This is not what we expected. As always, everything about the Pixel 5 was leaked months in advance — but when the real thing came along, Google’s latest flagship phone was more quite fascinating. Fascinating enough that it probably will be the best-reviewed Pixel phone yet. It also is the most affordable Pixel flagship in a while, yet Google is probably right to not launch it in India. This will hurt many people in India – but let’s be honest, not many people ever bought the Pixel phones and those who did, did so at their own peril as even if the users loved the phone after-sales were ridiculously bad. But from a broader perspective – Pixel 5 is a phone that has been designed for a market like the US, not India. On top of it, in a spec obsessed market like India, it would probably never do well.
You see Google’s Pixel division is under a lot of pressure. In five years of selling and making its own phones, it has spent a buck ton of money but really made very little headway on the market. If anything it has pushed its rivals to take notice of its camera technology which has led them to up their game.
While all this has happened — it has lost critical leaders. Mario Quinez who led Pixel hardware left earlier in the year. More importantly, Marc Levoy, the man who invented its game-changing camera technology also left only to join Adobe where he is said to be working on something cross-platform that may bring Google-like camera tech to the masses. Google needs to make a move on, but it also can’t afford a stumble. After all, Alphabet has a ruthless CFO in Ruth Porat.
So here’s what Google did to make the remedy the problems people have been complaining about. The problems can be categorised into three branches — battery life, performance and affordability. It zeroed in on all these three problems and decided to wage a war against them.
Snapdragon 765G was Google’s solution
Surprising that a chip that’s not deemed to be a flagship-grade chip was the solution for a flagship phone. The Snapdragon 765G allowed Google to solve a bunch of problems in one go. The Snapdragon 765G is more efficient than the 865 so it will provide better battery life. At the same time, it also saves space as it has an integrated 5G modem – which allowed Google to dramatically increase the battery size to 4,080mAh which by the way is a very generous size for a phone with just a 6-inch screen. Google also went about introducing an extreme battery saver mode which further elevates the battery life when needed.
The Snapdragon 765G was also cheaper which allowed Google to reduce the price of the phone to $699. Its performance so good that it didn’t even need to add the neural core chip as all its latest AI algorithms for camera processing were working on it. This also saved it more money to get the price down.
Its ISP was good enough for the new Pixel camera stack. It was good enough for all the new camera features like bracketed HDR+, portrait mode lighting, night sight in portrait mode and the new improved stabilised video mode.
The performance was also not an issue as we have already witnessed with the OnePlus Nord and the Vivo X50 Pro, this chip is as fast as the Snapdragon 865 for most tasks and even heavy-duty gaming it is almost on the same level. Google’s problem was RAM, so this time around it has added 8GB RAM but with UFS 2.1 storage.
In the US, it could also counter the gaming argument with Stadia which works on this phone. The Pixel 5 supports both mmWav and sub-6 5G frequencies which could fill the gap of not having a cutting edge chip in the phone as that would be offloaded to the Google Cloud on the bedrock of a hyperfast network.
On the software side there is a lot of genius in this phone. Be it Duplex, the hold for me feature, the editable voice recordings with transcribitions, screen share on Google Duo or the way it is able to wirelessly charge despite having a fully metal back. It is subtle but meaningful.
All these arguments make sense. And all these arguments make for a very logical phone for the US market.
In India, these arguments will fall flat
India is the most competitive smartphone market on the planet. More than pure marketing, phones sell because of their specs. The audience pays special attention to specs and the Chinese smartphone players are feeding the market what it wants.
The Pixel 5 would’ve likely cost more than Rs 60,000 which would have made it dead on arrival in India. One doesn’t need to look much further than the OnePlus Nord which launched in India in July — it features the same Snapdragon 765G chip, has a larger 6.44-inch OLED 90Hz panel, it has quad cameras on the back and dual cameras on the front and a larger 4,115mAh battery with faster 30-watt charging all at less than Rs 30,000. There are other phones which have better specs — some like the iQOO 3 which has a Snapdragon 865 chip and a 4,400mAh battery with ultra-fast 55-watt fast charging and multi-camera systems for less than Rs 40,000.
And here I have not even started talking about offerings from Xiaomi and Samsung, the two brands that dominate the Indian market. Neither have I spoken about the Rs 1,00,000 elephant in the room called Apple whose current generation products may also make life difficult for the Pixel 5.
This on paper comparison alone would’ve killed it. The Indian market is also not 5G ready so it makes little sense to launch a 5G enabled phone with antennas for both mmWav and sub-6 frequencies installed on it. Add to this, the fact Google Stadia is not available in India nor would probably work in any usable capacity on Indian networks and Pixel’s marquee new features like Duplex and Hold call not being available in India – it made little to no sense to launch the phone. This phone was designed for a market like the US, and Google needs to be focused and push like hell, then it can think about India.
In the meanwhile, it should try to launch the Pixel 4a for less than Rs 30,000 when it launches on October 17 via Flipkart. Reviews aside, its sales will not be great no matter how good it is if it crosses the 30k mark, considering the very same competition that prevented the launch of the Pixel 5 will also become a stumbling block for the Pixel 4a.