Samsung Galaxy A53 5G review: Hardly an upgrade

The A53 could have been so much more.

Samsung’s Galaxy A52 5G wasn’t the best midrange phone you could buy in 2021, but it did possess some standout features, including a responsive display and versatile camera. It was easy to imagine the company iterating on the A52 5G to make it the top of its class. Sadly, the Galaxy A53 5G is not dramatically different from its predecessor. Samsung has made a handful of tweaks by adding a more efficient processor and a bigger battery. But, at best, they feel like window dressing. Worse, in some ways, the phone feels like a step back.


A closeup of the Galaxy A53's front-facing camera.
Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

Let’s start with what hasn’t changed. The A53 features a 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display with a 2,400 by 1,080 resolution, 800 nits of peak brightness and a 120Hz refresh rate. That screen is the main reason to buy the A53 — it’s big, vibrant, fast and makes everything from scrolling through social media to watching videos enjoyable. It doesn’t support HDR or offer a variable refresh rate like some of Samsung’s more expensive phones, but that’s not much of an issue. Even with the display set to 120Hz, I could get nearly two full days of moderate use and light gaming from the 5,000mAh battery.


Samsung's latest phone comes with a quad-camera array. The 64-megapixel main camera is the standout of the package.
Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

The A53 also comes with the same quad-camera system as the A52 5G. The standout here is the 64-megapixel main sensor with an f/1.8 aperture lens and optical image stabilization. On a sunny day, the camera and Samsung’s imaging software consistently capture photos with saturated colors. It’s also surprisingly good at preserving both shadow and highlight detail in high contrast scenes. The main camera struggles when there isn’t a lot of light, producing images with a noticeable amount of noise, but that’s something you see on a lot of midrange phones.

A supporting 5-MP depth sensor helps the A53’s main camera take pleasant portrait shots. The A53 also includes one of the better macro modes I’ve used on a midrange device, thanks to an interface that makes it easy to ensure you’ve nailed the focus on your subject. With ample light, the 32-MP selfie camera is likewise capable of capturing flattering photos. By default, Samsung’s beauty filter applies a moderate amount of smoothing, which you can adjust by tapping the “magic wand” icon at the top.

Then there’s the 12-MP ultra-wide camera that feels like an afterthought. It does a decent job of capturing scenes that are too big for the main lens, but there’s a noticeable drop in quality due to its lower resolution. One quirk I noticed across all of the A53’s cameras is that they’re not great at adjusting for color temperature. Many of the shots I took showed a noticeable green or purple tint. They were easy enough to fix with an editing app like Snapseed, but not everyone has the patience for that.

Overall, the A53 features a capable camera system, but I think it’s a missed opportunity. With the A52 5G, Samsung was already behind the curve. Sure, it offered versatility, but phones like the Pixel 5a could take consistently better photos. The A53 does nothing to better position Samsung against the competition in the midrange market and it’s likely to feel even more outdated when the Pixel 6a comes out.

Unlike its predecessor, the Galaxy A53 doesn't feature a headphone jack.
Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

There are things Samsung has changed, though, starting with the phone’s exterior. The company has shaved 0.3 millimeters off the A53 to make it 8.1mm thick. At the same time, it removed the headphone jack. As of this review, Samsung is offering a free set of Galaxy Buds Live when you buy the A53 through its website, so at least the company is helping ease the transition? Still, it’s a shame to see the headphone jack go, because it made the A52 5G somewhat unique.

What makes the external tweaks even more disappointing is that Samsung hasn’t addressed any of the issues we had with the A52 5G’s finish. The matte material on the back of the phone is still a magnet for fingerprints and smudges. Also, in the US, Samsung is again only offering the phone in boring black.


A side shot of the A53 5G.
Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

I could overlook Samsung removing the headphone jack and leaving the camera as is, if the A53 was fast. Mediocre performance was one of the main reasons we didn’t recommend the A52 5G, and the one notable update the A53 brings to the table is a new chipset. Samsung has equipped this year’s model with its own Exynos 1280 SoC, and it is by far the most disappointing thing about the phone.

Simply put, it’s not much of an upgrade over the A52 5G’s Snapdragon 750G. In my testing, the A53 frequently stalled when I tried to switch between apps, and there was consistent stuttering in regular use. It was also slow to launch and operate the camera app, with a seconds-long delay between my pressing the shutter button and the camera firing. It was even worse when I tried to play games.

Samsung claims the Exynos 1280 offers up to 33 percent faster graphics than the Snapdragon 750G, but I saw regular frame rate drops in games like League of Legends: Wild Rift and Genshin Impact. I suspect some of the A53’s performance woes boil down to the phone only coming with 6GB of RAM. Unfortunately, Samsung doesn’t offer an 8GB variant in the US.

The A53 comes with Android 12 and the latest version of One UI, along with a promised four years of platform updates and five years of security fixes. That’s among the best support you’ll find on a device at this price and Samsung should be applauded for this. But I doubt you will want to hold on to this phone for that long. I can see myself getting fed up with the slow processor within a year.


A wide shot of the Galaxy A53.
Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

At $450, the A53 costs $50 less than the A52 5G. That may seem like a bonus, but Samsung doesn’t ship the phone with a wall charger anymore and it hasn’t added wireless charging. The company’s 25W power adapter costs an extra $20. In addition to the Galaxy Buds Live promotion I mentioned earlier, the company is currently offering up to $100 off the A53 if you trade in your existing device.

The A53 is a good purchase if you want the best display you can find for under $500, but there are better all-around options. For instance, the Pixel 5a features a cleaner version of Android, faster updates, as well as a headphone jack and more consistent camera.

A closeup of the Galaxy A53's main camera array.
Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

If you’re set on a Samsung phone and have an extra $100 to spend, consider the Galaxy S21 FE. At $700, it was overpriced. But nowadays, you can regularly find it for about $550. It offers a much faster processor with WiFi 6 support. Those are things that will make it feasible to keep the S21 FE for longer than you would the A53.

Had Samsung done more to future-proof the A53, it would be easier for me to recommend. But with a middling chipset and a camera that feels stuck in the past, you’re better off spending your money on a phone that you’ll be happy with for years to come.

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