Pixel 5a, a new mid-range smartphone.

Google has surprised us all by announcing the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro. Or rather, pre-announcing.

To be clear, this wasn’t a specs-and-all reveal of the company’s next big smartphone line. We have no (officially confirmed) idea how many megapixels, GHz, pixels and nits these phones are capable of spitting out. No YouTubers have been filmed fondling Google’s next flagship phone.

What we did get was a curious press briefing featuring an overview of what the Pixel 6 had to offer, along with a hatful of artfully composed official shots. All very exciting indeed – and also slightly odd.

Quite aside from the novelty of the pre-announcement format itself, something has been left behind here. Where on Earth is the Google Pixel 5a?

First let’s make one thing quite clear: the Google Pixel 5a exists. We’re as certain of that as it’s possible to be without a weird official pre-launch press release.

But that’s largely because of a bunch of weird rumors that popped up suggesting the Pixel 5a had been cancelled. This in turn prompted Google itself to issue a statement dispelling said rumors, and confirming that the Pixel 5a 5G (yes, it explicitly used that title) would launch around the same time as the Pixel 4a launched last year.

Despite these parallels, we’re way more hopeful about the Pixel 5a’s prospects – and not merely because Google has officially confirmed that it’s still coming.

While you’d never catch us making it, there is an argument that the Galaxy S21 FE, the OnePlus 9T, and even the Galaxy Note 21 don’t really need to exist. For all their fancy tweaks, they would essentially be half-year iterations on early-year flagships, which seems a little extravagant in these belt-tightening times.

By contrast, the Pixel 5a will be a true annual update. Despite its reportedly familiar design, it’s going to be a proper follow-up to an impressively affordable phone with a great camera that launched a whole year ago. That’s the natural peak-operating life cycle for any smartphone.

There’s still a clearly defined place for the Google Pixel 5a on this topsy turvy smartphone market, even if Google doesn’t quite seem to know exactly where it is or how it should be communicated.

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