Apple is probably not very worried about the Google Pixel 5a which debuted last week and goes on sale on August 26. But Apple should definitely notice the changes Google is making in this more affordable Pixel, as it would set up an iPhone SE 3 for next year. Because in several key areas the Pixel 5a puts Apple’s current iPhone SE to shame.
There’s a reason the Pixel 5a immediately landed on our list of the best phones overall, and why it’s the phone to get if you’re looking for a budget model. While this year’s Pixel A Series phone costs $ 100 more than the Pixel 4a, it’s a better deal than the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5.
Even though the Pixel 4a doesn’t have Apple shaking in its boots, here are the advantages Google’s new phone has over the iPhone SE and other low-cost options from Apple.
Pixel 5a offers low-cost 5G option
Due to the Snapdragon 765 system-on-chip that powers the Pixel 5a, Google’s new phone offers 5G connectivity with sub-6 GHz and mmWave networks. You’ll find cheaper 5G phones – the Samsung Galaxy A32 and OnePlus Nord N200 spring to mind – but you certainly won’t find a 5G phone for under $ 500 that has the photographic prowess of the Pixel 5a (as we will see in a moment).
You certainly won’t find such a device at Apple, where the company only started releasing 5G phones last fall. The cheapest model is the iPhone 12 mini, which starts at $ 200 more than the Pixel 5a. Apple’s iPhone 13 model line is unlikely to feature a low-cost 5G option.
In fact, we might not see such a phone from Apple until next year, when the iPhone SE 3 is due out. For now, the cheapest iPhone – the $ 399 iPhone SE – only works with LTE.
The Pixel 5a offers a second rear camera
Speaking of the iPhone SE, it is ranked among the best camera phones even though it only has one rear camera lens. This is a testament to the power of computer photography from Apple and how proficiently your iPhone processes photos after you press the shutter button.
Pixel A Series phones were in a similar boat – a single rear camera but some of the best photo processing software you could find in a mobile device – until the arrival of the Pixel 5a. The new model adds a 16MP ultra-wide camera to the 12.2MP main shooter, and in our testing, that made all the difference.
For our Pixel 5a review, we took some one-on-one photos between Google’s new phone and the iPhone SE. More often than not, the Pixel 5a took the best photos and the flexibility of an additional lens is one of the reasons.
Dual camera arrays are now commonplace on budget phones. It’s a trend Apple had better embrace if it wants to stay competitive.
The Pixel 5a offers Night Sight
While we’re on the subject of cameras, as good as the iPhone SE is, it lacks one key feature – there’s no Night Mode like you’ll find on other Apple phones. In the meantime, Google has released two Pixel A Series phones since the release of the iPhone SE in spring 2020 – first the Pixel 4a and now the Pixel 5a – and both offer Night Sight, the equivalent of Google to take low light photos.
You can see the impact of this direct comparison between the Pixel 5a and iPhone SE cameras. The Pixel 5a manages to produce a clear image of a smoker photographed at night – you can even make out details like the masonry and the fence behind the smoker. The iPhone SE photo is just a big black drop.
The Pixel 5a offers an OLED screen
With the iPhone 12, Apple made the switch to OLED panels for all of its phones, including the cheaper models. But that decision came too late for the iPhone SE, which came out a few months before the OLED Switch. It still has an LCD screen.
In contrast, Google is equipping the Pixel 5a with an OLED panel, even though it is trying to keep costs down on this particular phone. While the Pixel 5a’s display isn’t the best panel we’ve seen, it still outperforms the LCD with deeper blacks and better contrast. There’s a growing gap between the LCD iPhone SE and OLED phones like the Pixel 5a, and it’s an issue Apple can no longer ignore.
The Pixel 5a has a bigger battery
Neither the Pixel 4a nor the iPhone SE set the world on fire when it comes to battery life, with both devices performing below average in our battery test. (We have phones that continuously surf the web on cell phones until they run out of power.) Google has decided to do something with the Pixel 5a.
The new phone has a 4,680mAh battery, bigger than the Pixel 4a’s meager 3,140mAh power supply and the largest battery ever included in a Pixel phone. The Pixel 5a’s 9 hours and 45 minutes on our battery test is average for a smartphone, but ahead of the 9:18 a.m. time we recorded when we tested the iPhone SE.
What this means for Apple and iPhone SE 3
The iPhone SE still has a lot to offer. While not as fast as the newer iPhone 12 models, the iPhone SE still runs a lot of Android devices with its A13 Bionic chip. It can charge wirelessly, which Google left out on the Pixel 5a. And fans of compact phones will appreciate the design of the iPhone SE more than the Pixel and its large 6.43-inch display.
But the iPhone SE’s advantages over other budget phones are quickly eroding, meaning Apple has its work cut out for it with the iPhone SE’s successor. This phone, tentatively called iPhone SE 3, would add 5G as well as a faster chipset. But if Apple is hoping to steal some of the thunder of budget phones from Google, it would do well to take a look at the Pixel 5a and pack some of those features into its next budget device.