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Samsung Galaxy A52 5G review: Mid-range marvel

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(Cybertech) – Samsung’s A series is one of the company’s most popular. It’s more affordable than the top-end Galaxy S but delivers many of the same experiences, meaning that in terms of volume, Samsung sells a lot more Galaxy A than it does the flagship.

In recent years, mid-range phones have seen a huge boost. They’ve dropped the sense of being slightly compromised, while premium features have trickled down – meaning you now get more for your money at this level.

That brings us to the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G, which turns out to be something of a star.

Design and build

  • Dimensions: 159.9 x 75.1 x 84.mm / Weight: 189g
  • IP67 waterproofing

There are two versions of the Galaxy A52, but they’re not equals. The small addition of the ‘5G’ on the end denotes that this is a superior device with a wider range of connectivity potential, although from a design point of view you’d not be able to tell the difference.

Both are the same size, design, dimensions and both models come in blue, white, violet and black. Sorry, that should be Awesome Blue, Awesome White, Awesome Violet and Awesome Black, because Samsung has found form with the A series and appended the word Awesome to just about everything.

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Those colours are matte rather than gloss, meaning they are nice and tactile, stay free from fingerprints, and don’t look like a typical cheap plastic phone. It is plastic, of course, and it doesn’t feel as premium as the Galaxy S21 – which, to be clear, is also plastic – but there’s enough individuality to make the Galaxy A52 5G stand out.

We especially like the camera array. It’s not a huge bling lump like in the Galaxy S series, it’s integrated better, more subtly, even if it is over-stuffed with sensors. If there’s one thing that cheapens the design, it’s that it’s a little hollow feeling. Tap on the back and it doesn’t feel solid.

But the thing that’s likely to turn heads is that the Galaxy A52 carries IP67 certification – meaning it’s totally dust-proofed and can survive a full dunking in water (to 1m for 30mins, according to the specification). That’s usually the preserve of much more expensive phones, making the Galaxy A52 a lot more interesting, and giving it an edge over similarly-priced rivals.

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Samsung goes further offering a 3.5mm headphone socket – a convenience feature, but also popular with those still using wired headphones – while there’s dual stereo speakers too, offering Dolby Atmos effects to make the soundstage sound wider.

It’s a great combination of features, that, arguably, give the A52 some advantages over Samsung’s flagship phones. Especially when you consider it’s about half the price.

Display

  • 6.5-inch AMOLED panel, 120Hz refresh rate
  • 2400 x 1080 resolution, 404ppi density
  • Under-display fingerprint scanner

A 6.5-inch AMOLED panel sits on the front of the Galaxy A52 5G – and this is the only phone in the range (so far) that offers 120Hz, a fast refresh rate to keep that content looking smooth. The regular A52 and A72 have to make do with 90Hz.

What you don’t get here is adaptive refresh rates, but that’s a minor point: we’d say it’s better to have fast refresh than not, although it’s also worth saying there’s only a small difference in experience between 90Hz and 120Hz, so this is spec sheet loading as much as anything else.

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The flat display sticks to a Full HD+ resolution – that’s 2400 x 1080 pixels – resulting in 404 pixels per inch, which is nice and sharp. It basically comes in close to the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE with the same size and resolution display, but with bezels a little larger than the Galaxy S21 models.

The A52 is also not as bright, claiming a peak brightness of 800 nits, so it doesn’t quite have the outdoor punch as those flagship models, but it still performs well. Being an AMOLED panel it has that rich delivery of colour and deep blacks, making it a great canvas across which your content is drawn.

There’s no HDR (high dynamic range), so fire up Netflix and you won’t see that HDR tag, but that perhaps doesn’t matter. We watched some of Netflix’s Bridgerton side-by-side with the Galaxy S21+ running the same and there’s very little difference, so you’re not really missing out.

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Yes, it’s not as potent as those displays on the flagship Galaxy S models, but this phone is half the price – so it’s hard to complain. Certainly, we’ve not found anything that concerns us using this display and there is one advantage – the polarising layer doesn’t get in the way when using polarised sunglasses, so it’s preferable to the 2021 Galaxy S models in that regard.

