Samsung Galaxy A54 5G review: a little bit flagship, but mostly midrange
If there’s a bar for the features and performance that make a flagship phone, well, flagshippy, then the midrange Samsung Galaxy A54 5G pushes right up against it. When this $449 device is sitting on a table next to the $999 Galaxy S23 Plus, I can barely tell the two apart until I’m close enough to pick them up.
There’s a noticeable difference in how they’re built, naturally. The S23 Plus has all the sleekness and durable metal frame of a phone that costs a thousand dollars. The A54 can’t match it on style points. But in day-to-day use, they feel surprisingly similar. Reading email, scrolling through Instagram, navigating across town — it all feels about the same. There’s just one aspect where I really feel the difference between the two: the camera.
It’s only when I really push the A54 that the differences become obvious. As usual, you get what you pay for: in this case, a midrange Samsung house-made Exynos 1380 chipset rather than the top-tier Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 in the S23 Plus. The Exynos does an admirable job, but it can’t chew through rapid-fire portrait mode shots or graphics-intensive games the way the Qualcomm chip can.
As far as midrange phones go, the A54 has all the right stuff: a big 6.4-inch screen, very good battery life, a durable build to withstand water and dust, and a support policy promising security updates for five years. If you squint at that spec list, you can almost see a thousand-dollar flagship phone. Almost.
Samsung Galaxy A54 5G build and screen
Let’s start with build quality: the Galaxy A54 has durable glass panels on the front and back. Plenty of other midrange devices, including the Google Pixel 6A, use composite plastic on the back panel, so that’s a nice bonus. The A54’s exterior frame, however, is plastic. That’s not a deal-breaker, but it certainly feels less fancy than the aluminum frames on the S23 or even the Pixel 6A. The A54 is considerably thicker, too, which, again — not as sleek, but if you don’t care about all that, then it’s no big deal. On the plus side, there’s an IP67 rating for robust dust resistance and some protection against immersion in water, which isn’t all that common among budget phones — even OnePlus’ pricier 11 5G is only rated IP64.
What is Kind of fancy is the A54’s screen. It’s a big 6.4-inch 1080p OLED panel with a top refresh rate of 120Hz. That’s bigger and faster than the Pixel 6A’s, which has a 6.1-inch OLED with a standard 60Hz refresh rate. That fast refresh rate goes a long way to making the A54 feel more expensive than it is. Scrolling through websites and homescreen pages is butter-smooth. The A54’s screen also gets a bit brighter than the one on last year’s model, the Galaxy A53 5G — now it goes up to 1000 nits in very bright outdoor light. It doesn’t get quite as bright as the S23 Plus, but it’s good enough to keep text on your screen readable even in direct sunlight.
Samsung Galaxy A54 5G battery and processor
The A54 comes up big on the battery front, too, with a 5,000mAh cell. That’s about as big as they come on smartphones at any price these days. Battery stamina is likewise very good, though not bananas-good like the Moto G Powers of the world. The A54’s screen is more power-hungry than most budget phones’, so it needs that big battery to compensate. It charges at up to 25W with the right wired charger (sold separately, naturally) and doesn’t include wireless charging — a feature that hasn’t truly made it to the midrange class yet.
During my testing, I enabled the always-on display and kept the screen refresh rate at its highest setting (it’s the default, anyway). Even when I put it through the wringer, the battery lasted a full day — that included several hours of mobile gaming on a data connection, Google Maps navigation, and generally dicking around on the internet while I waited at jury duty (a modern American tradition) ). The A54’s battery was in the single digits at the end of the day, but it made it, even with over four hours of screen-on time and some battery-intensive activities. On a moderate day, I had more like 50 percent left in the tank by nighttime.
As configured in the US, the A54 5G comes with 128GB of storage, which is good enough for most of us to get by. It also has a healthy 6GB of RAM, which keeps apps from closely aggressively in the background and lets me move through my day-to-day tasks freely. Its Exynos 1380 chipset is capable of handling graphics-intensive gaming like Genshin Impact, with an occasional stutter here and there but nothing that seriously impacted gameplay. my current favourite, PocketCity2is much less demanding and a piece of cake for the A54.
