Last year I decided the iPhone 12 Pro was the best choice in the line-up. It offered the best compromise for getting the best technology in a smartphone while not having to carry around a giant surfboard. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t perfect and didn’t feature the absolute best Apple has to offer leading some (myself included) to be a little frustrated in choosing a phone. Things are much fairer this year, but the choice is still a difficult one.
Whilst last year I bought all models of phone this time around I narrowed it down to two. My choice was between the iPhone 13 Mini for its awesome form factor or the iPhone 13 Pro. The more manageable ‘smaller’ version of Apples top of the line Pro models is better than ever in the key areas that users will care about – battery, camera, and screen. Continue reading →
When the iPhone 12 launched I couldn’t make my mind up which one of the all-new line up I wanted. Granted it was a weird year with different release dates, but in the end I ordered them all. Which was an interesting endeavour to see the real-world differences between using them. Most of which are not obvious from simply reading professional reviews. At the time I stuck on the iPhone 12 Pro which I called the Goldilocks phone, but throughout the year I switched between almost all models because I am weak.
They all had advantages and disadvantages. Despite all being great phones, almost all were the same old iPhone and didn’t do anything for me. All apart from the Mini version. If you will allow me to quote myself.
when I set my hands on the iPhone 12 Mini it sparked something in me that I have not felt for a while. It was the same old iOS device I love, but it was different for a change. A truly modern smartphone in a small package with pretty much nothing taken away.
All of those feelings are still strong, every time you handle the mini form factor. It does take a little getting used to, even more so if you’ve used larger phones, but there is much to be said about being able to reach the whole screen with one hand. Packing a 5.4″ screen, it’s only a fraction under the ones used on Plus sized phones in days gone by — but in a tiny little package. However you’re not going to be reading any books or scrolling through stuff for hours on this phone without some eye strain.
The screen retains almost all of the specs from last years model, coming in at 476 ppi and the usual expected quality from Apple displays. Thankfully, it receives a boost in max brightness to 800nits, which only becomes apparent in bright sunshine, but it’s a welcome one. The iPhone 12 line struggled in some conditions despite its 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio and True Tone technology. Thankfully no such issues plague either iPhone 13 version. You’ll also get a smaller notch in the screen too, but if you notice it you’re paying more attention than I do.
Did I mention it’s small? Also light at only 140g, which rids me of the pinky pain that can strike with heavier phones. I know most phone reviews are written by individuals that have a few more years on me so are not bothered about carrying around a huge slab of glass, but for those of us more interested in having something more manageable, how great the phone is to use is already obvious from the words above.
Build quality is exactly what you would expect from a top-of-the-line smartphone from Apple. I am still extremely negative towards the flat sides of the newer iPhones, but thankfully the ‘regular’ line of iPhones lacks the polished stainless-steel edges, so they are more smudge resistant. Unfortunately, the back of my Midnight version is not! The black(ish) version this year is a very dark blue that is a lot lighter than expected, with the glass back showing handling marks constantly.
I usually shy away from spending too much time on the performance and ability of new iPhones. They have been faster and more powerful than users will ever need for some years now and that doesn’t change here. The A15 chip in all the new iPhones features improvements to last years A14 in both performance and battery life. I am sure you can find words about cores and GPUs in other places, but its hard to say anything about specs like this other than its great. Shrug emoji!
The phone itself is ever so slightly thicker than last year, but you won’t notice it using the mini. Most of the heft is in the bigger camera system. One that takes the wide-angle lens that featured only on the iPhone 12 Max last year, combines it with what is, at first glance, the same ultra-wide from last year and puts it in a new diagonal set up.
The conspiracy theorist in me side eyes the slight tweak to the camera positioning as a way to signal your use of the new phone, but Apple claim they had to move it slightly to fit everything in. Which is an amazing achievement. I find it incredible that the camera lens and sensor shift stabilisation that only featured in the biggest phone last year makes its way to the smallest handset available. Bravo to Apple for not taking the easy way out.
