Skip to main content

From the Editor's Desk: Decoding Google's Pixel plan for 2020

Google Pixel 4 XL long-term review
Google Pixel 4 XL long-term review (Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

Our collective journey of discovery around Google's 2020 Pixel phone lineup has been littered with false starts and red herrings. It's no secret that the Pixel line has had its issues over the years. Google often tripped up on basic hardware factors. Sales have failed to set the world alight. Recent reports have even suggested that the people at the very top weren't satisfied with parts of the Pixel 4 before it went on sale.

And so with 2020 shaping up to be a make or break year for the Pixel brand, it's surprising to see Google apparently retreating from the high-end flagship space. Every mainline Pixel phone since 2016 has used a Snapdragon 800-series chipset. This year, reportedly, it'll use the less powerful (but still 5G-capable) Snapdragon 765 series in a single Pixel 5 phone, which will be small-sized, with no solid info to corroborate the existence of a Pixel 5 XL.

Three Pixels. Two running a Snapdragon 765. And No XL?!

Instead, the most reliable leaks out there point to:

  • Pixel 4a: Snapdragon 730, single camera, small size, $299-249 depending on who you believe.
  • Pixel 4a 5G: Snapdragon 765 series... and that's all we know.
  • Pixel 5: Snapdragon 765 series, small size, at least two cameras, around $699.

Google has often gone against the grain of the high-end smartphone industry, to the frustration of jaded tech journos like yours truly. Nevertheless, this a massive departure from previous years of Pixels that, on the face of it, seems slightly nonsensical.

The high-end segment is dominated by devices with large displays, to the point where it's expected that any "premium" handset will at least have a big-screened option. Not having one is bizarre in the extreme. Are the leaks simply wrong? Possible, but there's little credible info out there pointing to the existence of a Pixel 5 XL.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 reference design

Source: Qualcomm (Image credit: Source: Qualcomm)

As for the use of a Snapdragon 756 (series) processor, the move away from a top-tier (and top-priced) Snapdragon 800-series chipset points to Google attempting to compete more on price than in past years, while still offering a device with the connectivity that discerning 2020 phone buyers expect. It's worth noting that the Pixel 5a 5G and Pixel 5 might not, in fact, use the very same processor.

The most accurate information we have on these devices' silicon comes from mentions in the Android Open Source Project code, which references both devices using Qualcomm "SM7250" chips. The SM7250 family includes Snapdragon 765, 765G and 768G, with the latter boasting clock speeds quite far ahead of the former. It's possible the Pixel 4a 5G could use the 765, while the Pixel 5 would benefit from the beffier CPU and GPU clocks of the 768G.

As for why Google has relocated to a mid-priced flagship space, Android Police's David Ruddock posits that anaemic Pixel 4 sales have forced Google to sing to the carriers' tune with the Pixel 5. Or in other words, Google had to launch a cheaper "premium" Pixel to keep Verizon onboard. That's entirely possible, but if carriers have such sway, I'd have assumed the carrier would also push for a Pixel 5 XL as well.

Pixel 4a might arrive in August... but then what happens in October?

At least if the (apparently cancelled) Pixel 4a XL was retired in favor of a similarly sized model with 5G connectivity, that'd make a bit of sense. It's easier, after all, to upsell folks who want a bigger phone on a device that's also faster and comes with next-gen network support.

Pixel soothsayer Jon Prosser now says an August 3 launch is on the cards for the Pixel 4a. (That would be just a month before the expected final release date of Android 11, which the 4a would presumably get on day one, mere weeks after being launched on... Android 10?) If that happens, it'll be fascinating to see whether Google tips its hand further and reveals the 4a 5G this summer — or whether the traditional October Pixel event will herald the arrival of the Pixel 5 alongside a 5G version of a phone announced a couple months prior. A weird turn of events for sure.

But hey, it's 2020. "Weird' is pretty much the default setting these days.

