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    Galaxy A54 5G review: Brings some excellent upgrades, but there’s room for improvement

    Review
    By 

    Last updated: April 5th, 2023 at 14:26 UTC+02:00

    Well, it's finally happened: Samsung's Galaxy A5x line of smartphones is no longer the middle ground between Samsung's flagships and its budget phones, at least as far as pricing is concerned.

    The Galaxy A54 5G is the costliest A5x smartphone yet. The price tags have gone up each year since the Galaxy A50 launched back in 2019, and the Galaxy A54 5G's price comes very close to phones from a segment in which you can find many ‘flagship-killer' devices, both from Chinese manufacturers and Samsung's own backyard.

    In India, for example, the Galaxy S21 FE, which is superior to the A54 5G in virtually every way and can be purchased at some excellent discounts, especially if you head on over to Amazon or other retailers instead of shopping at Samsung.com.

    And when you ask for the kind of money that Samsung is asking for a device like the Galaxy A54 5G, you need to bring something special to the table. Is that the case here, or has Samsung overplayed its hand and priced the phone too high?

    Let's find out in this Galaxy A54 5G review.

    Design

    Galaxy A54 5G review

    You get the first noticeable sign that Samsung has made some upgrades to make the higher price palatable right after you hold the phone in your hand for the first time. The Galaxy A54 5G comes with Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and back, and it feels just as premium as a Galaxy S22 or S23 as a result.

    The Galaxy A54 5G comes with Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and back

    The jury's still out on whether a glass back is an upgrade everyone wants, but many have been accusing Samsung in recent years of using plastic panels on mid-range Galaxy phones that cost more than competing Chinese phones, especially in markets like India. And given how much the Galaxy A54 5G costs in most markets, Samsung made the right call by finally addressing that accusation.

    But while the rear side also looks quite similar to the flagship Galaxy S23 lineup, and the phone is IP67 certified for water and dust resistance, not everything has been upgraded. At the front, you have a 6.4-inch display with a centered circular cutout for the selfie camera, which is standard fare for such phones, but the big bezels around the display serve as a reminder that this is a mid-range device, and that may drive away some prospective customers.

    Display and sound

    Galaxy A54 5G review

    The quality of the Galaxy A54 5G's display is something no one will complain about. It's a Super AMOLED panel so it's got all the good qualities you expect, like vivid colors, deep blacks, and wide viewing angles, and Samsung has upgraded the brightness levels in bright lighting conditions by adding the Vision Booster feature that debuted on the Galaxy S22 series.

    The quality of the Galaxy A54 5G's display is something no one will complain about

    The Galaxy A53 5G's screen could hit 800 nits of brightness, but with Vision Booster, the A54 5G can go up to 1000 nits. Not that the A53 5G's screen had any legibility issues no matter how dark or bright the environment, but still, an upgrade to the display's brightness levels is always welcome.

    Oh, and as expected, this is a 120Hz display, like the A53's, which makes for smooth animations and scrolling, at least when the Exynos 1380 chip powering the phone isn't struggling to keep up (more details of that in the performance section below). Finally, the A54 5G is able to reduce blue light emission to as low as 6.5% – that is nearly a 2x improvement over the A53 5G, which could bring blue light levels down to 12.5%.

    Galaxy A54 5G review

    The display is complemented by an excellent stereo speaker setup just as good as you get on Samsung's flagship phones, if not better (at least when you compare to the S22 series phones, which brought a downgrade in speaker quality over the S20, though the S23 series brought it back up to a high standard). As usual, there is one dedicated speaker that handles one stereo channel while the earpiece stands in for the other.

    The display is complemented by an excellent stereo speaker setup

    Nonetheless, you get great sound that tackles both low (bass) and high (treble) frequencies well while also getting considerably loud. Sadly, you either need a 3.5mm to USB-C converter for traditional headphones or headphones that use a USB-C connector by default to enjoy wired audio, because Samsung has once again decided to keep the 3.5mm port out of the spec sheet.

    The A54 5G's biometric features include an optical in-display fingerprint sensor in addition to facial recognition and the standard pin, password, and pattern options. And the fingerprint sensor works great, with high accuracy and a high recognition speed. Samsung has constantly improved the fingerprint reader on its mid-range phones over the years, and at this point it's as good as it will ever get.

    Camera

    Galaxy A54 5G review

    One of the best upgrades the Galaxy A54 5G brings over its predecessors is the main camera's ability to use all pixels for focusing on the subject/scene, which results in quick autofocus in all lighting conditions, something we're not used to seeing from cameras on Samsung's mid-range phones.

    The main camera also has optical image stabilization, which means blurry and shaky images and videos are not a big issue. And just like the Galaxy S23, the Galaxy A54 5G has a wider OIS angle so it can stabilize more of the scene or subject that you're shooting, so the camera specs have certainly gotten some meaningful upgrades.

