Honestly? It’s still a damn good camera. When it’s sunny, you get a pleasingly natural shot, with nice colors, good contrast, and a well balanced exposure. That applies to the ultrawide camera too. Where it shines is at night. Google has taken cues from Apple and automatically triggers Night Sight—its dedicated night mode that takes multiple photos at different exposures and stitches them together—whenever it deems it necessary. (You’ll see a moon logo in the shutter icon, and you can turn it off.) Night Sight shots require you to hold still for a few seconds, but it’s far more forgiving for when you eventually shake your hands. You’ll often end up with amazingly detailed and bright nighttime images, with perhaps a touch too much saturation.
I take a lot of Night Sight photos with Pixels. I also use Portrait mode all the time. You’ll have to forgive my excitement when Google announced that it merged the two features, allowing you to use Night Sight in Portrait mode to get beautiful bokeh shots in low light—a feature Apple just announced on its iPhone 12 as well. The results, when it correctly surmises the outline of a subject, are far more detailed compared to low-light portrait mode on other devices. (I haven’t tried it on the iPhone yet.)
Pixels can take great photos, but they’ve fallen short when it comes to videos. That’s another long-running complaint Google addressed here. Now you get three stabilization modes to choose from outside of normal: Active, Locked, and Cinematic Pan. The latter is the most fun, slowing down footage and muting all audio, and it’s best suited for panning scenic landscapes or for capturing some fast-moving action.
These modes help make the Pixel 5 take more watchable videos, but the problem is, just like most electronic image stabilization systems, they crop in a good deal to compensate for camera shake. The resulting quality isn’t as good, and still can’t match what you’ll get on iPhones or Samsung devices.
The Pixel 5 is excellent. But phone-makers like Apple and Samsung have realized that most people don’t want to pay $1,000 for a new phone. Both have introduced exceptional devices at similar prices, like the Galaxy S20 Fan Edition for the same price, and Apple has will release the even cheaper iPhone 12 Mini next month.
Those two phones don’t skimp on anything either. To get a bit technical, the S20 FE uses the USB 3.2 spec for its USB-C port, allowing for quicker data transfer speeds, as well as UFS 3.0 for faster read and write speeds (snappier app load times, among other improvements). Contrast that with USB 3.1 and UFS 2.1 on the Pixel 5. Both the S20 FE and iPhone 12 Mini support Wi-Fi 6 too, the newest Wi-Fi standard. The new Pixel does not.
Google does offer sub-6 and mmWave 5G connectivity, but like with all 5G phones, it’s not worth thinking about yet because 5G is sparse in the US, not to mention you likely have to cough up for an upgraded data plan.
I suppose I was wrong when I said there is no major compromise that bogs this phone down—even with the $100 lower price tag over its predecessor, it’s still not the best value. If budget is a concern, go for the $350 Pixel 4A or the $500 Pixel 4A 5G. The latter phone is very similar to the Pixel 5, except it’s bigger, has a 60-Hz screen, comes with no wireless charging or water resistance, and is made of plastic.
You’d think Google would use all that data it collects to figure out exactly what price it should put on its phones. Ah, well, even if you do pay $700 for it, at least it means you won’t have to hear anymore Kenny G hold music.