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Samsung Galaxy A53 5G review: A diamond in the rough

Review
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Last updated: March 28th, 2022 at 18:44 UTC+02:00

Last year’s Galaxy A52 was a major hit, both in its LTE and 5G forms. It brought lots of flagship features to a lower price point, like a high refresh rate screen, stereo speakers, water and dust resistance, and even flagship-level performance if you consider the Galaxy A52s, a variant launched just a few months after the original A52.

This year, Samsung’s giving us the Galaxy A53, and its spec sheet’s a combination of all the features from the three different Galaxy A52 models while also including a couple of upgrades. There’s the new 5nm Exynos 1280 processor, a bump to a 5,000 mAh battery, and Android 12 and One UI 4.1 out of the box with the never-before-seen-in-this-segment promise of four years of OS upgrades.

The price tag is proportionally higher, as well, but does the Galaxy A53 offer enough in return to get a recommendation? Let’s find out in this review.

Design

Design-wise, the Galaxy A53 is more or less exactly the same as the Galaxy A52. It’s plastic all around the sides and the back, but with a matte finish for the latter that makes it feel and look real nice.

What’s most impressive is that despite the bigger battery the Galaxy A53 weighs the same as the A52

The borderless cutout for the rear cameras is making a return as well and is a very elegant solution. Perhaps what’s most impressive is that despite the bigger battery the Galaxy A53 weighs the same as the A52. It’s even a little thinner, though Samsung has sacrificed the headphone jack.

At the front things remain unchanged, too: There’s a 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display with Full HD+ resolution, Gorilla Glass 5 protection, and a centered punch hole for the front-facing camera. The phone is water and dust resistant with IP67 certification, and overall, the Galaxy A53 is a well built device, even if there’s nothing truly spectacular about its design.

And that might be an issue for some customers, who might be expecting to see the use of more premium materials, such as a metal frame or even a glass back, given the higher price tag. In markets like India, Chinese manufacturers are providing those at prices nearly half that of the Galaxy A53, and Samsung might want to start thinking about providing more premium designs on its mid-range phones going forward.

Display and audio

The Galaxy A53 5G’s got the same display as the Galaxy A52 5G/A52s, which means it’s got a 120Hz refresh rate instead of 90Hz, making for an even more fluid user experience. Unfortunately, it seems there are some optimization issues with the software or the 120Hz refresh rate is just too high for this phone’s GPU to handle, as it suffers from random stutters in animations and scrolling (more on that in the performance section).

But as far as the quality of the display is concerned, there’s nothing to complain about. All the usual AMOLED traits are here: great colors, deep blacks, and wide viewing angles. The screen can hit a maximum of 800 nits in high brightness mode, and while it’s nothing compared to Samsung’s flagships, I’m hard-pressed to recall a situation where screen brightness was an issue.

All the usual AMOLED traits are here: great colors, deep blacks, and wide viewing angles

I can say the same about the optical in-display fingerprint sensor. It’s quick and accurate. However, similar to Samsung’s flagship phones, I wish the fingerprint sensors on its mid-range phones would be placed higher up in the display, as it’s not very comfortable to use them in their current location, which is very close to the bottom of the phone.

Coming to the audio experience, the Galaxy A53 can be considered a downgrade over its predecessor(s), depending on how much you value the 3.5mm headphone port. However, Samsung seems to have fixed our complaint about the stereo speakers on the Galaxy A52 not being very loud.

While I couldn’t compare the two phones side-by-side, the A53’s stereo speakers seem to be louder, and a little punchier, as well. Almost as good as the speakers on Samsung’s flagship phones, in fact, and I enjoyed watching videos and gaming using them.

Camera

The Galaxy A53 5G has the same camera setup as last year’s Galaxy A52, A52 5G, and A52s, and that means you’re getting some very capable shooters. The 64MP main camera takes detailed shots with good color reproduction and dynamic range, both during the day and in low-light conditions.

