Google Pixel 5a review: Better battery, better price, same great phone

"Why does this phone exist?" To prove Pixels can actually do battery right.

Pixel 5a
(Image: © Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Android Central Verdict

Water resistance and much longer battery life help turn the thoroughly average Pixel 4a 5G into the belle of the mid-range ball, aka the Pixel 5a. Google has finally listened to what users want and given us practical upgrades rather than pretty colors and shiny surfaces.


  • +

    Two-day battery life

  • +

    Screen is easy to read outdoors

  • +

    Smooth performance from 765G

  • +

    Decent camera for the price

  • +

    IP67 dust and water resistance

  • +

    Still has rear fingerprint reader and headphone jack


  • -

    No mmWave model

  • -

    Boring design

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The Google Pixel line has suffered from fatal flaws in previous generations, but one that crops up time and time again is short battery life. The Pixel 4 was essentially killed by its own small battery, and the Pixel 3 was barely any better. 2020's Pixel 5 had a good enough battery to get through a good day, and that was a banner achievement for Google after years of battery woes.

The Pixel 4a 5G was in the same boat: it could get through the day with its battery, but it was too expensive to compete with the mid-range phones and too underpowered to fight with some of the best Android phones in the $500-$700 range in 2020 — like the Pixel 5 once it got down to $600. Performance was fine, but it just didn't fit anywhere in the United States market.

After rumors it would cancel the Pixel 5a due to chip shortages, Google only released it in the United States and Japan, where it had to ensure the 5a could compete properly in both features and price. While it certainly looked like Google just copied the 4a 5G, it did make a few key differences that made the Pixel 5a a much better option for mid-range buyers.

Now, with the Pixel 6a due out on July 28, the 5a might not remain on sale for long, outside of resale markets. Is it still worth buying today? Read our Pixel 5a review and judge for yourself.

Google Pixel 5a Price and availability

Google Pixel 5a

(Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Google released the Google Pixel 5a on August 26, 2021, in only two countries: the United States and Japan. Pricing is standard at $449 and ¥51,700. The unlocked Pixel 5a is compatible with all major American networks, but without mmWave 5G, it will not be able to use Verizon's Ultra Wideband network, only sub6 5G and LTE 4G.

The phone is only available domestically at the Google Store, it has not shown up at major retailers nor at carrier stores; if you want the Pixel 5a, you need to buy directly from Google. Thus, when the Pixel 6a launches in late July, it's highly likely the supply of Pixel 5a units will dry up quickly, as the 5a would interfere with new 6a sales.

Google Pixel 5a: Hardware (and how it varies from the 4a 5G)

Google Pixel 5a

(Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

I'm going to keep this short because the Pixel 5a's design is virtually identical to the Pixel 4a 5G, and most of the inside specs are the same, too. The name Google came up with is "Mostly Black" as opposed to 2020's Just Black; while Mostly Black may be a few shades brighter, it's definitely still a black phone, though an argument could be made for deep charcoal.

The power is a lighter gray — no bright colors here like on the 4a 5G, sorry — and it has a wavy texture across it to help distinguish it from the volume rocker. All buttons are nice, firm, and clicky, with no wobble or mushiness. The USB-C port and stereo speakers are still at the bottom while the headphone jack sits up top and the SIM tray slot is on the lower left bumper.

Google Pixel 5a

(Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

The phone has a pleasant heft without feeling heavy, and while it's a bit big for my small hands, it was easy enough to reach the top left corner (I hold my phone left-handed), but I quickly grabbed a PopSocket to make reaching the right side of the screen easier. I wish that the Pixel 5a was small like the Pixel 4a was, but most of you like bigger screens, so this was built for you. The size here is a teeny bit taller than the Pixel 4a 5G for the screen and a teeny bit thicker for the battery.

