Google Pixel 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S20 5G: the weigh-in

This battle of top Android makers looks a bit different in 2020

Google has aimed to disrupt the Android market with its Pixel flagships the last few years with an Apple-like pairing of stellar software and bespoke hardware, with the results arguably better on the software front than hardware.

In any case, the Pixel 5 represents a new tact from Google: a budget-friendlier phone, a bit shy of a true flagship thanks to its lower-end processor. It still has plenty of premium perks in the mix, but it’s not all flash from top to bottom.

That’s a very different approach from Samsung and its Galaxy S20 5G, one of the most lavish handsets on the market today — with the price tag to match, of course. Can the Pixel 5 really compete with Samsung’s ritzier core flagship? Here’s what we think, now that the Pixel 5 has been officially announced.

Design: Flash or... just fine

Both phones opt for a punch-hole camera cutout, which means the giant “forehead” of bezel from the Pixel 4 is thankfully gone. Samsung’s screen is larger but slightly curved, while the Pixel 5 keeps things flat and standard.

On the back, the Galaxy S20 opts for glass while the Pixel 5 has an aluminium backing with a thin resin coating, which enables wireless charging despite the lack of glass. Overall, Samsung’s phone looks like the more stylish and premium option, with Google keeping things pretty simple overall for the Pixel 5.

Screen: FHD+ or QHD+?

You get a larger screen with the Galaxy S20, at 6.2in vs. 6.0in on the Pixel 5, but it’s also a higher-resolution QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED panel too. The Pixel 5’s OLED screen sticks to FHD+ (1080p), and is less crisp as a result.

Both have smoother refresh rate settings than a standard screen, as well: the Pixel 5 offers 90Hz, just like the Pixel 4, while the Galaxy S20 hits 120Hz… with a catch. You can only enable 120Hz at the 1080p resolution setting, while the full QHD+ resolution is limited to 60Hz. That’s a drag.

Camera: Testing will tell

The Galaxy S20 has an excellent triple-camera setup anchored by a 12-megapixel main sensor, which takes stellar snaps no matter which camera you use. The image processing has been toned down a smidge from previous Samsung flagships, plus it shoots 8K-resolution video… which is insane, but chances are good that you don’t have an 8K screen to watch it on.

Pixel cameras have been excellent from the start, and we expect the same from the Pixel 5. You get one less camera than the Galaxy S20 (no telephoto), but Google has done more with less from the start thanks to its brilliant software algorithms and processing techniques. We won’t know how they match up until we see them side by side, though.

Performance: A different approach

Here’s where Google decided to stop battling for top-tier and opt for something budget-friendlier. The Galaxy S20 has a flagship-tier Exynos 990 processor in the UK and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chip in the States and some other territories, while the Pixel 5 is a step down with its upper mid-range Snapdragon 765G processor.

Even Google’s budget Pixel 4a and 3a phones have been snappy with mid-range chips, so we expect that the Pixel 5 will feel pretty smooth in everyday use - particularly since Google itself is optimizing the software here.

Still, put head-to-head in benchmark tests, the Galaxy S20 will show notable speed advantages and should deliver better performance with games. The Galaxy S20 also has more RAM to play with at 12GB vs 8GB.

Battery and perks: One big difference

Battery capacity is pretty close here, with a 4,000mAh cell in the Galaxy S20 and a 4,080mAh pack in the Pixel 5. If anything, the S20’s larger, higher-res screen probably draws down that battery more quickly than the Pixel 5.

Both offer reverse wireless charging, as noted earlier, plus you can do reverse wireless charging for topping up earbuds or friends’ wirelessly-chargeable phones on the back.

As for storage, the Galaxy S20 has the benefit of microSD support to augment the 128GB internal cache, while the Pixel 5 gives you no options beyond the 128GB found within.

Initial verdict: A matter of value

Between the faster processor and higher-resolution screen, it’s clear that the Galaxy S20 5G is positioned as the more premium handset. But it’s also 50% more expensive at a list price of £899 compared to £599 on the Pixel 5. You can find the GS20 5G for less now, as it’s £799 at Amazon as of this writing, but it’ll still cost you a fair bit more than the Pixel 5.

Google is betting that there’s a market for a 5G-capable Android phone that has flagship perks but isn’t a full-bodied, top-end phone with a price tag to match. If money is no issue, then sure, the Galaxy S20 is potentially the better pick here. But all things considered, price included, we’re very curious to see how the Pixel 5 measures up once we get our review unit in. Stay tuned.