Google‘s first smartphone line — the Nexus series — definitely wasn’t synonymous with ultra-premium design and features. The company has attempted to change that perception with its current phone family, the Google Pixel series. But that Nexus-to-Pixel name and strategy shift also resulted in another key change — higher prices.
While flawless hardware still isn’t Google’s strong suit, the company’s software innovation has taken the Pixel series from zero to tech-enthusiast hero in just four short years. By 2020, the Pixel price range spans from $349 to $999, which is quite a departure from the early years. More recently, Google’s mid-range “Pixel a” and Pixel 5 series have put Google hardware on the radar for mass consumers too.
To see how the company’s roadmap has changed since 2016, we’ve compiled price tags and some key product talking points for every Pixel handset so far.
Read more: All Google Pixel phones released so far
Google Pixel price: $649 – $869
At $649, the original Pixel seems quite cheap compared to today’s flagships, but this wasn’t a particularly affordable debut. Samsung launched its Galaxy S7 flagship for $689. Meanwhile, the swanky S7 Edge variant retailed for $779, just a fraction more expensive than the Pixel XL’s $769 debut. The 128GB Pixel XL cost an eyewatering $869, while the ill-fated (see combustible), but far more sophisticated, Galaxy Note 7 cost $850. The Pixel series clearly intended to play with the big kids from day one.
Google didn’t shy from charging premium prices, even though, frankly, the first-generation Pixel’s hardware was hot garbage. The metal and glossy finish chipped too easily, the phone lacked the increasingly standard IP68 water and dust resistance rating, and the rear camera didn’t even feature OIS. There really wasn’t a lot of hardware on offer for such a high price tag.
Instead, Google Assistant, the Pixel Launcher, and Google’s impressive HDR+ photography software won Google some early fans. To this day, software remains one of the most compelling reasons to purchase a Pixel handset.
Google Pixel 2 price: $649 – $949
Google sought to keep the entry point to the Pixel series reasonably affordable with the arrival of the Pixel 2. The company stuck to its $649 base entry point for 64GB storage and $749 for the 128GB version. However, Google saw room for a price hike with the Pixel 2 XL. Its base cost leaped to $849 and $949 for the 128GB variant, a full $80 more than its first-generation equivalent.
$80 is hardly the largest price hike in history, but that put the Pixel 2 XL directly up against the $850 Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus. Perhaps not the best move for a phone that would prove to have some battery life and display issues, while also daring to ditch the headphone jack ahead of the curve. Google made strides with in-house hardware though, introducing the Pixel Visual Core to enhance the phone’s AI and image processing capabilities, giving rise to one of the best cameras phones on the market.
Even with the considerably high cost in mind, Google did enough to refine its original vision and just about justify the higher price. As we said at the time, you don’t buy a Pixel just for the hardware. Instead, the Pixel 2 series was carried by its stellar software, three years of OS updates, and a best-in-class camera system.
Google Pixel 3 price: $799 – $999
After leading the way with 2017’s Pixel 2 XL, it was only a matter of time until the smaller entry in the series saw its price go up too. That happened a year later with the $799 Google Pixel 3. That’s a full $150 more than the most basic original Pixel and Pixel 2.
At the same time, the Pixel 3 XL saw its price rise by $50 compared to its predecessor. This put the 128GB storage option right on the $999 mark. Pretty pricey for a phone sporting just 4GB of RAM and a single rear camera. This was the year that Apple and Samsung normalized the idea of $1,000+ smartphones, which caused plenty of backlash at the time. Perhaps Google felt justified keeping pace with the big players.
The Pixel 3’s $150 price hike is Google’s most controversial (so far).
Google did make efforts to justify its higher price with more competitive hardware this time around though. An IP68 water and dust resistance rating, a cracking P-OLED display, a wide-angle selfie camera, wireless charging, and a revamped premium look launched the Pixel series from a flawed but plucky underdog into a mainstream worthy smartphone. Just don’t mention the unsightly “bathtub” notch on the Pixel 3 XL or the dubious battery life.
Google Pixel 3a price: $399
2019’s Pixel 3a marked a major shift in Google’s smartphone strategy. With an affordable $399 price tag ($479 for the 3a XL), the Pixel 3a halved the cost of entry into Google’s ecosystem.
Google’s less than perfect hardware was easier to overlook at this price point. Plastic bodies, thicker bezels, and slower memory were all perfectly acceptable trade-offs. This was especially true because the Pixel 3a packed in many of Google’s previously high-end software features, including its industry-leading camera capabilities. Better still, the lower end specs helped ensure Google’s more affordable phones could easily last a full day of use.
Overall, the Pixel 3a XL may have been a tad on the expensive side, especially in markets with plenty of affordable alternatives. But the smaller and cheaper Pixel 3a was a really competitive package, priced just right for Western audiences.
