Samsung A54, one month later, fresh impressions

Updated: January 5, 2024

It's been a few weeks since I got meself one Samsung A54 mobile phone. The reason I chose it over many other options is the combo of solid price, hardware, camera included, and long-term support. Was this decision a compromise of some sort? Indeed. It's almost impossible for me to find an Android device that ticks all of my boxes. But when it comes to my finicky needs, this lil' Samsung asymptoted as much as possible.

If you read the fairly long and detailed review above, you'll notice I wasn't too happy with the phone. The data migration was partial, the app permissions are overly lax, the Samsung app bundle is average, and I had to spend a lot of time cleaning, pruning, disabling, uninstalling, removing stuff. Even after a whole week, I hadn't truly and fully finished with the phone. This made me annoyed. But I let it be. Well, let's see how and if my impression has changed since the early moments after purchase. Let's begin.

Teaser 2

I managed to break something!

Well, well. Me proud. It's rather hard to truly mangle an Android device without going root, but I managed. And it's not my fault. Well, it is. But the reason I went so aggressive on the apps and permissions is because the default set is too greedy. Push, shove, action, reaction. Had the Samsung setup been a bit more privacy-nice, I would probably have left things be. Instead, I went toggle-off berserk.

I disabled tons of stuff, removed permissions for pretty much everything, including a whole range of system apps, plus I disabled still more stuff under Special Access. And by and large, everything kept working "miraculously" well, proving that most permissions are senseless.

However, one thing did bork up, and that's the photo app, Samsung Gallery.

At some point the app stopped being able to delete photos. I'd delete them, but the phone would complain that it cannot move images to Trash. And it would replace said images with blank thumbnails. No such problem in Google Photos.

Broken thumbnails Cannot move image to Trash

I don't know what the source of the issue is. But I guess it has to do with the fact that permissions are often bundled. For instance, as I outlined in the original review, Samsung Camera requires Nearby Devices so it can use Bluetooth mic. Nonsense. Total nonsense. Unnecessary. What if I don't want to use Bluetooth? Why would that stop the camera from working? But it does.

But then, I have Bluetooth disabled, it cannot modify system settings, it cannot read usage data, it can't do anything. So technically, the protocol slash connectivity is neutered on my phone, well at least on the software side, because let's face it, you have no real control over the hardware, and it's just a sweet convention and illusion that said hardware won't be used. True for any mobile device without a physical killswitch.

So, even if Nearby Devices was allowed, which it isn't, the camera wouldn't be able to use it, which it can't, and yet, it still mandates this pointless stuff. Coincidentally, the camera app also hardcodes to Samsung Gallery, and thus, it cannot show thumbnails, as well! You take a photo, the thumbnail is there. Background the app, start it again, the thumbnail will be replaced with the empty image marker, whether the photo be there or not. This is an ugly OCD-inducing artifact, but one I have to contend with it seems.

I'm not alone. The Samsung portal is flooded with similar questions, with no sensible answers. All I need is a definite answer what "unknown" (special access) permissions by other Samsung apps are required to give Gallery its required functionality. And a way to switch the default app to Google Photos, including the in-Camera usage. Let's see what happens.

I would like to replace the camera app, but that escapade ended sourly, with the Play Store serving me ads and nonsense. I also want to remove or disable Samsung Gallery, but I cannot. These kind of things make me want to use a blowtorch, the handful of specie I spent on the device be forsaken. This fiasco did reinforce my decision not to buy Samsung again. Yes, I'll use this thing for a year or five or as long as it lasts, but once the time for a replacement comes, I will not buy another phone from this manufacturer.

The ignored permissions

To add insult to irony, a number of Samsung apps seem to ignore my permission denial. For instance, I did NOT allow Finder to search contacts, and yet it does. I disabled Filesystem Access to Media, and yet the app can see all photos and videos in different locations without any issue. These apps work "despite" my attempts to block their access, a contradiction of the weird yes-no situation with Gallery and Camera.

Finder 1 Finder 2

Did I tell you how much I hate this hashtag search concept? Also, Finder can find contacts, even though I've explicitly disabled that permission. But apparently, the phone knows better, right.

I launched Camera, clicked on FUN. It still showed me the Snapchat filters nonsense, even though I had disabled the Camera kit and all that. I clicked on MORE. There's Bixby stuff, which I find super-annoying and don't want in any shape or form, the same way I don't want any Google Assistant, but you can't disable it. Then, there's the AR stuff, which I have disabled. So what exactly do permissions do? Not sure.

Camera app, pptions under MORE

Battery life

If you let the device be, it will do its week fine. OK, but I've seen better with less juice. If you use the device a bit more actively, as in my case: some browsing, some music, some instant messaging, some camera, and several hours of mobile hotspot per day, then you're looking at about three days of usage ere replenishment is required.

Camera

Nonsense with the permissions, Gallery, filters, and all that modern-era pointless stuff notwithstanding, the actual optics part of the camera experience is reasonable. I wasn't overly keen on the A54's camera, but it's not a bad piece of tech all in all. The images are solid, the colors pretty (if exaggerated). But you do get decent quality photos, and that's what matters. Well, also matters. So yeah, I mellowed some.