What this means to users is that the new Wide sensor lets in 47% more light and keeps the sensors more stable than ever. The camera on the iPhone 13 is more confident than ever, providing faster capture, longer night mode shots and a better all-round experience than anything that I have used. Sure, not since the iPhone XS have I been disappointed in an iPhone camera update, but this one lives up to the hype.
The iPhone 12 cameras, particularly on the Pro, were excellent shooter, but tended to blow out highlights if you are not paying attention. When things got dark, night mode helped, but without having the steadiest hand in the world, images often left you with a water colour rather than a pin sharp shot. With the new camera system and more processing power the cameras take a big leap forward.
I can confidently wave the camera at almost any scene and get a great shot. Night mode needs around a second less in my testing to achieve better results than last year and shadows retain much more detail. Most people won’t notice the image improvements, because they were great before, but everyone will notice pictures are easy to take.
I would have loved this to also feature the new ƒ/1.8 aperture ultra-wide from the pro models (Apple do claim the ultra-wide lens is ‘faster’) but I can’t have everything I suppose. There’s also no macro mode from the pro models, but in my testing, this isn’t as good as it is made out to be. All in all this is a significant improvement all around. Perhaps not enough to warrant an upgrade from the iPhone 12, but one that will make even pixel peepers happy.
The reality is I don’t use my phone all that much so When Apple introduced a mini version of an up-to-date smartphone it instantly grabbed my attention. The perfect handset for me. Well Almost. The iPhone 12 Mini lacked in battery life so badly that in the times I was away from home (few in 2020) it was always a concern — so I disappointingly went back to a regular 12 and sulked.
In fact, it was the biggest compliant I saw from other users, or potential buyers. The battery life was average, as long as you didn’t expect to use it like a big phone. This year, the Mini sports what Apple claim is 1.5 extra hours of battery life – which is only a useful stat if you have something to compare that too.
Apple figures are almost impossible to follow along with, and they use all sorts of figures to avoid telling you what to expect. In my testing the battery life is around 20% better than last year’s model. The iPhone 13 Mini lasts around as long as the iPhone 11, which is as Apple claim 17 hours of video playback.
In the real world I can easily use my phone for 3-4 hours (I did it for science) and still have around 40% left. However, I don’t have notifications on for anything other than phone calls, messages, and emails, and don’t use many apps outside of banking, Twitter, Instagram etc. The iPhone 13 Mini still won’t stand up to someone using their phone lots (or so-called power users) but this phone is not the appeal for those people.
I don’t have some anti-phone stance, but when I spend my days talking to my family, sat in a meeting with an iPad and Pencil or sat in front of an iMac the Mini is perfect. It fills the gaps I need it to but perhaps it won’t fill yours. It isn’t for everyone.
Less Is More
It’s not all good news though, because the small form factor has some downsides. Modern life seems to point most users towards a larger and larger device, so using a ‘smaller’ phone is not conductive to all tasks. I have small hands, to typing on the mini is great for me but everyone else I have shown it to struggles.
There is a cultural expectation to be small phone adverse which becomes apparent when people ask about your phone. Others use words like “too small for me” or “its tiny” when in fact it isn’t small at all. Many of them are already using phones that are marginally bigger, if at all, but the Mini feels much more compact than it is.
There is not much that can be said about the iPhone 13 Mini that isn’t summed up in a few words. It’s ultimately an iPhone so you know what you are getting, a top-of-the-line phone in a small package. The iPhone 13 Mini is an upgrade as if Apple went through the phone and ironed out the few, but large, issues from the iPhone 12 Mini. Meaning that it has stepped up in my estimations from a good phone to a great phone.
The iPhone 13 Mini is bigger than ever. Bigger camera, bigger battery and sporting a much bigger appeal. I can recommend this phone to other people now, and I think the iPhone 13 Mini will be the phone most people should buy, but they won’t.
It is really hard for me to form thoughts on new services as quickly as I would like. My initial excitement usually dulls in very quick order but not before I have shelled out some cash to use it. As much as I never think anyone wants to read my thoughts when there are far more popular takes, I do have a few things to say about photography apps.