Other odds and ends for a semi-working weekend:

  • Twitter (sorta) got hacked this week. While most of the attention was on the social engineering that enabled the attack, and the money duped out of followers attackers, my colleague Andrew Martonik has another take. In theory, someone, somewhere could have a cache of Elon Musk or Kanye West's Twitter DMs. Quite possibly far more valuable than a handful of Bitcoin.
  • Stupidly fast smartphone charging is coming as soon as this winter — think a full recharge in as little as 20 minutes. But as Jerry Hildenbrand points out, there's always a trade-off in the long term.
  • As a daily Wear OS user, I agree with everything written here. Qualcomm's lackadaisical approach to updating its Snapdragon Wear series of chips hasn't helped, but Wear OS's problems run deeper than just occasional slow performance.
  • Next week sees the launch of the OnePlus Nord, a triumph of marketing however good the phone itself turns out to be. Would anyone care as much were this just a "OnePlus 8 Lite," without all the pomp and ceremony? Naturally, stay tuned for all our coverage.

That's it for now. Have a great weekend, and stay safe.

-Alex

Alex Dobie
Alex Dobie

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.

20 Comments
  • I'm glad I got the Pixel 4 XL (my first Pixel) when I did. I'm so confused as to what Google's plans are as it relates to phones.
  • Wait, they have a plan?
  • They do. Avoid Apple as much as possible.
  • I got the 4xl a few months back for 300 off. Glad I did, it just might be the last flagship processer. If I were Google, I would have put the 765 in the base model. And the 5xl the 865processer, but who am I!
  • Well, I'll push my pixel 3 for another year and half. Hopefully by 2022 Google will something interesting by then.
  • Can I ask why you’re counting 2021 out already?
  • I don't like what I see so far from Google. The direction they took with the Pixel 4 was a turn off for me, now they're downgrading processors in the 4a and 5 (rumored) so it seems that they need some redirection on what they want to do. Especially, since their mobile division head left the company. I'm waiting for some new ideas to be implemented for the next line of devices heading into 2022. I think the 2020-2021 launches will be what we have been seeing in the rumored leaks which is not giving me a reason to upgrade from my Pixel 3.
  • The processor in the 4a is not getting downgraded.
  • I'm on a 2XL, planned on upgrading this year. I'm also on Fi. If there's no XL-size device (could the 5 possible be XL-size but not named as such if it's the only size of that version?) I might have to look elsewhere.
  • I'm in the same boat. I want an XL sized phone. Right now my carrier is showing no stock on the 4XL which was my backup plan if there was no 5XL. Looks like I either ride out my 2XL for a while (which I don't prefer as I feel monthly security updates are important) or move to a Samsung with their less than reliable updates.
  • Same here I'm on the Pixel 2XL and would have upgraded to the 4XL if they had included the back FPS and an ultra wide camera. Was really hoping there would be a 5XL model this year with the above. I guess we ll have to see what models and etc come out for the Pixel 5 and go from there.
  • Currently using a 4XL and if there's no larger version then I am out, and after the last lot of months with Google making a mess of the 4A launch etc I may never return
  • I'd hardly say that Google has made a mess of the 4a launch, COVID and the fallout from it did.
  • If Google would have released the 4a back in May for 349.00 they would have sold 🚢 loads. Talk about screwing the pooch, yikes! And were still waiting? The 🍎 SE was left with no competition?
  • Even had they released it there would still be no competition with the SE. Apple and their iPhones are leaps better than what Google has to offer.
  • Not releasing in a month that never would have happened anyways is not "screwing the pooch". Yes, COVID messed up the release.
  • Google have quite a bit analytical capability. As do the retail carriers. It makes me laugh that the small echo-chamber of tech-journo's and tech-fans think THEY know what's right to build and what the world will buy. Look around, you think Joe Average cares about 7xx chip versus 8xx chip and the marginal differences? That they're crawling the tech sites for clues to release plans and specs? They ain't.
  • I hope they don't get away from face unlock. I love it.
  • With all the new releases of Google phones, it has become a little difficult and overwhelming to keep track with the constant new plans.
  • There haven't been new releases. The rumors are certainly confusing, so maybe we should stop following them so much and wait for confirmed news.