The Flagship vs Midrange Debate: Galaxy A54 Review!


 So here's the thing: I used to be able to say,

"Cheap phones are getting good,

and good phones are getting cheap,"

because it was true for a while there,

but then, we started getting

these more and more expensive flagship phones.

They broke through this $1,000 price barrier.

We've got super-expensive phones now,

so I can no longer stand by the second half

of that statement, but in the first half,

still pretty compelling.

And so this is the Samsung Galaxy A54,

which just came out pretty recently

and represents roughly the middle-ish of Samsung's lineup,

where they've got phones at every price

from, like, 160 bucks up to nearly $2,000.

And this one has a great case to be the best value

in the entire lineup.

I didn't expect to say that, but I'm saying it now

Because I've been using this phone for the past two weeks,

and it delivers very well

on a lot of the premium smartphone experience,

but at literally a third of the price of the flagship

from the same company, literally.

This phone MSRPs, like, 400, 450 bucks right now.

If you sign the right contract in the US,

you can get it for free.

(air whooshing) And the flagship

that I've been daily driving for, like, the first half

of this year so far is the S23 Ultra,

which retails for $1,200 still.

So what I wanted to find out and show you in this video

is how close does this A54 get

to this S23 Ultra or any of these mega-flagships

that are like it?

Because it's not a third of the functionality.

So I'm breaking this down into five categories

Build Quality

because these are my five pillars of a great smartphone:

build quality, display, performance, camera, and battery.

So I've said before if a smartphone can nail

If all five of these things, then it's a good phone, period.

And as a product goes down in price,

Then you naturally expect it to start to make

some sacrifices in some of these areas.

So right from the top, with build quality,

It gets interesting because Samsung

kind of adopted this thing

where they use essentially the same design language

across their entire lineup

to keep it consistent and recognizable,

but that also basically means that this $1,200 phone

does not look dramatically different

from this 400 to $450 phone.

Samsung is one of these companies

That only does the satin/matte finish

on the backs of their most premium phones,

And so the squared-off rails on the S23 Ultra

are polished aluminum for contrast.

The A54, on the other hand, is the other way around.

It's glossy glass on the back,

and it's a more satin finish on the aluminum rails,

and I kind of like that too.

At the end of the day, though,

They're both glass and aluminum,

And so really, it comes down

to two main differences between the two.

One is the size.

They only come in these sizes,

and so this A54 is definitively smaller and lighter

then the Ultra, and two, it's flat, and that's fine,

where the Ultra does have this little bit of a curve

on the sides of the display,

But to be honest, yeah, build quality is very close here.

It is IP67 versus IP68, which, by definition,

is almost the same thing,

and the A54 puts the SIM card slot

plus expandable storage (phone clattering)

at the top, where the flagship just has a SIM card tray

at the bottom, with no expandable storage.

If I can safely assume that both Gorilla Glass 5

and Gorilla Glass Victus 2 both scratch at a level six

with deeper grooves at a level seven,

I feel pretty comfortable saying that the A54

is 90% of the build quality of the flagship,

which is a really good start.

So then, there's the displays.


Now, this is Samsung we're talking about here,

so they go the extra mile

with the flagship display, no question about that.

It is ridiculously good, incredibly bright,

super-sharp, responsive, adaptive, and efficient.

I mean, every number on paper is pretty close to maxed out,

from the 1440p resolution to the 1,750 nits of brightness

from an AMOLED panel, 120-hertz max refresh rate,

but variable down to one hertz with LTPO.

I mean, it's pretty awesome.

So the A54 display is a step down on paper, sure,

and when you use it,

You realize that they've cut out, like,

the extra bells and whistles, the over-the-top stuff

that are maybe a little more for the fringe situations

But still, keep the screen at a pretty premium level

for 99% of use cases.

So like I said, this only comes in one size,

so it's a little smaller than the flagship,

But that's also probably a good thing for some people

'cause phones are huge.

So this is a 6.4-inch 1080p flat AMOLED.

This is still over 400 pixels per inch,

so even though it can't do Quad-HD,

It's still gonna be pretty great for most people

that aren't pixel-peeping like I am,

and it's still plenty bright.

I mean, I'm looking at this thing.

It gets up to 1,000 nits and regularly goes outdoors

and looks fine, like on the dashboard of my car

and out in the sun, no problems.

So in that way, it's pretty close,

but you can also see the bezels all the way around

are a little bit thicker.

