Updated: January 29, 2024
It's been a couple of moons now that I've been in possession of a Samsung A54 smartphone. I bought the phone because my Nokia X10 has decided to become problematic, i.e., its battery would deplete all too rapidly. Was this a good replacement choice? Well, look at my summary one month in the experience, and the short answer is meh. There are some nice things about the A54, like the security updates and the camera, sort of, but there are also tons of annoyances. Well, pretty much anything to do with the UI and the Samsung software.
But I decided to persist, and see if and how my impression could change over time. Now we're roughly three months into the adventure, and I have some fresh observations. While I've rarely, throughout my entire life, had my first gut feeling about anything radically change, I am always willing to be positively surprised. It's just that positive surprises are in short supply. All right, enough pre-ranting, let us begin.
Overall look & feel, functionality
Now that I've thoroughly, thoroughly tamed the phone to my liking, it's behaving. I mean, it took me forever to neuter all of the nonsense, more than I've ever had to do with any other phone before. The default Samsung apps are even worse than Google's, the insistence on using the Samsung account for half of the preinstalled software makes things even worse, and you simply can't remove all of the pointless apps. The camera delivers, even though it fakes over-bright colors. The battery manages to hold reasonably long, a consistent 3-4 days with decent usage, but it's not as good as what I had on the X10, for instance.
By and large, if you forget the initial hard work and annoyances, then yes, it's an okay device. The quality of sounds is pretty good, the phone feels robust in your hand (if tad heavy), although it does tilt weirdly when placed on a flat surface due to its camera unit bulge (without a cover, that is), and the screen scratches all too easily. But it works, it does the basics well. Oddly enough, it's even got some nice sounds in its selection of ringtones. But I'm rambling, I'm all over the place. Let's be more precise.
add one more
Samsung has an option of putting less used applications to sleep. There are multiple levels to this functionality. Sleeping apps will not bother you, but they will still occasionally send a heartbeat and update. Deep-sleeping apps won't do anything until manually opened. I quickly realized that THIS is an excellent solution to some of those default apps that cannot be uninstalled. Put them to deep sleep, and forever ignore them. You can also exclude certain, important apps. The phone does not seem to really "care" what you need, it merely profiles usage, which doesn't say anything about actual importance.
Weather, clock, alarm, navigation
Interestingly, the Samsung weather app is sweet. This positive impression from my initial review remains, and in fact, I have grown to kinda like this app. It really stands out among the less-than-average Samsung app palette, and it's also better than what other manufacturers do and offer. You also get multiple clocks for different timezones shown on the lock screen (when traveling). Not sure if this is a general Android thing, or a Samsung specific tweak, but it's all right.
The alarm clock worked fine - but I did need to let it display over other apps - and this just shows that you could in theory disable everything by default, or have phones ships with maximum privacy and minimum noise, because apps will ask for permissions when needed. There's really no reason why everything ought to be allowed, other than blatant consumerism, of course.
Finally, there were no issues using navigation. Manually turn location on when needed, ignore the "alarmist" messages about location being required all the time and whatnot, because things work just fine with selective control. Another testament to the fact that there's really no reason why smartphones should ever ship with such over-liberal permissions.
No major mood change. It ain't the best, but it's all right. Does the job, and compensates for the lack of optical quality with super-bright colors. The photos do look impressive, even though it's half tricks. Low-light-level photos, not so much. If you want to snap a shot of something like the moon, sometimes it takes a good second or two for the digital shutter to respond. The wide-angle lens works well. Panorama shots aren't too distorted. Both the standard optical 1x and 2x zoom photos are decent enough, especially considering the device's price tag.
As we said, it works, about a week with ultra light usage, half that with moderate usage. Good but not great. If you turn on the energy saver mode, it will not turn off automatically, even when you reach 100% battery charge. However, it works pretty well, and does help extend usage time quite significantly.
So there you go. Overall, my impression has not changed. I knew it. Usually, whatever you think in the first hour of any experience will form the bulk of your opinion for a long, long time thereafter. And one should not fight or resist that feeling. For me, the purchase choice for Samsung A54 revolved around the promise of five years of security updates and reasonable price. That was mostly that. And in that regard, the phone does deliver.
For its monetary value, this is a really solid device. But obviously, there's a catch, as with anything in this modern technology world. Good spec, low price, something's got to give, and in this case, it's the poor software ecosystem, plus the anti-user approach to privacy and data. Yeah, sure, every company takes privacy seriously and respects the user, and all that, blah blah. But then, with this phone, you can't run most Samsung applications without an account, you can't disable a lot of the unnecessary stuff, and the journey from the default merry-ho to something approaching sanity was by far the longest, most convoluted and most frustrating experience I've had with any smartphone.
The three-month mark confirms and reaffirms my initial findings. I will use this phone for as long as it lasts, but I won't be buying any Samsung stuff ever again. The hardware is reasonable, good audio and video, the camera that you get to like after a while, okay battery. But the UI is simply wrong, and no amount of purification and taming can truly fix it. Well, there we go. I shall keep writing these periodic reports, as I'd like to let you know how my usage and experience with the A54 goes, but you probably shouldn't expect any miracles, or sudden changes of heart. That's not happening. Well, you have the article up there, plus the previous one, plus the original review. Read, make up your own minds. In retrospect, I probably should have gone for a Fairphone 5. Maybe one day. And with that mild insinuation, we shall part ways for now, dear readers.