Samsung Galaxy A53 5G Hands-On: Flipping the iPhone SE 3 approach
Samsung recently unveiled a pair of mid-tier phones — the Galaxy A53 5G and the Galaxy A33 5G. The better of the two devices, the Galaxy A53 seemed positioned to take on the just-launched iPhone SE 3 (2022). While Apple’s mid-ranger prioritized giving consumers a flagship-level chip while compromising on things like display technology and modern looks, Samsung takes the opposite approach: the Galaxy A53 has a mostly modern look with an immersive screen, huge battery, a surprisingly good main camera, but an SoC that is unproven and frankly doesn’t have the best reputation.
Competition for the Galaxy A53 5G will be tough throughout Asia and Europe. But in Samsung’s two key markets (North America and South Korea), it really only has to worry about the iPhone SE 3, and Samsung’s phone has some clear wins that should make it appealing to those on the market for a more affordable phone.
Samsung Galaxy A53 5G: Price and Availability
The Galaxy A53 is available for pre-order now and goes on sale on March 31 on Samsung’s website, as well as T-Mobile and Verizon. Other retailers, including Amazon, will begin sale on April 1st. US models of the Galaxy A53 come in at 6GB of RAM with 128GB of internal storage and are priced at $449. International models released in Europe and Asia (including the Hong Kong unit I’m testing) come in 6GB or 8GB RAM variants.
Samsung Galaxy A53 and Galaxy A33: Specifications
|Specifications||Samsung Galaxy A53 5G||Samsung Galaxy A33 5G|
|Build||IP67 water/dust resistance||IP67 water/dust resistance|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|SoC||Samsung Exynos 1280||Samsung Exynos 1280|
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Security||Fingerprint sensor||Fingerprint sensor|
|Front Camera(s)||32MP f/2.2||32MP f/2.2|
|Audio||Stereo speakers||Stereo speakers|
|Software||One UI 4.1 (Android 12)||One UI 4.1 (Android 12)|
About this review: Samsung Hong Kong loaned me a Galaxy A53 5G for testing. The company did not have input in this review.
Samsung Galaxy A53 5G: Design and Hardware
The Galaxy A53 features a design language similar to last year’s Galaxy A52, with a flat screen and a colorful plastic backplate that covers the entire rear of the device, including the slightly protruding camera module. This makes for a camera bump that eases and melts into the rest of the phone’s back — a look similar to the OPPO Find X5 Pro.
There are subtle changes to last year’s design: the chassis (top, bottom, and sides of the phone) is now flatter, while still being plastic that is coated to look like metal. It’s not quite iPhone 13-level flat, but it’s a noticeably flatter, more angular look than the Galaxy A52 or most other Android flagships. Notice I said “flagships,” because Android brands seem to have all agreed that, for 2022, their top-tier phones will keep the same curvy look, but devices lower in the pecking order will use this flat screen, flatter sides, boxier aesthetic. We have already seen this in Samsung’s non-Ultra S22 phones, as well as recent Redmi and OPPO mid-tier devices.
Despite the Galaxy A53’s clearly plasticky back and sides, the phone feels good in the hand. I’m a fan of the backside’s matte, grippy texture, and because the screen is “just” 6.5-inches, it feels very comfortable in the hand. I’ve always felt that modern Android phones, thanks to their elongated aspect ratio, don’t feel unwieldy until the screen reaches 6.7-inches or larger; anything smaller feels easy to hold.
The display here is a 120Hz 6.5-inch, 1080 x 2400 Samsung AMOLED panel, and it looks great for the most part. Colors pop on this display. And the bezels around the display, while not as thin as flagship Android phones, are still thin enough that the phone looks very modern.
Despite the fact that the Galaxy A53 has roughly the same dimensions as the Galaxy A52 — both devices actually weigh the exact same 189g — Samsung managed to cram a significantly larger 5,000 mAh battery inside the Galaxy A53 (while last year’s phone had a 4,500 mAh cell).
There’s also an in-display fingerprint scanner, stereo speakers, IP67 water-and-dust resistance rating, and microSD card support up to 1TB — no headphone jack or wireless charging, however. The lack of the headphone jack is a step backward from the Galaxy A52 and something that users in this range may miss. Overall, just going by looks, the Galaxy A53 at least looks like a modern flagship, unlike the iPhone SE, whose bezels belong in 2016.
For optics, the Galaxy A52 packs a 64MP main camera, 12MP ultra-wide, and a pair of 5MP sensors for macro and depth in the main system; around the front is a 32MP selfie camera.
The main 64MP main camera has a really small 1/1.7-inch image sensor, but credit must be given to Samsung’s software prowess, because photos captured by this main camera are pretty good. In fact, in many conditions, a Galaxy A53 main camera shot can look almost as good as a Galaxy S22 Ultra main camera shot to the untrained eye.
