These are the two Pixel phones we're expecting to launch at some point in 2021 - while it's far from guaranteed that they'll be shown off at IO, as Android 12 will be the big draw, it's certainly possible.
Google's Pixel phones are in flux right now, as in 2020 it seemed like the company was trying to enact big changes in the line. The Pixel 5 wasn't a premium phone, like the Pixel 4, but a mid-ranger. We also saw the Pixel 4a 5G, a specced-up version of the Pixel 4a, that sat between that lower-end phone and the flagship Pixel 5.
So while it's harder than ever to guess at what the Google Pixel 5a, the affordable version of the Pixel 5, or the next flagship, the Pixel 6, will be like, we can let rumors and leaks step in. We've heard quite a few about both phones at this point.
We'll run you through all the leaks and rumored specs below, comparing the phones as the leaks and rumors suggest they will be, in case either phone launches at Google IO. Take all this information with a pinch of salt, because none of it is confirmed just yet.
Google Pixel 5a vs 6 release date and price leaks
We haven't heard any price leaks regarding the Google Pixel 5a or Pixel 6, and that's probably because of the aforementioned state of flux. It's really hard to predict how much a phone will cost if you don't even know if it's mid-range or premium.
We normally hear price leaks quite close to launch, though, which does imply neither of these phones are coming soon.
Currently, rumors suggest the Pixel 5a will launch at Google IO - there's grounds for this to happen too, as the Pixel 3a launched at IO 2019, and the main reason the Pixel 4a didn't launch at the event in 2020 is because the event didn't go ahead that year.
It's much less likely that the Google Pixel 6 will launch at the event, because the flagship phone generally lands towards the end of the year. Never say never, of course, but don't hold your breath.
Design and display
We've heard the Google Pixel 5a could have a design that's very similar to the Pixel 4a 5G. You can see leaked renders of the 5a below.
And here comes your very first look at the #Google #Pixel5a! #VoiceCommunity #OnlyOnVoice@VoiceHQ⭕️exclusive -> https://t.co/T9QJsCPmAD pic.twitter.com/yFi5scOj9uFebruary 22, 2021
As you can see there's a rear fingerprint scanner, a 'punch-hole' camera in the screen, and two rear cameras. The build looks to be plastic, something previous a-series phones have been made of. The leaker of those images added that there's a 3.5mm headphone jack placed on the top edge of the phone, and if you look close you can see a little dip in the images that indicate it.
Apparently, the Pixel 5a's display is identical to the 4a 5G's - that is, a 6.2-inch FHD+ panel with a 60Hz refresh rate.
The Google Pixel 4a 5G was nearly identical to the Pixel 5, with two key differences: the latter was a touch smaller, and had a metal build instead of plastic.
We know a lot less about the Google Pixel 6's design, but there are some interesting morsels of information if you dig hard enough.
Firstly, rumor is the Pixel 6 will have an in-screen fingerprint scanner - that's a piece of tech that Google has so far avoided using in its Pixel phones, and is a big difference from the rear-mounted scanner the Pixel 5a is rumored to have.
Secondly - and this is a lot more dubious - the Pixel 6 could have an in-screen front-facing camera too. We say 'dubious' because it's based on a patent which might not refer to the Pixel 6 - but it's worth bringing up anyway.
There's not actually been a single rumor about the Pixel 6's screen, and we still need to find out if it's another small phone, like the Pixel 5, or if it bumps the size up a notch. We can speculate, though - mention of a one-handed mode in Google code implies the phone is big enough to require software solutions, though that could refer to a Pixel 6 XL instead.
Cameras and battery life
While older Pixel phones were known for being camera powerhouses, curiously, this department is by far the least-leaked of all of them - well, aside from battery life.
The only thing we've heard about the Google Pixel 6 is that its front-facing camera could record video at 4K, a feature few phones have. And that's it.
Google tends to use relatively low-resolution sensors in its smartphones, instead opting to increase the processing smarts between generations, so don't get your hopes up for 48MP, 50MP or 64MP - let alone 108MP - snappers here.
Regarding the Pixel 5a, we've heard the cameras will be identical to the Pixel 4a 5G - that is, a 12MP main and a 16MP ultra-wide camera. Google may have accidentally leaked a snap taken with the latter.
Our coverage of the battery size or charging rumors will be brief, because there haven't been any. Since previous Pixel phones have sometimes been criticized for their poor battery lives, this is a big thing we still need to learn.
Performance and software
And now we jump straight from the least-leaked sections to the most-leaked ones. The big news is in the chipset department, because for the Pixel 6 (and maybe Pixel 5a too), Google is said to be creating its own chipset.
This news was initially leaked and seemed unlikely, but more and more evidence is coming out to back the information up. A bespoke chipset could benefit the Pixel 6, as it would let the software and hardware run in harmony.
Saying that, we've heard a few other chipsets leaked for each phone too. The Pixel 5a has been linked with the Snapdragon 765G and 780G, while the Pixel 6 has been associated with the Snapdragon 775 and 780G. Those are all mid-ranged processors and, honestly, they're all fairly similar in terms of power.
Those chipsets were leaked early on in the rumor cycle, while news of the bespoke chipset is newer, so it seems more likely that'll be used in the Pixel 6 at the very least. The Pixel 5a's chipset is still far more in question, as the phone is likely to land sooner.
Due to the way Google operates, we'll definitely see both phones launch with 'stock' Android, just as Google designed it (without the changes other phone makers make to it on their own devices). The Pixel 6 will likely be the first phone to launch with the new Android 12.
One other thing worth pointing out is that the Pixel 6 could have UWB, or ultra-wideband technology, which is mainly used for short-range location tracking. We don't have much of an idea about what function this could serve, though.
The broad strokes painted by the leaks tell us 2021 is the year of the chipset for Google Pixel phones. We'll likely see the company debut its own processor, which could mean the phones are perfectly tuned to run Android at its best.
Other than that, these handsets don't seem to be huge changes from their predecessors based on leaks, with the Pixel 5a seeming suspiciously similar to the 4a 5G. The lesser-leaked Pixel 6 could bring the big surprises, though.
Finally, while it's possible - we'd go so far as to say 'likely' - that the Pixel 5a will launch at Google IO in mid-May, we'll probably have to wait much longer until the Pixel 6 debuts.
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Tom Bedford was deputy phones editor on TechRadar until late 2022, having worked his way up from staff writer. Though he specialized in phones and tablets, he also took on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness, mobile gaming and more. He is based in London, UK and now works for the entertainment site What To Watch.
He graduated in American Literature and Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Prior to working on TechRadar, he freelanced in tech, gaming and entertainment, and also spent many years working as a mixologist. He also currently works in film as a screenwriter, director and producer.