Samsung's Galaxy A Series starts at $110 for 4G, $280 for 5G phone in the US
The company now has one of the cheapest 5G phones in the US with its Galaxy A32 5G.
Shara TibkenFormer managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
The South Korean electronics giant held an Unpacked event last month, its second of 2021, to show off the new devices. In the past, it reserved global launch events for its pricier flagship phones, but the focus on the Galaxy A devices reflect the nature of phone purchases today: More consumers are looking for affordable models rather than spending $1,000 on higher end devices.
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Last year, three out of every four Samsung phones shipped around the world were Galaxy A devices, according to Strategy Analytics. In the US, where there's often a bigger market for pricey phones than in many other regions, the A family's shipments surpassed those of the flagship Galaxy S lineup, 26% to 19%, Strategy Analytics said.
"We're really establishing a brand where traditionally those consumers might have bought a two- or three-year-old flagship device and instead, they're preferring a new device that has ... the right innovation at the right price point," Drew Blackard, vice president of product management for Samsung Electronics America, said in an interview ahead of the news. "It's a really interesting tier of the market."
Starting this week, US customers will get four phones Samsung didn't talk about at Unpacked -- the 4G-only Galaxy A02S and A12 and the 5G-enabled Galaxy A32 5G and A42 5G -- as well as the Galaxy A52 5G.
Samsung kept the prices steady with last year's A series models. The A02S will retail for $110 when it's available on April 29, while the A12 will start at $180 when it hits the market on Friday. The A32 5G will cost $280 on Friday, the A42 5G will retail for $400 starting Thursday, and the A52 5G will start at $500 when it also arrives Friday. Of the three 5G phones, only the A42 will run on the ultra-fast millimeter wave network favored by Verizon. The nation's biggest carrier also will offer the 4G-only A02S.
AT&T will carry the Galaxy A52 5G and the A12, while T-Mobile will offer the A52 5G, A32 5G and the A12. T-Mobile's Metro prepaid business will sell the A52 5G, A32 5G, A12 and A02S. USCellular will sell the A52 5G and the A02S; AT&T's Cricket prepaid business will sell the A32 5G, A12 and A02S; and Boost and Charter will offer the A02S. Samsung also will sell unlocked versions of the A52 5G and the A02S.
The higher end Galaxy A72, a follow up to last year's $600 Galaxy A71, won't be coming to the US because it's too similar in price and features to the Galaxy S20 FE. Samsung introduced the FE, which stands for Fan Edition, in September for $700. That selling price made it $300 less than the regular S20 from earlier in the year and $100 less than this year's starting Galaxy S21.
"We had some good success with the A71 last year, but there was a little bit of overlap with the Fan Edition," Stephen Hawke, director of smartphone product management at Samsung Electronics America, said in an interview ahead of Wednesday's news. "And because of the great success we had with [the FE] in the US market, we're not looking to continue with the A7 lineup this year."
Samsung's bigger push with the A series -- and its less expensive flagship models -- over the past two years reflects the reality we're all living in. Phone designs aren't changing much from year to year, and consumers are holding onto devices for longer, about three years in the US versus two in the past. At the same time, the novel coronavirus pandemic has hurt millions of people financially. While high-end specs and cutting-edge features are nice for attention and buzz, people still care about what they're spending on phone, especially right now.
"We've been committed to making 5G technology more widely available,"Jori Robinson, who works in Samsung Electronics America's smartphone product management division, said in an interview ahead of the news. "It's part of a conscious step to take the 5G decision off the table, so people can just focus on choosing the device that's right for them."
Last year marked the first big push by Samsung with its Galaxy A lineup in the US. Those models up included four 4G LTE phones and two 5G devices. They ranged from $110 for the Galaxy A10 to $650 for the Galaxy A71 5G on Verizon's network (it was $600 at other carriers without super-fast 5G millimeter-wave connectivity). This year, only two models come with 4G phones and three sport 5G.
The A42 5G is the only model that taps into mmWave, and Verizon is the only carrier that will offer it. The device also accesses the slower but more reliable sub-6Ghz 5G network that Verizon is building. The A32 5G and A52 5G networks also work on the lower band networks favored by AT&T and T-Mobile. The unlocked versions of the phones would work on other carriers' networks, Samsung's Hawke said.
"With [the unlocked versions of the] 32 and 52, you'd be able to access the sub-6 range of Verizon's network," Hawke said. "Similarly with the 42, which doesn't have AT&T- or T-Mobile- specific variants, it does have mmWave, and that would translate to kind of support of some of the millimeter range within AT&T and T-Mobile on the unlocked variant of that device."
5G phone specs
The Galaxy A32 5G, A42 5G and A52 5G all come with big batteries to enable two-day battery life. The A32 and A42 versions have 5,000-mAh batteries, while the 52 has a 4,500-mAh battery. By comparison, the Galaxy S21 includes a 4,000-mAh battery, while the S21 Ultra has a 5,000-mAh battery. The lower two models have 15-watt fast charging, while the A52 5G has 25-watt fast charging.
Only the A52 5G is rated IP67 for water and dust resistance, but all three come with headphone jacks, NFC for mobile payments and microSD card slots to expand the device's storage capacity up to 1TB.
The A52 5G has a 6.5-inch FHD Plus Super AMOLED Infinity-O display with 120Hz refresh rate. It also has Samsung's Eye Comfort Shield that automatically adjusts the blue light emitted by the phones based on the time of day. The A32 5G sports a 6.5-inch HD+ LCD Infinity-V display with a 90Hz refresh rate, while the A42 5G has a 6.6-inch HD+ Super AMOLED Infinity-U display with a 60Hz refresh rate.
When it comes to the cameras on the new 5G models, the A32 and A52 both feature four lenses on the back -- including the first time Samsung has offered a macro camera on a smartphone -- while the A42 has three.
While Samsung in the past introduced innovations in its high-end devices before bringing them to less expensive phones, it's increasingly testing new features in the A series. The company internally calls the lineup its "innovation tier," Blackard said. Along with the macro lens, the Galaxy A52 also lets users apply AR lenses from Snapchat with Fun Mode right from the native camera app. And the first quad camera arrays appeared first in the A lineup.
"This is becoming a very important tier globally for Samsung," Blackard said. "It's not like you get flagship features a couple years later; you actually might get … new, unique features in this tier first."
The A52 5G has a 32-megapixel front-facing camera and four rear-facing cameras, including 64-megapixel main lenses, 12-megapixel ultrawide lenses, 5-megapixel macro lenses and a 5-megapixel depth camera. All three 5G models have digital zoom up to 10x.
All phones feature octa-core processors, but their horsepower vary. The A52 5G and A42 5G feature Qualcomm's Snapdragon 750G processor that's based on 8-nanometer technology and has a clock speed of up to 2.2Ghz. The A42 5G features MediaTek's Dimensity 720 that's based on 7-nanometer technology and has a clock speed of up to 2Ghz.
The A32 5G and A42 5G come with 4GB of RAM, while the A52 has 6GB. The A32 has 64GB of storage, while the A42 and A52 have 128GB.
The A32 5G can be unlocked using facial recognition or a regular fingerprint sensor, while the A42 5G and A52 5G have facial recognition and optical fingerprint sensors.
All three models run Android 11. The Galaxy A52 5G will receive three generations of Android OS upgrades and regular security updates for at least four years. The rest of the A series will receive only two years of Android updates and security updates for at least four years.
The new 4G phones -- the A02S and A12 -- are aimed at prepaid customers who are more sensitive to pricing. While most higher end devices have moved to 5G, there's still a big market for 4G phones in the US, Samsung's Hawke said. The low-end A series models "have always performed really well for us," he said. "They've always been the big volume drivers in terms of lots and lots of units."
While adding 5G would make them too expensive for some customers today, Samsung will look at bringing the faster connectivity to its low-end A Series phones in the future, Hawke said.
The A02S and A12 feature 6.5-inch HD+ LCD screens with Infinity-V displays and 60Hz refresh rates.
The A02S has a 5-megapixel front-face camera and three rear lenses: a 13-megapixel main camera, 2-megapixel macro camera and 2-megapixel depth lens. It's capable of digital zoom up to 8X. The A12 sports an 8-megapixel front-facing camera and four back lenses -- a 16-megapixel main camera, 5-megapixel ultrawide lens, 2-megapixel macro camera and a 2-megapixel depth camera. It has digital zoom up to 10X.
The A12 features MediaTek's 12-nanometer P35 that has a clock speed of up to 2.3Ghz, while the A02 uses Qualcomm's 14-nanometer Snapdragon 450 that has a clock speed of up to 1.8Ghz.
Both come with 32GB of memory, but the A02S features 2GB of RAM while the A12 has 3GB. Like the 5G models, they both have microSD card slots that allow users to add up to 1TB of flash memory.
Both have 5,000-mAh batteries, come with 15-watt fast charging and run Android 10. Only the A12 comes with biometrics, with users able to unlock the phone using a side fingerprint sensor. The A02S requires a pattern, pin or password.
All new A series phones will be available in black, though some models, like the A42 5G, could come with other variants, like white or grey.