So you want faster, but dont care about millimeter wave (unless you live in a large city and are outdoors in it because, I remind you, the shorter the wavelength the less it will penetrate common building materials then you dont really care about that -- at least not for the next few years.)
You dont like the idea of $1,000 phones either. Frankly, if youre willing to drop that sort of money on a device its a status symbol, not a phone or communications device. I get it, some people are into showing off how much money and bling they have. This is not your device.
You want or need more than 128Gb of storage. Sorry, not you again. Why? No SD slot and theres 128gb on board. To be fair thats quite a lot; enough for a crap of music and similar, so its probably fine for 99% of the people out there. Google has never put SD slots in their phones; they want you to clown, er, cloud everything. IMHO 128Gb is enough to not do that and still be reasonably happy.
I will say this: This device is right on the edge of acceptable in terms of size for me. I do not like large devices. I gave away my LG V20 to my kid on that basis; it was just too damn big. Great phone, but....
In terms of comparison it is a bit larger than my 4a. But what you get for the size is a much bigger battery; roughly 46% larger. That is likely worth it, simply from a runtime point of view, not that the 4a was any slouch (it wasnt.) You do notice it in terms of heft.
As is common practice these days theres no case in the box. Buy one, even a cheap bumper case. Yeah, its a $500 phone (with tax), not a $1,000+ one, but if you drop it I assure you it will break if unprotected.
It also has Ip64 (NOT Ip67, which allegedly is good for immersion for up to 1 meter) water and dust protection; the 4a had none. Thats not proof against dunking it in the pool, lake or (god forbid) salt water immersion, but getting caught with it in your pocket in a fairly significant rainstorm shouldnt be a problem as that rating means protected from water spray and dust (but not under pressure) from any direction. Thats nice. I havent destroyed a phone with water intrusion in a very long time, but some people do on a regular basis. This is at least moderately resistant to that outcome -- if you spill your beer on the phone it should be fine.
RAM is 6Gb, which today is considered moderate. I had no issues.
The cameras are typical Pixel and excellent; the 5a/5g adds a second shooter (wide-angle, 0.6x) to the back. No complaints there. If you want a real camera then bring one; no phone will ever match or beat even a relatively inexpensive dSLR, so there you go.
It has a 3.5mm headphone jack. Most devices today have gotten rid of it. A mistake, if you like good-quality audio IMHO. It wont matter if your primary audio use is bluetooth but, again, quality... yeah.
The screen is nearly-full coverage with a small hole punch in the top left for the front-facing selfie cam, and OLED. Brightest, most-saturated, that sort of thing? No. But very serviceable and nice? Yes. Im satisfied; it also has a bit wider aspect ratio in normal mode than the 4a, which for some apps will mean they display two columns instead of one, etc.
The brightness auto-adjust is, as is usual, wonky when you first get it. Perfectly fine in moderate and bright conditions but it turns it down way too far in a dim room. It does learn when corrected, however, as it has on all previous Pixel devices. Expect a few days of teaching it before it behaves reasonably in lower-light conditions. Its bright enough to use outdoors in full sun, but as with every phone Ive ever used bright enough is just that. Being OLED rather than IPS the brighter you run it the more battery it consumes and its not a small difference either.
Speaker volume appears to be significantly louder than my 4a at maximum. Probably wont mean much to most people, for a few it might. Its not fill the room loud nor high-fidelity, but for hearing notifications it does the job as expected and should be plenty adequate for most speakerphone use. Bluetooth audio pairing with my vehicle and running headphones both work as expected.
The crossover setup feature, if you have another Android device, works well as it has for quite a long time. The only exception is as for all other previous versions; it does not copy anything sideloaded since it goes to Google Play to get the apps once the data copy is complete. As a result if you have sideloaded things (I do) you need to reload them manually, but thats always been true.
The bands supported are full-featured, which is of course nice as well. RF performance is typical Pixel, which means very good to excellent. Around my place the 5g performance is stunning; 200Mbps has been reached in tests with often seeing half that as upload speeds. Thats as-fast as my cable connection at the house -- on a handset! Now granted, where I live there are likely very few people on 5g capable handsets right now, but even so, thats extraordinary real-world (not theoretical maximum) performance and way beyond what you could possibly exploit on a handset. If tethered thats an entirely-different situation, of course, but to a laptop on 5Ghz (which it supports) itll be plenty-fast and very difficult to differentiate between cellular and a cable link for all but the most hard-core user. The biggest issue tethering will be that youll blow through your before throttling data allocation quickly if youre imprudent with it.
Is there a reason to buy this if you have a Pixel 4a? Maybe not. LTE is pretty darn fast provided you dont run into network congestion; does 5g offer you that much -- or even anything perceptible -- on the handset? Probably not, unless you use tethering and have enough data allocation to not hit the throttling or hard cap limits. So the real advantage if you have a 4a or similar-class device is the monster battery. Thats not a small advantage, and if you add Accubattery and tell it to ding you at 80% youll find that even a year or so in youve probably lost no capacity either. Endurance is a big deal for most of us and having to run around and charge sucks. That, by itself, may be enough for some people to buy it.
The storage (128Gb) is the same as the previous series -- if you have a 4a. If you have the 3-series then its a double and that makes a difference. Would I consider doing so in that case? Yes, for that reason alone. If you need more than it has none of the Pixels will ever be your device since Google intentionally wants you to use their cloud and thus has never included an SD card slot.
Water resistance is a nice plus but I wouldnt buy a phone for that purpose. Now if you drown yours, well, then its a no-brainer since a 4a class (or 3 and before) phone has no water resistance and this one does. Easy win. Just dont expect to drop it in a pool or similar and have it survive; its not rated for that.
None of these Pixel devices have wireless charging. Do I care? Not really; Ive yet to find a modern phone that charges fast enough on wireless for it to be other than a gimmick except on long trips if you build a modified car cradle. How many of you will? Yep, thats none, and by the way, using wireless charging as a keep it topped off pad is a very bad idea when it comes to battery life.
Size matters. For some people the 5a/5g is just too big. On the other hand if its not then it isnt, and this is a very personal thing that has a lot to do with where you carry the phone. If its in a front pocket and you like your jeans tight, well, not so good. It is marginally larger than the 4a, but not by a great deal, and as I said it just gets inside my too big and a pain in the ass threshold.
Do you need a crashbox/case/similar for it? Absolutely. Dont be stupid. $10 worth of protection is not only foolish to forego its downright penny-pinching with potentially-disastrous consequences. The screen is proud of the frame by a mm or so and the camera hump on back is also proud of the frame. You will damage either or both without protection, as with most phones if you drop it without one. Case it -- period.
Remember, it is Android, for good and bad. Yes, its the Googleplex. You can shut most but not all of the Google intrusions off, but others are simply not avoidable. You absolutely want to put Tasker or similar on the device and configure it to get the maximum available privacy protection -- but do understand its by no means perfect, and thats the price of Googles app integration and Play Store for various useful things. BTW if you think Apple is better they are not so dont be a fool and do things that can/will get you busted, nor should you ever rely on the security of screen locks and similar. Against someone who steals the phone its probably adequate to keep them out. Against the cops (of any description) forget it. Thats not specific to this device; it is true of all modern cellular devices.
Overall: Recommended; a decent price-point and, for the capabilities received, the result is a price:performance winner, and not by a little.
Disclaimer: I never accept paid review requests. I will review products where I am given the product with no strings attached prior to writing it, but only if disclosed. In this case, as with most reviews posted on The Market Ticker, I bought the product in question with my own money on the open market with no special considerations and the manufacturer was unaware of my intention to review it prior to publication.