Once you move from the outside to the inside, things get even more similar. We have the same Snapdragon 765G that's been in such high demand during the neverending chip shortage, and it's paired with the same memory, storage, and cameras. I've bolded the differences between the two generations to help distinguish how little has changed here:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
CategoryGoogle Pixel 5aGoogle Pixel 4a 5G
Operating systemAndroid 11Android 11
Display6.34-inch 60Hz OLED2400x1080px (20:9)HDR, Gorilla Glass 36.2-inch 60Hz OLED2340x1080px (19.5:9)HDR, Gorilla Glass 3
ChipsetQualcomm Snapdragon 765G1 x 2.4GHz A761 x 2.2GHz A766 x 1.8GHz A55Adreno 620Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G1 x 2.4GHz A761 x 2.2GHz A766 x 1.8GHz A55Adreno 620
MicroSD slot
Rear camera 112.2MP, f/1.7Optical and electronic image stabilizationDual pixel phase autofocus4K at 60fps,1080p at 240fps12.2MP, f/1.7Optical and electronic image stabilizationDual pixel phase autofocus4K at 60fps,1080p at 240fps
Rear camera 216MP, f/2.2Ultrawide lens117-degree field-of-view16MP, f/2.2Ultrawide lens117-degree field-of-view
Front camera8MP, f/2.0Fixed focus lens83 degree field of view8MP, f/2.0Fixed focus lens83 degree field of view
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0NFC, A-GPSWi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0NFC, A-GPS
5GSub-6: N1, 2, 5, 12, 25, 28, 41, 66, 71, 77, 78mmWave: ❌Sub-6: N1, 2, 5, 12, 25, 28, 41, 66, 71, 78mmWave: n260/261 (Verizon model)
Audio3.5mm jackStereo speakers3.5mm jackStereo sound
Battery4680mAh18W wired charging3885mAh18W wired charging
Water resistanceIP67
SecurityRear Pixel ImprintTitan M security moduleRear Pixel ImprintTitan M security module
Dimensions156.2x73.1x8.8mm183g153.9x74x8.2 mm179g
ColorsMostly BlackJust BlackClearly White

The 6.34-inch screen is very easy to see outside, and while many were hoping or expecting this to be a 90Hz screen, Google opted to keep it 60Hz for the 5a, and I'm content with that. 120Hz and 90Hz look great but burn more battery, and the Pixel 5a doesn't want to waste it on something most "regular" users won't notice. Heck, I've been on the Galaxy S21 for six months before this phone, and I don't really notice the 120Hz difference unless I am gaming. 60Hz performs just fine for me.

Google Pixel 5a covered in water droplets

Water resistant at last (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Speaking of performance, the Pixel 4a 5G was a decent phone, and Google decided not to break the mold for its successor. Instead, we get the water resistance that Pixel A-owners have spent years begging for, along with a 20% bigger battery that Google's optimizations and the Snapdragon 765's efficiency can sip for hours, if not days. Case in point, I took the 5a off the charger 21 hours ago, and it's now sitting at 41% after 7 hours of screen on time. But we'll get to the battery in a bit. First, let's talk about the software that provides that optimized battery and performance.

Google Pixel 5a: Software and performance

Google Pixel 5a

(Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

The Pixel 5a launched with Android 11 and all of the Pixel-exclusive features like Duplex-powered call screening and the best spam blocker on the market. Apps are quick to open, I can multitask between 2-4 apps easily with the 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage means there's plenty of room for my YouTube Music downloads and loading up on Disney+ before my next trip.

I've seen a few times where the Twitter app becomes unresponsive until I back out and go back in, but I'm on the Twitter Beta and think it has more to do with that. App hangs have been scarce, the Overview menu is smooth and quick to swipe apps out of when I'm done with them, and the Pixel Launcher does okay — though I still opted for Smart Launcher 5 after a day just because it's what I'm used to.

Google Pixel 5a

(Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Since the initial review, Android 12 came to the Pixel 5a, making it one of the first phones to receive features like the Pixel-exclusive dynamic color theming system in Material You and enhanced permissions and privacy tools.

Overall, the Pixel 5a gives you the classic, smooth vanilla Android we've grown accustomed to after years of Material Design and Google's subtle sculpting of the Pixel aesthetic. Settings are where they should be, there's very little bloat installed at launch — as opposed to the dozens on my last few Galaxy phones — and everything that's here works well. It's not sexy, but it works well, and there's no nonsense.

Google Pixel 5a: Battery

(Image credit: Android Central)

The 4680mAh battery is significantly larger than the "decent battery" found in the Pixel 4a 5G, and with it powering the same components and a barely bigger 60Hz screen, the Pixel 5a will absolutely get you through the day and then some. As I've said before, if you want to stress test a phone, you take it to a theme park, and not even two trips to the Magic Kingdom with gaming, reading, and camera testing could kill the battery in a single day.

The Pixel 5a's battery is simply unbeatable.

Even with six hours of screen on time — at least three of those at max brightness in the Florida sun — I was still at 21% by the end of the night. In fact, I got over six hours of screen time every day of my week with the Pixel 5a, except for the day of Samsung Unpacked, where I finished the day with 60% battery and three hours of screen time. I'm sitting at 36% with 7.25 hours screen on, and I unplugged the phone from the charger 22 hours ago. At the end of the night, I got 11 hours when I hit 5% and finally plugged it in before bed.

If you forget to charge your phone at night, if you have a chaotic job where your day could end at 5 PM or keep going till 3 AM, the Google Pixel 5a will not leave you stranded. The only disappointment around the battery is that I cannot charge it wirelessly. However, between a lower capacity but wireless charging and higher capacity but no wireless charging, higher capacity will win every time.