Low-light shots are helped by the camera’s insistence on automatically taking long-exposure shots more often than other mid-range Galaxy phones (unless you’re trying to take a pic of your dog, in which case the long exposure can result in blur if your dog isn’t sitting absolutely still; the same applies to kids, I’m assuming). I don’t remember needing to manually switch to Night mode at any time, which I think is great.

Portrait shots also come out great with the Galaxy A53 5G’s rear camera, with the usual exception of problematic blur around human hair. Below are a bunch of images from the main camera for you to check out; bokeh pictures are included, too.

The only issue I had with the main camera is that it failed to focus on small objects up close. It’s almost like Samsung’s deliberately broken autofocus at short distances so you use the macro camera more. Indeed, the phone tends to suggest using the macro camera quite often, even when there’s enough distance between the phone and the subject. Thankfully, tapping the subject fixes the focusing issue on most occasions.

The ultra-wide camera does a good job, as well, at least in natural light. There’s enough detail across the picture, although it’s not very good at bringing out the detail in dark areas of the scene. At night the results are rather poor, but that’s a theme that’s consistent with ultra-wide cameras on phones in the segment in general.

Check out some scenes captured with the main and ultra-wide cameras next to each other down below.

Now, I’ve been pretty critical of the macro cameras on Samsung’s phones, but I surprisingly had a good experience with the Galaxy A53 5G. It’s still a struggle to keep the phone still enough so macro shots don’t come out blurred and to find out exactly just when the subject is in proper focus, but when you do manage to do those things, the results can be quite pleasing. Just make sure there’s plenty of natural or artificial light, though, or all you get is a dark, noisy picture.

Here are some macro shots:

The 32MP selfie camera is also going to make most people happy. It gets the skin tone right on most occasions, and unless it’s really dark, there’s also sufficient detail. The same applies to bokeh shots taken with the Portrait mode. The A53 5G also comes with Fun mode that lets you apply Snapchat filters right from Samsung’s camera app, and while I’m too old to be excited by that, it’s a nice little feature for the young crowd.

When it comes to shooting videos, the Galaxy A53 5G does a good job. It’s got optical image stabilization on the main camera so shake and blur are not usually a problem. Sadly, Samsung’s still limiting you to Full HD resolution at 60 fps, and 60 fps is only available on the main camera. Finally, there’s Pro video mode for advanced users, but once again, the resolution is limited if you want to shoot at a high frame rate.

Performance

The Galaxy A53 5G has a new 5nm mid-range Exynos chip powering it instead of a Snapdragon chip, and as with all Exynos processors, I was skeptical about this one being good enough. And it turns out my skepticism was well-founded.

I can’t say if the reason is the higher refresh rate this phone is pushing, but it had a lot of random stutters in things like app opening animations and scrolling inside apps. The A53 is not slow by any stretch of the imagination. It runs well most of the time; apps open quickly and animations are fluid, but the user experience isn’t as consistently smooth as what the Galaxy A52 and its variants offered.

The A53 is not slow by any stretch of the imagination, but it does randomly stutter

It seems to be yet another case of Samsung failing to optimize the software well enough to work with its Exynos chips, which is becoming a huge frustration at this point and suggests Samsung doesn’t really know how to make its chip and mobile departments work together. On paper, the A53’s Exynos 1280 processor sounds great, but it’s not the upgrade over the Galaxy A52 that I had expected, and clearly some software updates are needed.

Gaming performance seems excellent, however. Both graphically demanding and graphically simple games that I tried ran well and device temperatures never went uncomfortably high. That said, I will need to revisit some popular titles like Call of Duty later on, as at the time of this writing, they haven’t been updated to support the higher-tier graphics settings on the A53. Still, gaming should be a smooth affair on this phone for a couple of years.

Software

The best thing about the Galaxy A53 5G probably has everything to do with its software. First off, it runs Android 12 with One UI 4.1 out of the box, and aside from flagship-level features like Samsung DeX, it’s got everything you find on Samsung’s high-end phones. That includes all the recent One UI 4.0 and One UI 4.1 stuff that we covered on our YouTube channel; check out the videos below for more details.

