The Pixel 5 and the Pixel 4a (5G) are likely to turn heads this holiday season thanks to their sleek design and their ability to tap into ultra-fast 5G connections.
Of particular note is the flagship Pixel 5, clocking in at about $700, the same as you’d pay for the newly announced Apple iPhone 12. Travel + Leisure has spent the last week or so testing the Pixel 5, trying out its newest features and using the device in real-world conditions to determine if it’s worth an upgrade — or a switch — from your current device. My TL;DR take? Put it on your Christmas list, particularly if you’ve got lots of trips planned for 2021.
Here are five reasons why the new Pixel 5 is an ideal choice for travelers:
The camera is absolutely ridiculous.
One of the best features of any phone in Google’s Pixel lineup is the camera, which captures stunning images, enhanced automatically through AI software and backed up to the cloud for users of Google Photos. The Pixel 5’s camera doesn’t disappoint. New features include: An ultra-wide option, at 0.6x, with AI-powered smoothing to limit distortions. An upgraded Night Sight mode that helps capture low-light images without blurriness or noise. A Portrait Light mode that lets you edit the lighting in photos of faces after you’ve taken them. (Pretty neat party trick.) The Pixel 5 also has Google’s astrophotography mode that takes super-sharp images of the night sky; since I live in New York City, I wasn’t really able to test it — but other reviews say it’s “incredibly [impressive].”
The phone is the perfect size.
In years past, bigger has been better when it comes to mobile devices. Lately, handset makers have seen the error of their ways, slimming down screens to more manageable dimensions that fit easily into a pocket, a purse, even — yep, we’re going there — fanny packs. The Pixel 5 comes in one single size, with a six-inch screen set into a frame that measures 5.7 inches high by 2.8 inches wide by 0.3 inches deep. It just feels good in the hand, with a soft curve around the slim bezel and a fingerprint sensor for unlocking the device on the reverse side. (While the device is mostly made of metal, the rear is covered in “bio-resin,” Google says, which gives it a supple, organic feel.) The phone’s available in two colors: Just Black and Sorta Sage. The minty sage hue is quite nice.
It has serious battery life.
Google has packed the slim Pixel 5 with a sizable battery, with at least 4,000 mAh of capacity. (The previous iteration of Google’s flagship, the Pixel 4, by contrast, came standard with just 2,800 mAh of capacity.) That’s good enough, Google says, to last “all day.” The phone also comes with an “extreme battery saver” mode that can stretch the battery to last 48 hours, Google says, by switching off “some power-heavy features and [slowing] your phone’s processing.”
During T+L’s hands-on week with the Pixel 5, the battery did indeed last all day on most days. But I also set out to test the all-day promise by intentionally using the device heavily one day:I spent nearly an hour on a Zoom video call, used the AllTrails app to track my location activity for hours, took close to 100 photos and videos, and did all the normal stuff we do with our phones like check email and texts and browse Google Maps for lunch options. Those atypical demands zapped the battery by dinnertime but, generally speaking, the device did get through a normal day without charging.
One additional note: The Pixel 5 is the first Google phone to offer reverse wireless charging, meaning you can use it to charge other Qi-compatible devices. Nice touch.
It comes ready for 5G speeds.
The Pixel 5 and its sister device, the Pixel 4a (5G), are the first Google phones built with 5G capabilities. That means they can take advantage of super-fast data connections that let you download movies in the blink of an eye, hold crystal-clear video calls, stream anything without hiccup, and even tether other devices like laptops to your blazing cell connection to get stuff done on the go. I say “capable” because the rollout and effectiveness of 5G is still very much a work in progress. As Google says: “5G service, speed, and performance depend on many factors including, but not limited to, carrier network capabilities, device configuration and capabilities, network traffic, location, signal strength, and signal obstruction.”
In my testing in New York City, the Pixel 5 did zip along, with its 5G signal indicator illuminated most of the time. Streaming video and video calls were crisp — more so than on other devices I’ve used recently. Was that because of the magic of 5G or because the Pixel 5 has a powerful processor and lots of memory built in? Yes.
It has helpful Google tools built in.
One of Google’s greatest innovations for travelers has long been Google Translate, which often feels like something out of a sci-fi fantasy: Punch in a string of text, ask someone to speak into the phone, or even just snap a photo of a foreign script, and Google can render a fairly reliable translation in just moments — sometimes even without a cellular data connection. (Seriously, if you haven’t tried it, try it. It’s incredible.) That tool is built right in on the Pixel 5, along with all the other helpful stuff the voice-activated Google Assistant can do, from pulling the weather report in your favorite destination to making sure your flight is still on time to keeping track of your Airbnb reservations.
The $699 Pixel 5 is available from Google, wireless carriers, and other retailers.
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