best google pixel phones lead
CNN  — 

Google’s Pixel smartphone line may not be as popular as Samsung’s Galaxy S series or Apple’s iPhone, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider any one of these Android phones.

Currently, the Pixel lineup consists of the $349 Pixel 4a, $499 Pixel 4a 5G and $699 Pixel 5. And the highlight of any of these are the Google-exclusive features.

Those tweaks add valuable features like call screening or live captions for videos and podcasts. Pixel phones are where Google tests new features before integrating them or rolling them out to more Android phones. Another benefit of using a Pixel phone is that you’ll be the first to receive major Android updates. For example, when Google released Android 11, it was made available to Pixel phones first, followed by Google’s hardware partners.

Below we’ll break down the similarities and differences between the current Pixel lineup to help you decide which phone is right for you.

Google Pixel 4a

Google Pixel 4a

The Pixel 4a is the cheapest phone in Google’s lineup, priced at $349 for a phone that comes with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage and a 3,140mAh battery. It’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 730G processor. That means it’s not going to blow you away with speed and performance, but at the same time, you’ll really have to push it to its limits before you notice any sort of slowdown. We would often have multiple apps open at the same time, ranging from Slack and Twitter to Reddit and YouTube, and had no performance hiccups.

The 4a is the only phone in Google’s lineup that lacks 5G connectivity, offering the far more common 4G LTE connection instead. It’s a good thing too. Battery life is good enough to get through most of a day if you’re a heavy user, or a full day if you don’t spend all day on your phone scrolling through social media every chance you get. If the 4a had 5G, battery life would surely also take a hit.

With a 5.8-inch FHD+ display, the Pixel 4a is the smallest phone in Google’s current crop. It still boasts an OLED display, though, with HDR support and always-on display capabilities (staple Pixel features across the board).

There’s an 8-megapixel front-facing camera tucked into the top-left corner of the screen and a single 12-megapixel rear-facing camera. It’s the same main camera that you’ll find on the 4a 5G and Pixel 5, but the 4a lacks the second ultrawide camera both phones are equipped with. You’ll still have the ability to capture Night Sight photos in dimly lit environments and portrait mode photos as well as the ability to quick focus.

The Pixel 4a is a bare-bones phone with a bare-bones price. It’s perfect for someone who’s just getting their first phone, or someone who wants an impressive camera in a phone that doesn’t have every bell and whistle possible.

Google Pixel 4a 5G

Google Pixel 4a 5G

Think of the Pixel 4a 5G as the bigger, slightly more expensive and more capable version of the Pixel 4a. All of that combines to make it an incredibly appealing phone. So appealing, in fact, we named it our top pick for best budget smartphone in 2020. It was an easy pick, really.

The 4a 5G is typically priced at $499, but you can find it on sale most of the time. But it’s not simply the price that makes it so appealing; it’s the overall experience.

For under $500, you get a phone that can connect to both types of 5G networks (Sub-6 and mmWave) and that has a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone, a vibrant 6.2-inch OLED display, a 3,885mAh battery, 6GB of memory, 128GB of storage and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G processor. All of this comes together and delivers a very swift experience in simple or intense uses alike.

A quick word about 5G networks: Sub-6 is the type of network most of us have access to right now, providing slightly faster speeds. The 5G mmWave networks have shorter coverage range but provide significant speed boosts and lower latency. The 4a 5G supports both network types for most carriers, but you can check your specific carrier in this list from Google.

As for cameras, you’re getting an 8-megapixel front-facing camera that’s barely noticeable, thanks to the hole-punch design of the display. Rear cameras include a 12-megapixel main camera and a 16-megapixel ultrawide camera. That’s the same exact camera setup you’ll find in the more expensive Pixel 5. Pictures are going to be clear and crisp, and you’ll get to take advantage of Google’s AI and machine learning features that enable things like portrait mode and Night Sight for pictures in low-light environments.

The Pixel 4a 5G outperforms any phone in this same price category. From long battery life, to strong performance and multitasking, to a camera that captures the shot you want nearly every time. It may not offer more advanced features like wireless charging (or reverse wireless charging, for that matter), but it’s a worthwhile smartphone that will keep you connected and in touch with friends and loved ones far into the future. And it does all of that without breaking the bank.

Google Pixel 5

Google Pixel 5

Google’s Pixel 5 is the most recently launched phone from the search company. Instead of putting the best and most expensive components and features in the Pixel 5, Google took a page from the 4a’s playbook and lowered the cost. The Pixel 5 will set you back $699.

Part of that compromise meant that features like the face unlock feature Google used in the Pixel 4 line didn’t make the cut in the Pixel 5. Instead, you’ll find a healthy mix of features found in the 4a and 4a 5G, like a fingerprint reader on the back of the phone, and features limited to just the Pixel 5, like the ability to use it as a wireless charging pad to quickly top off a smartwatch or wireless earbuds.

Before we dive too far into our experience when testing the Pixel 5, let’s cover the specs. The Pixel 5 has a 6-inch OLED display with a 90 Hz refresh rate and a hole-punch design that makes room for the 8-megapixel front-facing camera in the top-left corner. The refresh rate just means that tasks like scrolling through your Twitter feed or gaming will appear smooth, thanks to the refresh rate, while the OLED display will make colors bright and sharp. Inside the Pixel 5 is 128GB of storage, 8GB of memory, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G processor and a 4,080mAh battery. It’s IP68 rated, meaning it can withstand an occasional splash or quick drop in a pool without damaging the phone.

It also includes support for Sub-6 and mmWave 5G networks should your carrier support those networks.

In our testing, the Pixel 5 wasn’t the fastest phone we’ve used, but it’s no slouch. We didn’t experience any lag or slowdowns when multitasking or opening several apps one after the other. That includes resource-intensive apps like Chrome and Facebook, along with games like Among Us. The display looks good due to the OLED panel and fast refresh rate. Scrolling was smooth, with little to no stuttering.

Joining the fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone are two cameras. There’s a 12-megapixel camera that you’ll use to take most of your photos and a 16-megapixel ultrawide camera that lets you zoom out on a photo without having to back up. It’s a solid addition to any smartphone’s camera capabilities, and something we appreciate on the Pixel 5.

While Google’s Pixel line has long been praised for providing one of the best smartphone cameras available, the current setup is starting to show signs of its age. It’s effectively the same camera setup Google has used for the last few years, and while it’s still impressive, Apple and Samsung have caught up, if not surpassed, the Pixel 5. That said, we have zero complaints about the photo quality that the Pixel 5 offers. Photos are still clear and sharp, and look more lifelike by not being overly saturated.

The Pixel 5 is a fine phone and worth every bit of the $699 asking price, but there’s also a lot of overlap with the cheaper Pixel 4a 5G, so it may not be worth it for everyone. That said, Pixel 5 offers a welcome combination of midrange specs with performance that punches above its class. This is the phone you should get if you want the best Google currently has to offer and price isn’t an issue.