Back in the Nexus days, Google's approach to hardware was very different from most OEMs. You could say OnePlus swooped in with a similar mantra a few years later, focusing on great hardware at an affordable price tag. There were compromises, of course, but even then, it resulted in true treasures such as the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 5.
Fast forward to 2013, and Google reversed course. It decided it wanted to appeal to a broad crowd and compete with Samsung and Apple. This new philosophy resulted in the Pixel lineup, flagship performance with excellent cameras, but with a premium cost.
In the same year, OnePlus emerged to fill in the gap. Their "flagship killer," the OnePlus One, gave customers the very best at a price hundred of dollars cheaper than the competition. But, over the years, OnePlus suffered from price creep until they hit the $1,000 mark in 2020.
Meanwhile, Google is reversing course again. They already offer many of the same advantages as OnePlus phones, and this year, for the first time in Pixel history, Google will release three phones under $700, one of which is a flagship that can compete against the more expensive options.
Back in the early days of OnePlus, the company would release only one phone a year, which usually arrived in April or May. Although in later years they changed this release cycle due to need, it was this start that helped grow their initial popularity.
One phone means you don't have to choose different sizes or hardware. You have one choice in which you always have the best device they offer.
This year, that is exactly what Google plans to do. The Google Pixel 5 will be the first Pixel to not release with an XL model. You don't have to choose between screen size or resolution — there is only one option to choose from, the premium flagship model.
Despite the price drop this year, the Pixel 5 will release for $699, the lowest price since the Google Pixel 2. But don't expect to lose the flagship specs at this price. The Pixel 5 will still retain its industry-leading camera performance, stereo speakers, and a display with an A+ rating from DisplayMate. It will also have a higher refresh rate display for cloud and mobile gaming.
So what is lost at this price? Like the OnePlus of the past, the Pixel 5 will have to make some compromises to stay affordable, namely using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G.
This is a new 700-series 5G chipset from Qualcomm that provides flagship performance, just not this year. Benchmarks show it to be in line with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, the flagship SoC of 2017. So while it won't be the fastest phone, you will not need to lower graphical settings in games or experience any slowdown when doing normal tasks such as social media.
Besides their low price-to-performance ratio, OnePlus is also known for their software. Oxygen OS is widely regarded as "stock with a little extra," meaning they've left the AOSP experience mostly intact while adding tweaks, new tools, and features that make their software the gold standard for Android skins.
During the Nexus lineup, Google delivered almost a pure stock experience with no extra frills. But with Pixel, Google changed this approach. The version of Android running on the Google Pixel 4a isn't the same as pure stock Android device such as those in the Android One program. It has exclusive features and apps such as an AI-enhanced voice recorder, a spam blocker, an offline song identifier, and much more. Google even added some customization options to give your menus some flair.
Now, it's to the point where OnePlus will have to fight to retain its "stock with a little extra" crown.
In the US, there are only a handful of phones that let you unlock the bootloader, most of which are either very old or midrange. Pixel and OnePlus have led the charge in this area, having one of the easiest methods to unlocking a bootloader.
OnePlus is usually the better option because of its lower price, but Pixel 5 will change that. While retaining the same straightforward methodology for unlocking the bootloader at its new price tag, the Pixel 5 will likely take OnePlus' spot here.
Just because you can unlock bootloader doesn't mean you want to. If you don't have modifications to apply to your phone, why compromise your phone's security?
Google Pixels are the only collection of phones that rivals OnePlus' lineup thanks to day one kernel source releases, as well as anything else developers need to create modifications. At the Google Pixel 5's new lower price, expect to see an even more active community.
Receiving frequent updates is another advantage of OnePlus devices. Included with their inexpensive smartphones is a promise of three years of security patches and two software updates. In recent years, the latter has gotten better as OnePlus worked tirelessly to reduce the time it took to release the latest version of Android to their devices.
But this doesn't compare to Google Pixel. As the owner of the operating system, Google tests and releases the latest software on their device first. Security patches also reach their phones first, usually days before anyone else. The "2+1" software support that OnePlus offers their phones is actually bested by Google, who will issue security updates and full OS upgrades for 3 full years.
But there are things that Google is doing that OnePlus didn't do or is only now doing. It was this year that OnePlus finally created a midrange lineup known as the Nord. Google jumped into this category last year, and it became the best selling Pixel phone. And while this lineup doesn't have all the bells and whistles of other phones in the price range, it has two distinguishing advantages — price and camera performance.
At $349, there are few phones in the US priced lower, all of which are Android Go powered devices or entry-level devices. And then there is the camera. Usually, phones at this price point do what they can. But with Google already taking the strategy of recycling the same old camera hardware and enhancing it with machine learning, it is no surprise the Pixel 4a's camera performs nearly identical to the more expensive Pixel 4, which is already one of the best smartphone cameras on the market.
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