This is one of those things that tends to get, like,

pointed out in YouTube comments

more than by people buying the phone,

But yeah, it's true, it does have slightly bigger bezels

and a bigger chin.

It's not completely corner-to-corner.

And then, while the S23 Ultra has the LTPO

that can adapt from 120 hertz

down to one hertz when it's not moving,

This A54 display can adapt from 120 hertz down to 60 hertz

and switch back and forth.

So not quite as adaptive and efficient,

but better than nothing,

And it goes pretty blue off-axis, more than some

of the more premium Samsung panels already do,

and also, that hole-punch cutout, as I pointed out before,

is not quite the little perfect black circle,

But it does have this little shiny metal ring

That can be slightly distracting

when the sun hits it at just the right angle.

It's a small thing, but I gotta mention it.

But yeah, they still give you every single setting in here

as the more expensive phone to dial in the display's colors

and match what you're looking for.

So overall, I'm willing to say the A54


has 80% of the display of the flagship.

It's not gonna match it on paper,

and in the most bleeding-edge extreme situations

like direct outdoor sunlight and things like that,

then you can see the difference,

but honestly, most of the time,

When you're just using the phone, especially indoors,

They look very similar, which is pretty amazing,

just with slightly thicker bezels.

So then, there's performance.

Now, this is where you start to get

a little bit of a wider gap here.

So you've already heard about the flagship.

Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, eight gigs of RAM,

one terabyte of storage, all that good stuff.

This is working with a lesser chipset here,

so it's just not gonna be as good.

So the A54 is powered by an Exynos 1380 chip,

which benchmarks about 50 to 80% lower

than the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 in CPU.

It's a very comfortable mid-range chip.

I'll put it that way.

For context, it's putting up similar Geekbench scores

to the A12 Bionic, which was in the iPhone 10s in 2018.

So pair this with six gigs of RAM,

And you've got a phone that, you know,

can handle everyday tasks, but it isn't blowing anything

out the water in terms of performance.

And the specs are only part of the performance.

Like, when I say performance as a pillar,

You want it to be able

to open apps very quickly and be smooth and reliable.

So for normal daily things like checking email

or social media scrolling or just subscribing

to this YouTube channel, like,

It feels just like the flagships because it's fine,

and it's also 120 hertz, and it's smooth.

That stuff doesn't require a super-high-end chip.

Now, sure, there are a few dropped frames here and there,

and it does feel a little bit different,

And if you gave me these two phones

and didn't tell me which was which,

sooner or later, I could tell you

which one was a lower-end chip.

But it would require me starting to push,

you know, some higher-end stuff: starting to multi-task,

starting to flip between a couple of heavier apps at once,

opening and closing a few things.

When you get to, like, navigating while streaming music

over Bluetooth, you know, while reading something

in a web browser on a big website, stuff like that,

Then, the difference is quite noticeable.

And then, the S23 line all has these, like,

lightning-fast, ultrasonic fingerprint sensors,

While the A54 does have an optical sensor,

which is just a bit slower and has to shine a light

for a second instead of the ultrasonic ones,

which are more versatile.

You could also argue that built-in storage

is gonna be faster than expandable,

although some people just don't care.

Like, they just want expandable storage,

in which case, that's a benefit for the A54.


But yeah, the performance difference

between the flagship chipset and the mid-ranger is pretty big.

It's noticeable. It's a feel thing.

It's a smoothness thing.

If you haven't used a more expensive phone,

You might not even notice, but that's what it comes down to,

and especially with the higher-end tasks,

(plastic tapping) These phones are running

the same software, One UI 5.1,

but just one executes the same stuff

a little more reliable and smoother.

So I'm gonna give A54 60% of the performance

of the flagship, not bad.

So now, cameras. Cameras, cameras, cameras.

We got all kinds of cameras.

Typically, cameras are what separate

The good phones from the great phones, (smacks)

and that's still true. (laughs)

So you look at the back of the A54,

and it looks just like all of the rest of the S23 series,

Obviously, not as many cameras as the Ultra,

But when you hear

that this is the 50-megapixel main camera,

and this is the 12-megapixel ultra-wide,

and this is a five-megapixel macro,

Now, you're starting to see where they save money.

Like, in what world do you want a macro camera

over a zoom camera?

This is the obvious version of, like,

making it look like the more expensive phone

but saving some money, not putting a Zoom,

but still having something there.

Photo Video

So now, the actual photo and video-taking experience

is the same as the more expensive phones, literally.

