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Samsung Galaxy A53 review: Worth every penny

The Galaxy A53 might be the best cheap Android phone to get

Samsung Galaxy A53 display
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Tom's Guide Verdict

The Galaxy A53 goes head-to-head with the likes of the Pixel 5a for the title of best budget Android phone, and emerges as the superior option in many ways. While its camera lag behind the Pixel, the A53 offers a great 120Hz display, longer software support, and better performance.

Pros

  • +

    Good display with 120Hz refresh rate

  • +

    Expandable storage up to 1TB

  • +

    Nice design and build quality

  • +

    Excellent software support

Cons

  • -

    Mediocre performance

  • -

    Pointless macro and depth cameras

Samsung Galaxy A53: Specs

Price: $449/£399
Android version: 12, One UI 4.1
Display: 6.5-inch AMOLED (2400 x 1080)
Refresh rate: 120Hz
CPU: Exynos 1280
RAM: 6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes
Rear cameras: 64MP main (f/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.2), 5MP macro (f/2.4), 5MP depth (f/2.4)
Front camera: 32MP (f/2.2)
Video: Up to 4K 30 fps, 1080p 60 fps
Battery: 5,000 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:49 (120Hz), 10:38 (60Hz)
Charging: 25W wired
Size: 6.28 x 2.94 x 0.32 inches
Weight: 6.7 ounces
Colors: Awesome Black

The Samsung Galaxy A53 is the latest budget phone from the electronics giant, coming in with a big 120Hz display, decent performance for the price, and cameras that almost stack up to the competition. There’s a lot to love about this phone, which has everything we liked about last year’s Galaxy A52 along with some nice and welcome upgrades.

For $449, you get a well-rounded phone. Even if its  cameras aren’t the best among the best cheap phones, they’re good enough for most circumstances if you prefer Samsung’s trademark fantastical and oversaturated photos. And fans of expandable storage will rejoice, since the Galaxy A53 supports up to 1TB microSD cards.

Is this the best phone under $500? Read our Samsung Galaxy A53 review to find out why it's the sub-$500 phone we'd recommend over other contenders.

Samsung Galaxy A53 review: Price and availability

The Galaxy A53 comes in at a very attractive $449/£399 price. For that money, you get 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage (with microSD card support up to 1TB). You can buy the phone directly from Samsung and other electronics retailers.

The Google Pixel 5a also costs $449, and it comes with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage just like the Galaxy A53. It’s currently one of the best cheap phones you can buy, even with its older chipset. The current Pixel, however, lacks the A53’s expandable storage and is only available in the US and Japan.

And if you’re not dead set on having an Android phone, there’s the $429 iPhone SE (2022) to consider, though that starts with 64GB of storage. (To get the same 128GB of storage as the Galaxy A53, you’ll have to fork over $479.) That said, the latest iPhone provides the best bang for your buck with its class-leading A15 Bionic processor.

Samsung Galaxy A53 review: Design

I can best describe the Galaxy A53’s design as simple but effective. The plastic body feels nice and far from cheap, even if it does pick up fingerprint smudges rather easily. Overall, I find the phone to be solidly constructed, similar to the Pixel 5a. 

Samsung Galaxy A53 camera

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Galaxy A53’s camera module sticks out slightly and looks a lot like the Galaxy S20 series — the Contour Cut design is apparently reserved for the latest Galaxy S phones. The Galaxy A53 is rather unassuming and honestly rather boring. It does feature an IP67 rating for water and dust resistance, meaning it can survive submersion up to 1 meter (3 feet) for 30 minutes. 

Samsung Galaxy A53 camera

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Compared to the iPhone SE (2022), however, the Galaxy A53 definitely feels like a budget phone. The SE sports the same body as the iPhone 8, which was once a flagship. That means metal and glass, making for a very premium feel. While the A53 doesn’t feel cheap, it definitely lacks the higher-class iPhone SE construction. 

Samsung Galaxy A53 review: Display

The Galaxy A53 sports a very nice 6.5-inch AMOLED display. You get FHD resolution and — best of all — a 120Hz refresh rate. A $449 phone with a 120Hz display is definitely wild, and it’s the nicest display I’ve seen at this price. However, you have to choose between a 120Hz or 60Hz rate — unlike Samsung’s more expensive phones, the Galaxy A53 does not adjust that refresh rate automatically.

Galaxy A53 (Vivid / Natural)Pixel 5aiPhone SE (2022)
Screen size6.5 inches6.43 inches4.7 inches
sRGB (%)204 / 123119115
DCI-P3 (%)145 / 878581
Delta-E0.32 / 0.310.320.21
Brightness (nits)693501550

The Galaxy A53 beats out the Pixel 5a and iPhone SE (2022) in the sRGB and DCI-P3 gamut reproductions, even if its Delta-E score (where 0 is perfect) lags behind the color accuracy of the iPhone’s display. Still, the Galaxy A53’s screen is very nice to look at.

