If you’re looking for a 5G Android phone and want to spend as little as possible, you can stop right here. At $279, the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G is your best bet right now, especially if you’re in the US where such options are scarce. It offers good 5G support (including the all-important C-band!), a huge battery, and four years of security updates. That’s a compelling package for under $300.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. The A32 5G’s screen isn’t great, performance is a little laggy, and though capable, its camera is limited. If you can spend just a bit more, you can get a phone that does better in at least one of these areas. And if you can hold off on your phone purchase for even a few more months, we should see many more very affordable 5G phones on the market to choose from, like the OnePlus N200. But if you don’t have time to wait and can’t spare the extra cash, I can’t find a good reason to talk you out of the A32 5G.
Samsung Galaxy A32 5G screen, performance, and design
The A32 5G features a big 6.5-inch 720p LCD panel that’s best described as nothing special. Colors look a little flat and washed out, and though it gets bright enough to see in direct sunlight, the screen’s reflective plastic protective panel makes it challenging. It’s also a low resolution to be stretched across such a large screen, so you’ll see a little pixelization if you look close.
The phone uses a MediaTek Dimensity 720 5G processor that compares well with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 690 5G chipset for budget 5G phones, used by OnePlus Nord N10 5G. The Galaxy A32 5G combines the MediaTek processor with 4GB of RAM (decent) and 64GB of storage (skimpy but just enough to get by, and you can throw in a microSD card to expand it), and it performs well enough for its class.
There’s noticeable hiccuping with media-dense pages, brief pauses when diving into a demanding task like starting Google Maps navigation, and noticeable camera shutter lag. For the most part, though, I just didn’t notice slowdowns as I jumped between apps, scrolled through Instagram, and just generally went about using the phone normally. That’s about all I’d ask for from a sub-$300 phone.
The phone’s headline feature, 5G, still isn’t something we’d recommend you run out and buy a new phone to get. But the A32 5G has a couple of features that make it worth your time, even considering that good 5G is still a year or two away in the US. Crucially, the A32 5G has been cleared by the Federal Communications Commission to use C-band frequencies that Verizon and AT&T, in particular, will be utilizing for 5G in the coming years. Not all 5G phones can use C-band, so that’s a big ol’ checkmark in the A32 5G’s favor. There’s no mmWave support here, which is the fastest and scarcest flavor of 5G, but that’s no great loss.
The second factor here is that you can reasonably expect to keep using this phone for enough years to actually see 5G that’s meaningfully better than LTE because Samsung will keep offering security updates for four years. Many budget devices only get about two years of security update support, but the A32 5G’s lengthy lifespan should see it through to the actual 5G age in a few years.
Battery life is one of the A32 5G’s strengths. Its 5,000mAh capacity battery is big indeed, and I had no trouble getting two full days of moderate use out of it. My usage was more battery-friendly than someone else’s might be, with battery optimization on and the bulk of my time spent on Wi-Fi, but even the most power-hungry user would be able to get a full day — if not more — out of the A32 5G.
With a 6.5-inch screen, the A32 5G is a big phone for sure. It’s a little too bulky and awkward-feeling in my hand. What I dislike even more is that it feels slippery to me — the back panel plastic feels hard to get a decent grip on. On one occasion, I set the phone down on a softcover book, and it somehow shimmied itself across the cover and off of a side table when I wasn’t looking. (There’s a happy ending, though: it only fell about a foot into a box filled with hand-me-down baby clothes waiting to be put away, so there’s a good argument for keeping clutter around your house.) Anyway, get a case for it if you buy this phone, and know that if your hands are small, it won’t be very comfortable to use.
Samsung Galaxy A32 5G camera
There are two cameras of consequence on the A32 5G’s rear panel: a 48-megapixel standard wide and an 8-megapixel ultrawide. There’s a 5-megapixel macro camera that’s not very good and a 2-megapixel depth sensor that may or may not help with portrait mode photos. There’s also a 13-megapixel selfie camera around front.
Considering the phone’s price, the A32 5G’s main camera performs well enough. Like most any other phone, it takes very nice pictures in good lighting. That’s no surprise, even for a budget phone. But it reaches its limits quickly in less-good lighting, like interiors. That’s where optical stabilization or more sophisticated image processing would come in handy, neither of which the A32 5G offers. Instead, you may find some of your photos indoors are a little blurry, and you’ll be very challenged to get a sharp photo of a moving subject in anything less than bright daylight.
The ultrawide camera shows its shortcomings if you look close — there’s some distracting flare in direct sunlight, and some noise visible in shadows of high-contrast scenes. There’s no telephoto lens here, with shortcuts in the camera app to jump to 2x (acceptable), 4x (eh), and 10x (don’t use it) digital zoom.
It’s tough to say how the Galaxy A32 5G compares to the competition because it doesn’t have much yet. It’s among the least expensive 5G phones you’ll find anywhere. Its closest competition at the moment is the OnePlus Nord N10 5G, which is a little more expensive at $299 but offers some worthwhile hardware upgrades, like a nicer screen, a bit better camera performance, and faster charging. It’s a nicer phone in a lot of ways, but it’s only slated for two years of security updates.
Of course, if you only plan to hold on to your phone for a couple of years, then the N10 5G is worth strongly considering. If that’s the case, then 5G becomes a less important feature, too. If there’s room in your budget, consider the $349 Google Pixel 4A, which will get you a much better camera, cleaner software, and timely updates over the next couple of years, albeit without support for 5G at all. It’s a much smaller device, though. So if a big screen is part of the A32 5G’s appeal, you might want to look at something like the $279 Motorola Moto G Stylus.
If you’d like to avoid the hassle of phone shopping again in two years and you want a future-proof choice that’s easy on the budget, then the Samsung A32 5G will do the trick.
Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge