5G isn’t a reason by itself to buy a phone in 2021, no matter what carrier marketing might tell you. But as we’re all now falling down the crest of that transition, it does mean a phone might last longer, and that’s key to understanding the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G. Right now, you can buy a faster and ostensibly better 5G mid-range phone for about the same price, and it’s called the Nord N10 5G. But Samsung’s better software commitment helps ensure you won’t just be replacing it again in a year or two. It’s a trade-off, and only you can say if it’s worth it.
Note: There are two very different versions of the A32 out there. We reviewed the US 5G version sold by T-Mobile.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
The Galaxy A32 5G continues the trend of bigger mid-range phones. At 6.5″, the screen on it is large enough for any activity, and the footprint that accommodates it assures you’ll feel this phone in your pocket. It’s not quite “Ultra”-sized, but it’s in the “Plus” or “XL” range. The shape does feel a little blocky, though, and it may be a bit too large for those with smaller hands to use comfortably one-handed.
The notched, chin-equipped screen may be big, but it’s low resolution. Though it’s 90Hz and smooth (-ish, when the chipset can keep up), it’s just a 720p IPS panel — no OLED, either. Note that the OnePlus Nord N10 5G is almost precisely the same size, 90Hz, and manages to include a 1080p IPS display. While the A32 5G’s screen has decent color and uniformity, it could be brighter: I had trouble reading things on it in direct sunlight outside. I also struggled a bit with its automatic brightness, which always seemed to lag too much with changes in ambient light quality.
The frame and back of the A32 5G are both plastic, while the front is glass. I don’t know if it’s gorilla glass or not, but I did abuse this phone quite severely in the course of my review, and though the glass picked up a handful of scratches and a good-sized gouge from a few drops and sliding across some concrete (it’s home-improvement season, things happen), it held up admirably. Your mileage may vary, and I may simply have been lucky, but the A32 5G was quite durable for me.
Like most mid-range phones, you can still depend on a headphone jack, though it tops up with USB Type-C just 15W — Samsung calls that “fast,” and technically it is faster than Motorola’s similarly priced offerings, but it’s slower than the Pixel 4a’s 18W, and half of the OnePlus Nord N10 5G’s 30W. It does offer expandable storage, though, via microSD and a cutout on the SIM tray.
The sound outside of calls comes solely from the bottom-firing speaker. There’s no stereo output via the earpiece as with other more premium phones (or the OnePlus Nord N10 5G). It’s a little tinny, with very little bass — pretty normal. There’s also no IP-rated water resistance, but that’s typical of this price range. Anecdotally, I treated this phone like any water-resistant flagship in my review, which included using it a few times in some light rain, and I had no issues.
The fingerprint sensor is built right into the power button, which is convenient. However, between my callused thumbs and a few hand-dirtying home improvement projects, it wasn’t very reliable for me. It will probably work better for others.
Samsung was courageous enough to include a charger in the box, plus a Type-A to Type-C cable for connecting it to your phone, and the usual warranty cards and other documentation.
Software, performance, and battery
For many of our readers, Samsung’s OneUI 3.1 is a known quantity, and you can skip a few paragraphs below. If you aren’t familiar with it or you’re coming from an older phone, the very short version is that it’s one of the better Android software skins out there and easy to use.
Unlike some phones in this price range, Samsung gave the A32 5G the latest Android 11, meaning it’s right up-to-date software-wise with the latest Galaxy S-series flagships. It has all the features you expect from OneUI 3.0 plus things like Duo video call integration for the dialer, though it is missing some of the camera features like Single Take and Director’s View. Bixby also remains a thing, but you can continue to ignore it.
Most of the UI elements in Samsung’s apps shift things down to the bottom half of the screen for better one-handed use, and you’ll see big headers for items. It’s a clean and simple design, though you can still customize things in the typical Samsung fashion thanks to both OneUI’s extensive settings menus and Samsung’s Good Lock with its various modules.
Samsung adds a few potentially handy features like an expanding side panel accessible via a quick swipe, which you can load with apps, contacts, the weather, or a bunch of other stuff. OneUI is also better at multitasking than most other versions of Android, with free-form app windows you can toss right on top of things and the ability to launch apps together in a set multi-window array. Odds are you probably won’t use all that on this phone compared to a foldable or tablet with a bigger screen, but it’s there if you need it.
Samsung’s software is pretty stable these days. The biggest software issue you’re likely to run into with the A32 5G is the fact that Samsung can be aggressive with background apps and may kill them faster than it should. That can mean things like delayed notifications — I ran into that a little bit in my review, but it wasn’t as big an issue as it can be on other phones, so Samsung may have improved its tuning. Many of Samsung’s own apps can also show you some pretty obnoxious ads, and they can even appear in your notification shade sometimes. For a $1,000+ flagship, I honestly consider that unacceptable. But at a mid-range price, it’s less of an issue, though I wish the practice would bring the price of this phone down another $20-40.
Samsung’s update commitment here isn’t as good as its flagship phones, but it’s still better than most other phones at this price: two years of OS updates and three of security patches. That beats the crap out of what OnePlus promises for the N10 5G — and the A32 5G ships with a more recent version of Android to begin with.
