Google’s latest Pixel smartphones: Excellent camera and a decent price, but not as exciting as competitors

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Google’s latest Pixel smartphones ditch the fancy frills. There aren’t a bunch of features you’ll never use, but a solid camera and price tags that are more manageable than your typical flagship phone.

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I checked out both the Pixel 4a 5G and the Pixel 5 5G. These phones are similar, but there are some differences to know about. For starters, both phones have the same processor: It’s not top of the line, but it’s fine for everyday tasks. Still, it’s not as high powered as what you find on the latest Samsungs and iPhones. I noticed a bit of hesitation here and there with various tasks.

Pixel 5 has water resistance and wireless charging, two features that are absent on the 4a. Otherwise, both phones come standard with 128 gigabytes of storage and there is no way to add more with a memory card. Also, you can’t even buy a phone with more storage. 128 is your only option. Google is trying to keep things simple this year, I guess.

The camera setup on both phones is identical. You get Google’s standard regular lens that has proven its worth over the years. Now, for the first time, you also get a wide-angle lens. Unfortunately, the wide-angle lens is not as wide-angle as other recent phones I’ve tested, but it works. There is no telephoto lens for zoom shots, so all zooming is accomplished digitally.

Pictures on the Pixels are perfect, you’ll get great shots on the first try. They’ve also added some new camera tricks including portrait light and a neat looking cinematic pan video mode.

The Pixel 4a has a bigger screen and a headphone jack. Also, both phones feature a rarity these days, a physical fingerprint sensor on the back! Especially at a time when we’re wearing masks, this is a super convenient and fast way to unlock your phone.

Battery issues have been solved since the previous Pixels. I had no issues with the phone lasting the entire day. There’s even an extreme battery-saver mode that will extend usage time to 48 hours in critical situations. This basically stops all activity on the phone except for the basics you choose, like phone calls, texts and perhaps the camera.

Pixel phones also have some of the most advanced call screening features available. This will help you avoid nuisance and robocalls. You can have the Google Assistant screen any incoming call that’s not in your address book. I found it pretty neat – it’s like having your own personal assistant to answer your phone for you. As the assistant asks the person why they’re calling, you see a real-time transcription of what they’re saying on the screen. If it’s important, you can pick up.

I had high hopes for this year’s Pixel but Google has delivered an underwhelming device. Sure, it still takes amazing pictures and they are among the best photos I’ve ever seen come off of a smartphone, but other phones are just way more fun and versatile these days.

Still, you shouldn’t overlook these devices if you want an Android phone with point-and-shoot camera that nails your standard shots easily. Also, the Android software on Google phones is the best version you can get.

They’re not that exciting, but the combination of price and features is pretty good, especially on the lower end 4a 5G. That’s the device I would actually recommend for most people at just $500. I expect it to be on sale for cheaper at times during the holiday shopping season.

The Pixel 5G is $700 and not as good of a deal when you compare it to devices with better hardware like the Samsung S20 FE, which I think is a more versatile device thanks to a bigger screen, optical zoom, and a faster processor.

The Pixel 4a 5G arrives in November and the Pixel 5 will be available Oct. 29.

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