This week reviews hit for Google’s latest phone, the Pixel 5. If you missed it, don’t worry, there’s a good reason.
For years despite Google making a big song and dance about them, Pixel phones have been a niche release that only appeal to a select audience.
Related: Pixel 5 vs Pixel 4
Being quite honest, outside of their cameras most of the Pixels we’ve tested, from generation one and above, have always had at least one fatal flaw putting them firmly behind their Galaxy, OnePlus and Huawei competition.
Key issues have included the Pixel 2’s abysmally badly calibrated screen to the Pixel 4’s shamefully short battery life. With so many other, debatably better, phones on the market from Samsung, OnePlus, Xiaomi, Huawei and Oppo each year, this has made most Pixels distinctly forgettable and their impact on the overall market at best negligible.
But this year, for the first time in years, I’ve found myself back on the Made By Google train, with the new Pixel 5; but not for the reason you’d expect.
Being clear, I think the Pixel 5 is an awesome bit of hardware. The camera features the same Google processing wizardry that earned past Pixels a spot as one of, if not the, best mobile snappers on the market. The software is also wonderfully bloatware free and guaranteed to get regular software updates to the newer versions of Android. If that wasn’t enough, they also have 5G connectivity, high refresh rate screens and all the other trimmings you’d expect of a flagship save for one: a top end processor.
Though the 7-series CPU could be viewed as this year’s sore thumb “weakness” for the Pixel 5, for me it’s actually indicative of the phone’s greatest strength: it targets the middle, not top of the market.
Since Pixel first hit the scene I’ve always been very vocal about my belief Google going premium to take Apple and Samsung head-on at the top end of the market was a mistake. Google isn’t a traditional hardware company and by the time it entered that space Apple and Samsung already owned it – to the point even Microsoft, BlackBerry, Nokia, HTC and Sony couldn’t get a look in edgeways.
This is one of the reasons Pixel phones have never been top sellers year-on-year. Look at the latest quarterly sales reports from Kantar, Counterpoint, IDC, Forrester or IDC and you won’t spot Google Pixels in the top 10, let alone 5 best selling handsets shortlist.
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Which is why for me the Pixel 5, which retails for a mid-range friendly £600 is a great move by Google. This is because the pricing puts the Pixel in the same mid-tier category that the Nexus-line once led and, being frank, dominated.
For the youngsters reading this column, Nexus was the first phone line Google officially lent its name to. The brand wasn’t technically made by Google, instead it saw the firm partner with a third party OEM to make that year’s flagship. Google effectively ran Nexus like a pop idol competition forcing OEMs to compete to get the hallowed partner slot year-on-year. This led to some of the best value Android tablets and phones ever made.
Highlights include the stellar LG-made Nexus 5, which matched the specs and performance of phones close to twice its price at launch and Asus Nexus 7, which was the first Android tablet worth buying, despite retailing for a modest £200.
Notice the trend? Price was always the critical factor, not sales or flashy features, that made Nexus so important. The brand became synonymous with “best value”, and a benchmark that all other Android phones were judged against. This trend debatably laid the groundwork for a fresh drive among third party phone makers to match the Nexus and create top notch devices at lower price points. I personally don’t think we’d have the Moto G, Samsung A-series or OnePlus without Nexus and the groundwork it lay.
Which is why I’m pleased to see Google at least partially return to its Nexus roots with the Pixel 5. Hopefully Google will continue this trend and once again establish itself as a benchmark for top value within the Android ecosystem, which is needed given how similar phones are getting at the moment.