Samsung Galaxy A32 5G Review: The best sub-$300 phone in the US

Samsung Galaxy A32 5G Review: The best sub-$300 phone in the US

Samsung sells too many phones to keep track of, but one of the company’s more interesting releases recently is the Galaxy A32 5G. It was officially revealed in January after a few weeks of speculation and leaks, and the phone arrived in the United States in April. At an MSRP of $279.99, it’s Samsung’s cheapest phone that supports 5G networks (besides the Galaxy A22 5G, which hasn’t come to the US yet). However, unlike many other budget phones we’ve seen with 5G support, there aren’t too many drawbacks to the rest of the experience. Performance is still excellent, the battery lasts all day, the software similar to other Samsung phones, and so on.

After checking out the Galaxy A52 5G and Galaxy A42 5G, I’ve moved onto testing the Galaxy A32 5G. It’s not a perfect phone, but I don’t think there’s anything better (at least in the United States) in this price range.

Samsung Galaxy A32 5G: Specifications

SpecificationSamsung Galaxy A32 5G
Build
  • Plastic back/frame
  • No IP rating
Dimensions & Weight
  • 76.1 x 164.1 x 9.1mm
  • 205g
Display
  • 6.5-inch LCD 720 x 1600
  • 90Hz refresh rate
  • Waterdrop notch
SoC
  • MediaTek Dimensity 720
    • 2x ARM Cortex-A76 (up to 2.0GHz)
    • 6x ARM Cortex-A55 (up to 2.0GHz)
  • Mali-G57 MC3
RAM & Storage
  • 64GB storage
  • 4GB RAM
  • microSD card slot (up to 1TB)
Battery & Charging
  • 5,000 mAh battery
  • 15W wired charging
  • No wireless charging
SecuritySide-mounted fingerprint reader
Rear Cameras
  • Primary: 48MP f/1.8
  • Secondary: 8MP f/2.2, ultra-wide
  • Tertiary: 5MP f/2.4 macro sensor
  • Quaternary: 2MP f/2.4 depth sensor
Front Camera(s)13MP f/2.2
Ports
  • USB 2.0 Type-C port
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
AudioSingle bottom-firing speaker
Connectivity
  • 5G (Sub-6Hz)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • WiFi 802.11.b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz + 5GHz)
SoftwareAndroid 11 with One UI 3.1

About this review: I received the Galaxy A32 5G from Samsung USA, and have used the phone for about a week. Samsung was not involved in any part of this review. Zachary Wander contributed to this review.

Design and Build

The Galaxy A32 doesn’t quite fit in with the design of Samsung’s other recent devices. It’s one of the thickest budget phones around, with a depth of 9.1mm. For comparison, the Galaxy S21 has a depth of 7.9 mm, and even the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is just 8.1 mm. The extra chunk helps make room for the large 5,000mAh battery, and there’s no camera bump — the cameras are nearly flush with the rest of the back casing. That makes the Galaxy A32 one of the few phones released recently that can sit (almost) flat on a table.

The display covers almost the entire front of the phone, save for a sizable chin at the bottom and a droplet-shaped notch at the top. It supports a refresh rate of 90Hz, so most animations are just as smooth as they would be on a modern flagship phone. Everything else about the screen is disappointing, though.

Samsung used an LCD screen instead of an AMOLED panel like most of the company’s other phones have, and the 720p resolution doesn’t look great stretched out to 6.5 inches. My Galaxy A32 also has a decent amount of light bleed around the edges of the screen, though this might vary between production batches — fellow XDA writer Zachary Wander also has a Galaxy A32 5G, and the screen on his unit is fine. Last year’s Galaxy A31 was around the same price, but had a 60Hz AMOLED screen, so the display is something of a step backward here.

Nav bar on Galaxy A32

The navigation bar here should be solid gray.

The bottom of the phone has a USB Type-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack, and a SIM/microSD card tray on the left side. Like other Samsung phones, the Galaxy A32 doesn’t support Android’s adoptable storage, so the microSD card can only be used to store data with applications that explicitly support external storage.