    But in terms of image quality, there seems to be little difference between the A53 and the A54. The A54 takes slightly brighter and sharper nighttime pics when Night mode is used (even automatic photo mode will use a longer exposure if it's dark enough, so you don't have to manually switch to Night mode), but otherwise image quality has not changed all that much, especially during the daytime when both the old and new phone do great.

    The 50MP main camera captures plenty of detail, both at the default 12MP pics it creates using pixel binning (combining multiple pixels into one larger pixel) and at the full 50MP resolution. Dynamic range is also strong most of the time, although I did notice some noise in the darker areas in some low-light pics, both with and without Night mode helping out.

    As for portrait mode, edge detection is pretty solid and can give you some amazing results when you take bokeh pics, but as with most phones, how well the background will be blurred depends on the subject.

    The 50MP main camera is accompanied by a 12MP ultra-wide camera, and it's the same story here as it is with ultra-wide cameras on most Samsung phones that cost similar to or more than the A54 5G. While daylight pics show a nice amount of detail and better than average dynamic range, low-light and nighttime pictures are not always usable.

    The phone also insists on not automatically enabling Night mode when you switch to the ultra-wide camera in low-light settings, unlike Samsung's flagship phones which are good at deciding when Night mode is needed for photos captured using any of the rear cameras.

    Below are some camera shots of scenes from both the main and ultra-wide camera, along with a couple of bokeh (Portrait) pictures at the end of the gallery.

    The third rear camera is for taking macro photos, and, well, it's not great. That's a repeating theme across all Samsung phones that have a macro camera – their low megapixel count (5 megapixels on the A54 5G) results in not-very-sharp pictures, and it is also a huge task just realizing when your phone is close enough to the subject to get proper focus. In short, macro cameras on Samsung's smartphones continue to be virtually useless for most scenarios, though you can get a good shot every now and then.

    For selfies and video calls, the Galaxy A54 5G comes with a 32-megapixel front-facing camera, like the A53. Selfies are sharp enough outdoors during the day and manage to reproduce the correct skin tone in most instances. Indoors, with adequate lighting, the selfie camera still manages to hold its own, but don't expect any miracles if you're capturing selfies in areas such as pubs and cafes where lighting is often extremely dim.

    Surprisingly, the Galaxy A54 5G supports the astro hyperlapse feature that debuted on the Galaxy S23 series (for those confused how to use this feature: you just open up the standard hyperlapse mode and select the 300x recording speed). Astro hyperlapse videos are shot with a long exposure to capture the sky and the stars, but whether or not you get any nice astro hyperlapse videos is dependent on where you live. It's more or less useless where I live thanks to the heavily polluted air, but I'm glad to see Samsung is at least not limiting the feature to its flagship devices.

    Surprisingly, the Galaxy A54 5G supports the Galaxy S23's astro hyperlapse feature

    In addition to astro hyperlapse videos, the A54 5G also has a full-featured Pro mode that lets you control shutter speed and various other parameters before taking a picture. Even Pro video mode is available on the A54 5G (it was also available on the A53). But features like astro photography are not supported because the A54 doesn't support Samsung's Expert RAW app, which is what is required by every Galaxy phone to take astro photos.

    As for regular videos, the Galaxy A54 5G can shoot 4K videos at 30 fps or Full HD videos with 60 fps. Plenty of fine detail is preserved in videos shot in broad daylight, and even in well lit indoor settings. However, I found that even videos that I captured with both my hands holding the phone while spanning around at a very low speed were shaky, despite having OIS and digital stabilization working together.

    Perhaps you need to use the Super Steady mode, which uses the ultra-wide camera for shooting videos and then crops the sides for smoother videos compared to the standard video mode, to take advantage of stabilization both optical and digital? I couldn't test that theory, but I certainly hope it's not the case because that would be tantamount to overselling features that are underwhelming in the real world and require a specific mode to work.

    Here is a quick sample of a video shot using the A54 5G at 4K 30 fps:

    Software

    Galaxy A54 5G review

    The Galaxy A54 5G's trump card, like most Samsung phones these days, is the software. The A54 5G has pretty much the same features as you get on a Galaxy S23, except for a couple of high-end features like Samsung DeX, and it comes preloaded with Android 13 and One UI 5.1.

    And thanks to Samsung's promise of four major OS upgrades and five years of security updates, the Galaxy A54 5G will be supported for a long time. It probably won't get every new feature from new versions of Android and One UI in the latter half of that support period, but still, those who hang on to their phones for many years instead of upgrading every year or two will appreciate what Samsung is offering.

    Performance and connectivity

    Galaxy A54 5G review

    After using the Galaxy A54, I seriously believe that the Samsung Exynos brand is not to be trusted, whether you talk about mid-range chips or flagship chips. The Exynos 1380, on paper, is an upgrade over the A53's Exynos 1280, but for the asking price, it doesn't seem to be enough of an upgrade. Or rather, Samsung's optimization skills when it's using chips made by its own semiconductor division continue to be inadequate.