However, the A32 5G’s performance was not the best. Frequently it would stutter to the degree I wasn’t sure if a tap had been registered, and it dropped frames so much I felt the need to double-check that the phone had a 90Hz display — it’s rarely smooth enough to make it feel like it’s there. I don’t know if it’s a software optimization problem or if MediaTek’s Dimensity 720 5G just isn’t up to the task, but the phone frequently feels slow as a result. But, you might not notice or even care if you’re coming from an even slower or older phone. For the record: The Nord N10 5G feels faster and more fluid to me, though it costs $20 more.
Early on, I ran into a few issues with Wi-Fi — the phone liked to disconnect from perfectly good access points claiming internet connectivity issues when other devices had no problem, and it would refuse to connect to certain 2.4GHz access points at all — but an update fixed that. Cellular connectivity was good in my experience, even in cell-edge areas with marginal signal.
5G support is always a crapshoot, and that’s kind of the case here, as well. Samsung tells us it has enabled and disabled certain 5G bands depending on the SKU. The T-Mobile version of the phone can connect to T-Mobile’s 5G, and AT&T’s can handle its 5G, but not vice-versa, which could be an issue if you swap carriers but want to keep the phone. I would assume the unlocked version has wider support if that’s something you are concerned about. Either way, there’s no mmWave 5G — Sub-6GHz only.
Fortnite is usually my go-to for anecdotal gaming performance. It’s a known quantity, and most folks anecdotally understand how it runs on their phone, console, or computer as a point of comparison. But, the phone is “unsupported.” Dead Cells ran mostly fine, though it did stutter pretty often. At the recommendation of AP’s Matt Scholtz, I gave Genshin Impact a shot, but it looked like butt, stuttered quite badly, and at times felt almost unplayable.
Battery life wasn’t quite as good as I had hoped, given the 5,000mAh capacity inside. I’d usually hit 6.5 hours of screen-on time across two days. Don’t get me wrong, that’s objectively good, but I did slightly better with the smaller battery on the N10 5G. Given the specs, I had anticipated more like 8-9 hours and was disappointed not to see that.
The A32 5G has four cameras — a quad-binning 48MP primary, an 8MP ultra-wide, a 5MP macro, and a 2MP “depth” camera. Two of these cameras are useful.
I noticed a bit of pincushion distortion on the primary camera, and focus outside dead center was a little soft. The camera didn’t always nail exposure quite right, and some nature scenes had a slightly nuclear oversaturation, but neither was a frequent issue. Processing on a crop is also a little muddy, though most scenes taken as a whole looked pretty decent and better than I expected for a smartphone of this price.
Left: Night Mode. Right: Normal.
Night mode doesn’t really seem to help the camera too much. Dynamic range and color are slightly better, but results are just too muddy, and it blows out shadows quite badly. It’s nothing compared to the Pixel’s Night Sight, either.
The wide-angle camera does pretty well in bright outdoor lighting, capturing decent dynamic range, but even just taking it inside is enough to turn everything into mud. Distortion can also be noticeable, depending on your subject.
The depth camera is only used for things like portrait mode effects. Other companies have been able to crop the ultra-wide camera to do the same thing, so I’m pretty sure Samsung just tossed this on there to claim it has four cameras. The macro camera at least has a real function, though it’s one of those bargain bin fixed-focus mediocre units and not very good outside super-bright lighting. I’d rather Samsung have just cut both and dropped the price for the difference, but I do think it takes better photos than the N10 5G.
Should you buy it?
Samsung Galaxy A32 5G
Maybe, it depends on what you want in a sub-$300 phone. If 5G doesn’t matter or you won’t have it for very long, you’ve got better options.
I think there will be a lot of comparison shopping between the Nord N10 5G and the Galaxy A32 5G. The phones occupy nearly identical price points ($280 vs. $300), and they both take a similar approach to specs and design. The key to making a decision between them is how long you plan on using your next phone. If this is just to tide you over for a year or so, the N10 5G may be the better choice — though keep in mind, The N10’s 5G connectivity only works on T-Mobile.
Blow-for-blow, the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G falls to the OnePlus Nord N10 5G — it feels slower than OnePlus’ phone, has less RAM, less storage, a worse display, slower charging, and even slightly worse battery life in my experience. Samsung’s software swings the pendulum back in its own way, though. OnePlus promised the N10 5G merely a single major Android version update to the current version of Android, augmented with two years of patches. That feels like a bad joke compared to Samsung, which guarantees the A32 5G two years of major version updates, plus three years of patches. That means the A32 5G will get Android 12 at a minimum and maybe Android 13, while the N10 5G is only getting 2020’s Android 11.
If 5G doesn’t matter, you can spend just a bit more for something like the Moto G Stylus and get a bigger, higher resolution screen and the eponymous screen-poker. Occasional promotions for the Pixel 4a also bring it into comparison, though it’s a much smaller phone, it doesn’t have a high-refresh-rate display, and it makes do with a single (waaaaaaay better) camera.
But if you want a cheap 5G-compatible phone that will last, this is it.
Buy it if…
- You want a mid-range 5G phone on AT&T or T-Mobile (or compatible MVNOs/sub-brands).
- Software support and longevity are important, and you plan to keep it for 2-3 years.
- You won’t play a lot of games or need the best performance.
Don’t buy it if…
- Performance, gaming, and a good screen are a priority.
- You won’t keep it for more than a year or so.
- 5G support doesn’t matter to you.