It's cheap and offers decent performance, but Samsung's A54 5G doesn't quite measure up to the Pixel 6A.
Samsung's flagship Galaxy S23 Ultra packs some of the most potent specs and powerful cameras around. But it also comes with a whopping price $1,200 (£1,249, AU$1,949) tag that's simply out of the question for many of us. Looking lower down the range doesn't mean suffering with slow, frustrating hardware. As Samsung's new $450 (£499, AU$699) Galaxy A54 5G proves, you can get a phone with solid performance for a very reasonable price.
The Galaxy A54 packs a 6.4-inch display, an octa-core processor that offers enough power for daily essentials (including light gaming) and a camera that does a decent job of handling your out-and-about snaps. I even like the design, particularly the lime green version I reviewed. Its 128GB of storage will be enough for most people, and those who need more space can expand it with microSD cards up to 1TB in size.
It's got a lot going for it considering its reasonable $450 price tag, but it's often on sale for even less, with prices of $375 seen on Best Buy and Amazon during my writing of this review, although sadly not at the point of publishing. Even with that potential discount, Google's budget phones outshine Samsung in key areas -- particularly the camera.
Even at the Galaxy A54's competitive price, the competition is fierce, with Google's superb $349 Pixel 6A and the latest Pixel 7A priced at $499 -- just $50 more than the A54's usual retail price. We gave the Pixel 6A a CNET Editors' Choice award for its combination of solid all-round performance and affordable price, with it remaining one of the best budget phones money can buy. The new Pixel 7A also impressed us with its great camera and smooth performance, pushing CNET to recommend it over the Pixel 7 since it's $100 cheaper.
Up against the A54 5G, the Pixel 6A is still the phone to go for. Its performance is a bit better, its camera takes nicer shots and Google's plain version of Android is generally nicer to use than Samsung's One UI skin. If you're willing to pay $50 more, the Pixel 7A also offers better camera performance and wireless charging, which is missing from the Galaxy A54 5G. Still, the A54 is slightly larger and offers microSD card storage expansion, so it's not a total victory for the Pixel. Here's what you should know about the phone.
The lime green version of my A54 5G is really quite pretty with its glossy glass back and metallic-looking edging (that's actually plastic). It feels nice enough to hold, although it lacks the more solid feel of the Pixel 6A or 7A. It's IP67 rated for water resistance (as are the Pixel 6A and 7A) which will keep it safe during phone calls in the rain or around clumsy friends carrying beer.
At 6.4 inches, the display is larger than the Pixel 6A's 6.1-inch screen, which is worth keeping in mind if you spend a lot of time playing mobile games or watching videos and would benefit from a larger screen. The Galaxy A54's vibrant screen is quite a bit brighter than the Pixel 6A's and 7A's, making it more easily readable outdoors under direct sunshine.
The Galaxy A54 runs on an Exynos 1380 processor, backed up by 6GB of RAM. It produced fair scores on benchmark tests considering its low price, coming in a bit below the Pixel 6A. Still, there's enough power to make everyday web browsing, WhatsApp texting and emailing feel swift. I managed to play both Genshin Impact and Asphalt 9: Legends at default settings with fairly smooth gameplay.
It runs on Android 13 at its core, over which Samsung has slapped its One UI software. While I enjoy the overall look of this skin, I don't like how much clutter Samsung preloads onto the phone. Apps like Disney Plus, Bolt, TikTok and Booking.com came already installed, along with a plethora of Samsung's own apps (including its own app store, a Galaxy Shop app, SmartThings, Messages and various TV and media apps). There's also a bunch of preinstalled Microsoft apps like Linkedin and OneNote. I bought the phone unlocked, directly from Samsung in the UK, so you may find different apps on yours -- potentially even more carrier-specific apps if you bought it from a network.
While you can uninstall many of these, the extraneous apps make the phone feel messy as soon as you turn it on. By contrast, the Pixel 6A's default interface is neat, clutter-free and has only the basic Google essentials like Chrome, Gmail and Drive installed as standard, with no third party services forced on you from day one.
Both Samsung and Google promise security updates five years from launch in order to keep them safer to use for longer. However that does mean that the Pixel 6A, having been launched last year, is guaranteed to receive support until 2027, while the A54 should continue to receive updates until 2028. Samsung also offers an additional generation of Android OS updates compared to Google. It's not a huge difference, but worth keeping in mind if you want to squeeze every ounce of useful life from your device.
The A54 is powered by a 5,000mAh battery which is larger than the 4,410mAh battery in the Pixel 6A. Perhaps due to the larger screen though, battery life was pretty much the same on both phones during my YouTube streaming drain test and in general use throughout the day. With careful use you should get a full day out of either phone, but either phone will still need a full recharge overnight.
The base Galaxy A54 has 128GB of storage, but it's one of the last remaining phones to support expandable storage via microSD cards up to 1TB in size. That's a big tick in its favor as it means you can safely opt for the lowest storage model and simply buy a cheap 128GB card to double the storage, providing loads of room for photos, music or apps.
On the back of the phone are three cameras; a 50 megapixel main camera, 12 megapixel ultrawide and 5 megapixel macro camera. I found shots from the main camera to be generally decent, although the software optimizations often result in quite oversaturated images which look quite unnatural to my eye. Images look crisp however and the 2x preset digital zoom (there's no optical zoom here) delivered sharp images.
The super wide lens worked well, too, with decent exposures and plenty of detail. I did often find quite a noticeable color shift between the main and wide lenses. The wide lens typically produces slightly warmer colors, which I mostly prefer against the often cool-looking images the main camera captured.
Low light images are decent, with the main lens capturing bright, sharp shots that are roughly on par with what we found from the Pixel 6A.
The 5-megapixel macro lens allows you focus close up on your subject. But as with most macro lenses on phones we've seen before from OnePlus and Samsung, it's pretty disappointing. The focus is sometimes off, and colors look more drab compared to photos taken with the main camera. Personally, I'd prefer it had Samsung not tried to squeeze an extra camera in here and simply lopped a little extra off the asking price.
While the A54's camera setup won't appeal to photographers among you who want true-to-life images, it'll do the job well if you just want vibrant shots of your kids on your next beach vacation. But I do prefer shots from both the Pixel 6A and 7A, which produce less over-saturated images with spot-on exposure.
The A54's combination of decent performance, fun design, vibrant cameras and low price make it a potentially great budget option. Its bright screen, expandable storage and longer software support are ticks in its favor over Google's Pixel 6A, but the Pixel 6A wins in almost every other respect. The software is nicer to use, the cameras are better and it's even cheaper. Between the two, my money would go on the Pixel 6A.