Reliable leaker Jon Prosser says that Google will launch the Pixel 5a this month and will charge just $450 for the mid-range handset. But with the device’s look, feel, and specifications closely matching those of 2021’s Pixel 4a 5G, and with Google having already (pre-) announced its flagship-class Pixel 6 family, some are rightfully wondering what’s the point.
I think I can finally answer that latter question. But let’s get to the leak first.
According to Prosser, Google will launch a Pixel 5a on Thursday, August 26, but it will do so only in the United States and Japan, in what I assume are Pixel’s best markets, and it will only be available for purchase online (or via Google’s one retail store), severely limiting its availability. The Pixel 5a will cost $450 and come in a single configuration with a Mostly Black exterior, a 6.4-inch display with 60 and 90 Hz modes, a Snapdragon 765G processor, 6 GB of RAM, and a 4650 mAh battery. It will not support wireless charging.
Looking at the leaked images of this handset, anyone familiar with the Pixel family of products will see something that looks identical to the Pixel 4a 5G, which has nearly identical specifications and was released late last year. And if you’ve visited the Google Store online recently, you may have noticed that the Pixel 4a 5G, not surprisingly, is no longer available for sale. Google is clearing the deck for the Pixel 5a.
But again. What’s the point?
I think the point is twofold. First, Google’s only real success in the smartphone market has come thanks to two low-end handsets, the Pixel 3a family from early 2019 and the Pixel 4a from August 2020. So the Pixel 5a is a way to continue to serve that part of the market while Google tries once again to woo away iPhone and Galaxy customers with its high-end Pixel 6 series this fall.
Second, the Pixel 4a 5G is so close to perfect for this market that aping its design again this year makes sense. And while many of the components in the Pixel 5a are identical to those in its predecessor, most likely as a cost-saving measure, some are not. For example, the Pixel 5a will reportedly have a 6.4-inch display, where the Pixel 4a 5G has a smaller 6.2-inch display that I observed was as close as we were going to get to a Pixel XL model last year. This year, the Pixel 5a is literally just an XL model. Also, the Pixel 5a’s display will support both 60 Hz and 90 Hz modes, a feature that was only available in the more expensive ($700) Pixel 5 last year. Making that technology available at $450 is an incredible value.
Indeed, the two display improvements—the larger display panel and the 90 Hz mode—totally justify replacing the Pixel 4a 5G with the Pixel 5a. And who can argue with that price? The Pixel 4a 5G cost $500, after all, and it’s not as capable.
With the Pixel 6a family on the way, I won’t be replacing my Pixel 4a 5G with a Pixel 5a. But anyone currently using a Pixel 4a, 3a, 3a XL, or older (and higher-end) Pixel handset should at least consider doing so. This is turning into a curiously good year for Pixel fans.