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Review: new Google Pixel 4a (5G) & Pixel 5

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Erin L

Erin L

google, pixel, 4a, 5g, 5, phone, review, new, features, canadaGoogle has just released two new Pixel phones, keeping up an annual pace of new smartphones with improvements and features. I had the opportunity to get hands on with the new Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5 ahead of their public launch to test them out, try the new features and see what’s new.

As usual, my reviews are consumer-focused, meaning I try out these key features, see how they work in real life, show you how to use them and talk about what’s new in these phones. I’m not getting into the specs or speed tests or that kind of thing.

Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5 review

New look: matte finish instead of high gloss

One of the most obvious changes to the Pixel phones is the new matte backs. In both Just Black and Sorta Sage green, the phones have done away with the super glossy glass back and switched to a flat painted aluminum finish that looks almost like paper. It is nice to touch though it doesn’t really seem to provide much more grippiness. I’m a big fan of using a case at all times and Google’s fabric Pixel cases are pretty much a favourite of mine.

These new phones have a much more edge-to-edge screen design that means you’re essentially getting the bigger screen size of the Pixel 4XL, but in a smaller body size. The front camera has also migrated to be imbedded in the screen in the hole punch design.

google, pixel, 4a, 5g, 5, phone, review, new, features, canada

What’s new in Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5?

When it comes to what’s new in a nutshell, there are three key tings: the new Pixel 4a and Pixel 5 have 5G cellular connectivity, they have additional camera features and a longer battery life.

5G connectivity

This season everyone is launching a 5G phone. What’s up with 5G? 5G is a new network standard for cellular connectivity. 5G gives you bigger bandwidth for your smartphone and wireless use, allowing for faster downloads, lower latency, and better overall smartphone performance. Actual 5G access across Canada is hit or miss as carriers are rolling it out in bigger cities first.
With that said, I didn’t have 5G access during my testing period, so I can’t make any claims about how well this phone uses the new more powerful network. But if you’re looking for a phone that an access 5G in the future, both of these Pixel phones are ready.

New Camera Features for Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5

The camera on the Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5 have some enhancements and improvements this time around. I’ve always enjoyed the photos Pixel phones take, right from the original Pixel on up. Google just seems to get that great photo and video quality is almost as important to a lot of us as all the other features combined. While Night Sight for better low light photos and Astrophotography are both back in the new Pixels, there are a few brand new features.

google, pixel, 4a, 5g, 5, phone, review, new, features, canadaPortrait Light (in the camera and in photos)

Portrait Light is designed to give you more control over the light in your photos. In camera, Portrait Light automatically adds light to improve the lighting in a scene. In Photos, you can then adjust lighting of shots from Portrait mode for creative effect, and add Portrait Light to old portraits in your Photos library. Portrait Light can enhance a photo you already like or do things like brighten up part of the face that’s in shadow, or “fill light” to brighten up that area.

How to use Portrait Light in Google Pixel

To try out Portrait Light in Camera, open your camera and switch to Portrait Mode and take a shot. The shot will automatically have Portrait Light applied.
To try out Portrait Light in Photos, open any portrait of up to 4 people in Google Photos, then tap on the edit button at the bottom of the screen. Scroll to the right to Adjust, then tap the Portrait Light button above it. Tap and then drag the small circle to change the position of the light. Use the dial to adjust the intensity of the light. This feature also works on old photographs.

google, pixel, 4a, 5g, 5, phone, review, new, features, canadaUltrawide Lens

The Pixel 4 added a telephoto zoom lens, and now on the Pixel 4a and Picxel 5 there is a new Ultrawide lens. This allows you to capture a wider field of view. Simply open the camera app, point where you’d like to shoot, and tap the slider bar at the bottom of the viewfinder and pull it back to .6x . To prevent faces from being stretched by distortion, Google says it used machine learning to correct faces, so you can get great wide group shots without unflattering results.

Video features

While video recording is available in 4K UHD, the Pixels do skip offering 8K (as some other makers like Samsung and LG are offering) but those phones also cost about three times the price of a Pixel.

A new video feature called Cinematic Pan lets you take “Hollywood-inspired video clips” for social media or to add into your own video creations. Worth pointing out that you can’t capture audio when using Cinematic Pan.

To use this feature, go into the From the default camera tap Video, then tap the shaky hand icon on the right and select Cinematic Pan. Experiment with moving the camera aimed at vistas, move through different rooms, or pan along the street while your kid rides a bike. Note that, in this mode, audio is not captured.

google, pixel, 4a, 5g, 5, phone, review, new, features, canada

Charging + Battery on Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5

There were some complaints that Google squashed battery life in favour of adding some other goodies in the Pixel 4. So in the 4a 5G and Pixel 5, they’ve brought in some new features and battery improvements.

The batteries are bigger: Pixel 5’s battery is 4000 mAh while the 4a 5G has a 3800 mAh battery. The Pixel 4 by comparison had a 2800 mAh so this is a significant upgrade and a way for Google to right a previous wrong.

Adaptive battery is back now combined with something called Extreme Battery Saver that promises to add an extra day to your battery life, lasting up to 48 hours. EBS pauses some apps and actions (and you can pick which ones will hold back) but keeps them accessible and will also turn off some power-heavy features and slows your phone’s processing.

