Well, the Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event is a wrap and there’s a lot to get excited about from the smartphone giant. New watches, earbuds, and – oh yeah – some new bendy phones or something. In all seriousness, Samsung’s new hardware lineup looks dope but for me, the Unpacked event was a temporary distraction as I have never been a huge fan of Samsung mobile devices. It has been nearly a decade (Galaxy S3? Maybe?) since I owned a Samsung phone and the emerging foldable form-factor, well, I’m just not sold on it just yet.
For me, I’m leaned forward in anticipation for Google to release the highly-leaked and now official Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro smartphones that will feature the company’s first “in-house” SoC. The GS101 ‘Whitechapel’ chip has been rebranded ‘Tensor’ in favor of Google’s already-existing Tensor Processing Unit ASICs that already power much of the company’s cloud infrastructure. If the rumors are true, this SoC may very well be nothing more than a souped-up version of an unreleased Samsung chip that Google has tweaked with its know-how of AI and machine learning.
The expectation is that the Tensor SoC will land somewhere between the current Snapdragon 888 and last year’s 865 chipsets. As Robby pointed out, this may be a letdown for some but we think it’s a fairly audacious aim for Google’s first go at its own, self-branded SoC. It’s not like the 865 or the 888 are slouches. Both of those SoCs power most of the premium flagship Android devices out in the wild today. If Google can add the company’s knowledge of AI and machine learning to an already capable SoC while bringing premium hardware and design to the party, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are sure to be a hit. I, like many, have my eyes set on the new Pixel 6 line with the hope that it will solidify Google’s place as a legitimate hardware company. If that happens and Google plays its cards right, #madebygoogle phones could become a household name within the next three to five years.
Anyway, what does any of that have to do with Google’s “lesser” Pixel 5a smartphone? I’m glad you asked. With Google bringing the new Pixel 6 to market in just a couple of months and the budget-friendly 4a 5G still available for only $499, another mid-range phone didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Depending on whether or not Google is actually discontinuing the Pixel 4a 5G, the upcoming Pixel 5a feels like a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn’t fit anywhere. That said, rumors began to stir back in April that even Google may be questioning the 5a’s place in the world. Citing chip shortages, Jon Prosser tweeted that the Pixel 5a, code name Barbet, had been canceled and that the Pixel 4a and 4a 5G would sell through the end of 2021.
No dig on Mr. Prosser here. The man is usually spot on and honestly, this could have gone either way. Google quickly cleared the air and stated that the Pixel 5a was, in fact, still on the way but the mid-range phone would release only in the U.S. and Japan. A couple of months later, it appeared that Google was making moves to deplete its supply of Pixel 4a devices and the Google Store now has only the unlocked version of the 4a and the Verizon model of the 4a 5G available. It does appear that the end is nigh for the 4a models and that room is being made for the Pixel 5a. The 5a will feature the same Snapdragon 765G SoC as the 4a 5G but the latest leaks tell us that it will be the first A-series Pixel to have an IP water resistance rating and possibly a much larger battery than its predecessor (4650mAh vs. 3,885mAh).
Apart from that, the only major difference noted by Front Page Tech is the display that could come with a “forced” 90Hz refresh rate option. That’s a plus as most flagship devices are quickly moving to 120Hz as the standard. What’s so exciting about this phone? Well, perhaps not so much exciting as crowd-pleasing. Jon Prosser has outed the Pixel 5a as having a retail price of only $450. That’s $50 less than the base price of the Pixel 4a 5G and that’s key to my argument that this phone could be a major market mover for Google.
Why the Pixel 5a will be huge
The upcoming Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are going to set their sights squarely on flagship devices from Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, and others. Google has practically stated that as fact. For the first time ever, Google is prepared to “invest in marketing” for the real Google Phone. The Verge’s Dieter Bohn – stemming from an interview with Rick Osterloh – stated that Google is “trying to make a phone that is competitive with the best phones out there.” The tells me that Google is serious about actually selling hardware and perhaps even making some revenue from said devices. In order to do that, Google will need to lean on more than just a premium flagship device that will likely be North of a thousand dollars.
Why is that? Well, just take a look at Samsung or Apple. What do you think Apple’s best-selling phone was in 2019? It wasn’t the iPhone 11 Pro Max or even the standard iPhone 11. No, it was the iPhone XR. A mid to upper-tier phone that launched at $749 but has been subsequently reduced multiple times and you can pick a new one up right now for as little as $499. You get a solid iPhone with last year’s hardware and most of what Apple lovers love about iPhones. The iPhone XR wasn’t just Apple’s best-seller in 2019. It topped the list as the number one selling device in North America beating out the iPhone 11 with double the sales volume.
Looking to Samsung, the company that has long produced some of the most innovative and expensive devices on the market also keeps the lights on by selling an armada of budget-friendly devices. Walk into your local T-Mobile or Verizon store and chances are good that you can find a Samsung phone in just about any price range from nearly two thousand dollars down to practically free. Yet, you don’t see the masses walking around with a $1,000+ Galaxy “fill-in-the-blank.” Instead, Samsung sells tons of mid-range phones that have decent specs that perform quite well for the average consumer that doesn’t care about the latest camera hardware or 120Hz refresh rates. Don’t believe me? The second best-selling phone in the world in the first half of 2020 was the Samsung Galaxy A51. It retailed for $400 and you can currently pick one up for less than two Benjamins.
Long story short. If Google is, and I believe they are, serious about being a real competitor in the smartphone space, consumers will need options. Flagships are great and many of us will rush out to buy the next thousand-dollar phone the moment it arrives. However, for most shoppers, a “good” phone at a reasonable price is where it’s at. Many buyers want to walk into their local carrier’s store and walk out with a new phone that they know will work well, get regular updates, take good photos, and is affordable. The Pixel 5a should be that exact phone. At $450, you can bet that this Pixel will see some discounts to into the 300’s during the holiday season and anyway you slice it, that’s a solid price for a phone that has Google’s awesome camera software and many of the latest Pixel features.
Well, that’s my two cents. If Jon Prosser is correct, we should see the Pixel 5a released before the end of the month. With Google still emerging as a phone maker, it may take some time for sales to get rolling but I’d wager that by the time the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro hit the market, the Pixel 5a will have gained some traction and Google will be well on its way to making a name for itself in the smartphone space. The Pixel 6 may live in the limelight but the 5a could very well become the workhorse that helps Google grow this fledgling hardware segment of the company. I don’t know about you but that gets me very excited.