Google Pixel 5a reportedly launching today — 4 key upgrades we expect

Google Pixel 5a front and back above and below
(Image credit: Steve Hemmerstoffer/Voice)

For the Pixel 5a, it's been largely all quiet on the rumor front, as most of the chatter surrounding upcoming Google phones has focused on the Tensor chip being developed to power the upcoming Pixel 6. But it sounds like the Pixel 5a is about to get some time in the spotlight after all.

That's according to an Android Police report claiming Google's next budget phone could arrive as soon as today (Aug. 17). Even better, the report featured a last-minute rundown of Pixel 5a specs and a glimpse at a phone purported to be the new release.

We're inclined to believe that report that a Pixel 5a launch is imminent, thanks to a Google statement released earlier this year. When one report claimed that the Pixel 5a had been cancelled, Google responded by telling us when exactly to expect the new phone. "Pixel 5a 5G is not cancelled," Google said at the time. "It will be available later this year in the U.S. and Japan and announced in line with when last year’s a-series phone was introduced." A brief check of the 2020 calendar reveals that the Pixel 4a launched on Aug. 20 last year.

Don't confuse the radio silence surrounding the Pixel 5a with indifference to the phone. Google's A series phones have proven particularly popular since the launch of the Pixel 3a in 2019, with even CEO Sundar Pichai noting that device's impact on the company's phone business. Reviews of Pixel A series phones have lauded Google's ability to retain some of the key features of its flagship phone — mostly the superior camera capabilities — in a device that costs hundreds less than the standard Pixel.

We'll have to wait until the Pixel 5a's launch, whether that's today or some time later this month, to see if the new phone can continue that streak. But based on the latest reports, here are the big changes rumored to be coming to the Pixel 5a and how that compares to previous models.

Two rear cameras

The previous two versions of the Pixel A series were limited to just one camera, as Google put the emphasis on computational software to help its budget phone produce superior shots. Not that we're complaining — Pixel devices are mainstays on our list of best camera phones, and the Pixel 4a was no exception.

The Pixel 4a 5G changed things up by adding an ultrawide angle lens to the mix, and from all the rumors we've heard about the Pixel 5a, it sounds like the second camera will be sticking around on this year's version. Not only do leaked photos via Android Police show a dual camera array, but Google itself had previously posted ultrawide angle shots reportedly captured by a Pixel 5a. That's just about all the confirmation we need.

Pixel 5a leaked image

Android Police posted this image, supposedly showing off the Pixel 5a. (Image credit: Android Police)

Dual rear cameras would be a big deal for the Pixel A series. If earlier versions of the phone could compete with pricey smartphones by using just one lens, imagine what the Pixel 5a can do with better hardware to go with that stellar photo-processing capability. Should this feature pan out, we'd have to say it's the one we're most looking forward to trying out.

5G for all

The Pixel 5a seems likely to copy one other Pixel 4a 5G feature — it's the 5G part. Unlike last year's Pixel A series updates which featured separate LTE and 5G versions, it sounds as if Google's releasing a single model this time around capable of connecting to faster 5G networks. (Reportedly, that's due to the Snapdragon 765G set to power the new phone, which is the same Qualcomm system-on-chip found in both the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G.)

Pixel 4a 5G

The Pixel 4a 5G (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

For Google, 5G connectivity is becoming old hat, as the Pixel 5a would be the third phone out of Mountain View to support the feature. But the fact that Google would no longer feel obligated to come out with an LTE-only model — not even for its budget phone — is a big step forward for 5G adoption.

A bigger battery than before

The most recent Pixel 5a report from Android Police mentioned a feature we hadn't heard before — a bigger battery for Google's upcoming phone. The Pixel 4a featured a slender 3,140 mAh power pack, so it didn't surprise us when that phone fared poorly on our battery test, in which we have handsets browse the web over cellular until they run out of power. 

Now we're being told the Pixel 5a will feature a bigger battery — 4,680 mAh, according to Android Police — which would happen to be the largest ever to power a Pixel phone.

Lots of factors determine battery life beyond just the size of the power pack inside a phone. But if this report pans out and the Pixel 5a does adopt a bigger battery, we're hoping that translates to a long-lasting phone like the Pixel 3a models released two years ago.

A higher price, too

Given all the improvements over last year's model, it's probably no surprise that all signs point to the Pixel 5a costing more than the Pixel 4a. Still, since the $349 starting price of last year's phone was one of its most praised features any price hike is unlikely to be greeted happily.

The key for Google, as it is for any budget phone release, is to strike the right balance between features and value. The latest rumor suggests a price of around $450 for the Pixel 5a, which would be $100 more than last year's model and $50 more than the iPhone SE. Of course, neither of those phones offers 5G or a second camera leans, so Google could be betting that's a trade-off shoppers will be willing to make.

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.