The Google Pixel 5 is the opposite of 2020. The past 300 days are insufficiently described as turbulent, the US election is still to come. And while the events roll over, Google is building what is arguably the most boring cell phone in the world. But that doesn’t matter, because the Pixel is not only an unspectacular, but also a very good smartphone.

You could also say: It’s a corona cell phone. Compared to its predecessor, Google does not unlock face recognition and installs a fingerprint sensor – face recognition does not work with a mask anyway. The innovative but immature gesture control where you should wave around in front of the display to jump to the next song, for example? Away with it! The telecamera, the glass back and the high-end processor have also been rationalized.

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This turns the pixel into a smart phone of common sense. The introductory price is almost 400 euros below the fourth generation XL variant. The 613.14 euros – Google passes the VAT cut on down to the last cent – could better fit into a time when many people don’t have four-digit amounts left for new technology. Google is also breaking new ground in terms of size. The normal Pixel 4 with 5.7 inches and the XL version with 6.3 inches merge. Each new pixel has a 6-inch display, 128 GB of storage and costs a good 600 euros. The agony of choice is limited to the color: black or a shade of green.

Google is giving up competing with Apple

So for the first time the Pixel is cheaper. For the first time there is only one model. And for the first time, Google is bringing a smartphone onto the market that is in part behind its predecessor. Most users will not notice the slower processor, but gaming performance suffers noticeably. The Pixel 4 was the only Android device that could be unlocked quickly, safely and reliably using face recognition. Instead of replacing telephoto cameras with wide-angle cameras, Google could have simply installed three cameras. Other manufacturers have been doing this for years.

When Google started the Pixel series four years ago, some interpreted it as a declaration of war on Apple. The Pixel was intended for people who wanted high-quality hardware, fast updates and an operating system without any improvements made by the manufacturer – but who liked the comparatively open Android world more than the closed ecosystem of Apple. The Pixel devices came with teething problems and did not sell well. But they also had many loyal fans and showed that the best mobile phone camera does not necessarily have to be in an iPhone.

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Google is now obviously giving up competition with Apple. The Pixel 5 is no longer supposed to be the best possible Android smartphone. It should sell and inspire more people for Google’s services and software. Because that is and remains the greatest strength of a Google device: the hardware may be mediocre, the software tears it out again in many places.

Great photos, but a step backwards in zooming

This is most evident in the photo quality. For years, Google has been using the same Sony sensor, which on paper has long since ceased to keep up with the competition from Samsung, Huawei and Apple. But Google’s algorithms get so much out of the raw material that the pictures are still among the best that you can take with a cell phone. The colors are strong, but less gaudy than those of Samsung, for example. Other manufacturers offer more cameras and more megapixels, but with the Pixel, almost every photo looks good in almost all lighting conditions – that rarely works otherwise.

Google says they installed a wide-angle lens in response to popular requests. This is actually useful for landscape shots, but the image quality drops compared to the main camera. At the same time, the missing telecamera hurts. The digital “Super Res Zoom” works fine, but cannot compete with real optical zoom.

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At least when it comes to videos, Google doesn’t take two steps back and forth. The Pixel 5 records 4K recordings at 60 frames per second for the first time, and the optical image stabilization has also been improved. Functions like “Cinematic Pan”, which delivers slowed, wobble-free pans with a cinematic feel, are a gimmick – but one that is fun and looks nice.

Finally a battery that deserves the name

The Pixel 4’s biggest weakness was its battery life. The small model in particular hardly lasts a day. Google learned from this mistake and increased the battery from 2800 to 4080 mAh. This finally puts an end to the constant search for sockets. The Pixel 5 runs and runs. And if the battery is running low, there is an “extreme energy-saving mode” that stops all background apps and squeezes a few hours out of a few percent capacity.

To a certain extent, the battery embodies the entire pixel: solid and reliable all round, but the exciting functions are missing. Pixel phones have been charging with 18 watts for four years, and manufacturers such as Oneplus and Xiaomi offer a multiple. Whether you really need it or the additional half an hour doesn’t matter because the smartphone is plugged into the socket overnight is another question. But at least on paper, Google can’t keep up.

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Conclusion: The overall package is still right

Since SZ has been testing pixel cell phones, every text has said: No other Android device comes so close to the iPhone experience, only here hardware and software come from a single source. Google continues this tradition. If you want the smoothest operating system and always the latest Android version, you should choose the Pixel 5. But for most people, software updates are not a selling point. Impressive benchmarks or extras such as 120 Hertz display, 10x zoom or super-fast charging are completely missing.

The overall package is still right: The Pixel 5 is not the most powerful, but probably the most coherent smartphone that Google has built to date. The new iPhone 12 Pro is in a different league, but it also costs twice as much. Google seems to have finally left this price range.

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