Nearly six months after the release of the Pixel 5, Google has revamped the way the GPU works, bringing the phone up to the level you’d expect from a Snapdragon 765G phone. The April 2021 security update for the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a (5G) came with a note saying that it includes “performance optimizations for certain graphics-intensive apps & games.” Hands-on testing reveals the update apparently dramatically improves the Pixel 5 GPU, reportedly showing performance gains of up to 50 percent in some apps and benchmarks.
We don’t have a Pixel 5 on hand to test, but Andreas Proschofsky from Der Standard tipped off the Internet that he’s seeing “30-50 percent better” performance in 3DMark after the update. Andrei Frumusanu from Anandtech confirmed “performance has been essentially doubled from the scores published [in Anandtech’s review], and in line or better than other 765G phones,” adding that “the fact it took 6 months is sad, though.” Hmm. Yes.
It might seem impossible to add 50 percent better performance from a mere software update, but Google is just fixing the terrible state of the launch phone. There was simply that much room for improvement relative to other phones. When we reviewed the device, we called it “the world’s slowest Snapdragon 765G phone,” noting that other Snapdragon 765G smartphones like the OnePlus Nord could wipe the floor with the device in head-to-head GPU benchmarks. It wasn’t a great look for the Pixel 5, which was already facing a switch to mid-range hardware that meant it would be slower than the Pixel 4. Benchmarks allow us to put exact numbers on the changes, but this isn’t a trick of benchmarking; the numbers reflected real-world performance when it came to 3D gaming, which was terrible on the Pixel 5.
Google says the April 2021 security update also comes with camera quality improvements for third-party apps, a fix for an issue that would cause freezing on startup, and a fix for some missing home screen settings. The update should be rolling out now to Pixel phones—just mash that update button.