Anyone considering a purchase of the Pixel 5a should be aware that the device appears to either be bugged or legitimately overheating when attempting to shoot 4K video. Reports of this behavior first surfaced earlier this week, but they’ve been confirmed by several users and publications. After a few minutes of 4K60 capture, the Pixel 5a will shut down the camera and report an overheating error.
Hot Hardware received two Pixel 5a units and tested both of them to gauge whether the problem is real. In both cases, Pixel 5a phones failed within 5-8 minutes. What’s odd about this is that neither phone actually got all that warm to the touch.
This issue doesn’t appear to be new; the Pixel 5 was similarly affected according to reports from last year.
Tried recording a vlog on the #pixel5. It overheated 3x and on the 4th time, it told me “phone too hot, video quality may be effected”. No bueno. I’ve never had a phone overheat while recording 4k60 …
— Mark’s Tech 📱 (@Marks_Tech) October 14, 2020
The Pixel 5 and 5a are not the only devices that struggle to shoot 4K video — there are reports of some dedicated cameras overheating as well in recent years, including the Sony A6400 and 6500, the Sony a7s III, the Fujifilm X-T3 and X-T4, and the Canon R5 — though this last seems to have been improved after launch with firmware updates. The reasons why cameras overheat seem to vary by model, based on the solutions various end-users have found. Other reviewers have confirmed Hot Hardware’s findings; the Pixel 5a seems to have a problem, just like the Pixel 5.
Yup. Tested it myself on my Pixel 5a, 70 degrees inside in the A/C and on 4K @ 60 FPS it just takes a matter of minutes to overheat. This is terrible… pic.twitter.com/Pde8GcL6KU
— TechOdyssey | #TechRejects (@AdamJMatlock) August 18, 2021
In some cases, camera owners have purchased external battery packs with dummy batteries and external power or external video recorders. Both of these options move heat out of the camera by either eliminating the battery as a source of thermal dissipation or by relieving the camera of both the compression and data writing workloads it would have had to carry out.
Smartphones don’t have this kind of flexibility, generally speaking, and the addition of bulky secondary tools doesn’t lend itself well to a point-and-shoot smartphone aesthetic in any case. There are no reports of other Snapdragon 765G hardware having this problem and it’s not clear why the lack of a Pixel Core processor would cause this failure.
The fact that the phone doesn’t feel warm to the touch when the overheat warning goes off may actually be a symptom in and of itself. Smartphones are so thin it’s difficult to imagine how this could happen, but if the camera hardware didn’t make full contact with the back of the phone it wouldn’t be able to use it as a heat sink very well. This could lead to a high internal temperature and a cooler back than would otherwise be expected.
There have been no comparative teardowns of the Pixel 5 versus the 5a, so there’s no information just yet on how their camera layouts differ internally. The fact that the Pixel 5 also suffers from this problem, however, suggests that there’s a hardware issue somewhere within the device that Google simply hasn’t bothered to fix. This is not a new problem; it’s been raised for over a year. If shooting in 4K video mode matters to you, it’s probably better to look for a different phone rather than betting on Google to fix this one.
If you’re looking for a full review of the phone, our colleagues at PCMag have a write-up you can check. The device has generally been very well-reviewed.