But more importantly, the Galaxy A53 5G is extremely special for the fact that it will be supported with major OS upgrades for four years! You’re going to be set till Android 16 if you buy the Galaxy A53 5G, and that’s something no mid-range phone from any competing brand can claim.

You’re going to be set till Android 16 if you buy the Galaxy A53 5G

Samsung is also promising five years worth of security updates. But it’s worth noting that the frequency of their release will go down heavily in the final stretch – think an update every six months or so in the final year. That’s still better than nothing, but it’s best to keep a lid on your expectations as far as security updates are concerned.

Battery life

Just like I didn’t see any uptick in the phone’s performance despite the supposedly faster new Exynos chip, battery life on this phone also left me underwhelmed. Not because it was bad. Nope, that isn’t it. The Galaxy A53 5G, like all of the Galaxy A52 phones, has fantastic battery life and can last you all day long on a single charge with a mix of moderate to heavy use.

But the thing is, so could the Galaxy A52 or the Galaxy A52s. The increase in battery capacity and the efficiency claims of the Exynos 1280 simply did not pan out in the real world. This might be another thing that I will have to revisit in the future as the phone continues to learn my usage patterns and a couple of software updates arrive, but out of the box the Galaxy A53 5G does not have better battery life than its predecessors.

Speaking of out of the box, the Galaxy A53 5G does not come with any charger, which is going to be the case with pretty much every Galaxy phone going forward. But it does support 25W charging like the A52, and if you use Samsung’s 25W charger, the A53 can get back on its feet quickly.

Starting at 5% battery, 10 minutes of charging brought it up to 21% and 30 minutes took it up to 51%, which is quite fast and virtually as good as Samsung’s flagships. It’s only in the final 10-15% range that charging slows down – while battery charge went all the way up to 88% in 60 minutes, reaching full charge took an additional 24 minutes after that.

Verdict

Alright, so here comes the tough part: How do I feel about the Galaxy A53 5G? Well, as the title of the review suggests, I think this phone has potential but is held back by a lack of polish. It’s Samsung’s Exynos chip to blame again: The Galaxy A53 5G doesn’t have the same consistently good performance of the Galaxy A52 outside of gaming, with random stutters that become frustrating after a while.

Will Samsung fix that with software updates? Can Samsung fix that with software updates? I don’t know, but as it stands, I don’t think I can recommend buying the Galaxy A53 5G if a phone that performs well in day-to-day use is what you’re looking for. The Galaxy A52s is the better choice in that case, even if it’s a little old and won’t get four years of OS upgrades (it won’t go past Android 14 vs Android 16 on the A53).

But if you do want to take the plunge, the Galaxy A53 5G does have a lot going for it. The display’s great, the stereo speakers are nice, battery life is long-lasting, the cameras take great pictures in all sorts of conditions, and while the design uses too much plastic, the A53 is still a looker and is certified for excellent water and dust resistance.

And again, a promise of updates till Android 16? That’s just unbeatable and makes the Galaxy A53 5G stand out from the crowd (a crowd that’s got both Samsung and non-Samsung phones in it). I just hope the performance issues are fixed soon, because everything else about this phone is impressive for the asking price.

Samsung
Galaxy A53

What we like

  • Fantastic 120Hz Super AMOLED display
  • Excellent battery life, 25W charging
  • Main camera gets optical stabilization, takes good pictures in various conditions
  • Promise of four major OS updates
  • Nice and loud stereo speakers
  • Good gaming performance
  • Water resistant design that looks great
  • 5G support

What we don't

  • Samsung should have added a zoom camera
  • No charger or earphones in the box
  • No headphone jack
  • Suffers from random stuttering that wasn't an issue on the Galaxy A52
  • Bigger battery doesn't bring better battery life
Review Galaxy A53Galaxy A53 5G
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