Google Pixel 4 price: $799 – $999
After testing its fans with the Pixel 3 series, there was a collective sigh of relief when Google held off on any further price increases with the Pixel 4 and 4 XL. Both models and storage variants cost exactly the same as the previous generation. In a year of $1,000 smartphones, the Pixel 4’s stagnant price strategy defied the broader industry.
At the same time, the Pixel 4 and 4 XL packed in more hardware than ever before. The phones featured dual-rear cameras and a wide-angle rear lens for the first time. Display quality led the field and Google was quick onto the 90Hz display trend. The Pixel 4 series also introduced Google’s Motion Sense and Soli radar system. While perhaps not worth the hit to already weak battery life, Motion Sense showcased Google’s continued efforts to marry unique hardware with improved software experiences.
Google’s willingness to experiment continued to be its greatest strength and weakness. While the Pixel 4 offered some of the best camera and software features around, its other features couldn’t quite shake that lack of polish that plagued early Pixels. Until that’s addressed, a flagship Pixel above $1,000 would be a tough sell.
Google Pixel 4a price: $349 – $499
This brings us to one of Google’s latest offerings — the Pixel 4a. Priced at $50 less than the Pixel 3a, this is the first time Google has actually lowered the asking price for a new generation. And talk about a bargain.
Better processing hardware does away with the 3a’s occasional jitters, the camera is sublime, and there’s Google’s top-class software, of course. All that for a third of the cost of some flagships. As we said in our review, it offers the best Google experience for way less cash.
However, the Pixel 4a has even more competition this year. The Apple iPhone SE, the OnePlus Nord (outside the US), and the Samsung Galaxy A51 are all fighting it out at similar price points. Not forgetting a slew of other affordable phones from brands like Xiaomi and Realme in Europe and Asia. But the Pixel 4a’s slight price cut gives it an edge in this increasingly busy market segment.
There’s no XL model this generation. Instead, there’s the larger Google Pixel 4a 5G, which also supports 5G sub-6GHz data and a faster Snapdragon 765G processor. This phone retails for $499, making it $20 more than last year’s 3a XL, and more expensive than the 5G-enabled OnePlus Nord. $20 is not a huge mark-up for 5G, but it definitely puts the phone in a different market segment to the 4a. The $150 price gap with the Pixel 4a is Google’s biggest yet. We’ll have to see if the Pixel 4a 5G’s hardware does enough to convince consumers of its value proposition.
Google Pixel 5 price: $699
Google’s latest flagship smartphone is the Pixel 5. It breaks away from the company’s previously premium pricing strategy. Priced at $699 in the US, the Pixel 5 is cheaper than both the Pixel 3 and Pixel 4 and is barely any more expensive than the OG Pixel. However, Google had to ditch a number of high-end features to hit this price point.
This lower price tag nets you a mid-tier Snapdragon 765G processor, an IP68 rating, wireless charging, Google’s 12MP rear camera with a new 16MP wide-angle lens, and 5G with mmWave support for US customers. That’s a very comprehensive package that offers serious value for money, but a few premium features that debuted with the Pixel 4, such as Face ID, have disappeared.
The move to a more affordable price point makes sense in the broader picture of lackluster Pixel 4 sales and the far better reception of the Pixel 3a series. With 5G pushing prices up, Google switched to a “just works” rather than full bells and whistles approach with the Pixel 5. Time will tell if this strategy pays off.
Google Pixel price history: The big picture
While the cheapest Pixel 4 option costs $150 more than the original Pixel’s launch four years ago, the Pixel 5 has brought the cost of entry tumbling back down. Years of consecutive markups that followed broader industry pricing trends have been set almost straight back to square one. Google’s Pixel range is now much more competitively priced than flagships from rivals Apple and Samsung, which continue to push four-figure sums.
Even the highest spec entries in the Pixel series haven’t dared yet venture north of the $1,000 mark, and Google doesn’t appear to be approaching the line anytime soon. Nevertheless, it’s still possible we could see an ultra-premium product from Google in 2021.
The Pixel series was becoming increasingly expensive, which while controversial did offer a clear cut difference between the more affordable Pixel “a” range. The lines between premium and affordable are rather blurry following the arrival of the Pixel 5.
Google’s affordable series has become cheaper though. The Pixel 4a is a crisp $50 cheaper than the Pixel 3a and comes with some much-improved hardware and Google’s blend of software excellence. The Pixel 4a 5G retails at $499, making it Google’s most expensive mid-range phone yet. Yet, at the same time, its also a very affordable entry point into the 5G market and Google’s ecosystem.
Google’s product portfolio has previously attempted to please everyone. Expensive flagships for the enthusiasts and affordable versions for the more budget-conscious. The Mountain View company doesn’t like to talk sales, but the “Pixel a” range looks to be the more commercially successful of the two approaches. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that the Pixel 4a and Pixel 5 are more aggressively priced this year. Although we’ll have to see if the lack of an ultra-premium product helps or hinders the Pixel smartphone brand going forward.
What do you think about Google Pixel pricing and its two-tier approach to devices over the past four years?