Home Computer Hardware The beauty and the shame of Google’s Pixel 5 gamble

The beauty and the shame of Google’s Pixel 5 gamble

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Google Pixel 5

What is a “Google phone”? That’s a question I’ve been trying to wrap my moist mammal-brain around for many a moon now, and the answer has rarely stayed still for long.

Early on, back when the “Google phone” concept first came around with the Nexus line of devices (pour one out, everyone), the idea was meant to represent a dramatic shakeup of the phone-buying experience. The first Nexus phone, the now-classic Nexus One, had not only high-end hardware (for the time) but also a wild-seeming web-based sales model where you’d buy the phone unlocked, direct from Google, and without any carrier involvement. (Things were pretty different back in the prehistoric time of 2010 — as this Nexus launch video will quickly remind you.)

The idea of the “Google phone” eventually evolved to mean a niche-level device for developers, enthusiasts, and other people in the know. For a while, it also meant a device focused on value — such as with 2012’s luxurious Nexus 4, which sold for a mere $299 unlocked and off-contract at a time when most companies were hawking flagships for that kind of money only if you locked yourself into an over-the-top two-year contract and agreed to pay an ongoing ransom via your carrier.

When Google moved from the Nexus brand to the Pixel brand in 2016, it made it clear the days of niche devices and value products were a thing of the past. The first Pixel started at $649 — a high price by 2016 standards and a hefty hike from the bargain-bin costs we’d grown accustomed to expecting up to that point. Google told us it was laser-focused on the high-end, luxury phone market with mainstream appeal firmly in sight and enterprise adoption as a broader long-term goal.

Well, five years later, it looks like the idea of the “Google phone” is changing once again — and this time, it’s shifting at least a little back toward a direction from its past. The Pixel 5, announced this week and on sale now for $699, feels like a deliberate pivot from the Pixels that preceded it. And it feels like an interesting new mashup of some of Google’s previous Pixel strategies.

There’s the price, of course: At $699, the Pixel 5 is a good bit less expensive than last year’s Pixel 4, which started at $799 for the regular-sized model and $899 for the larger XL version. Whereas most phone prices typically only go up from one year to the next, this one is actually going down (and that’s to say nothing of its comparison to the more typical flagship phone of the moment, which rarely starts below $1,000).

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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