How to use Extreme Battery Saver

Pull down from the top of the screen for the quick settings menu and enable Battery
Saver mode. Then, you’ll get a notification inviting you to try Extreme Battery Saver.
You’ll be asked which essential apps you’d like to keep on while in the mode. In Settings,
you can change your essential apps and choose when to use this Battery Saver mode.

google, pixel, 4a, 5g, 5, phone, review, new, features, canada, reverse, charging

Reverse Wireless Charging in Pixel 5 only

With the Google Pixel 5, you can now wirelessly charge your Pixel Buds or other Qi-compatible devices using your Pixel 5’s battery. This is great for emergency situations or if you don’t have a cable. You can use Reverse Wireless Charging in two ways: plug the Pixel 5 into the wall or manually enable the feature in Settings, then flip your Pixel 5 over, and lay your Pixel Buds or other compatible device against the rear of the phone which is now essentially acting as a Qi charging mat.

Google Duo for video calls

You may know that Google Due is Google’s video calling platform. There’s some new featurs in Duo on the Pixel 4a and Pixel 5. You can host a group call with up to 32 participants now and you can screen share while on a call so you can watch videos together with your circle for example.

google, pixel, 4a, 5g, 5, phone, review, new, features, canadaHow to use Google Duo Screen share

While in a call with another Duo user, go to the in-call controls, tap on the three dots and choose “screen share” The other caller will be able to see your screen.. The other caller will see your screen to watch videos together, or reminisce while looking through past photos.

Duo Family HD

Keep your family engaged on your next Duo video call with fun features, like interactive filters and the ability to draw on the screen together. While in a Duo call, go to the effects button in the bottom right corner of the screen, and then click on the family button. You’ll see both call participants, as well as your own art board and the art board of the other caller. Create drawings or play games while seeing each other’s faces and artboards.

Google Recorder app gets better

As a journalist and writer, one of my favourite apps of all time is Google’s Recorder app. Recorder makes audio recordings of interviews, lectures, presentations and calls, but it will also transcribe them in real time and let you search the transcript for words or phrases to instantly find them on the tape.

New features in this year’s Recorder on Pixel phones include:

Text corrections: If the automatic transcriptions made a mistake, now it’s fixable. Correct or delete individual words by long pressing on a word in the transcript and tapping “Edit word.” Note that you cannot correct more than one word at a time in this version.

Smart scrolling: For transcripts that are at least 150 words long, Recorder automatically finds important keywords and places them on a scrollbar, so you can
quickly jump to the sections you’re looking for. Just drag along the vertical space on the right hand side of your transcript, and you’ll see a grey handle appear. Press and drag the handle to see the keywords, and tap on the keywords to navigate to different sections. Note that the time it takes to generate keywords grows based on the length of your recording, so you can expect it to take longer for the handle to appear for longer recordings.

google, pixel, 4a, 5g, 5, phone, review, new, features, canada, recorderAudio editing via Transcript: Now, you can edit your audio by editing the transcript. Just press the
scissors icon to go into editing mode, then highlight a sentence to crop or remove its
corresponding audio. “Crop” means you keep everything in your highlighted selection
and “Remove” means you remove everything in your highlighted selection.

Transcript Video clips: If you have a bit of audio that you want to share with others, say a quote from an interview or a new song idea, now Recorder gives you the option to create a video clip of that audio with the waveform and transcript baked in. Many social media sites don’t accept pure audio files, so this feature makes sharing audio easier and more visual, too. To generate a video clip, tap the three dots, select Share then select “Video clip.” You can then customize your video by Content, Layout and Theme. (Your audio recording must be 60 seconds or less in order to be turned into a video clip.)

google, pixel, 4a, 5g, 5, phone, review, new, features, canadaGoogle Assistant Snapshot

The new Assistant Snapshot shows you a summary of important things to help you prepare for your day. It’s a snapshot view of helpful pieces of personalized information: the weather, your calendar appointments, commute info, to-dos, and even suggested activities nearby. Get to Google Assistant by swiping up from the bottom corner of your screen. You can quickly get to Snapshot by tapping on the icon in the bottom left corner. It looks like an inbox combines with a sunrise.

google, pixel, 4a, 5g, 5, phone, review, new, features, canada

Pixel 4a (5G), Pixel 4, and Pixel 5.

Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5: Price

I think price is worth talking about here. The Pixel phones are much more accessible now than ever. The Pixel 4a 5G sells for $679CAD and the Pixel 5 sells for $799CAD. In some cases, these cost less than half of what some other smartphone manufacturers are selling their phones for, making the Pixel phones a great phone at a majorly accessible price.

Overall review: Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5

I’ve only had a few days with the Pixel 4a and Pixel 5, but overall I think there’s lots of cool new toys here. While it might not be worth an upgrade if you got the Pixel 4, if you’re looking to switch to a Pixel or you have an older Pixel phone, this is definitely worth the upgrade. I’ll keep playing with these phones to get more detail on them, but if you have any questions, please post them here.

Erin L

Erin L

I'm a journalist, tech blogger, writer, TV producer, silversmith& jewelry designer, foodie and world traveler. I blog, write for publications, and supply freelance writing services to Calgary, and the world.

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