Samsung Galaxy A53 display

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I loved watching Blade Runner 2049 — the movie I use to test every phone display — with its bright neons, harsh orange tones, and crushing shadows. Despite the Galaxy A53 not being the best gaming phone out there, I still enjoyed playing games like Genshin Impact and Dead Cells. Colors do pop, even if the phone isn’t really powerful enough for 120 fps in some titles.

I have no qualms with saying that this is the best phone display under $500.

Samsung Galaxy A53 review: Cameras

The Galaxy A53 needs to prove itself when it comes to cameras, since the Pixel 5a and iPhone SE (2022) are stellar in this regard. The A53 sports a quad camera setup with a 64MP main sensor joined by 12MP ultrawide, 5MP macro, and 5MP depth shooters. Around front, you’ll find a 32MP selfie cam.

Samsung Galaxy A53 selfie camera

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

When I complain about dedicated macro and depth sensors, I feel like I’m beating a dead horse. But I’ll continue to repeat that as long as phone makers continue to slap these superfluous sensors on their phones. We don’t need macro and depth sensors. They are effectively useless, since we’ve seen other phones accomplish the same things with the tried-and-true hardware we have. So for the sake of this review, I will focus on the 64MP wide-angle and 12MP ultrawide cameras.

Samsung Galaxy A53 cameras

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I brought out the Pixel 5a, which I think remains the best camera phone under $500. Starting with this outdoor shot of some wild berries, you can see that the Galaxy A53 approaches overexposure, making for an image that looks nearly washed out. The Pixel 5a controlled for the overcast day, producing a photo that’s much truer to life. The rich red of the berries and deep green of the leaves certainly catches my eye more than the blown-out look on the A53’s picture.

The ultrawide comparison shot proved similar, as the Galaxy A53 went way too bright. This image looks fantastical and oversaturated, while also seeming washed out. Even though the Pixel 5a’s photo is darker in comparison, it’s much more accurate given the overcast weather. The ruddy bricks look better, as does the grass. Pixels excel at natural colors while the A53 looks to be up to Samsung’s old saturation tricks.

Both phones performed similarly inside with these books. The Galaxy A53 is definitely brighter than the Pixel 5a, but the A53 once again tries to blow out the colors. It’s not quite as bad as some of the outdoor shots, but it’s approaching that line. (Look at the pink spine of Six Crimson Cranes.) The Pixel keeps things calmer, though I wish it had brightened up the image just a tad. 

As for portraits, the Galaxy A53 didn’t capture one that’s worth mentioning. While the zoomed out look is up for personal interpretation, the bokeh effect is very weak. Meanwhile, the Pixel 5a did a much better job all around. Not only are my skin and eyes much clearer, but you can more easily see the individual hairs of my beard. The A53 doesn’t have this level of detail. 

I came away impressed with the Galaxy A53’s night mode performance, which seems to have benefited from all the effort Samsung put into improving nighttime photography on the Galaxy S22 lineup. The smoker is obviously visible, though still hidden in shadows. The light from the neighbors house messes with the image clarity a bit, but I give the A53 credit for putting up a better fight than most phones at this price. However, in the Pixel 5a’s Night Sight shot, I can make out much more of the smoker. There’s also less noise, and the chair cushions off to the right look much nicer. The Pixel 5a once again proves itself to be the best phone for low-light photography under $500.

Wrapping up with selfies, the differences I noted earlier between the Galaxy A53 and Pixel 5a pop up again. The A53’s image is brighter than the Pixel’s, but the latter has much more natural colors, especially with my skin. 

The A53 applied a bit too much face smoothing for my liking, but I do like the greener vegetation in the background. The Pixel’s selfie looks more subdued and I think it would be the better image overall following some edits, but out of the box, I think the Galaxy A53 did a better job.

Samsung Galaxy A53 review: Performance

With its Exynos 1280 system-on-chip, the Galaxy A53 won’t win any performance races. That said, the phone does fine in day-to-day use, though it’s not the best gaming device you can get at this price. That title goes to the iPhone SE (2022) with its A15 Bionic chip, the same one you’ll find in the iPhone 13.

We ran the Galaxy A53 through the typical suite of benchmarks, the results of which you can see below.

Galaxy A53Pixel 5aiPhone SE (2022)
Geekbench 5 (single-core / multicore)745 / 1888581 / 13451718 / 4482
Adobe Premiere Rush (Mins:Secs)1:581:590:27
3DMark WIld Life Unlimited (score / FPS)2268 / 141678 / 108352 / 50
3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited (score / FPS)623 / 4444 / 31943 / 12

The Galaxy A53 outperforms the Pixel 5a in every regard, though the latter features a chipset that’s almost two years old. The A53 doesn’t win by landslide, but it’s nonetheless more powerful than the Snapdragon 765G-powered Pixel 5a.

Of course, the iPhone SE (2022) smokes the Galaxy A53 across the board. The Geekbench scores aren’t even close. The iPhone SE also destroyed the A53 in the 4K-1080p video transcoding test, performing the task in a quarter of the time. The latest iPhone is also the better gaming device, even with its small 4.7-inch LCD.

