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Samsung’s Mid-Range Phones Prove You Don’t Need a Flagship Smartphone

A Samsung Galaxy S21 and A52S

When buying a new phone, it’s easy to think the most expensive option is the best available. Why wouldn’t it be? That extra money has to go somewhere. But if you went for a Galaxy S21 ahead of the significantly cheaper Galaxy A52S, you may have made a big mistake.

Samsung themselves may have noticed the diminishing value of high-end phones. The S21 is a “stripped down” high-end model, trading some of the S10 and S20’s features for a price reduction. The flagship is the S21 Ultra, which boasts a bigger screen, battery, and better cameras. But the S21 is only a couple of hundred dollars cheaper and still firmly in the “high-end” bracket with a recommended retail price of $799.99.

Cheaper still is the A52S, Samsung’s mid-range offering—which retails for around $445 (though it’s not officially sold in the US yet). Despite being roughly half the price, it boasts many of the same features as its big brother. It also has a few clear advantages over the Galaxy S21.

I’ve seen these advantages first-hand as I recently bought my mother an A52S for Christmas. My logic was, she doesn’t need a high-end phone to get through her day-to-day life. After seeing the A52S and comparing it to my S21, I don’t think I do either.

What Are The Advantages of The Galaxy S21?

A promotional image for the Galaxy S21

That extra money has to go somewhere, and it usually goes on more powerful components. To start with, the S21 has a more powerful processor: the Snapdragon 888. That extra power is the bulk of the difference between the two phones; the 888 is significantly more powerful than the A52S’ Snapdragon 778, boasting an 18% higher clock speed and capable of double the 778’s performance with tasks like gaming. The S21 also comes with 8 GB of RAM as standard, the A52S has both a 6 GB and 8 GB model available, so there is a wider gap with the cheaper models. All of this adds up to a 37% difference in performance between the S21 and A52S in benchmark tests.

An S21 can take more of a punch as its screen is protected by Gorilla Glass Victus instead of the A52S’ Gorilla Glass 5. Essentially, the more expensive phone can survive a 2 meter (6 foot 6 inches) drop onto “rough, hard, surfaces) while the cheaper A52S’s screen can only survive falls of 1.2 meters.

Wireless Charging is absent from the Galaxy A52S. Cost-cutting is the only logical reason for not including it, though wireless charging isn’t that expensive to add.

Camera Quality Could Be a Deal Breaker

As we’re focusing on everyday use, and people use their phone cameras every day, it has to be said that the S21 does have better cameras on paper. Both have three rear cameras, but the A52S has a five-megapixel (MP) macro camera, whereas the S21 houses a 12 MP wide camera. Both have a 64 MP camera, though the S21’s “telephoto” effort should produce better long-range images than the A52S’ wide configuration. And the third rear camera is a 12 MP ultrawide module on both devices, though the A52S features a few extra degrees of view. None of this matters as you’re not carrying a piece of paper around with you; you’re carrying a camera.

Beyond the numbers, it’s hard to find that much difference between the images both phones take. The A52S seems to have more contrast, while the colors on the S21 seem a touch more vibrant. If you want to see a difference, you need to take a few photos in low-light settings. The S21 will take in more detail (and require you to hold the camera still for a few seconds while it does so), resulting in an image that looks like it was taken in far better lighting conditions. The A52S does okay but is inferior to the S21 when it comes to this one particular task. Take a look at the gallery above and judge for yourself.

The S21 can record 8k video at 24FPS and 4k video at 60FPS. The A52S doesn’t do 8k, and its 4k capabilities max out at 30FPS. You can also watch the video back on a Dynamic Amoled 2X screen instead of the Super AMOLED display featured on the A52S. The difference is the Dynamic Almoled 2X’s HDR10+ certification, which relates to color and contrast.

Why None Of That Matters

So the S21 packs a significantly bigger punch when it comes to performance; that’s not debatable. But ask yourself this, how often do you push your smartphone to the limits? When was the last time it was straining away and burning a hole through your palm? Personally, that hasn’t happened to me in a while. Games are the only thing that pushes modern smartphones, and the A52S should be capable of handling most games just fine—even the more intense ones like Fortnite.

Most people use their phones to text, make calls, browse social media, and surf the internet. None of that is particularly demanding. As far as gaming goes, casual games tend to dominate the mobile market, and none of those are pushing a modern mid-range phone particularly hard.

Beyond that, how many of you have whipped your phone out to record the family dog doing something weird, then reflected and thought: I wish I’d caught that in glorious 8k. We need to see each individual hair on Spot’s body as he tries to eat his own foot. Do you even have anything that can display an 8K video? And do you have the space on your phone to store more than 12 seconds of it?

You can, of course, display that video on your Dynamic Amoled 2X screen, but to tell you the truth, I couldn’t spot the difference between the display on the S21 and A52S if you paid me. AMOLED technology and higher resolutions pay off on large displays like TV screens, but the effect gets lost on a smaller screen.

At the risk of once again admitting I was wrong in a future article, wireless charging is also a bit pointless. Sure it’s an excellent stop-gap if you’re at someone’s house and they don’t have a charging cable that works with your device, but it’s slow, and you can’t use your phone while it’s being “wirelessly” charged. No loss there.

So What Does The Galaxy A52S Offer?

Samsung

In a surprising number of departments, it matches the S21. In others, it performs better. You have features like facial recognition and a fingerprint sensor buried beneath the screen on both devices. 5G capability is also present on each phone. And both phones offer the same display resolution and refresh rate. As I mentioned, the difference in AMOLED displays is also negligible. There will be someone out there who cares, but who cares enough to dump an extra $400 on a phone?

The A52S is almost half the price of the S21 and less than half the price of the S21 Ultra. You could more than likely buy the mid-range phone outright and pay your phone plan for a year for the cost of the flagship.

And in my opinion, you would be getting more phone for that money. The A52S has a bigger screen and more battery capacity than the S21, almost matching the S21 Ultra. It also has two features that Samsung’s userbase lamented the company dropping from its flagship phones: a headphone jack and space for a micro SD card.

Both features were considered selling points that gave Samsung an edge over Apple not too long ago. Apple avoided expandable storage, leading to some gloating from Samsung users, and when Apple decided to drop the 3.5mm headphone jack in 2017, it drove people to Samsung, myself included. Popping a wire into your phone is less hassle than Bluetooth headphones, and the wired headphones that work through the USB-C port aren’t great. The ability to boost your phone’s storage capacity by a few hundred GB (up to a terabyte if you want to go for it) is massive.

So Is The Flagship a Waste of Money?

Unless you’re using it to its full capabilities, it’s a waste of money by definition. The Galaxy A52S is more than capable of comfortably meeting most phone users’ needs and doing it well. I would argue that: extended battery life, expandable storage, and a headphone jack are more useful to the average phone user than a bit more processing power or a display with slightly more vibrant colors. That’s before you factor the significant price difference into it.

Having seen both phones first hand and reflected on my personal phone use, I would pick the A52S every time. It may be different for you, but the takeaway is you should look at every bit of a phone and how it applies to you. Don’t just pick the most expensive option.

Dave McQuilling Dave McQuilling
Dave McQuilling has spent over 10 years writing about almost everything, but technology has always been one of his main interests. He has previously worked for newspapers, magazines, radio stations, websites, and television stations in both the US and Europe. Read Full Bio »