It's the same app, the same UI,

the same features and buttons, so that's fine.

We can all say what we want about Samsung's layouts,

but, you know, they work.

They're pretty straightforward,

and then, the photos you get, in good lighting,

They seem perfectly fine.

Like, if you don't compare it to something super-expensive,

these are all super-passable, (shutter clicking)

sharp-detailed, normal-looking photos,

Maybe a little bit blue with the white balance,

a little bit over-exposed. (shutter clicking)

But honestly, short of the Pixel 6a,

This is about as good as you'd expect from a $450 phone.

But of course, like I said, my goal is to compare it

to the super-expensive big brother, so when you do,

That highlights a little more some of the flaws

of the A54's main camera, which is just

that it tends to over-expose

and take unnecessarily bright shots quite often,

and the white balance is a little inconsistent.

But it's funny; this angle always feels weird

because most people buying this phone have never,

They haven't come from a $1,200 phone.

They don't know what a $1,200 phone's capabilities would be,

So it's like comparing a Toyota Corolla to a Supra.

Sure, they come from the same company,

But, like, people buying the Corolla

weren't cross-shopping with the Supra,

and they were even thinking

about getting the performance of a Supra.

So just me putting 'em side by side

helps highlight the differences,

But yeah, this camera set is fine.

I think sometimes, I boil the camera

down to, like, "Yeah, this one's just fine,"

but I mean it.

It's fine.

Like, when you zoom in, yeah, you lose sharpness

Because you went with a macro over a telephoto,

so it doesn't come close to touching the zoom performance

of the more expensive phones past about 4, 5X.

The A54 also can't do 8K video or even 4K 60,

like the flagship can,

but it can do everything else just fine,

and the ultra-wide is pretty soft,

As expected, especially in lower light,

But it happens to be a tiny bit wider

than the flagship's ultra-wide,

So it's got that going for it.


You know, between the missing telephotos

and the lesser compute power, this one can go

in a bunch of different directions,

but I'll say the A54 is 70% of the camera

for most normal photos of the flagship,

which is pretty good.

But then last, but not least: battery.

This one's pretty simple: 5,000 milliamp hours,

5,000 milliamp hours, and so it turns out,

The usable daily battery life of these two phones

is pretty similar, but the thing about the chips, though,

is the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2,

which is in a lotta the higher-end newer phones now,

Is it really good?

It's both more powerful and more efficient than the Exynos.

So basically, this flagship phone is capable of way more.

It's capable of a much higher peak output,

And so you can spike the usage a lot

and, like, run down the battery pretty hard

if you wanted to, but then it's also more efficient,

So far, you know, combining it with this LTPO display,

just using it every day, regular scrolling social media,

email, hanging out, you know, this is, it's sipping battery.

It's going slower through the battery than the A54.

So the A54 is more of a constant drain.

It doesn't spike as high,

but it doesn't have as good standby time,

So the curve of the flagship phone

might look more, like, spiky,

but the A54 looks more like an even descent,

if that makes sense.

Now, you also do not get wireless charging

with the A54, despite the glass back.

That's one of those features that you sometimes see

in phones of this price,

but it's a common omission,

and the max charging rate is 25 watts,

which is straight-up slow in 2023, but it's fine.

It's serviceable.

There are all kinds of phones offering blazing-fast,

like, 50, 80, 100-plus-watt charging

even at this lower price point.

So even if the battery isn't amazing,

You could at least top up quickly if you had that,

But that's not here either, so it'll take about an hour

to charge from 0 to 100, total average,

but overall, it's not a substantial weakness,

especially versus the flagship from the same company,

which only does 45 watts.

So A54 battery experience is, like, 90% of the flagship.

So if you total up all of my assessments

and average them out over 500 points,

You get 78% off the flagship for 1/3 of the price,

which seems like it's pretty clear

That's a pretty good deal.

Now, there's also, of course, lots of little things

that didn't quite fit into those pillars,

like the slightly better haptics

of the flagship, for example.

You might be really into that, or the bigger speakers

that come from having a bigger phone, that do sound better.

Also, there's a stylus in the big one.

Also, if you want DeX, you'd have to pay up

because the A54 doesn't have that.

The funny thing is they both have

the same unboxing experience,

which is just the phone, no charger,

But yeah, these mid-rangers today masterfully mitigate

the law of diminishing returns,

matching the flagship's finesse for a fraction of the funds.

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