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Google’s decision to ruin the Pixel 5 might have a good explanation

Published Mar 24th, 2020 6:04PM EDT
Pixel 5 Release Date
Image: Zach Epstein, BGR

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  • Google’s Pixel 5, which is set to launch this fall, will not have the same high-end processor as the Galaxy S20 and other Android flagships, some rumors have said.
  • The Pixel 5 won’t be the only new Android phone ditching the Snapdragon 865 for a cheaper alternative from Qualcomm.
  • A new report speculates that the Snapdragon 865’s price and design particularities might make it unattractive to some smartphone vendors, including Google.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

Google’s Pixel phones are meant to be iPhone equivalents for the Android universe; high-end handsets that are always the first to run the latest Android software. Google made that clear a few years ago when it replaced the Nexus line with the Pixel family. However, Google made a huge change to its policy last year when it launched the Pixel 3a — a mid-range device that wasn’t anything like the Pixel 3 in terms of flagship features.

The same thing will happen in the coming months when the Pixel 4a delivers a less impressive set of specifications than those of the Pixel 4 that was launched in October. But, more disturbingly, the Pixel 5 might be the first Pixel series not to sport the same kind of hardware as the other top Android flagships of the year. But thanks to a new report, we might at least know why this is the case.

Several leaks have claimed that the Pixel 5 phones will not feature the same Snapdragon 865 processor that powers the Galaxy S20 as well as a slew of other 2020 Android flagships. Instead, the Pixel 5 and Pixel 5 XL phones will feature a new Snapdragon chip that’s at the high-end of the mid-range spectrum — the Snapdragon 765G — which was announced alongside the Snapdragon 865 last winter.

Why is Google downgrading its flagship smartphone? It may have to do with the price of the Snapdragon 865, Ars Technica argues, as the Pixel 5 will not be the only phone opting for the 765G this year.

The same chip also powers the new Nokia 8.3 5G, a phone which was just announced last week. HMD Global has always used cheaper processors in its flagships, and we didn’t expect any changes this year. But a brand new report out of Korea says that LG’s G9 ThinQ will also use the 765G. This would mark a first for the LG G series. Like Google’s Pixel phones, LG G handsets have always featured the latest high-end Snapdragon in years past.

These companies may be skirting Qualcomm’s best mobile processor this year because of Qualcomm’s design decisions for the 5G processor. The 865 doesn’t come with a built-in modem. Instead, it requires a separate, mandatory chip — the X55 Modem — which handles both the 4G and 5G connectivity. Via Ars:

Qualcomm mandates that the 865 must be bundled with the X55 modem, making 5G a requirement for any Snapdragon 865 phone. The extra chip takes up more space in the phone, it costs more, and it needs a more complicated motherboard design.

Moreover, phones will require RF modules to support mmWave connectivity, which would occupy more space inside the handset. Aside from price, the Snapdragon 865 would also force phone makers to increase the size of the phones, as well as the power requirements. “The cost of the 865 isn’t just the cost of the chip package itself—it’s also the bigger, more power-hungry phones,” Ars argues.

Comparatively, the 765G has the 5G modem built-in and therefore needs less space inside the phone. But the chip will also be slower than the 865. It’s unlikely that any of the companies choosing the 765G over the 865 will explain their reasoning. The points Ars makes are valid, but it’s all speculation based on what we know about the new Snapdragon 5G chips, as well as the recent phone releases, combined with the latest rumors.

But Google going for a lower-tier chip for the new Pixel series is certainly not something we can ignore. No matter how Google tries to sell it, a 765G-powered Pixel 5 will still be a mid-range phone to many people, even if Google perfectly aligns the software with the hardware, and finally comes up with a flawless Pixel experience. But history has taught us that new Pixel phones are never perfect and that Google usually has to fix a number of bugs and mistakes after they launch, including issues that can affect their speed.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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