Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5: Biggest differences to expect

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5
(Image credit: Steve Hemmerstoffer (@OnLeaks)/Tom's Guide)

The Google Pixel 5a is arriving soon, with the budget phone rumored to be making an appearance as soon as this month at the Google I/O developers conference. And when it does arrive, expect a lot of focus on just how the Pixel 5a compares to Google's current lineup of phones.

Certainly, much of that effort will be spent comparing the Pixel 5a to its predecessors. (In fact, we've looked at the Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 4a based on the rumored specs for the new phone.) But you'll also want to consider how Google's latest handset will measure up to the Google Pixel 5, especially since the latest rumors suggest the Pixel 5a will have a lot in common with last fall's big flagship.

Google I/O kicks off May 18, which is when most people anticipate that the company will take the wraps off the Pixel 5a. But a steady stream of Pixel 5a rumors has given us a good idea of what to expect — so much so that a Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5 comparison can help highlight the changes Google could potentially introduce.

Here's how we expect the Pixel 5a will compare to the older Pixel 5.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5 specs

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 Pixel 5a (rumored)Pixel 5
Screen size6.2 inches6 inches
CPUSnapdragon 765GSnapdragon 765G
Rear camerasMain lens + ultrawide12.2MP main, 16MP ultrawide
Size6.1 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches5.7 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5: Price

The Pixel 5 occupies the high-end of Google's phone lineup, with a $699 starting price. That's $200 more than what Google charges for the Pixel 4a 5G and $350 more than the Pixel 4a's debut price.

That $349 price was one of the best things about the Pixel 4a, as it meant you were getting a comparatively cheap phone that still managed to produce better photos than handsets that cost hundreds of dollars more. So obviously, we'd hope for a repeat performance from the Pixel 5a on the pricing front.

That may be hard to pull off for Google. As you'll see from the remainder of this Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5 face-off, the new phone is expected to get some significant upgrades over the Pixel 4a, highlighted by a more powerful processor and 5G connectivity. If those features do appear, Google might have trouble holding the line on that $349 price from last year's Pixel 4a.

Still, even if a price hike is in the works, we wouldn't expect Google to stray far from the price point that's helped its budget phones enjoy some success. Rumors have been quiet about the Pixel 5a's potential price, but we'd look for something that's in between the Pixel 4a and Pixel 4a 5G.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5: Design and display 

The look of Google's phones doesn't change much from flagship to budget model. And based on the Pixel 5a leaked renders that have appeared so far, the new phone will look a lot like the Pixel 5. The difference will be in the materials — Google uses plastic in its cheaper phones, which is likely to continue with the Pixel 5a. 

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5

Pixel 5a render (Image credit: Steve Hemmerstoffer/Voice)

Another key design difference will be the headphone jack. Like the Pixel 4a, the Pixel 5a will feature one, while that feature remains missing from the Pixel 5.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5

Pixel 5 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Rumors suggest that the Pixel 5a will sport a 6.2-inch OLED screen with full HD resolution. That's slightly larger than the Pixel 5's 6-inch panel. The Pixel 5’s display does offer a 90Hz refresh rate, though, and opinion is divided on whether that's something the Pixel 5a will adopt. 

Previous Google budget phones have used the more traditional 60Hz refresh rate, so that Google can tout the faster-refreshing display as a differentiating feature on its flagships. Then again, more budget phones are upping the refresh rate on their displays, so it's possible the Pixel 5a could follow suit.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5: Cameras

Starting with the Pixel 4, Google has offered an easy way to differentiate between its flagship phones and budget devices — the flagship gets two cameras, and the budget phone gets just one. That changed a little bit with the Pixel 4a 5G, which adopted the exact same camera setup as the Pixel 5, but with the Pixel 4a still sporting a lone rear camera, Google's "Flagship, two cameras; budget phone, one camera" philosophy remained more or less intact.

Google Pixel 5a vs Pixel 5

Pixel 5a render (Image credit: Steve Hemmerstoffer/Voice)

The Pixel 5a may shake that up. Those leaked images of the new phone show off two lenses, which we presume would be the same wide and ultrawide angle cameras Google includes on the Pixel 5. Furthermore, the metadata of Pixel 5a-shot images inadvertently posted to a Google blog revealed that the pictures were captured with an ultrawide angle lens. Supposedly, the Pixel 5a will also add phase detection auto focus.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5

Pixel 5 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Even with the extra rear camera looking like a certainty, the star of the show for the Pixel 5a should continue to be Google's photo software. We'd expect most of the imaging features debuting in the Pixel 5 to make their way to the Pixel 5a. That includes electronic stabilization modes for video, improved HDR+ and portrait photo support in Night Sight.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5: Performance

Here's where things could be eerily similar between the Pixel 5a and Pixel 5. For last fall's flagship, Google went with the Snapdragon 765G. That's a lower-powered processor compared to the Snapdragon 8 Series chipsets that usually power flagship Android phones, but Google apparently made the move with an eye toward keeping Pixel 5 costs down.

A Pixel 5a rumor suggests that the same Snapdragon 765G silicon is slated for Google's new budget phone. If so, it's a curious decision. 

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5

Pixel 5 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

On the one hand, it would make Google's budget phone as powerful as its flagship device, while also adding 5G compatibility without the need for a separate Pixel 5a 5G model. But then, even budget-minded shoppers might be put off by the idea of springing for a new phone with last year's silicon, even if it does cost less. And speaking of price, if the Pixel 5a features the same chipset as the Pixel 5 (and Pixel 4a 5G), then how will Google keep the cost of the Pixel 5a down?

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5: Battery life and charging

Battery life has flummoxed recent Pixel models. The Pixel 5 and its 4,080 mAh battery lasted 9 hours and 29 minutes on our custom battery test, which involves setting a phone to continuously surf the web until it runs out of power. The Pixel 5's time fell below the average smartphone's result, though at least it finished ahead of the Pixel 4a.

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5

Pixel 5a render (Image credit: Steve Hemmerstoffer/Voice)

Even so, the Pixel 5a may have a hard time clearing that low bar. Google typically equips its budget phones with smaller batteries. The Pixel 4a, for example, offered a 3,140 mAh power pack. Given that the Pixel 5a will likely include 5G, it seems like a bigger battery would be in order — maybe something similar to the 3,885 mAh power pack inside the Pixel 4a 5G. But a battery that's much bigger than the one inside the Pixel 5 seems unlikely, especially if Google wants to keep a lid on the price of the Pixel 5a.

While the Pixel 5 offers reverse wireless charging, which allows you to charge other Qi-compatible devices by placing them on the phone's back, we wouldn't expect that capability to find its way into the Pixel 5a. Wireless charging tends to be restricted to pricier phones, and it's a feature Google hasn't included in budget models like the Pixel 4a. 

Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5: Outlook

Based on what we've heard so far about Google's phone plans, the Pixel 5a seems like it's going to substantially close the gap between Google's budget phones and the Pixel 5. From the processor to the cameras, a Google Pixel 5a vs. Pixel 5 comparison may reveal more similarities than differences.

The key issues still to be revealed are whether the Pixel 5a will get a faster refreshing display and how all these improvements will impact the phone's price. The answers to those questions will let us know just how the Pixel 5a measures up to the Pixel 5. And it could reveal more about what Google is planning for this fall's Pixel 6.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.