Since reading No Filter last year I have been a little sad. The excellent behind the scenes story of Instagram from founding to acquisition made me miss the service even more. I am still filled with a longing for the old Insta days, unfortunately one that I know couldn’t exist today. It’s hard to believe that just 10 sort years ago Instagram was the popular up and coming app with all the buzz, but a decade is a long time on the internet and things change.
The modern version is 5 or 6 different things crammed into one app, and removes exactly what Instagram is for. This, understandably, has left many photographers out in the cold and a little bitter considering how much work they have put into the service over the last decade. So many have been looking for something new. In recent memory the app Gala arrived and looked promising but ultimately failed to keep my attention.
A Little Different
Glass is different though. It is set up as an anti Instagram and removes all of the foils that entrap almost anything that Facebook touches. The app is designed to display the photographs beautifully, removing almost all engagement traps. Likes, follower counts and a constant strive for influence is replaced by a constant stream of the latest images uploaded.
The design focuses on the images themselves and the details of them. Displaying privacy conscious EXIF data about the image giving you an insight into exactly how the image was shot. You get to not only see the images, but feel the desire behind them, if your a photographer of course and know your shutter speed from your aperture.
My first log in allowed me to follow a few people that I knew already, but also find others that took the kind of images I like to see and learn from. As an amateur shooter being able to peek behind the curtain and understand how a shot was made proves a great learning angle too.
The founders talk a great talk, and seem to be walking exactly as then intended. When talking to Om Malik they sold the service well and aimed it to fulfill exactly what I and many photographers were hoping for.
We’ve intentionally avoided any public counts. We don’t want Glass ever to become a popularity contest. We’re not home for influencers. We are a home for photographers. – Tom Watson, founder of Glass
There is zero counting and metrics going on. No followers (well I guess you could count them yourself if you want to), no hashtags and best of all no likes. I want that rush of dopamine as much as the next person, but double tapping is far too easy. Where as in Glass if you like a photo the only choice you have is to leave a comment, which feels much better.
With these metrics gone there is no algorithm at play currently. I am sure if the app grows there will be no choice but to tweak this slightly, for the risk of becoming unmanageable. Glass is no where near reaching a scale that needs more though putting into it, but only time will tell. I do fear that they will eventually feel the pain of volume, however with zero metrics there would be no point gaming the system anyway.
Which in short means that my trust in getting into the app feels very well placed currently. They have spoken publicly about the very straight forward way you are able to get your photos back out again should you wish to leave, which is also great. The iOS only limit also seems to be lifting with Android and web versions in the works, so hopefully everyone can join very soon.
Paying For It
However. Saying things like “We believe great photography can come from anywhere and anyone” is fine. But the anyone is only those that can stump up the £50 a year entrance fee. Don’t get me wrong I love the fact that paying money to support a service means none of the bad stuff that comes from free services. However the worry would be that Glass becomes just another service along side all the others.
If I want as many people as possible to see my shots then I have no choice but to post them every where else too. So when the next years subscription comes around am I willing to pay again to look at photos posted by others everywhere else too?
My answer is probably yes, but the true telling will be how many people stick around in in a few months time. A fewof myfriends share similar feelings towards the new hotness app but I might have to cross my fingers and hope. Following high profile shooters is one thing, but I would like a mix of people I know.
As the opening few sentences gave way to a flood of my opinions I am still very bearish on the future. I can’t tell people how good a service is until I have used it for more than 14 days, and more so for a service that costs money and isn’t for everyone. My hope is that the grand plans for Glass keep on track and achieve even more, but my worry is the new hotness burns out and we all skulk back to Instagram again.
I don’t play many games. I tell myself that this is because I don’t have time, but really it’s because I have such an addictive personality that I’m scared I’ll lose myself in to it, and I’ve got things to do! I don’t have any console, but turns out I did have things I could use to play Google Stadia and I bet you do to.
What motivated all this was the fact there are some games that I want to play. You know those titles that everyone around you seem to be playing, and you just want to join in. The last title that did this to me was Red Dead Redemption 2 that I purchased a PS4 pro to play and before the month was out sat gathering dust, ending up being sold on a little later.