    The Galaxy A54 5G, like the Galaxy A53 5G, has some stutter and lag in general use, such as scrolling through the user interface or the animations when doing things like switching between apps. The Galaxy A53 5G's performance issues were more or less fixed with software updates, and I'm sure the A54 5G will get better with updates, too. But the question here is why these issues even exist.

    The Galaxy A54 5G, like the Galaxy A53 5G, has some stutter and lag in general use

    The Galaxy A52, powered by a Snapdragon chip, had no such issues out of the box. Neither does the Galaxy A34 5G, launched alongside the A54 5G and powered by the MediaTek Dimensity 1080 chipset. When MediaTek's chips start performing better than your chip on a phone you developed, it might be time to make some big changes, including firing whoever is currently in charge of making Exynos chips work well with Galaxy smartphones year after year.

    Samsung is already exploring dropping Exynos chips, at least for the near future, from its flagships, but I think Samsung needs to stop using Exynos permanently, no matter how much ridicule it might get initially when/if it does that. The company can't expect customers to accept the flaws of its Exynos-powered phones forever; brand value can only go so far before people realize their shiny new Galaxy phone is not performing as well as it should even though the prices keep on skyrocketing.

    Thankfully, the Exynos 1380 does a good job when it comes to gaming. Graphically intensive titles like Call of Duty perform well, although performance can take a dip after extended periods of gaming. The phone also gets a little hot at the back, especially in the area around the cameras, but it never heated up to uncomfortable levels during my time with it.

    The Exynos 1380 also impresses with its connectivity features. There's 5G support, as you would expect from any modern mobile chip, but it also has features like Wi-Fi 6, which have remained mostly exclusive to Samsung's flagships since their introduction.

    Battery life and charging

    Galaxy A54 5G review

    Battery life on the Galaxy A54 5G is underwhelming, too, just like its performance. Samsung is marketing it as a phone that can go 2+ days on a single charge, but that's not been true for me. Like virtually any other mid-range device from the company, you can go an entire day without needing to charge the A54 5G even when you use it for tasks that are considered battery drainers, like browsing, taking pictures, and gaming, which is great.

    You can go an entire day without needing to charge the A54 5G

    But two days? Nope, probably not, unless you use your phone lightly. And while some might make the argument that the phone's battery life will get better over time, I don't think that argument has much merit. Yes, it does make some difference as a phone learns your usage patterns to decide how to keep things running efficiently, but modern devices give you a hint of how long they can go on a single charge in the very first days. And the Galaxy A54 5G simply didn't live up to Samsung's claims during my time with the device as a daily driver.

    25W fast charging on the A54 was also somewhat slow. With the battery down to 5%, half an hour of charging took it back up to around 39%, and after 60 minutes it resulted in ~75% charge, which isn't impressive in this day and age. The phone takes almost an hour and 20 minutes to fully charge, which, again, is not an impressive figure and kind of underwhelming for how much you have to pay for the A54 5G.

    Verdict

    Galaxy A54 5G review

    Samsung has made plenty of upgrades to justify the Galaxy A54 5G's increased price, like the glass back, the flagship-level autofocus on the rear camera, the brighter display, and, at least on paper, the more powerful Exynos chip.

    But Samsung's failure to optimize the software to take advantage of the new chip, and its failure in fixing the intermittent stutter and lag in the phone's performance that plagued last year's Galaxy A53 5G, makes it incredibly hard to suggest the Galaxy A54 5G right now.

    I'm sure a few software updates will iron out the performance kinks (and perhaps improve battery life, which is not as great as Samsung claims it is) like they did on the A53, and the price will drop a bit too and retailers will offer some discounts to further sweeten the deal.

    For now, though, you might want to skip the A54 5G. If you buy it regardless of the issues, your user experience will be mostly good, but you won't be getting enough value for money. Not to mention that we can't ignore how the Galaxy A54 5G is priced a little too close to devices like Samsung's own Galaxy S21 FE.

    In fact, retailers like Amazon offer discounts that bring the S21 FE's price below what Samsung is charging for the A54 5G in many markets, such as India. And the S21 FE is virtually better in every way (as long as you're okay with it being eligible for one less major OS upgrade because it launched a year earlier and its lack of expandable storage), and it simply makes more sense for anyone looking to buy a new phone right away.

    Samsung
    Galaxy A54 5G

    What we like

    • 120Hz AMOLED display, brighter than before
    • Takes good pictures in various conditions, flagship-grade camera autofocus
    • Android 13 out of the box, promise of four OS upgrades
    • Excellent stereo speakers
    • Good gaming performance
    • Water resistant (IP67) design, now with Gorilla Glass 5 on both sides
    • Great battery life
    • 5G, Wi-Fi 6 support

    What we don't

    • Powerful on paper, but suffers from stutters not suitable at its asking price
    • Samsung's claims of two-day battery life are overblown
    • Bezels around display could do with some trimming
    • No 3.5mm headphone port
    • 25W fast charging is a little slower than expected
    Review Galaxy A54 5G

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