Finally there’s a fingerprint sensor under the display. This doesn’t seem to be quite as fast as the scanner on the Galaxy S21 models, but it works well enough.

Hardware and performance

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G 5G, 6/8GB RAM
  • 128/256GB storage + microSD expansion
  • 4500mAh battery, 25W charging

The hardware story makes for interesting reading. The Galaxy A52 5G sits on Qualcomm hardware – the recent Snapdragon 750G – rather than the Exynos 980 of the A51 (from 2020). There isn’t a huge difference in the power on offer between these two platforms – although it’s a healthy step above the non-5G version of the A51.

What’s more interesting is that Samsung appears to be increasingly choosing Qualcomm in some devices where it was using Exynos in the past, perhaps to increase marketability of devices in some regions. Snapdragon 750G is close to the Snapdragon 765G that was so popular in 2020 – but once again, this is the mid-range proving that it is not that far removed from the flagship level.

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That plays out in daily use too. Moving to the Galaxy A52 5G from the Galaxy S21+ has been a useful comparison, because there’s actually very little difference overall in normal daily tasks. Apps are a little slower to launch, but hitting a heavy session of Call of Duty: Mobile is as rewarding on the A52 5G as it is on the S21 – and being able to deliver these demanding experiences without the feeling of compromise is what people want.

There is a compromise, however. The hardware has to work a lot harder to deliver things like AAA games and that has a much heavier toll on the battery life. The Galaxy A52 5G won’t last as long playing those games as the flagship models will – and that’s just a fact of the lower spec hardware.

That’s only going to be a problem for those who want to game a lot, because outside of gaming the battery performance is actually very good. As is often the case pairing a big battery – it’s 4500mAh here – with slightly less demanding hardware means that in day-to-day use the power consumption is lower, meaning you don’t have the charge as often as you might on a flagship phone.

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There’s no wireless charging here – which is a minor loss – but there’s support for 25W wired charging. Although that’s not the fastest around, it’s fast enough.

Storage is generous – it’s 128GB standard or 256GB for the pricier model – with the advantage that the Galaxy A still has a microSD card slot, something that the Galaxy S has given up on. That’s a huge win for those wanting to carry round more content, as you could buy a 1TB card on the cheap to hold loads of pictures and such like.

Overall, it’s a solid offering when it comes to performance – and the hardware you get and feels like an elevation over the A51 predecessor.

Cameras

  • Quad camera system:
    • Main: 64-megapixels, f/1.8 aperture, autofocus (AF), optical image stabilisation (OIS)
    • Wide: 12MP, f/2.2 / Macro: 5MP, f/2.4 / Depth sensor
  • Front: 32-megapixels, f/2.2 aperture

Where the Galaxy A52 5G really differentiates itself from the Galaxy S is in the cameras. There’s a marked step down in this department and the functions offered.

Firstly the quad arrangement. There’s only really two useful sensors here – the main camera and the ultra-wide. The depth sensor only lets you use portrait mode on the main camera and as we know from other phones, it’s largely unnecessary. Whether Samsung is using a cheaper sensor, or whether it’s just to make up the number of cameras, we don’t know.

Then there’s the macro camera. This is now a mainstay on cheaper phones, doesn’t really do much, and is pretty tricky to get a decent photo from, so it’s of limited value.

There’s no optical zoom – which is one advantage the Galaxy A72 offers, as that model has a 3x optical lens on the back. On the A52 it’s all digital zoom from the main camera, even though the user interface within the camera app lays out the selections as though there is a zoom lens, just like the Galaxy S. The quality drops off pretty quickly as you use the digital zoom, so it’s best avoided.

The Galaxy A52 5G has a 64-megapixel main sensor, which outputs 16-megapixel photos as standard, combining pixels with the aim of boosting the quality. This is now common on mid-range phones, often choosing higher resolution over sensor size. It’s also the only lens offering autofocus, while optical stabilisation is a benefit too.