This time it’s Cyberpunk 2077. A title that I really didn’t want to have to buy hardware to run it, and really don’t want to pick up an old console to play it either. So, this is where Google Stadia comes in. The cloud streaming service that has been steadily improving over the last few months after poor release reviews, but might just be the place to play without having to splash too much cash on top of the line hardware.
What is it?
Googles solution to next-generation gaming is a streaming service that offers top of the line graphics without having to stump up the money for hardware. It’s a future that has been promised for some years now, and all of a sudden we have a few competing platforms that don’t work together.
What do you need?
Google Stadia requires very little to get you gaming. The most important of these things is a good internet connection. It doesn’t have to be the fastest in the world, but it needs to be reliable. In order to game wherever I wanted I’ve had to upgrade my router, but that shouldn’t be needed for most people. You will also need to check your data caps because you reusing upwards of 5GB per hour.
As far as hardware, you’ll first need a controller, any old one will do, I’ve been using a PS4 one I borrowed from a friend. As long as you can pair it with a mobile device you can get up and running in no time. One thing to bear in mind is that new Xbox controller don’t pair with all computers. You can stream stadia to ‘any device that runs chrome’. I’ve used my MacBook, iPad, iPhone and an ancient Chromebook all with good results. It also works flawlessly with mobile safari and also desktop Microsoft Edge.
You can splash for a Stadia specific controller if you like. Which I eventually did and picked one up for £35 from CEX, but they are available direct from Google. Opt for the Premier edition if you can afford it for £80, and you’ll get a Chromecast ultra too. This means you can play on your TV with ease but again you can pick these up cheeper at resellers.
What can you play?
Not every game is available on Stadia so don’t get too excited. There is a large range of games that are growing all the time like Cyberpunk 2077, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Hitman 3 (soon). However, there are loads of games missing, so this won’t replace a home console completely — yet. One noticeable absence for me is FIFA 21, but it’s coming early this year.
If you sign up for a free stadia account you’ll get a copy of Destiny 2 and Bomberman online completely free. Opt for the Pro subscription, and you can choose from a whole range of games to play for free while your subscription is live.
How well does it work?
On its initial launch Google Stadia was littered with poor connection issues and huge lag. Thankfully, this is pretty much gone. Lag will depend on your internet connection first, which I have a pretty stable and fast one. There are some impossible to diagnose issues that sometimes crop up, usually ISP related and can be solved by rebooting your rooter.
The UI of webpages or native apps takes a little getting used to as well as working out the options you have available when signing up. Hopefully, as the service becomes more main steam things like this will improve.
Finding games and starting one from your library could use some work, but when it comes to playing, I have experienced very few issues in my super-fast internet bubble.
What does it cost
There are quite a few moving parts here, and the website is more than a little confusing. Google of course push you towards signing up without much information. To play Cyberpunk 2077, which is all I set to do, it set me back the price of the game (£50). I borrowed a controller and used an iPad I already had.
There are two free games included with your account Destiny 2 and Bomberman Online, so you can start playing for free. Opt for a ‘Pro’ subscription for £8 a month, and you can claim any of a growing range of games. However, you can only play this while you have an active subscription. Outside the games a pro subscription allows you to stream in 4k, with HDR also available depending on the speed of your internet connection.
There is a free month trial with no purchase necessary to try out a few games and get the feel of the place. Allowing you to play all currently available pro games for a month without a charge. Google sell a Premier Edition controller and Chromecast Ultra for £80 which is the most versatile option, but you can pick these up for very little money in other places.
Games vary in price from a few pounds to large amounts depending on the package you wish to buy.
Sum Google Stadia up for me
If like me, you want to play the occasional game and don’t want to spend hundreds on hardware. Chances are you can get going with things you already have or for very minimal outlay. Unfortunately, not all games are available but there is a large library of releases.
The most important thing you will need is a fast, stable connection. If that sounds like you, Stadia is a great way to play almost anywhere.