There’s 5G, of course, and the phone is certified on all three major US carriers. The version sold unlocked by Samsung and at T-Mobile and AT&T costs $449 and doesnt include mmWave 5G. Verizon, on the other hand, sells a $500 model that includes mmWave. (This is the very fast 5G flavor you might occasionally encounter in the wild, but the range is extremely limited, and it’s not all that useful in reality.)
Much more important than its ability to use hard-to-find 5G frequencies: the A54 5G comes with a strong software support policy. Samsung promises up to four OS version updates and up to five years of security patches. That’s one of the best policies on Android for a phone at any price — even Google’s Pixel 7 flagships are only promised three OS updates and five years of security support. The rate of those security patches will likely slow way down toward the end of its lifespan, maybe only twice a year, but that’s enough to address security loopholes and keep your phone safe to use well into the future. This is a big, bright checkmark in the A54’s “pro” column.
Samsung Galaxy A54 5G camera
The Galaxy A54 exceeds my expectations for a midrange phone, but the camera is where it starts to look much more average. The phone is equipped with a 50-megapixel F / 1.8 main rear camera with optical stabilization, similar to what the S23 and S23 Plus offer. Stabilization, in particular, is great to have in the mid tier since it helps the camera use longer shutter speeds in dim conditions for cleaner images. Other cameras on the A54: a 32-megapixel selfie camera of middling quality, a 12-megapixel ultrawide that’s fine, and a mostly useless 5-megapixel macro.
Photos from the main camera in good light look fine, but that’s true for pretty much every smartphone made after 2018. Samsung’s processing leans into punchy colors that might not suit everyone’s taste, but the effect isn’t strong enough to spoil your images. Video clips are fine too, with recording available up to 4K/30p. There’s a helpful mode for extra stabilization, but you’ll need to be recording at 1080/30p to use it.
But when I push the A54’s camera system in more challenging conditions, it doesn’t hold up. In moderate lighting, portrait mode has a harder time holding on to a subject than the S23 Plus, and subject isolation isn’t anywhere near as good.
Outside of portrait mode, there’s a capable night mode for very low light, which is an option if your subject isn’t moving. But if your subject is moving, you’ll have a harder time. The camera struggles to keep shutter speeds faster than 1/20th of a second, which just isn’t fast enough if your subject is, like, alive. That rules out sharp photos of kids or pets running around your kitchen, which, to be fair, is a challenge for most phone cameras to some degree.
But! In the same conditions, the Pixel 6A does noticeably better. It’s more likely to keep the shutter speed up around 1/120th of a second so you have a much better chance of freezing motion. Even when both cameras get a sharp shot, there’s much more fine detail in the 6A’s images. You don’t even need to zoom in close to see the difference. The 6A doesn’t even have the latest Pixel camera hardware — just a lot of smart image processing, thanks to the company’s Tensor chipset, that the A54 can’t match.
There’s a simple equation for determining whether or not the Galaxy A54 is your best option in this price range. If you care more about creature comforts, then you should go with the Samsung rather than the Pixel 6A. You get a bigger screen with a fast top refresh rate, plus the fanciness of a rear glass panel. If you care more about photo quality than getting the most screen for your dollar, then you should go with the Pixel 6A (or wait a few weeks, when we will likely see the Pixel 7A debut). It’s hands-down better in low light and still unmatched in the midrange class, even almost a year after its release. And there are still good reasons to pay more for something like the S23 Plus, like better camera processing and a sleeker build, but not as many as you might think.
Otherwise, the A54 has a lot going for it. The screen is exceptional for this class, day-to-day performance is dependable, and the IP67 rating combined with a strong support policy make its prospects for long-term ownership very good. Notwithstanding whatever upgrades the Pixel 7A will offer, the A54 checks more boxes than Google’s midranger, as long as camera quality isn’t your primary concern. It’s even a little bit fancy.
Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge