Anton D. Nagy contributed to this iPhone 12 vs Pixel 5 comparison.
Apple and Google have a very different approach to their line-ups when compared to competitors. While most companies are deliberate about creating a distinction between what’s affordable and what’s not, Apple and Google are really good about blurring the lines for a reason I think others should consider: brand reputation.
The best way for any company to retain customer loyalty is to not water down the experience you get, regardless of the variant you bought. If you know the Pixel brand is known for photography and timely software updates, you expect it at whatever the price the brand is being utilized. To a certain degree that gives consumers peace of mind knowing that choosing a less expensive iPhone is not really a downgrade if what they lose is features they probably don’t care about, and not quality in the experience.
This is why the Pixel 4a and the iPhone SE are so popular. You can go cheap with the confidence that performance is speedy, software updates are guaranteed, and the camera will be better than most, and I think it was a learning experience for Google. To see the company skip flagships for a year and focus more on the experience is only proof of how Apple’s iPhone XR and 11 experiments worked. Success clearly lies in the midrange, but the 2020 approach for both companies is more than interesting.
On one corner we have the iPhone 12, what Apple will never call its mid-ranger, and also the closest kin to the company’s Pro lineup ever. On the other, we have the Pixel 5, what Google calls its Ultimate 5G phone, and yet another case of mid-ranger denial. Right now there’s a bit more than a benjamin standing in-between their price tags if you read the fine print. The biggest question is, which one is the best investment for you.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, part of your decision is already made based on the ecosystem you’re currently on. If you love elements like FaceTime, iMessage, your HomePod, or your Apple Watch, then you’re pretty much locked into your iPhone. Android on the other hand is a bit less stringent since pretty-much every single Google service works on an iPhone, and that even extends to their speakers and smartwatches. Unless you’ve made hefty purchases on the Google Play store that won’t follow you to Apple’s App Store, switching away from Android is easier.
I’ve always been more of a fan of Android’s versatility, but iOS 14 is making the competition tough, and it’s not just the widgets. I actually wish there were more of those six months later, but at least the apps I care about are now supporting this. For me, it’s things like the smarter App Library, and the smart hand-off that happens between products. Cases like how I still struggle to find a better smartwatch than Apple’s offering, or how much I love my AirPods Pro is proof of how valuable Apple’s Ecosystem is in adding value to any iPhone, cheap or expensive.
If only iOS had smarter services, because Siri is no match for the Google Assistant, and the widgets menu is no match for the Google feed. If Android is your jam, no phone does it better than Google’s own. From snappy performance to getting the latest version of Android on day one to the perks in notifications and home control with Android 11, to all the feature drops that Google is pushing out lately, this Pixel 5 is a true investment. I only wish it would be supported for longer, as Apple has already proven to be the king of this by pushing iOS 14 to its 5-year-old iPhone 6S.
The hardware story is quite different though. Not sure if you noticed but this is the first time I don’t compare the best Pixel to a Pro iPhone. Not launching a flagship is kind of a smart move given our current economy, but if we’re to be fair, Apple’s mid-ranger compares to more modern flagships better than the Pixel. It has the same chip from its Pro models, supports all flavors of 5G, has the same connectivity, wireless charging, and IP rating. By contrast, Google decided to pick a midrange chip to cut the cost. It’s no slouch in things like 5G flavors and other forms of connectivity, and if anything sweetens the pot is offering double the starting storage than the iPhone for less money, and all while not skimping on wireless charging and water resistance.
I wouldn’t say either phone does better at 5G or any other form of wireless connection, but I do prefer the Pixel for endurance. The iPhone 12 is no slouch, but somehow Google can really stretch out its power pack for a tad longer.
I’d even say the Pixel has a better display. They’re both gorgeous OLED panels with vibrant color, contrast, and viewing angles, but the iPhone offers a brighter display at up to 1200nits that’s a hair taller and is protected by a stronger ceramic shield. Still, the Pixel has no notch, offers Always-On options, and has the 90hz refresh rate that Apple is already late to adopt. That said since the Pixel lacks an earpiece that can be convenient for phone calls in noisy environments, the iPhone does a far better job at its dual-firing speakers.
As for the rest of the build, even with Google’s choice for Gorilla Glass 6 at the front, the coated aluminum at the back will do a better job at surviving a fall than Apple’s back glass, which is horribly expensive to repair. I’m a bit more inclined towards the flat finish on the iPhone 12 and its color options, but the Pixel 5 in Sage is also quite the looker. The fingerprint scanner at the back is also more useful during this pandemic than Apple’s Face ID as we continue to wait for iOS 14.5, but I do wish Google didn’t remove the privacy features we had on the Pixel 4, as only the iPhone 12 hides your notifications on the lock screen until your face is detected.
The last claim to fame for these phones is photography, and this is the department where we see the most similarities in our iPhone 12 vs Pixel 5 comparison. Both offer an ultra-wide and a primary camera, and enough software processing to make their specs almost irrelevant. Each company is focusing more on giving you the most practical and automated point and shoot in your pocket, and I think both do a comparable job.
If the Pixel was first at computational photography, the iPhone has caught up almost entirely cause you’ll have a hard time telling them apart during the day. From dynamic range to detail, to even color reproduction, the results are nearly identical at whichever focal length you pick. There were a few cases where I preferred the iPhone for closeups, but very sporadic.
In low light, I think we’ve gotten to the point where other higher-end phones do better than the Pixel. I don’t think the iPhone 12 does better, especially when you switch cameras, but it’s not as if the Pixel is that much better. Obviously the further your subject, the lesser the detail on both.
Selfies and Portraits are the mixed bags where the Pixel does better in most scenarios and is able to capture more than one subject every single time. The iPhone struggles with more than one person, but then provides more natural skin tones in my opinion, even if I do prefer the Pixel’s crop or the lack thereof in portrait mode.
Really the video is where the iPhone just obliterates the Pixel. If you’re a creator looking for a B Camera or home movies are your jam, you should pick the iPhone 12. Even if Stabilization is on-par, the dynamic range and detail that Apple provides are second to none, though remember these are phones, and that only applies with enough light on both cases. Maybe where that’s most evident is in selfie video, where the iPhone has been slaying most Android Phones with 4K at 60fps for a second year in a row, while the Pixel is still stuck at just 1080p, and a very uncomfortable crop for VLOGGING.
iPhone 12 vs Pixel 5 conclusion
To conclude our iPhone 12 vs Pixel 5 comparison, I agree, this is a very tough call. Software is a matter of taste, where I find Apple’s ecosystem to provide more value, along with its longer support in software, but then Google provides a more useful approach to services. The iPhone has more variety in the hardware, but then the Pixel might be more durable and gives you double the storage for less money.
Once you throw the camera into the equation, the Pixel is looking like a better option if you care more about photography, but if video is important to you, it falls really short when compared to the iPhone.
I know, it’s hard to pick, and I’m gonna surprise you by picking the iPhone for the first time ever, and the reason has more to do with commitment. You get more for your money with the Pixel, but for how long? Google has been fumbling around with its Pixel phones since the days of the Nexus a decade ago, while Apple is not playing around. The iPhone has been a driving force for smartphones since its inception. If you’re the kind of person that holds on to a phone for more than a year or wants a good resale value, I think the iPhone is a better pick. Just the simple fact that the chip on this iPhone is on par with Apple’s own MacBooks says a lot about performance in the long run, even if I’d stretch a little extra money for double the storage if I were you.