Google’s Pixel 5a is set to succeed the Pixel 4a this year. While the launch is slated for later this year, it’s worth setting our expectations now that we’ve had a taste of what to expect from this year’s affordable Google Pixel smartphone.
Google first launched the Pixel series almost five years ago. Much distant from the erstwhile Nexus series, the first-gen Pixel and Pixel XL were presented as premium products to compete against the iPhone and Samsung’s flagship series. The Pixel series — as the name suggests — is meant to deliver high-quality smartphone photography, which is primarily achieved using machine learning algorithms to enrich images. But without any distinctive feature to offer or a reliable track record of making trendy smartphones, Google has struggled to ensure profitability in the smartphone business.
After the underwhelming response to the Pixel 3 series, Google decided to launch an affordable Pixel that offered the same camera prowess but without many other premium features like an IP rating, wireless charging, glass design, etc. This decision increased Google’s smartphone sales two-fold and affirmed a spot for the A series in Google’s hardware portfolio.
The Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3a XL were succeeded by the Pixel 4a and the Pixel 4a 5G in the following year. In 2021, Google will launch the Pixel 5a 5G (believed to be codenamed Barbet), and here’s everything we know about and expect from the smartphone.
Google Pixel 5a 5G: Expected Release Date
The Google Pixel 3a was unveiled at the Google I/O 2019 developers conference, held in May of that year, and the Pixel 4a was expected to be released around the same time in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, threw a wrench in these plans and led to the cancellation of a physical Google I/O event. The pandemic also delayed the usual launch timeline for the products, and the Pixel 4a was launched in August 2020 instead of May. Later on in October, at an online event, Google also announced the Pixel 4a 5G alongside the more premium Google Pixel 5.
Google Pixel 5a leaked renders, Source: @OnLeaks
Although rumors about Google canceling the Pixel 5a due to global chip shortage circulated on the internet briefly, Google overruled them and confirmed that the Pixel 5a 5G is indeed coming later this year. The company also confirmed the schedule of this launch would be “in line with when last year’s a-series phone was introduced.” Whether that means Google will launch it in August i.e. a year after the Pixel 4a’s launch or in October 2021, which marks the anniversary of the Pixel 4a 5G’s launch.
Google also specified that the phone would only launch in the U.S. and in Japan.
While some last-minute speculations suggested Google could launch the Pixel 5a at Google I/O 2021, that did not happen. Other rumors (via Notebookcheck) suggest Google could launch the smartphone alongside the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro but no evidence backs this claim at the moment.
For the first generation of affordable Pixel devices, Google launched the Pixel 3a in two different sizes. Despite their different dimensions, the Google Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL had the same specifications — save for the display size. The company drifted from its usual course of two differently-sized devices with the Pixel 4a, which had one 4G variant and another 5G variant. Apart from running on different internal chipsets, the vanilla Pixel 4a and the Pixel 4a 5G had different rear camera configurations — despite identical camera bumps.
The standard Pixel 4a featured just one camera, i.e., a 12MP camera that Google has used since the Pixel 2 series. The Pixel 4a 5G, on the other hand, featured a dual rear camera setup including a standard 12MP camera — same as the other Pixel devices — and a 16MP ultrawide-angle camera, just like the Pixel 5.
Notably, even though the Pixel 4a got two devices under its banner, the Pixel 5 had a single variant. With 5G becoming more mainstream in 2021, it makes sense for Google to skip a 4G-only variant. Google has confirmed that the Pixel 5a 5G will launch later this year but will be limited to the U.S. and Japan.
It is worth noting that Google has been working on its own custom silicon, which is expected to power the Pixel 6 later this year. A report by 9to5Google highlights that there will be two devices running on this custom silicon, codenamed “Raven” and “Oriole.” While one of them is intended to be the Pixel 6, the other one could either be a Chromebook (or tablet running Chrome OS) or a superior variant of the Pixel 5a. Notably, the Pixel 5a we know since last year is codenamed Barbet, i.e., neither of the two devices reported to be powered by Google’s own mobile SoC.
A recent report confirms the Pixel 5a 5G will be powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G SoC. In the source of Android 12 Developer Preview 3, 9to5Google found references to “sm7250” along with Barbet, which is the codename for Pixel 5a 5G. sm7250 is the part number for the Snapdragon 765G chipset, which also powered the Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5 last year. Incidentally, the new Pixel does not use Snapdragon 768G, which is a supercharged version of the Snapdragon 765G. This information is nearly confirmed unless Google executes some last-minute changes, which it is not good at.