Since the launch of iOS14 we’ve seen an influx of widgets for your Home Screen. Apple having finally launched a viable way for you to not only customise the look of your phone, but also gain access to information you need at a glance. So being the health conscious individual I am, I wanted something to help me display the data I need at a glance right on my home-screen and here it is – Fitness Totals.
Managing your long terms fitness goals can be extremely difficult and many options out there seemed to be aimed at athletes rather than those that want to just get active, or shed a bit of the Christmas plump put on over the festive period. Instead of making you feel out of place, Fitness Totals places the emphasis on your weekly and monthly activity totals. Giving you the option to display walking/running, but also cycling, swimming, and wheelchair pushes/distance.
You can choose from a whole range of different widget options in both light and dark mode, as well as 14 different app icons. Meaning that you can tailor the experience to your taste and view the data you value, whenever you need it.
I have been testing the app through its beta period and finding it extremely useful for comparing those stats that really matter to me. Having taken up cycling this year, and particularly enjoying walks with my dog, it’s great to get all the data I value but not have to worry about starting workouts or feeding my information into another service. Fitness Totals plugs straight into Apple Health and uses on device processing, so your data never leaves your phone. You can send your fitness totals to others if you choose to. The sharing features are particularly useful for a bit of friendly competition and give you a bit of a push!
It doesn’t matter if you’re active like me or just thinking about a New Year’s resolution. You can download Fitness Totals from the App Store for just £2.99 and keep focused on your health.
Yeah, I’m that guy this year. I couldn’t decide which iPhone size I wanted, so I got them all. It’s a weird position to be in but also provides me with some deeper insights into the real differences. I am not talking about specs and all those kinds of figures that people get too caught up in, the real things that make a difference to actually using the device. One of the strangest ones I have had to think about this year is the MagSafe wallet — so here is how it fits with each size iPhone.
iPhone 12 Mini
The smallest of the bunch is, somewhat understandably, the worst one regarding the MagSafe wallet. The iPhone 12 Mini is the same width as the wallet and the magnet position mean it goes all the way to the bottom of the phone also.
Meaning no margin for error, but a nice neat look and a perfect fit — in theory. In reality this means it’s the hardest to get on fully, and it’s also the easiest to move off the edge of the phone. The small size of the iPhone 12 Mini also means that it is the hardest to get off when you need to get a card out. Mainly because the only option you have is pushing it down from the top not side to side.
iPhone 12 Pro
The best compromise in the sizes of iPhones is arguably the best size to use the MagSafe wallet with. When fitting the wallet you have some room around the phone to position the wallet securely if you don’t get it right straight away. Also some space on the back of the phone to remove the wallet easier when you need to get a card out.
It lacks the neatness of the iPhone 12 Mini, but doesn’t look too bad at all. I have also found that when using the MagSafe wallet on the back of your iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12, the phone is easier to hold. I feel much more comfortable using my phone out the house without a case when the wallet is attached enabling a bit more grip.
iPhone 12 Pro Max
If you’ve read this far, you’re interested in what the MagSafe wallet is like with the biggest iPhone ever! The iPhone 12 Pro Max is humongous so there is no getting around that the wallet looks, well a bit weird!
There is quite a bit of room around the wallet, given the expansive slab of glass. It also moves around quite a bit when you are trying to use the phone, due to needing significant hand gymnastics. Quite often the MagSafe Wallet will move from side to side, and occasionally making me a little nervous!
The positive is that there is plenty of room for you to move the wallet to the correct position if you get it wrong. However, I would love to see a bigger version for the Pro Max simply so it doesn’t look so lost on the back of the phone.
MagSafe, especially the wallet, feels a little like version one so I am sure we will see revisions on future phones. Stronger magnets and better connections are a must as well as different sized accessories. However, the MagSafe wallet is a great addition to my fairly minimal lifestyle, so I’m pretty happy so far.
Despite ordering weeks ago, out of the blue my MagSafe Wallet turned up yesterday. I happily posted a picture on Twitter and all of a sudden quite a few people wanted to ask questions about it. So, I thought I might as well answer them all at once.
How Many Cards Can You Fit In It?
