For the uninitiated the Pixel 5 is Google’s flagship phone that was announced on September 30, 2020 and later released on October 15, 2020.
Pixel phones do not have the best hardware. The Pixel 4 shipped with the Snapdragon 855 which at that time was nearly a year old. The Pixel 5 is equipped with the Snapdragon 765G. The 765G was new at the time but it was in the mid-range category. Despite being a mid-range chip the 765G should be good enough for most people, at most tasks.
To win the hearts of its users, Pixels tend to rely on software. Really, good software. Google Assistant on the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G is awesome. It’s like a layer of abstraction over separate pieces of software you have installed on your Pixel. The Assistant allows me to think in terms of tasks. I just tell the Pixel what I want to do rather than thinking in terms of steps I would need to perform to complete a task. The crazy part is that the Assistant is runned locally. Meaning you don’t need an internet connection. The result, you get nearly instant response from the Assistant and also better reliability for free.
Despite that, the first thing people have in mind when thinking about the Pixel is “great camera”. I think that’s a shame. Pixels are so much more than great cameras but I digress. Pixels has always had great cameras. Google is really, really good at computational photography. The ability to produce excellent photos with such a small sensor is just mind-boggling.
Many reviewers say the sensor on the Pixel 5 is really old therefore it needs to be changed. I disagree. Things do not need to be changed just because they are old. Yes, the sensor on the Pixel 5 is much smaller and older when compared to something like the iPhone 12 or the Samsung S21 ultra. But does it matter? Not really. The newer/bigger sensors perform better but the difference is honestly quite minimal. These days, the most important part of mobile photography is software, not hardware. Look at the pictures taken and judge quality from that. Don’t judge the camera on mobile phones through specs. The hardware is just an implementation detail. A marketing tool used by manufacturers.
The 1 thing that I think is really amazing about the software on the Pixel 5 is the ability to record 4k videos at 60fps.
To be honest that doesn’t sound very exciting since most phones with high-end chips can record 4k video at 60fps. The interesting thing here is that the chip used on the Pixel 5, the 765G does not actually support 4k 60fps, it only records 4k at 30fps. This fact is corroborated by the OnePlus Nord, a phone which also uses the 765G. The OnePlus nord does not support 4k 60fps, it only supports 4k 30fps.
So how did Google do it?
The answer is simple. Google enabled 4k 60fps on a chip that does not support it via pure software. That is amazing. Despite being technically very impressive, supporting 4k 60fps via software does have its downside. You may have heard from some reviewers that when recording at 4k 60fps the Pixel 5 gets warm, hot even. The camera may also crash after longer recording sessions. These are all problems caused by the fact that the processing is done via pure software. More processing power is required when taking a software based approach. Despite the shortcomings, the innovation by Google in enabling 4k 60fps recording on the mid-range 765G chip is one to be praised. Google basically allowed moderate hardware to provide a flagship experience. This is often overlooked by reviewers and it does a disservice to their audience. I think that is kinda sad.
Before ending this, I just want to point out that I agree with Google that 4k 60fps is a niche feature and time would be better spent on optimizing recording performance at 1080p.
Most reviewers like to mention the lack of 4k 60fps because it is easy. What’s hard is getting really amazing performance at 1080p. 1080p recording performance that actually rivals much bigger cameras because ultimately that is what people actually use.