I just tried the Samsung Galaxy A54 — and it could be the best cheap phone of the year

Samsung Galaxy A54 in hand showing cameras
(Image credit: Future)

There's bad cheap, and then there's good cheap. And after spending some time with the new Samsung Galaxy A54, which launches on April 6 for $449, I'd say it's looking good cheap.

In fact, this could be one of the best cheap phones under $500 of the year, depending on how well the upcoming Google Pixel 7a performs when it's launched this spring or summer. 

I went hands-on with the Galaxy A54 at the Samsung 837 flagship store in New York City ahead of its release date, and I came away impressed with its design, display and cameras. But we still have a lot of testing ahead of us. Here's what I like (and don't like) about the Galaxy A54 so far. 

Update: We've added a hands-on Galaxy A54 video so you can see the phone in action. 

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Samsung Galaxy A54 specs
Row 0 - Cell 0 Galaxy A54
Starting price$449/£449
Display6.4-inch FHD AMOLED
Refresh rate120Hz (static)
ChipsetExynos 1380
Storage128GB, 256GB
Expandable?Yes, up to 1TB via microSD
Rear cameras50MP main (f/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.2), 5MP macro (f/2.4)
Front camera32MP (f/2.2)
Battery5,000 mAh
Charging25W wired
Size6.2 x 3.0 x 0.32 inches (158.2 x 76.7 x 8.2mm)
Weight7.1 ounces (202 grams)
ColorsAwesome Graphite, Awesome White, Awesome Lime, Awesome Violet

What I like about the Galaxy A54

Big and responsive 120Hz OLED display

Samsung Galaxy A54 display showing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 trailer

(Image credit: Future)

The Galaxy A54 features a fairly big 6.4-inch OLED display with full HD+ resolution, and it looked really good when I played the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 trailer on this panel. The colors really popped, especially Nebula's blue skin. 

Another plus is that this display supports a 120Hz refresh rate, which means you can enjoy smoother scrolling when surfing the web and more fluid graphics in supported games. The Google Pixel 6a maxes out at just 60Hz, but the Pixel 7a is rumored to offer a 90Hz panel. 

Very capable cameras 

Samsung Galaxy A54 display showing camera app

(Image credit: Future)

I'm happy to report that the photos I took with the main 50MP camera on the Galaxy A54 delivered plenty of detail and looked bright and colorful. Yes, the resolution is lower on the A54 vs. the 64MP Galaxy A53 camera from last year. But the new Samsung A54 has a larger sensor and faster aperture, so it should perform better in lower light. 

While I thought it would be gimmicky at first, the 5MP macro camera on the Galaxy A54 captured a sharp close-up of a flower. I could make out fine details in the petals. You also get a 12MP ultra-wide camera and a 32MP front camera that snapped some good-looking selfies. This could be one of the best camera phones for the money. 

Sleek design that doesn't scream budget

Normally this is the part where I'd tell you that the Galaxy A54 doesn't feel premium. But it does. With the exception of the fairly large bezels, you would be hard pressed to tell that this was a budget phone.

The Galaxy A54 feels solid with its aluminum frame, and I like the way that it's rounded, which makes the phone comfortable to hold. I also like that the front and back are protected with Gorilla Glass 5, even though it's not the latest Gorilla Glass Victus 2. 

The two available colors in the U.S. are fairly attractive, too in Awesome Violet and Awesome Graphite. I prefer the former because it stands out more. Plus, unlike the Galaxy S23, you can expand the onboard storage with the microSD slot. 

Better performance 

We're going to have to back this up with our own smartphone testing, but Samsung claims that the Galaxy A54's Exynos 1380 chip offers 20% faster CPU performance and 26% better GPU performance than the Galaxy A53's Exynos 1280 chip. 

In my hands-on time with the phone, the Galaxy A54 proved fairly swift when launching apps and switching between them. The only time I noticed a bit of lag was when switching between the different digital zoom levels. We look forward to benchmarking this phone to see how it truly performs. 

What I don't like about the Galaxy A54

A bit thick and heavy

Samsung Galaxy A54 side profile

(Image credit: Future)

I noticed immediately that the Galaxy A54 is a bit thick and heavy, though that's compared to pricier flagships. For example, the Galaxy A54 measures 6.23 x 3.02 x 0.32 inches and weighs 7.13 ounces, compared to 6.21 x 3 x 0.30 inches and 6.9 ounces for the Galaxy S23 Plus

Note that the Galaxy A54 has a 6.4-inch display and the Galaxy S23 Plus has a 6.7-inch panel, so the pricier Plus is thiner and lighter despite having a larger screen. I don't think this is a dealbreaker by any stretch, though. 

No telephoto zoom

This isn't a huge deal for the price, but it's worth noting that the Galaxy A54 doesn't offer a telephoto zoom lens. You'll see a 2x button when operating the camera, but that's digital zoom. Also note that the digital zoom goes up to only 10x, so you'll want a pricier flagship if you want a true optical zoom.

When shooting a plant from across the room, I'd say the result was passable but on the fuzzy side. So best to keep your expectations in check with the digital zoom, at least indoors. 

No wireless charging

Samsung Galaxy A54 front display with bezels

(Image credit: Future)

This is a caveat I can live with, but you should know that the Galaxy A54 doesn't offer wireless charging. So you're going to have to stick with a 25W wired charger to juice up the 5,000 mAh battery. This is the same speed that the Galaxy S23 offers. 

As for the battery life, we'll have to see if the new Exynos 1380 chip is more efficient. The previous Galaxy A53 latest under 10 hours, and a handset needs to last 11.5 hours or more to make our best phone battery life list. So we'll have to test the endurance for sure. 

Galaxy A54 outlook

Samsung Galaxy A54 back in violet

(Image credit: Future)

Overall, I think Samsung could have a real winner on its hands with the Galaxy A54. You get pretty much everything you need from a modern phone — including a 50MP camera, 120Hz OLED display and beefy 5,000 mAh battery — all for less than $500. 

Yes, the bezels are on the thick side and you need to give up some features versus the very best Android phones, but those flagships cost hundreds more. Stay tuned for our final rating, and in the meantime check out our Galaxy A54 hands-on review

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.

  • Dficht
    What I'd like to see in a future review is how good the wifi transfer speeds are. That's one major issue I've found with the less expensive Samsung models, like the A53. The modem bandwidth and transfer speed on wifi connection is far, far less than what'll you see with an S-model Samsung. As in less than half. Sadly, I don't see many reviewers who touch on this issue. Please do!