Camera usage

Other annoyances, and there's plenty

There were a lot of little niggles. For instance, every time I'd type something, the Virtual Keyboard notification would pop up (in the notification area at the top of your screen). I had to allow Notification History to be able to find Virtual Keyboard, and then disable it. Samsung also shows the keyboard overlay button in the nav bar by default, which is quite unnecessary, as well.

Keyboard annoyances Virtual keyboard notifications

Choose input method - EVERY SINGLE TIME. Figure out how to disable, disable.

Then, we have Messages. Smart replies and suggestions and all that nonsense turned on. Shouldn't be so, as I ported my account from another phone, and I explicitly had these set to off. RCS, enabled, even though I don't want to use this tech, ever. Again, I've never allowed RCS on the Nokia X10 before. MMS auto-download, so many things wrong.

Messages, suggestions RCS was set to enabled

I hate emojis, I hate smart replies, and I never allowed RCS. So why was this on? OFF!!!!

Worst of all, Text on Galaxy was turned ON - allowing Bixby to access my messages. I never agreed to it, I don't understand how can this be a default, and not an explicit opt-in. I don't know if there are any data or privacy implications to this. Solidifies my decision not to get another Samsung phone ever again.

Text on Galaxy devices

Don't want, turn it off, immediately!

Other stuff, ergo even more annoyances

The battle to pacify the device continues. Even a couple of weeks in, three weeks in, I still found yet more stuff to disable, more apps to remove, more permissions to toggle off. This is so exhausting. Wifey said, I don't recall you being this frustrated when you got the Nokia X10. And no, I wasn't. That phone had (supposedly) the vanilla, relatively barebone Android experience, as close as you get to the basic, default system configuration, with only tiny changes. Here, you get a complete and total makeover, and I'm not happy.

Sound effects wants to connect to nearby devices. What's the obsession with nearby devices? Since when did Bluetooth become the holy grail of computing? I don't want to use anything like that, how hard or difficult is that to accept? We also have "Personalize using shared data" - I set this to off, didn't allow it, and lo and behold, a couple of weeks later, I had to untoggle yet more settings. Lovely jubbly, not.

Sound, nearby devices Personalize, shared data

Then, some James Bond stuff. Trackers. What. And of course, Bluetooth. Why would this be a feature? In what kind of reality do people live that they need this thing? But then, the phone also has a billion different emergency alerts, all that movie-like noise that's not applicable to most scenarios or people.

I remembered that while I have deleted the Adobe account (read the first review for details), I've not "disconnected" the apps/services from my Google account. So there was still more sanitation to be done. And the silly thing here is, if you "share" data with third-party apps, but then remove these apps and delete their respective online accounts (if they exist, which most likely they do), what happens then? What data is shared exactly? This modern Internet is totally pointless, and needs to be abolished.

Trackers Services

Play Store has no Privacy or Security categories. Why would it? You search for a specific VPN, you get an ad, result, more ads. The pinnacle of computing and humanity combined. I could understand ads if one was to search for a category or functionality, like say VPN. But when I write down a name of product, why would there be an ad for something else AHEAD of my specific search term? What's the logic in that train of thought?

Play Store, categories More ads

Conclusion

Samsung A54 ain't a bad phone. Far from it. But first impressions matter. A great deal. Even though I've managed to configure the device as I wanted, more or less, the sour taste of the struggle, the tinge of paranoia, the feeling of annoyance and lost charm all persist in my brain. I can't forget the wasted time, or the fact some of the system defaults are so aggressive, so anti-user. Much like, say the mediocre keyboard on my Slimbook Titan laptop (look it up in my hardware section), even if everything else is perfect, you will never truly have a pure experience. That cannot be found after being so easily lost early on in the process.

The phone works fine. It's got good spec, performance, excellent audio and camera, and it does the job. But I'm unhappy about the level of privacy I have, I hate the intrusive nature of some of the (unremovable) apps, I don't like the take-it-of-leave-it approach with the camera permissions or the "need" for a Samsung account. The breakage with Gallery is another big minus. Messes up my OCD. At this point, I might as well give up my kidneys and my blood, and just surrender to the cloud. But no. Won't allow that.

All things considered, my first report with the Samsung A54 is neutral to neutral minus. Some great points, some really bad, and some stupid and annoying ones. Enough though to clearly decide that I will not buy another Samsung smartphone in the future. If the manufacturer cannot respect my need for control and privacy (I don't expect miracles, I can do some legwork, but the options must be there), then they won't have my money. Simple. On the hardware side, the A54 is a pretty solid slab of metal, plastic, and glass (sans the easily scratchable screen). On the software side, I'm deeply, deeply disappointed. At this stage in Idiocracy that is our world slash modern times, there's not even a modicum of a pretense that the phone user is anything but a piece of data to be used and sold ad nauseum. And there you have it. Expect more reports in the coming months. Peace.

Cheers.