Samsung Galaxy A42 5G Review: Good phone, Poor value

Samsung Galaxy A42 5G Review: Good phone, Poor value

Samsung sells many different budget phones, and it can definitely be difficult to figure out where each one falls. The Galaxy A42 5G was released last year in Europe and other regions, and Samsung just brought it to the United States in April. The phone sits somewhere in the middle of Samsung’s budget lineup, with a Snapdragon 750G chipset, a large screen, and 5G connectivity.

With so many budget phones vying for attention, even just from Samsung, is the Galaxy A42 5G worth buying? Probably not, but if you happen to get it on sale (or free from a carrier), I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Stick around for my review of the Galaxy A42 5G.

Samsung Galaxy A42 5G: Specifications

SpecificationSamsung Galaxy A42 5G
Build
  • Plastic back
  • Plastic frame
Dimensions & Weight
  • 75.9 x 164.4 x 8.6mm
  • 193g
Display
  • 6.6-inch HD+ Super AMOLED
  • 60Hz refresh rate
  • Infinity-U display
SoC
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G
    • 2x cores @2.2GHz + 6x cores @1.8GHz
  • Adreno 619
RAM & Storage
  • 4GB RAM
  • 128GB storage
Battery & Charging
  • 5,000mAh
  • 15W fast wired charging
  • 15W charger included
SecurityIn-display fingerprint scanner
Rear Cameras
  • Primary: 48MP, f/1.8
  • Secondary: 8MP, f/2.2, ultra-wide
  • Tertiary: 2MP f/2.4, depth sensor
Front Camera13MP f/2.2, FF
Ports
  • USB Type-C
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
AudioSingle rear-firing speaker
Connectivity
  • 5G (mmWave + Sub-6Hz)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac dual-band WiFi
  • NFC
  • MST
  • GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo
SoftwareOne UI 3.1 based on Android 11
Other featuresIP67 water and dust resistance

Design and Build

The Galaxy A42 5G was originally released last year, and there are elements of that throughout the phone’s design. It uses the glossy plastic design that was used on most of Samsung’s budget phones from 2020 and earlier, before the wild success of the Galaxy S20 FE led the company to use matte plastic on most budget devices. I don’t like the glossy plastic here — it attracts fingerprints and smudges easily, and eventually feels gross to touch.

The sides of the Galaxy A42 are also plastic, but the phone still feels reasonably solid. There are volume controls and a power button on the right, and at the bottom, you get a USB Type-C port and a headphone jack. It’s always great to see the headphone jack alive and well in the budget segment. The bottom of the phone also has the only speaker, which doesn’t sound amazing when playing music or games, but it’s passable.

On the left side, there’s the microSD/SIM card tray. Similar to other Samsung phones, the Galaxy A42 5G 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. For example, you can keep offline Netflix content, photos, or downloaded music on a microSD card, but not applications.

Finally, the screen on the Galaxy A42 5G is decent, but nothing to write home about. At 6.6 inches diagonally, it’s larger than the display on the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy A52, but a tad smaller than the screens on the Galaxy S21+, Galaxy Note 20, or Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. However, the resolution is only 1600×720, so text isn’t as crisp as on some other phones in this category. I would have preferred a smaller screen with a higher pixel density. The in-screen fingerprint sensor works well, at least.

Software

If you’ve used any Samsung phone recently, the Galaxy A42 5G won’t surprise you in any way. It ships with Android 11 and Samsung’s One UI 3.1 software on top. The phone will also receive three “generations” of Android upgrades, which should mean Android 12, 13, and 14 (assuming Google’s update schedule stays roughly the same). Update: Samsung’s promise of three generations of Android upgrades does not currently include the A40 series, so it’s not clear how many Android updates you can expect for the A42.

Android 11 is the latest stable version of Google’s mobile operating system, with updated media controls, temporary permissions, the Unicode Emoji 13.0 set, and many 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.

The software here isn’t significantly different to what you would find on Samsung’s high-end phones, like the Galaxy S21, but there are a few exceptions. Samsung DeX, the feature that turns your phone into a desktop environment when connected to a monitor (or TV or PC) isn’t available — you’d have to shell out at least $600 for a Galaxy S20 FE to use DeX on a phone. There are also all the usual downsides to One UI, like no support for seamless updates and far too many advertisements in system apps.

Performance and Battery Life

The Galaxy A42 5G uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 750G chipset, the same one found in the Moto G 5G, Galaxy M42 (a modified A42), Mi 10T Lite, and Galaxy A52 5G. You also get 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of internal storage — not bad, but nothing out of the ordinary at this price point.

Like most other phones with the Snapdragon 750G, the Galaxy A42 5G is quick to wake up from sleep, and apps open quickly. The 4GB of RAM also gives you enough room to juggle between a few apps without noticing them reload. Gaming also works well, though more demanding titles like Fortnite will push the phone to its limits.

Battery life was about what I expected, given the phone’s hardware and massive 5,000mAh battery. Most people should be able to squeeze two days of use out of a single charge, and even with heavy use, you’ll be hard-pressed to end the day at lower than 30% battery remaining.

Camera

There are a total of three cameras on the Galaxy A42, though only the main 48MP lens and 8MP ultra-wide can produce photos — the 2MP depth sensor helps the other cameras. Photo quality here is decent, but blurring around the edges seems to be common, even when not using the ultra-wide lens.

As with most budget phones, image quality takes a nosedive in low-light conditions. The ultra-wide lens is also noticeably worse than the main camera, but that’s (unfortunately) common across phones at all price points. At least Samsung didn’t feel the need to include a bad macro lens too.

Conclusion

The Galaxy A42 5G might have been a more compelling phone last year, when it was first released outside the United States, but I’m not sure it’s as good of a purchase in 2021 at $399. It’s definitely not a bad phone, with its speedy internal hardware and massive screen, but it feels like less of a value compared to other recent phones.

Back of Galaxy A42 5G

The Galaxy A52 5G is $100 more than this phone and has a better (but still plastic) build, a display with twice the refresh rate (120Hz), and improved cameras. If you can spend the extra money, the Galaxy A52 5G is likely a better investment. On the other side of the price spectrum, the Galaxy A32 5G is Samsung’s cheapest 5G phone at $280, and isn’t much worse than the A42.

I don’t think anyone who gets the Galaxy A42 5G will be disappointed, but the A42 doesn’t make as strong of a case for itself as other budget phones in 2021, especially in Samsung’s own product lineup. It gets points for being one of the cheapest phones in the US with a Snapdragon 750G chipset, but the design is a bit dated, the cameras aren’t spectacular, and the screen has a resolution too small for its large size.

    Samsung Galaxy A42 5G
    The Galaxy A42 5G is a good phone, but it's less of a value compared to Samsung's other budget phones and the 2020 iPhone SE.

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.