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Google Pixel 5 & 4a 5G hands-on: The start of something special

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Google Pixel 5Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

The Google Pixel 5 isn't coming out until the end of October for folks in the U.S. and Canada, but eight other countries can start picking up this Sorta Sage sweetheart (or its Just Black sibling) starting October 15. That's why Google is letting a few lucky reviewers (including yours truly) unbox and play with Pixel 5, as well as the Pixel 4a 5G, prior to its international release next week.

There isn't much I can tell you about the phone just yet, but even just spending a few minutes with the hardware says a lot about Google's hardware strategy for 2020, and why the Pixel 5 isn't trying to compete in the same league as the top-end Galaxys and iPhones this year. (Though it does compete quite nicely with the Galaxy S20 FE.)

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Google Pixel 5 & Pixel 4a 5G Unboxing

Google Pixel 5 Unboxing

Google Pixel 5 UnboxingSource: Daniel Bader / Android Central

I just want to dispel a misconception about Google's retail boxes for the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G. It appears that Google's sending some reviewers and influencers special limited-edition boxes with larger, more prominent typography and bolder colors, but the reality is they're just sleeves that fit over the proper, more subtle retail boxes.

Those boxes really are identical to every Pixel phone you may have purchased in the last few years: phone, pamphlets and SIM ejector tool, 18W USB-PD charger, USB-C to USB-C cable, and a USB-C to A adapter for file transfers. Simple, elegant, and made of majority recycled materials. Good stuff. What you're not getting in either the Pixel 5 or the Pixel 4a 5G box, despite the presence of a headphone jack in the latter, are headphones. Unless you're in Australia or France, where headphones are mandated to be included by law, you're on your own for earbuds.

Google Pixel 5 4a Cases

Google Pixel 5 4a CasesSource: Daniel Bader / Android Central

I also received Google's Fabric cases with both the Pixel 5 and 4a 5G, and I have to say, I really like the color combinations this year — though Google sent me the most boring of the lot, Basically Black, for the Pixel 5. The other colors, Green Chameleon, Blue Confetti, and Static Grey, are a little more playful, and they keep the phone nice and protected. I've been using Google's Fabric cases on my Pixels for years now, and unless I get them caught in something sharp (which has happened a couple of times), they tend to hold up really nicely.

Google Pixel 5 hands-on This hardware is Sorta Sage

Google Pixel 5 Hands On

Google Pixel 5 Hands OnSource: Daniel Bader / Android Central

What you're mainly here to see if the Pixel 5's hardware, which I'll happily show you from any angle. From the front, the phone resembles the Pixel 4a to a remarkable degree, though with tiny slivers of bezel sliced off to make room for an extra 0.2 inches of screen space. The left-oriented hole-punch selfie camera isn't distracting, and the screen appears plenty bright for outdoor use which, along with the 90Hz refresh rate, makes it a joy on which to tap, scroll, and type. It's this experience that, despite the battery issues, made the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL among the best Android phones on the market.

You'll find a glossy green power button atop a clicky volume rocker, the only two buttons on the phone. The left side houses the nano-SIM slot, and the bottom, holes for a speaker, a microphone, and the USB-C port.

Google Pixel 5 Hands On

Google Pixel 5 Hands OnSource: Daniel Bader / Android Central

Google Pixel 5 Hands On

Google Pixel 5 Hands OnGoogle Pixel 5 Hands OnGoogle Pixel 5 Hands OnGoogle Pixel 5 Hands OnGoogle Pixel 5 Hands OnSource: Daniel Bader / Android Central

Around the back, you'll see a module on the top left, with two cameras — a primary 12MP and secondary ultrawide 16MP — along with a flash and a dedicated anti-flicker sensor. The dedicated capacitive fingerprint sensor sits centered below it, as it did on the Pixel 3 series and Pixel 4a. A glossy silver Google "G" logo is also centered closer to the bottom.

It's an understated, austere and, dare I say, comforting design in 2020. At just 144mm tall and 70mm wide, and 8mm thick, the Pixel 5 is about as compact a "flagship" as you're going to find today — though the dimensions are especially admirable given the significant 4,000mAh cell inside.

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This is one of the smallest 6-inch phones you'll find today.

The phone isn't small, per se, but is definitely easy to use in one hand and feels like just the right size. That Google was able to fit a 6-inch display (albeit at a tall 19.5:9 aspect ratio) is impressive given the dimensions. Oh, and the lack of an earpiece on the front is a subtle flex that reinforces Google's 2020 design evolution.

Of course, what you're really here to find out is whether the painted aluminum finish is comfortable, durable, and attractive. Does it attract fingerprints? And just how green is the Sorta Sage colorway in person?

Google Pixel 5

Google Pixel 5Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

Using the phone sans case is fascinating. The paint is slightly textured, so it's easy to grip, but doesn't feel rough or dappled in any way. So far, it repels fingerprints nicely, though I can't say how the paint will wear over time.

There's something refreshing about using an all-aluminum phone again in 2020. Doesn't feel as fragile.

That the phone's entire frame, but for a small cutout for the wireless charging, is made of aluminum, making the Pixel 5 aberrant in the Android phone space. You can take for granted that, at least on the back, the phone won't crack or shatter, but it's yet to be seen whether the paint, will hold up to the daily wear and tear of everyday life.

Google Pixel 4a 5G hands-on The bigger, faster Pixel 4a

Google Pixel 4a 5g Fabric Case

Google Pixel 4a 5g Fabric CaseSource: Daniel Bader / Android Central

I've had the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G for less than 24 hours, and you'll have to forgive me for not paying that much attention to the latter, a product whose value is fairly self-evident; it's a bigger, faster, and more power user-friendly version of the Pixel 4a, though without the amenities that make the $700 Pixel 5 so compelling.

Still, for people who don't need the Pixel 5's water resistance, wireless charging, and higher refresh rate display, the Pixel 4a 5G is a very compelling device, especially at just $500. It may just be one of the best cheap(er) Android phones you can buy.

Google Pixel 5 & Pixel 4a hands-on Any questions?

Google Pixel 5 Hands On

Google Pixel 5 Hands OnSource: Daniel Bader / Android Central

As I said up top, there isn't a whole lot I'm allowed to tell you about using the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G right now — I definitely can't share camera samples or comment on the haptics or the 5G performance — but that's coming soon, I promise.

In the meantime, let me know in the comments if you have any questions and I'll try to answer them.

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