There is space for three cards to fit, that’s it. No more. However, the case is quite a snag fit so you won’t have any issues using one or to cards in there without them falling out.
There is also obviously no space for money, it’s very minimalist.
What Colour Did You Get
I opted for Baltic Blue, which pairs really well with the Pacific Blue iPhone 12 Pro I have, and also the Blue silicone case I occasionally use.
How Strong Are The Magnets
The real question we all wanted to know. The short answer is they will be fine. However, the longer one is, probably not as strong as they should be.
When in use I don’t think the wallet will slide off without you knowing about it, but it doesn’t sit nearly as solidly as the iPad Magic Keyboard. Particularly at the bottom it doesn’t take much force to move it around, and when using the phone you can feel it move around some times.
The reality is if you are not paying attention and wearing slim fitting trousers it may come off when you put your phone in your pocket. Using the wallet with a case adds a bit more friction, but I would like to see the address in a future update — I don’t think it is as secure as it should be.
Can You Charge With It On?
Nope, not at all, no wireless chargers work with the wallet attached. Not only it is probably too thick, but the wallet is shielded so you don’t ruin your cards, so nothing will get through anyway.
As soon as Apple showed off the iPhone 12 new design I was already dubious about how it would feel in the hand. Flat edges are great to look at, but there is a reason that no one uses them for modern smartphones. Put simply your hands are curved.
Sure the design of the iPhone 4/5 is lauded above all others, and the flat sides are part of that excellent design package, but this was at a time when screens and screen-time counts were much smaller. It still is a truly iconic design, but when your screen is 6.1inches and the phone weighs in at 183g it just doesn’t work.
Undoubtedly, some people love the new design. Looking at it from afar it’s easy to see the huge change in design, and how great it looks. However, design has as much to do with function as it does form, and this just doesn’t work in your hand. The edges are uncomfortable, the weight is needlessly excessive, and it hurts my hands to use it.
Perhaps I am spoilt. After using the Pixel 5 and Note 20 ultra, they both feature a great feel it the hand. With the Pixel 5 sporting a similar 6inch screen in a much smaller, more ergonomic package that truly is a wonder to use. Sure it doesn’t feature the same types of materials, but high quality doesn’t mean great design. New users must take this into account when thinking about buying an iPhone 12 Pro especially.
I can understand why the change has been made. The iPad Pro, and new iPad Air, share a similar aesthetic and it’s important to reflect this in your line up. Without changing the design of the iPhone 12, what actually would have been updated from the iPhone 11? Growth at all costs leads to changes for changes sake, and you can claim that the flat design is ”timeless iPhone design” all you like. The fact remains that the iPhones design was curved for much longer than to was ever flat. For good reason.
The once notorious equal chin and forehead bezels with a round home button could be picked out in a crowed market. This iconic design has been replaced with the notched all screen display. Apple did not need to flatten the edges to make the iPhone stand out, it needed to work harder to build value to the design they have.
Perhaps the iPhone 12 mini will feel much better, perhaps it’s a non issue that people will get used to, and no doubt we will see loads of copycat designs now. However, right here, right now there is a reason other phones are not flat because they are designed to use not to look at. When all is said and done, a £1000 should feel better than this.
A few times a year these kinds of posts start to appear. Around the time of installing new iOS updates, or getting a new phone, users start to think about what’s on their phone, and new people start to look for apps to use. Here are some of my favourite apps that are my first installs on any new phone.
I go backwards and forwards on podcast apps, but one that remains my favourite is Pocketcasts. It works brilliantly across platforms, so I can still use it when testing Android devices, but also has a great macOS app and web player.
You’ll have to upgrade to get all the features, but that’s only £9.99 a year and includes a brilliant watchOS app that streams podcasts even better than the stock app. Oh, and it looks awesome too!
Another staple of my daily usage is my task manager of choice, sure I have used others briefly, but it’s been on my device for years now. There are other apps that look prettier and perhaps have more in-depth customisation but to put it simply I can’t find any other app that can get your tasks from your brain into a plan quicker and easier. Todoist is also cross-platform and works petty much anywhere which is a huge bonus.
