Right now is an exciting time for Google’s Pixel family. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are still going strong over eight months after their release — and have only gotten better thanks to frequent software updates. The mid-range Pixel 6a is right around the corner, the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro will be here this fall, and the mysterious Pixel tablet should launch in 2023.
But for most of this year, I haven’t been thinking about Google’s current product lineup or what it has coming down the pipeline. Instead, I’ve been smitten with 2020’s Pixel 5. It’s not a perfect smartphone these days. The Snapdragon 765G chipset takes an extra beat to load some apps, certain animations are a bit choppy, and my earpiece speaker has inexplicitly stopped working for stereo audio. But even with those signs of age, I can’t help but get a fuzzy feeling every time I pick up the Pixel 5. It’s comfortable, familiar, and my go-to Pixel over the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro sitting in my office drawer.
Why do I subject myself to a nearly two-year-old handset when its objectively better siblings are at my disposal? I have my reasons.
Small phones are a dying breed in our current market. Apple tested the waters with the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 13 mini over the last couple of years, but that experiment seemingly failed. After numerous reports of disappointing sales for the mini iPhone, all signs point to Apple axing it this year in favor of a super-sized iPhone 14 Max. This is evident throughout the Android space, too. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro have 6.4-inch and 6.7-inch displays, the OnePlus 10 Pro clocks in with a 6.7-inch screen, and the Galaxy S22 Ultra has a massive 6.8-inch canvas. Big phones are in, and there’s no evidence of that changing any time soon.
The Pixel 5 is a wonderful exception to that rule. The 6-inch display may not sound tiny on paper, but the overall dimensions of the phone make it minuscule compared to more recent flagships. The Pixel 5 measures 144.7mm tall and 70.4mm wide. The Galaxy S22 Ultra? It’s 163.3mm tall and x 77.9mm wide.
Is the Pixel 5 the smallest phone I’ve ever seen? Not at all. But I think it strikes an incredible balance of offering ample screen real estate while still being practical for daily life. I have plenty of room to watch a YouTube video or play a round of Call of Duty: Mobile, but the Pixel 5 is also compact enough that I can slip it into a small pocket without fear of it creeping over the top.
Equally important is the Pixel 5’s weight. Not only is it a compact smartphone, but it’s also light as a feather. Coming in at 155g, the Pixel 5 weighs but a fraction of its more recent Android counterparts. The Pixel 6 weighs 207g, the Pixel 6 Pro is 210g, and the Galaxy S22 Ultra is a hefty 228g. Not only have phones gotten taller, but they’ve also gotten heavier.
This isn’t something I paid much attention to when I first got the Pixel 5. But fast forward to 2022 with daily use of the iPhone 13 Pro, and it’s quickly become one of the main reasons I love using the Pixel 5 so much. Weighing 204g, thanks to its glass back and stainless steel frame, it doesn’t take long for my iPhone 13 Pro to feel uncomfortable in the hand. It’s not that it’s impossible to hold or even the heaviest smartphone available, but it’s unmistakably a weighty device. Call it “premium-feeling” if you want, but I think it’s annoyingly hefty. This is also true of the Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro, and any other modern handset clocking in over 200g.
By comparison, the Pixel 5 is markedly more comfortable. I can easily hold it in one hand without needing to prop it on my pinky for extra support. I can use it while lying in bed in the morning and not worry about it falling on my face. Being ~50g lighter than other smartphones may not sound like a big deal, but — combined with the Pixel 5’s compact body — it makes the Pixel 5 a phone I enjoy handling more than anything else. That’s not a factor we often consider when reviewing smartphones, but in day-to-day use, I’d argue it’s one of the most important.
The Pixel 5’s size and weight are the easiest things to mention. But there are plenty of smaller details that I love just as much. Take the phone’s back material. While it technically has an aluminum unibody, the whole thing is covered in a special “bio-resin coating” that makes it feel soft and smooth to the touch. It also gives the Pixel 5 a subtle speckled pattern on the back, which looks especially nice on the Sage Green color. The giant camera bar on the Pixel 6 lineup is interesting to look at, but when you hold it in your hand, the glass back feels like any other flagship from the last few years. Nearly two years on, the Pixel 5’s in-hand feel remains truly special.
Something else Google never got enough credit for was the Pixel 5’s uniform bezels around the entire display — something it abandoned with the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. The top, bottom, left, and right sides of the screen all have perfectly symmetrical bezels. It’s a very small detail to point out, but it’s one that shows how much work went into designing the phone. And in regular use, that symmetry allows me to ignore the bezels and focus solely on the screen, more so than on phones with differing bezel sizes.
And, of course, there’s the tried-and-true Pixel Imprint fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone. Unlike the Pixel 6’s in-screen sensor, it’s fast, reliable, and works exactly how I’d expect.
Not only did Google nail the functionality, but it also made the fingerprint sensor double as one of the best smartphone gestures ever. Swipe down to view your notifications, swipe down again to see your Quick Settings, and swipe up to hide them. It was magic then, it’s still magic today, and I desperately miss it when using the Pixel 6.
Are the things I mentioned above game-changers that took the industry by storm? Not at all! If anything, the Pixel 5 was a dud for Google. It had an awkward launch, wasn’t clearly marketed as a flagship or mid-range device, and was handily outsold by the Pixel 6.
But those things don’t matter to me. All I care about is how it feels to use the Pixel 5. And in that regard, the phone still feels quite magical. The small design, lightweight body, soft backside, uniform bezels, and lovely fingerprint sensor all come together to create a phone that’s best described as ‘comforting.’ Where the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro feel like they’re chasing the usual flagship formula, the Pixel 5 ditched it in favor of trying something different. That strategy may not have been a commercial success for Google, but it produced an Android phone that I can’t seem to pry myself away from.
As much as I love using the Pixel 5 in 2022, it’s not a phone I can really recommend you go out and buy if you don’t already have one. Google discontinued it last year with the launch of the Pixel 6, and by all accounts, the Pixel 6 is a better product. It has a more capable chipset, better cameras, additional software features, and will keep getting updates longer than the Pixel 5 will. There’s a reason why we think the Pixel 6 is one of the best phones for 2022 — even if it lost some of what made the Pixel 5 great. I don’t imagine Google will ever release another phone quite like the Pixel 5, but if I could have my greedy way with things, I’d certainly wish it into existence.
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