Interestingly, the US carrier-unlocked model appears to be the dual-SIM variant (SM-1326U1/DS), so the Galaxy A32 is one of the few phones that fully supports US LTE/5G networks with two physical SIM cards. I wasn’t able to test this functionality, though. Finally, the right side of the phone has the volume rocker and the power button, the latter of which doubles as the fingerprint sensor.

Software

The Galaxy A32 has roughly identical software to all of Samsung’s other recent Android phones — Android 11 with the Samsung One UI on top. However, the phone isn’t currently included in the handful of Samsung devices with three “generations” of promised updates, so it’s not clear how many upgrades the phone will get. Last year’s Galaxy A31 received Android 11 this past April, and the 2019 Galaxy A30 is starting to get the same update (at least in India), so two years of updates does seem likely here.

Since this is running Android 11, you get the updated media controls, temporary permissions, many security improvements, Unicode Emoji 13.0 set, and other under-the-hood changes that keep your phone secure. Samsung’s One UI 3.1 software sits on top, changing most of Android’s interface and adding even more features. Samsung has its own home screen launcher, camera app, email client, gallery/file manager, web browser, and so on — these can all be replaced with third-party alternatives (or the usual Google versions) if you don’t want to use them.

Most of the changes Samsung makes to Android are for the better, but there are a few downsides to One UI. Samsung doesn’t support seamless updates on any of its phones, so you can’t use your phone while system updates (like monthly security patches) are installed. There’s also the same high number of advertisements in system apps that are common on other Samsung phones, at least in the United States.

The Galaxy A32 5G is also missing a handful of software features compared to Samsung’s flagship phones. Bixby isn’t available, nor is the Samsung DeX environment that turns the phone into a desktop PC when connected to a TV or monitor.

Performance and Battery Life

Battery life usually isn’t an issue on any budget phone, since most of them have more power-efficient chips paired with large batteries. The 5,000mAh battery always lasted me an entire day of regular usage (media streaming, messaging, etc), and if you don’t use the phone too much, it should even reach two days on a single charge.

Excellent battery life wasn’t much of a surprise, but I was impressed by the Galaxy A32’s performance with its MediaTek Dimensity 720 chipset. Applications open quickly, web browsing is snappy, and there are no slowdowns when switching between apps. The graphics in the Dimensity 720 definitely punch above the Galaxy A32’s retail price — animations can keep up with the default 90Hz refresh rate, and most games will run without any problems.

Camera

The Galaxy A32 5G has four cameras, though only three of them can produce pictures: a 48MP primary lens, an 8MP ultra-wide camera, and a 5MP macro. The fourth camera is a depth sensor. Photos on the main camera look fine outdoors, but indoor photos are rougher.

Photo quality continues to take a nosedive with the ultra-wide lens, and the macro camera (like most smartphone macros) is fixed-focus and too low-resolution. You can definitely take good photos with the main camera, given enough light, but that’s about it.

Conclusion

The Galaxy A32 5G is one of the most impressive budget phones right now. It definitely has a few sore points, like the low display resolution and poor quality secondary cameras, and Samsung should be promising at least three years of major Android updates (like with the Galaxy S21, Galaxy A52, etc.). However, the rest of the package is impressive for under $300. The battery life is excellent, the performance was faster than I was expecting, and the 90Hz refresh rate keeps the phone super-smooth.

This phone’s main competition in the United States is the 2021 Moto G Power, which retails for $230 — $50 less than the Galaxy A32 5G. That phone has similar performance with a Snapdragon 665 and 4GB RAM, plus a higher-resolution (60Hz-only) screen. However, it’s shipping with an older version of Android, and Motorola is only promising a single update to Android 11. The Nokia 5.4 is also in this price range, at $250.

I don’t think there’s a better budget phone in this price range, especially considering the Galaxy A32 5G has already dropped to $205 once, and likely will again. Though, if Samsung is reading this, pretty please make the screen 1080p next year.

    Samsung Galaxy A32 5G
    Samsung's sub-$300 smartphone for 2021 is an impressive package, with excellent performance and battery life, though the low-resolution screen is disappointing.

About author

Corbin Davenport
Corbin Davenport

Corbin is a tech journalist and software developer based in Raleigh, North Carolina. He's also the host of the Tech Tales podcast, which explores the history of the technology industry. Follow him on Twitter at @corbindavenport.