Samsung Galaxy A53 displaying website

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I don’t think you’ll find the Galaxy A53 wanting for most things, however. Web browsing, social media, and the like all do well here, especially with the 120Hz display for smoother scrolling and animations.

Samsung Galaxy A53 review: Battery life and charging

The Galaxy A53 packs a 5,000 mAh battery, which is pretty large. Other flagships like the Galaxy S22 Ultra, OnePlus 10 Pro, and Pixel 6 Pro all also have 5,000 mAh power packs. So you’d think the Galaxy A53 would be a battery life champ, right?

We test phone batteries by setting the display to 150 nits and then tasking the device to endlessly reload web pages over 5G. Here’s how the Galaxy A53 fared in that benchmark.

Galaxy A53 (120Hz / 60Hz)Pixel 5aiPhone SE (2022)
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)9:49 / 10:389:457:38
Recharge percentage (15 mins)252331
Recharge percentage (30 mins)464361

Considering that the display is locked to 120Hz and not adaptive like on the Galaxy S22 series, the Galaxy A53’s result isn’t too bad. Recent high-end Samsung phones have struggled with battery life in our testing, so the A53’s 9 hour, 49 minute result here is fine given that it’s just 11 minutes shy of the 10-hour average we usually see.

Even with a 120Hz display, the Galaxy A53 outlasts the Pixel 5a and iPhone SE (2022), both of which sport 60Hz displays. You’ll get more battery life from Motorola’s budget G series phones, like the Moto G Power (2022), but Samsung makes a better phone overall.

Samsung Galaxy A53 power port

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

With the 25W charger (not included), the Galaxy A53 barely beats the Pixel 5a for our battery recharge test, even though the budget Pixel charges at a slower 18W. There is no wireless charging on the A53, however, unlike the iPhone SE.

Samsung Galaxy A53 review: Software and special features

Samsung did a great job with the Galaxy A53’s software. It’s the same One UI 4.1 that you’ll find on the Galaxy S22, and that means the device is running Android 12. That includes many customization features, better privacy and security, and Samsung’s commitment to updates.

Android 12 introduced a new theming engine under the Material You design language. It basically takes colors from your wallpaper and applies them as accents across the system. This applies to things like your Quick Settings, some widgets, the Settings menu, and more. It’s not a wholesale theme that can radically change how the Galaxy A53 looks, but I rather like it, especially when I have a neon or otherwise retrowave-inspired wallpaper.

Samsung Galaxy A53 display

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Speaking of widgets, Samsung has new Smart Widgets for One UI 4.1. These operate similarly to Smart Stack widgets in iOS, where you can house multiple together without wasting screen real estate. As long as they’re the same size, you can scroll side to side through them. You can even tweak how One UI’s Smart Widgets look, customizing their background color or transparency, plus getting them to match dark mode.

Samsung Galaxy A53 apps

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Finally, the Galaxy A53 will enjoy the best update schedule of any Android phone. (That’s right, even better than Pixels.) Samsung has committed to providing four years of Android updates for its phones, including the Galaxy A53. That means Android 16 will be able to run on this phone when it arrives in 2025. On top of that, the A53 will get five years of security patches, just like the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

This means that you can keep your Galaxy A53 for longer, which is not only better for your wallet, but also for the environment. 

Samsung Galaxy A53 review: Verdict

The Galaxy A53 is a great phone for $449. It outperforms the Pixel 5a in benchmarks and even goes a decent while on a charge. The 120Hz display is really nice, especially at this price. I wish it was an adaptive refresh rate, but not even the more expensive Galaxy S21 FE sports one of those.

The looming threat on the horizon is the Pixel 6a, which might be right around the corner. Rumors say that handset will use the same Tensor chip that’s in the Pixel 6. If true, the 6a is going to be a force to be reckoned with, and the Galaxy A53 may not be able to weather that storm. We’ll have to see, but I've already come up with 5 ways the Google Pixel 6a can beat the Samsung Galaxy A53.

But right now, I’m confident in saying that the Galaxy A53 is the best cheap Android phone. The iPhone SE (2022) is more powerful, but the A53 has the bigger and brighter display (plus a higher refresh rate). The ultrawide camera and dedicated night mode also go a long way to making the case for the Galaxy A53.

Jordan Palmer
Jordan Palmer

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He's written about phones for over five years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.

  • Mikey21G
    I love this phone, and I think it is a great value. In this review you said it is the best android phone under $500, but I looked at the best phones list and best cheap phones list by mark spoonauer, and this phone is not there. I was wondering will it ever be there, or is it just not updated yet?
    Reply
  • Owen354
    How dare you call the macro camera pointless, it's my favorite feature of the phone, makes taking photos of small objects or small details on objects so much fun, I've used it almost a dozen times this week, useful both for my job and for entertainment.

    Otherwise great review.
    Reply