Generally speaking it’s a good camera, getting the advantages of Samsung’s AI Scene Optimiser – which will help you make the most of what’s in front of you. Photos are pretty good, but things can be a little on the flat side – there isn’t the HDR pop that you get at flagship level, with results a little muted as a result.

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There’s a capable night mode that will take multiple images and combine to get a decent low-light photos, not quite to flagship standards, but good enough to be worth using.

You can opt to shoot in at 64-megapixels, but there are few advantages. Yes, you can crop closer to get to detail you might not be able to make out on the 16-megapixel image, but it’s all pretty mushy once you start doing that. We also found that the 16-megapixel images were better, with improved colour balance and contrast – which sort of makes the 64MP options redundant.

The portrait mode is good – with Samsung having dropped the “live focus” naming used over the past few generations of devices – and a selection of filters and effects that can be applied to those bokeh shots.

There’s a 32-megapixel camera on the front of the Galaxy A52 5G. Again, it’s a high-resolution play that doesn’t really pay off, but it does offer two different angles, with a slightly wider shot available.

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This is achieved by sensor cropping for regular viewpoint, then using more of the sensor for the second view point, giving the illusion that you’ve got a slightly wider lens.

Other modes can be applied to the front camera too, so you can take portrait photos and alter the background effects, which all works pretty well. You can also use night mode on the front camera, but here you start to get closer to the limits of this device’s performance, with results slightly under par.

Software

  • Samsung One UI 3.1
  • Android 11

The Samsung Galaxy A52 5G launches with the latest software from Samsung. That’s Google’s Android 11 operating system with Samsung’s One UI 3.1 layered over the top. It’s a familiar setup, mirroring that which we’ve seen from the Galaxy S21 already this year. There’s the promise of four years of security updates, which would take this device through to 2025, although you’re only likely to get three Android version upates.

It’s here that Samsung has a real advantage over its rivals. There are many mid-range devices sitting around the same price or cheaper, but Samsung has the most refined software in our view, offering the most complete skin over the top of Android. The likes of Xiaomi, Redmi, Realme, and so forth, can’t quite cut it by compare.

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There’s some duplication of apps though, with Samsung offering its own browser, contacts, messaging apps and more. But it’s easy enough to replace these with Google’s app instead – and we think that gives a better experience overall. You also get the option not to install a lot of the Samsung apps at startup, so the issue of bloatware is no longer really a problem.

We’ve found the software to be slick and smooth on the A52. There’s a lot of options and customisations, but we’ve also seen Samsung moving closer to stock Android, offering things like Google Discover and access to your Google Assistant-linked devices, which is all new in 2021.

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy A52 5G feels like a much more competitive device than the A series did in 2020. With a rise in mid-range performance over the last 12 months, Samsung has delivered a really strong device here.

The fundamentals of this phone are just right: there’s power for a smooth experience even in demanding tasks; there’s good battery life; and a great display – here boosted with that faster refresh rate. Keeping features like the 3.5mm headphone socket and microSD add real value too.

The IP67 dust/waterproofing does make this phone stand out a little, too, sitting on top of a design that we like a lot. It’s a recipe that adds up to a great phone, avoiding the software nasties that can sometimes crop up at this more affordable price point.

It’s that price point that will also be a major lure: the Galaxy A52 5G not only opens the 5G door, it does so at a price that’s less than half of the Galaxy S flagships, without any major compromise.

Also consider

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Redmi Note 10 Pro

Redmi has always been a force in affordable devices and the Note 10 Pro is no different. This is a larger device than the Samsung and the main camera is impressive. We think Samsung’s software is more refined that the MIUI that Redmi offers and Samsung’s hardware is a little more powerful too. 

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Google Pixel 4a 5G

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Google’s phone offers great hardware power, a camera that performs well, and next-gen connectivity all within a software system that’s free from clutter and front of the line for upgrades. Samsung offers a little more screen, which is more enticing and more convenience features – at a better price.

Writing by Chris Hall. Editing by Mike Lowe.



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