Of course, for those who know how to nitpick, we can see there’s heavy processing going on so night shots don’t look nearly as sharp if you zoom in to pixel peep. There’s less natural bokeh in the Galaxy A53’s shots due to the smaller sensor.
In fact, the Galaxy A53 has to rely on night mode so often means the camera is relatively slow. Even in just moderately low-light situations, expect to wait up to a full second (like in the gif below) for a shot to finish capturing. Night mode kicks in automatically by default, you can turn it off, but then photos won’t look nearly as nice.
When comparing the Galaxy A53’s main camera to its most logical competitor, the 2022-edition iPhone SE 3, it mostly comes down to preference. The Galaxy A53 resorts to night mode often, while the iPhone SE doesn’t have night mode at all, so Samsung’s shots often look punchier and more Instagram-ready, but have this overly processed look compared to a more organic iPhone shot. Samsung’s old habits of adding an overly cool (blue) hue to photos that had been fixed in the S22 series returns here too (most notable in the last two sets of samples below). It works in making the neon lights of Hong Kong look that much more cyberpunk, but it’s just an exaggerated version of the real-life scene.
The Galaxy A53’s ultra-wide camera is just okay. Images are very soft even during good lighting; at night, shots are noisy and even less detailed. But considering the iPhone SE doesn’t even have an ultra-wide, the Galaxy A53 having one is a major advantage (at least in the US market, where the Galaxy A53 doesn’t have to go against Chinese mid-rangers from the likes of Redmi and Realme).
Selfies are fine, except Samsung’s overly aggressive beauty filter that lightens and smoothes skins is still here. At this stage in my life, when I have wrinkles and blemishes and dark eye circles, I sort of don’t mind Samsung touching up my face a bit, but it’s still absurd that the phone doesn’t let us turn the feature off.
In terms of video, the Galaxy A53 can shoot video up to 4k/30, but there’s no stabilization at all unless you have the phone on a tripod, footage shot at this resolution is in my opinion unusable. Lower resolution to 1080/30, however, and you get solid stabilization. But there’s no getting around this — the iPhone SE 3 is a better video camera all around, with footage that’s less susceptible to micro-jitters and the iPhone can still provide stabilization at 4k/30.
Samsung Galaxy A53 5G: Software and Overall Performance
The Galaxy A53 runs on Samsung’s new 5nm Exynos 1280 chip, with only 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage in the US (international models — which is what I’m testing — can go up to 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage). I have only had about a day with the device at the time of this writing, but performance has been fine. Benchmark numbers are respectable, and I have been able to go on social media, watch videos, and play games without issues. Some may argue that the Snapdragon 750G on the Galaxy A52 5G was a better SoC, but we’ll reserve judgment on this till we get to spend more time with the device.
The Galaxy A53 runs Android 12 with OneUI 4.1, and if we’re just focusing on using the phone, the software experience is identical to the Galaxy S22 series’ software. So it’s an enjoyable software, with lots of customization options, useful first part app widgets, and best of all, guaranteed four years of Android updates.
However, the Galaxy A53 is missing Samsung DeX, meaning it cannot output a desktop computer-like UI to an external screen.
I’ve only been testing the phone for about a day so this is by no means a review, but so far, the general performance is fine. I do notice the display’s refresh rate, even when set to 120Hz, doesn’t zip around as fluidly as the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s — there are dropped frame rates or stutters here and there, but for the most part, the Galaxy A53 feels like a modern Samsung phone.
The Exynos 1280 chip performed fine for any smartphone task I’ve thrown at it, and it even handled the graphically intensive game Call of Duty Mobile decently. The game set my graphics to “low” by default, but I could go to “medium” graphic settings and still play without noticing slowdowns or frame drops. However, the option to play at “high” is not available.
Benchmark numbers are also solid for this price range. As for battery life, I have not tested the phone long enough to give a definitive analysis, but I am pretty sure this phone will be able to go all day since it has a 5,000 mAh battery, a more energy-efficient 5nm SoC, and a lower resolution, less power-hungry display compared to the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Who should buy the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G?
As I said earlier, the Galaxy A53 5G faces stiff competition in chunks of Asia and Europe, where Chinese brands like Realme or Redmi routinely put out very polished mid-tier devices. But in the US, the Galaxy A53 really only has to worry about the iPhone SE 3 (2022). While the iPhone SE 3’s A15 Bionic is significantly more powerful than the Galaxy A53’s Exynos 1280, the Galaxy A53 is a much more modern-looking device.
For those in the US who want a large screen, all-day battery life, and just good-enough camera and processor, the Galaxy A53 looks quite appealing.