With so many options, choosing the best Pixel for you can be confusing. Here's how to decide.
This summer I faced a dilemma: My Google Pixel 3 XL was on its last legs. Its battery was a pale shadow of its former self. Its USB-C port failed to carry a charge half the time. Both sides of the phone, screen and glass back, were a spiderwebbed mess of cracks and chips. And according to Google, the phone isn't guaranteed more Android updates. I needed a new phone, pronto.
At the time, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro with Google's new Tensor chip were months away. However, I didn't really want to wait. And even with Google's fall launch event behind us, there are always price cuts that draw people to older models. A few months back, my options looked straightforward. Long ago, I'd thrown in my lot with Google's pure Android platform back in the days of the Nexus 5. Since then I've moved on to the original Pixel XL and the Pixel 3 XL. So the thought of switching to an iPhone like the new iPhone 13 was ludicrous. And the idea of using a Samsung Galaxy phone was equally alien.
Read more: CNET's Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro reviews
My plan was to go with another Pixel -- the problem was choosing which one. Scoring a refurb Pixel 3 XL was one way to go. But there were also the Pixel 4A and Pixel 5. The Pixel 4A 5G and Pixel 5A with 5G were also interesting options. Confused yet? I don't blame you. Ultimately though, I settled on the right Pixel for me. If you're like me and need a Google handset right now, read on. The phone I chose (and why I picked it) may make sense to you, too.
After I went pure Android, the way Google intended, I could never go back. Duplicate apps and tons of nonremovable bloatware are but a distant memory. Pixel phones are also the first to get Android OS and security updates. That's not usually the case with Samsung or OnePlus devices. And the fact that I'm a Google Fi cellular subscriber often narrows my phone replacement options. All that makes getting a Pixel, any Pixel, my chosen path.
Read more: Google Pixel 6 vs. 6 Pro vs. Pixel 5 vs. 5A and what's Pixel Pass?
Google no longer officially sells the Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL. That said, you can find both models on Amazon. To replace my (then) current Pixel 3 XL (128GB) though, I would have had to shell out $470. Now it costs $452. Regardless, that's too much to pay for an older processor (Snapdragon 845) and a measly 4GB of RAM. More importantly, Google will end guaranteed software updates soon. That's why this phone isn't worth it no matter how much the price has dropped since or may drop in the future.
Read more: Google Pixel 3 vs. 3 XL
The Pixel 4A comes with the Snapdragon 730G, a better processor than the 3 XL. You also get 6GB of RAM, 128GB of internal memory and promised software updates from Google up until August 2023. Not a bad deal for $349 -- it's a compelling option. Still, I could do better.
Representing last year's ultimate Google-branded Android phone is the Pixel 5. It's powered by a respectably muscular Snapdragon 765G processor alongside a robust 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. Google will also keep the device's software fresh until October 2023. Other welcome features include wireless and reverse wireless charging, plus IP68 water and dust protection. The Pixel 5 links to 5G cellular networks, too.
Over the summer the cost was $699, which was way too pricey. Now with the arrival of the Pixel 6, the Pixel 5 is priced at an agreeable $449. By comparison the Pixel 6 starts at $599 while the Pixel 6 Pro costs a least $899. Still, paying top dollar last June for the 2020 model would not have been a shrewd move. That's why I passed on the Pixel 5 back then. At its new lower price though it's a lot more tempting.
This is the phone I ultimately selected because it was then a perfect compromise of price, performance and potential. I ordered my Pixel 4A 5G back in June 2021. With the launch of the Pixel 6 and price drop of the Pixel 5A, however, all bets are off. (More on that below). At the time I was able to snatch a Pixel 4A 5G for $500 through Google Fi.
With the same Snapdragon 765G processor as the Pixel 5, 128GB storage and 6GB of RAM, the Pixel 4A 5G also packs a punch. It supports 5G wireless and has a bigger battery than the classic Pixel 4A, too.
Google expects to provide Pixel 4A 5G software updates until November 2023. All that made this phone the clear choice for me -- until recently. Google has now officially discontinued the 4A 5G and not longer sells the handset.
What a difference a few months makes. Now that Google has unveiled the Pixel 5A and the Pixel 6, my calculus has shifted big time. If I had to choose today, I might get the Pixel 5A 5G. It's the clear budget Pixel choice.
Priced at $449, this new phone is essentially about $50 less than what I paid for the Pixel 4A 5G. Even so, like the Pixel 4A 5G, the 5A comes with a beefy Snapdragon 765G processor. Likewise it's decked out with 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM. You also get 5G cellular comparability with the Pixel 5A.
What really sets the Pixel 5A apart, at least for now, is its 4,680-mAh battery and 6.34-inch display (2,400x1,080-pixel resolution). Both are bigger than what either the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4A 5G offer. Better yet, Google plans to supply the phone with software updates until August 2024. All that currently makes the Pixel 5A the best Pixel deal around.
Of course I'm sorely tempted by the new Pixel 6 phones. The $599 starting price for the basic Pixel 6 is more expensive. That said everything about it is superior to the Pixel 5G. Perhaps if I take advantage of Google's new Pixel Pass and trade in my current Pixel 4A 5G, I could swing it. And boy, that's a complex topic best left to an entirely new post.
For more, here's how to decide between a Pixel 5, Pixel 4 and Pixel 4XL, the Pixel 5 vs. the Pixel 4A 5G and the Pixel 5 vs. the iPhone 11, Galaxy S20 FE and OnePlus 8. Plus, six reasons to buy a Pixel and how the Pixel 6 compares to the Pixel 5.