Now for something completely different, an app that provides most of my background sound. Dark Noise is the app I turn to when working, it not only provides the best ambient sounds around but is also the best designed app I think I have ever seen! The developer Charlie is all kinds of awesome too.
When I am not listening to podcasts, or ambient noise I spend at least 20 minutes every day meditating. Headspace is a popular choice for those wanting to work on their mindfulness, and for good reason as its packed full of features. You can get 10 days free to try it out too!
Every year, when my subscription comes to an end, I try and find something better to use as a read it later service. Each year I fail. There are cheaper options, there are newer services but I simply can’t find anything better that captures all the text from articles and also surfaces posts about interesting topics. At £35 per year it’s not cheap, but you can use it completely free with a few customisations removed and also a few ads in your article feed.
It’s been three years since I used a Pixel device. Not since the first version was I even motivated to pick one up and try it out. They all excelled in specific areas, but always suffered from some frankly jaw-dropping issues or hardware omissions — and when they somewhat sorted it all out with the Pixel 4 they wanted to charge premium prices and not deliver on the premium part.
Something changed with the Pixel 5. Amid a pandemic Google began to focus on what they could do to bring a device together, and perhaps what their customers wanted. So instead of weird and wonderful new developments they absolutely promise to develop, they took half a step back. Creating a device that leans on tried and tested hardware, not the bleeding edge. Just reliable specs, done well and priced at a point that Google felt it can complete.
At £599 in the UK (yay for no mmWave) it is a steal of a smartphone. Googles very own Android version, on hardware chosen to run it at peak optimisations — or at least thats what we are led to believe.
Despite there being loads of progress in this middle-top section (between £400-£800) the Pixel has an advantage that it is Googles flagship. So, it gets more development attention than many phones at this price point. While some companies cut things out to save costs and also not overshadow their top-tier handsets, Google can put in as much as they can for the price point they want to hit. While augments can be made that the Pixel 5 doesn’t have the bleeding edge of everything like other flagships, when you look at a phone such as the Note 20 Ultra, the Pixel 5 is half the price.
In actual use these supposed cuts are mostly nowhere to be found. The Snapdragon 765G provides more than enough power for every situation. Sure it isn’t as powerful as the 865, but who actually uses the power that these chips possess? I would challenge anyone that uses this phone to find any stutter or lag, or any situations where the thought of having a more powerful processor ever crops up. Even whilst gaming and editing images the phone never misses a beat — I am sure you could find lag somewhere that is caused directly by the processor but I have never seen it.
In fact, this ‘cut’ leads to battery life that is truly unbelievable. Let me say that again because it has never happened on a Google phone before — the battery life is insanely good. In fact, I can’t kill it! 8 hours screen on time is achievable, and some of my more leisurely days this week I got almost two days of use. Something helped by Googles option for a more reserved battery life processor, and no doubt software optimisations, squeezed every minute possible out of the 4080mAh battery.
Use it a lot I did because it is such a delight to use. The build quality feel, the ergonomic design and this hardware combination make a hard to resist package. Whilst the screen is a long way off the highest resolution on the market, its 6inch 1080 × 2340 (432 ppi) is one you won’t find major issues with, but it is very dim and the auto-brightness terribly slow.
Some slowdown or issues you may usually find in mid range hardware is smoothed out by the 90hz. Colours are natural and very pleasing to the eye, while text is sharp and the screen is all around absolutely fine to use. As we find with many of the choices made when building the Pixel 5, many words are written about the lack or this and that — but when you actually use it the phone, you realise what really matters.
There is no XL version this year, meaning that the Pixel 5 sits somewhere between the two, and with slim bezels and all metal build. In my opinion, this phone is the best feeling smartphone this year. The design may put some off as boring or utilitarian, but in a world on folding smartphones and weird innovations, Goole have carved out a simple but pleasing ‘candy bar’ smartphone that is both functional and still notably a Pixel.