While battery-beast phones like the Galaxy A42 5G and Motorola Edge usually ask you to sacrifice camera quality, software quality, or portability, the Google Pixel 5a gives you great battery life alongside speedy software updates and the latest Android features.

Google Pixel 5a: Cameras

If you remember back to the chart at the beginning, you'll recall that the dual-camera setup on the Pixel 5a is the same as the Pixel 4a 5G (and Pixel 5). This means that quality here is pretty much a known quantity, and if you've owned or read our reviews of either device, you already know what I'm about to say and can just skim the photos on your way to our conclusion.

The Pixel A-series is known for bringing amazing camera quality to a lower price point by leveraging the computational photography prowess that Google has perfected over the last few years and using the same lenses as the flagship Pixels. The main sensor takes good shots during daylight hours, even when moving or trying to get a zoom shot of some cute animals on safari, and while motion at night can get a little dicey depending on the light levels, still shots at night look good, even when compared to the $800 Galaxy S21.

The Pixel 5a wasn't as quick to pick up on subtle colors at night (like the lights on Cinderella Castle), but the Pixel better captured the accurate light level and color strength while Samsung cranked up brightness at night and cranked up colors all the time. Samsung's style appeals to some more than others, and while I'm all for a colorful photo, this style adds too much grain to photos from golden hour till dawn.

The wide-angle lens was great for capturing a larger scope when in front of huge attractions or huge crowds, and I was pleasantly surprised with the 2x zoom shots I got while stationary. Selfies are okay for socials, but this phone wasn't made for TikTokers and vloggers. For $450, this is more than enough.

Google Pixel 5a Competition

The Google Pixel 6

(Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

The biggest competition against the Pixel 5a is with other Pixel phones. The Pixel 6 costs just $150 more and offers a huge spec upgrade thanks to Google Tensor performance, an extra 2GB of RAM, a 50MP main camera, and a 120Hz display — though its battery life falls short compared to the 5a. 

For a properly mid-range device, you may want to wait for the Pixel 6a, which borrows its design and Google Tensor from the Pixel 6, but for the same $449 price as the 5a. It too has 6GB/128GB memory and similarly-specced cameras, but Tensor will provide a performance boost and more AI camera tools like Magic Eraser and Real Tone. The Pixel 5a has a larger display (6.34 vs. 6.1in) with the same 60Hz refresh rate, a larger battery (4,800 vs. 4,410mAh), and the 3.5mm headphone jack the 6a ditched. But the 6a will give you better Gorilla Glass, an in-display fingerprint sensor, and an extra OS update. You'll have to decide if you'd prefer Tensor or a slightly larger phone with better battery life.

Outside of Google, anyone looking for a mid-range phone should consider the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G in 2022. It has a 6.5-inch 120Hz AMOLED display, microSD card slot, 64MP main shooter, 5,000mAh battery that'll last longer than a day with heavy use, and four promised OS updates to Android 16 — whereas the Pixel 5a will stop at Android 14. 

Google Pixel 5a Should you buy it?

Google Pixel 5a

(Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

You should buy this if ...

  • You want the latest Google features and full Material You look
  • You need a phone that will consistently give you 6+ hours on a single charge
  • Water-resistance is an essential feature for your phone
  • You hate in-screen fingerprint sensors

You should not buy this if ...

  • You demand the latest specs and features
  • Wireless charging is important to you
  • You need mmWave coverage in a congested urban area
  • You can afford the Pixel 6

When the Pixel 5a initially launched, my only complaint was that it didn't launch in enough countries. For someone hanging onto an aging Pixel 3a (XL) or older, the Google Pixel 5a gave you the best of both worlds: all the new Android and Pixel features for the next three years or so, without breaking the bank.

Between a battery that you'll be able to charge less, consistent performance, a bright, easy-to-read screen, and that sweet, sweet Pixel software, the Google Pixel 5a is among the best cheap Android phones in 2022. It may not be pretty, but that's what the Pixel 5a cases are for — and you'll find plenty of beauties from Google or from third parties.

That being said, the Pixel 5a falls well short of the Pixel 6 for only a small discount, and the upcoming Pixel 6a with Tensor will have a huge leg up over the Snapdragon 765G. That's why, while the Pixel 5a is still worth buying on its own merits, you may want to be patient and see what Google has in store with the Pixel 6a.

Review changelog

This article was originally published in August 2021. It was updated in October 2021 with the following changes.

  • Updated prince and availability to reflect that the phone is on sale — and still only available online at the Google Store.
  • Added changelog.

It was updated in May 2022 with the following changes:

  • Added new information about the upcoming Pixel 6a.
  • Changed Competition section with references to Pixel 6, 6a, and Galaxy A53 5G.
Ara Wagoner

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.