Google Pixel phone ‘designed for economic downturn’

Google’s hardware chief has said its new flagship smartphone was designed to go on sale during an economic downturn.

As a result, the Pixel 5 has abandoned some of its predecessor’s headline features and runs on a slower chip in order to be sold at a lower price.

However, it does gain 5G connectivity and some new photography capabilities.

Experts say it will face tough competition from other mid-range Android handsets, but the included bundle of Google services could help.

“To not bring to market a true flagship demonstrates Google is now thinking about the market in a very different way than it was last year,” commented Ben Stanton from the tech consultancy Canalys.

“And on a price-specs basis alone, Google will probably lose to Samsung and Chinese competitors.

“Its key selling point, however, remains that it offers a stock Android experience with superfast updates.”

This is a reference to the fact that many other Android device-makers layer their own proprietary user interfaces on top of Google’s operating system, and typically take longer to offer software updates.

The Pixel 5 will cost $699/£599, and has a 6in (15.2cm) display and 128 gigabytes of storage. That compares to the $999/£929 price of last year’s top-end 6.3in Pixel 4XL.

Google also unveiled a 5G-enabled version of its existing Pixel 4a, which will cost £499.

Age of coronavirus
Smartphone designs are typically locked in place many months before the products go on sale, in order to secure the required components and carry out tests.

Google’s senior vice president of devices and services acknowledged that the Pixel 5’s features had been decided upon before the coronavirus pandemic began.

But he said a deliberate choice had been taken to offer a 5G-capable phone at “an affordable price”.

What the world doesn’t seem like it needs right now is another $1,000 phone,” said Rick Osterloh.

“Obviously nobody anticipated the pandemic, but we actually did think that the world was possibly headed for an economic downturn… and it only further emphasised our point of view that this is the right thing.”

Tech jettisoned from the Pixel 4 includes the Soli radar chip, which Google had taken five years to develop. It automatically turned on the older phone’s screen when its owner approached and allowed gesture controls.

Last year’s face-unlock sensors have also been ditched, with a return to the Pixel 3’s fingerprint sensor on the back of the Pixel 5.

“These technologies will be used in the future, but they’re very expensive,” Mr Osterloh said.

The Pixel 5’s Snapdragon 765G chip is also rated as being slower and having lower graphics-processing performance than last year’s Snapdragon 855, although Mr Osterloh said he did not believe consumers would notice.

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