The Sage colour I have is the only colour you should consider, the black version just doesn’t have the same appeal as the mottled green matte resin Google have covered the back in. This covering over the Aluminium body provides some rigidity to the design, meaning that wireless coils can be covered up, and the device always feel welcoming.
The design only broken by a slightly recessed fingerprint sensor, one that is fast and reliable and secure. It is a little strange to go back to rear mounted sensors after using more modern biometric options, but after a few moments it becomes smooth and natural, and you begin to wonder why things ever changed. Face unlock is fine, but this phone was designed in a pandemic, so you can understand the switch.
Since the very first version, Google put all its marketing and development into the Pixel Camera. It took top marks on DxOMarkMobile then, and has ranked very highly since then. The Pixel 5 continues this successful trend of doing more with less, and takes some truly amazing pictures. Its focus on black magic level image processing has led it to be lauded above many much more expensive phones and while it is still an extremely great camera, this year the sensor has really started to show its age.
Google definitely has its reasons, it couldn’t find another sensor to work very well with its processing algorithms, there is no avoiding the fact that newer more modern sensors are frankly much better. The 12MP IMX363 which first appeared on the Pixel 3, and is not far removed from the one on the Pixel 2, is now a long way behind larger higher quality sensors. While Google bridged the gaps with software in days past, the competition now takes as good, if not better shots.
With that said, the Camera is a delight to use — capturing images quickly and easily and achieving photos to be proud of in almost any situation. It punches well above it weight at only £599, and the edition of an ultra-wide lens makes it much more versatile.
The Pixel 5, as with those that have gone before it, excels in low light, and makes a mean portrait, but most of this is post-processing, so what you see in the preview window might not actually what the image turns out as. It also could be different again when you look at the photo on Google Photos later. Frankly that is usually a great thing, if a little baffling at first, and Google makes it easier to edit or revert changes made. Introducing a process of being able to change the angle of the light in portrait shots. Something that I feel only Google would do, and is amazing to play with, but ultimately, one of those features no-one uses.
Which brings us to a larger discussion about Google and Pixel version of Android. It’s a version that crops up nowhere else. A few that get close, but no-one does it as well. The Pixel always stays true to a Google vision of their OS, pushing features to it first, or sometimes exclusively to the Pixel Line.
This is one huge reason why the Pixel doesn’t need the top of the range processor because Android on the Pixel is nearly always fast and smooth. You get updates first, with Android 11 on board a long time before some are every shipping Android 10 to handsets. Google have also promised this for three years from release, so users will always be up to date — but what happens when Android isn’t optimised for this processor is anyone’s guess.
There are loads of software delights that you sometimes stubble on such as the power menu now highlighting compatible smart home gadgets and Google Pay cards. Unfortunately, my version does not feature the Google Assistant On Hold feature as it is US only, but does have live transcribe for any audio just a tap away at any point.
Google want Android to be as useful as possible while collecting data it can use to sell you things and companies adverts. We are all well are of that, and Android on the Pixel is the best possible version of that. You forgive the little quirks and the pestering for maps reviews because the OS is straightforward and a delight to use. Surfacing information, sending you notifications when you need them and being all around a great experience. There is nothing getting in the way on a Pixel, no third-party layers of options, not OEM themes. Just you and Google, and I like that.
It’s easy to sum up a Pixel device. Good software, great camera and some compromises somewhere — but with the Pixel 5 they have found their hardware mojo. By actually stepping back and building a device for the current circumstances, they have made ultimately a better phone. No gimmicks, nothing new to learn, just tried and tested hardware all wrapped up in hardware that delivers.
I feel like my review is about a thousand words too short, but because we know what we are getting with Googles best the words have already been written. The Pixel 5 does open up a more interesting topic around the demand for keeping up to a specification race no-one needs, but when you pick up the device and use it all of that falls away.
You can point at this spec and that spec, but when you combine these things together in a Google package the Pixel 5 punches well above its weight. Although the camera shows its age, it’s still a delight to use and its software smarts sorts out shooting errors anyway. This is easily the best Pixel ever — and I wouldn’t recommend you buy anything else unless the few ‘cuts’ are things you simply can’t do without.