We discussed above the changes seen over the history of the affordable Pixel lineup. According to a recent leak by the seasoned leaker, OnLeaks, aka Steve Hemmerstoffer, the Pixel 5a is set to use the same camera as the Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5. In fact, there are no visible changes made to the design as Google appears to recycle the same design for the Pixel 5a.
OnLeaks notes the Pixel 5a is 2.3mm longer, 0.8mm narrower, and 0.6mm thicker than the Pixel 4a 5G. The alleged dimensions of the Pixel 5a are 156.2 x 73.2 x 8.8mm (9.4mm thick, including the camera bump). The increase in length appears to be because of the chin that appears slightly larger in the leaked renders than the previous devices.
Google Pixel 5a leaked renders, Source: @OnLeaks
Despite these minute changes in the dimensions, the Pixel 5a will inherit a 6.2-inch OLED display from the Pixel 4a 5G. The display is expected to have a Full HD+ resolution and a hole punch cutout towards the top-left corner, much like the Pixel 4a 5G. While the leaker makes no mention of it, we hope the Google Pixel 5a’s display to have a 90Hz refresh rate, which would be an upgrade over the 60Hz display on the Pixel 4a and the Pixel 4a 5G. As with the earlier devices, this is a flat display with no curves around the display.
Despite using an OLED display, Google seems eager to stick to a capacitive fingerprint scanner on the phone’s back instead of moving to under-display fingerprint technology. The volume rockers and the color-accented power button appear unchanged too.
Thankfully, the Pixel 5a is suggested to retain the 3.5mm headphone jack, even almost three years after Google removed it from its flagship Pixel devices. The stereo speakers setup remains intact too.
As we mentioned above, the Pixel 5a has been suggested to feature a dual rear camera setup — a first for the affordable Pixel range. This can potentially include a 12MP primary camera and a 12MP ultrawide angle camera. These cameras are likely to remain unchanged from what we have seen on the Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5.
Google Pixel 5a leaked renders, Source: @OnLeaks
However, a camera sample from the Pixel 5a was inadvertently leaked by none other than Google itself. The company shared a Google Photos album in a blog post detailing the HDR+ using exposure bracketing — the process of capturing multiple images of the same object at different settings. In this blog, one of the images used by Google was supposedly captured using a 12MP ultrawide-angle camera on the Pixel 5a, as per the EXIF data in the Google Photos app, first discovered by XDA Senior Member cstark27. The image was later removed by Google but it was downloaded and shared by multiple news outlets including XDA.
Meanwhile, other images included in the Google Photos album were either taken using the Pixel 4, Pixel 4a 5G, or Pixel 5, but there is one image taken with an unnamed device. It is also fascinating that this is a 9MP image, which does not align with the assumption that the Pixel 5a will continue to the same 12MP camera as the previous Pixel devices. This image may be captured using any of the other upcoming Pixel devices such as the Pixel 6.
We have yet to see more cues that point to the resolution of the cameras on the smartphone.
Aside from the sensors, we can expect generational upgrades in terms of image processing alongside probably some exclusive features. Exactly like the Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5, the two camera sensors on the Pixel 5a are placed on a horizontal line along the center of the square camera bump. As per the leaked renders, another sensor lies below these cameras, and it could either be a PDAF sensor or a flicker sensor.
The selfie camera is once again nestled inside the hole punch cutout in the display. While the leak did not reveal this camera’s resolution, Google has traditionally used 8MP cameras, and that has served well. We can expect the same to be carried over to the Pixel 5a.
A recent report by 9to5Google adds that the hole-punch cutout for the selfie camera on the Pixel 5a will be smaller. It says the radius of this camera cutout will be 55 pixels, as opposed to the circle of radius 65 pixels on previous Pixel devices bearing a hole-punch cutout.
Google Pixel 5a 5G: Expected Price
The Pixel 3a was launched at $399 in the US while being more expensive in certain markets like India. For that stunning camera, the Pixel 3a was not at all a bad investment but had a lackluster performance. Google made the Pixel 4a more accessible and attractive by reducing the price to $349. Meanwhile, the Pixel 4a 5G was priced at $499, accounting for its more powerful Snapdragon 765G chipset with 5G capabilities.
While there are no particulars about the price of Pixel 5a 5G just yet, we wouldn’t be surprised if it is also priced between $450 and $550.
We will keep updating this article with more details as we learn about them over the next several months until the official Pixel 5a launch.
Featured image: Google Pixel 5a leaked renders, source: Voice @OnLeaks