for release. This was said in response to rumors that the 5a was canceled, which makes me wonder if those rumors stemmed from a genuine discussion of potentially canceling it.
To sum it up: This is not a phone Google will mass-produce on the same level as previous Pixel “a” series devices, and that’s because it’s limited to only two regions.
But maybe there is a point?
There’s another side of the coin though. As the COVID-19 pandemic still rages across much of the globe, many are financially struggling, and a cheaper mid-range smartphone might be more enticing as a result. With the Pixel 6 series in the pipeline, we expect that both of these devices will not be cheap. A lot can be said for the potential reduction in the cost of a smartphone that re-uses much of the same design and specifications as a predecessor. Even so, the Pixel 5a still has some notable improvements over the Pixel 4a 5G, at least.
For starters, the Pixel 5a has an IP67 rating for water and dust resistance. It has a metal unibody body build instead of a plastic polycarbonate build, a much bigger battery at 4680 mAh, and actually starts at a lower price than the Pixel 4a 5G did. The Pixel 6 series is almost certainly going to encroach into the premium flagship territory in terms of pricing, and we’re expecting it to launch sometime in mid-October. When the Pixel 6 comes around, the Pixel 4a 5G would be perceived by average users to be two generations behind if it was still around, which would be a major issue for Google. And with the Pixel 5 having an already-inflated price of $699 in the U.S. thanks to the inclusion of mmWave 5G, it means that the Pixel 5 is priced too high for people looking for a sub-$500 device. While it can be argued that the Pixel 5 is a flagship smartphone, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G is not a flagship chipset, and $699 is a tough sell for the specifications.
In addition, it’s worth noting that the Pixel line of smartphones has historically done its best in the U.S., in no small part due to the heavier marketing and better availability of features. Releasing only one flagship a year won’t keep Google Pixel in the news, but teasing its upcoming flagship and dropping a mid-range smartphone mid-year certainly will. Given the global chip shortage as well, it’s likely that recycling a lot of older parts from previous smartphones can help drive down costs and make it much easier to actually release something to keep the Pixel line from stagnating.
If we see a base price of even $799 for the Pixel 6, that doesn’t make it much more expensive than the Pixel 5. The Pixel series needs a smartphone much cheaper than $699 in order to tide people over, and the $449 Pixel 5a might just be what does it. This would make mean that Google is bringing a trio of devices through the course of the year to cover three major price points. The “a” series has generally been a big success for Google in the U.S. thanks to its competitive pricing and useful features when compared to the rest of the market, as you get all of the Google Pixel-exclusive features like Hold For Me and (a personal favorite) Now Playing, too. While it’s easy to balk at what practically amounts to a device refresh for Google, it’s possible that the company has a plan and consumers may only stand to benefit as a result.