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Is Samsung's cheapest 5G phone really worth buying?

The budget Galaxy A32 5G phone has much to offer.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Samsung Galaxy A32 5G offers a big screen, an attractive design and 5G connectivity for super fast data speeds -- and tops it off with an affordable price of only $280 (£249, AU$480), making it one of the cheapest 5G phones you can buy right now. It's a big departure from the supercharged Galaxy S21 Ultra with its $1,200 price tag, but is this budget handset still worth considering? 

I've been using the phone for the past week and I've been pleasantly surprised by what you get for your money, with both its display and camera putting in solid performances. You also get features like face unlock, impressive battery life, expandable storage and that elusive 3.5mm headphone jack. 

Sure, there are compromises to keep the price down -- processor performance in particular isn't exactly impressive -- but overall it offers a level of specs and features that few others are even close to at this price. If you're desperate for those 5G speeds but don't want to empty your wallet to get them, the Galaxy A32 5G is absolutely worth a look.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Vibrant design

I liked the design as soon as I took it out of the box, especially in the light blue color that CNET bought. It's not doing anything radically different, but it's cheerful and fun and its plastic back feels robust enough to handle a few knocks and bumps. It doesn't have any kind of waterproofing, so you will need to remember to be extra careful around water, or when taking calls in the rain. 

The cameras on the back are simply recessed into the body of the phone, rather than being housed in a distinct unit, which gives it a unique look among today's phones, but one that could potentially be triggering for any of you who suffer from trypophobia.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The 6.5-inch display offers plenty of space for gaming or watching videos, and it's bright and vibrant enough to enjoy in all but the brightest midday sun. Its resolution is only 1,600x720 pixels -- small icons on the home screen do have some fuzziness to them if you look closely enough -- but fine text is still perfectly readable and YouTube videos look great.   

Multiple rear cameras

The cameras themselves consist of a standard 48-megapixel camera, with an 8-megapixel ultrawide lens along with a depth sensor and macro camera for close-up shots. It's a surprisingly capable camera, with outdoor shots well exposed and with vibrant colors. It has a panorama function, too, and it'll shoot video at up to 4K resolution. 

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Samsung Galaxy A32 5G outdoor camera test, standard lens.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
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Samsung Galaxy A32 5G outdoor camera test, ultrawide lens.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
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Samsung Galaxy A32 5G front-facing camera test.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The front-facing 13-megapixel camera takes bright, sharp selfies, with a wide enough angle to capture you and plenty of the scene around you.

Enough power and storage

Inside is a MediaTek processor with 4GB of RAM. It's not a powerful chip, with expectedly low scores on our benchmark tests, but everyday tasks like emailing, browsing Instagram, streaming music and videos, and even photo editing in Snapseed are handled perfectly well. Lighter games like Alto's Odyssey play great on the phone; more demanding titles such as Asphalt 9: Legends played with low frame rates and unexpectedly quit on more than one occasion. Technically it is playable, but anyone hoping to enjoy all the latest, greatest games on the Google Play Store would be wise to look elsewhere. 

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The phone comes with a meager 64GB of built-in storage but it's among an increasingly rare breed of phones that allow you to expand the storage with microSD cards up to 1TB in size -- something that Samsung eliminated even on its top-end Galaxy S21 line. Even rarer is the addition of the 3.5mm headphone jack, which will be great for those of you still clinging on to your wired headphones. 

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Excellent battery life

Powering the phone is a 5,000-mAh battery -- a huge capacity considering how little demand is placed on it by the low-resolution screen and low-power processor. Battery life is therefore excellent, with a couple of days of careful use being well within this phone's reach. 

After two hours of streaming a YouTube video the phone had dropped from full to 92% -- an impressive result and one that beats most phones out there, including the much more expensive Galaxy S21 Ultra and the OnePlus 9 Pro.