Google Pixel 5 review: An off year for Pixel fans

It’s worth pointing out that Google had to leave a bunch of long-time Pixel features and components out this time. I hope you didn’t like squeezing your phone to activate the Google Assistant, because you can’t here. And there’s no giant forehead either because there’s no Soli radar. Whether Google left it out for design reasons, or cost, or because few people really seemed to enjoy it, we don’t know. Either way, I don’t miss it much.

The dramatic downsizing of the Pixel’s forehead also means there’s no secure face unlock here, which is just fine by me because a) we’re still living in a weirdo pandemic world; and b) the Pixel Imprint fingerprint sensor around back is among the fastest and most accurate I’ve used. Oh, and like last year’s Pixel 4s, the 5 is rated IP68 for water and dust resistance. That makes it the most durable new Pixel of 2020, which came in handy the time I was watching YouTube videos and decided to toss the Pixel 5 into a fountain.

(Author’s note: This is in no way a reflection on how I feel about BTS. I come to you in good faith, K-Pop stans.)

Google Pixel 5 review

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Clearly, there’s a lot to like about this more durable design. Having said that, Google made some decisions here that are much harder to appreciate. There’s no headphone jack here, which is only really annoying because both versions of the Pixel 4a have it. It would have been nice to have the option to buy a Pixel 5 with more than 128GB of storage, but as we saw with the Pixel 4a, limiting the number of configurations helps Google keep costs down. And then there’s the Pixel 5’s audio situation, which just isn’t very good.

The phone’s bottom-firing speaker does most of the heavy lifting, which isn’t all that unusual — the same is true of most smartphones. Unlike the majority of phones, though, the Pixel 5’s top speaker is now built into the screen. There’s a driver under the display that actually makes that panel vibrate and transmit sound. Is it a neat solution? Heck yeah. But that also means your movies, music and podcasts can sound tinny and unbalanced. For me at least, it’s most notable when you’re watching a video or taking a video call while doing other things — you know, situations where you’d generally have the speakers going full-power while holding the phone in one hand. It isn’t much better when you’re listening while holding the phone in landscape either, since you’re only getting audio from one side.

I’m not sure this will be a dealbreaker for most people, but it doesn’t sound great, and people who bought phones like the Pixel 3 for its dual front-firing speakers are going to be disappointed. Thankfully, I haven’t run into any pesky Bluetooth connection issues as other people have encountered with earlier Pixels, so you shouldn’t have any trouble pairing your trusty all-wireless earbuds. I’ve been doing that for a few days straight with no trouble.