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Galaxy A34 5G review: Substance over style in an affordable package

Review
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Last updated: April 4th, 2023 at 07:25 UTC+02:00

Samsung’s Galaxy A5x series of mid-range phones has become a bit too pricey with the latest model, the Galaxy A54 5G, and that’s likely going to result in many customers turning their attention towards the Galaxy A3x lineup. The Galaxy A34 5G launched alongside the Galaxy A54 5G, and while its spec sheet isn’t as impressive, the A34 has enough attractive features to keep things interesting.

The Galaxy A34 builds on the foundations set by the A33 last year, and some of its highlights include a 120Hz Super AMOLED display, stereo speakers, a water and dust resistant design, the new MediaTek Dimensity 1080 chip, a 5,000 mAh battery with 25W fast charging support, and Android 13 with One UI 5.1 out of the box and a guarantee of four major OS upgrades.

Again, not as impressive as what the Galaxy A54 offers, but Samsung’s offsetting the differences with a lower price tag. But is the lower price tag the only reason you would want to buy the A34 5G instead of the A54? Well, this review has the answer, so let’s get the show on the road.

Design

Galaxy A34 5G review

The Galaxy A34 5G’s design is nothing special. It’s got glass on the front and plastic on the back and sides, with the rear cameras placed individually like on some other Samsung devices, like the flagship Galaxy S23 series, the Galaxy A54, and 2021’s Galaxy A32.

The best thing about the A34’s design is the IP67-rated dust and water resistance

Samsung’s gone with a drab look for the rear panel, and I have to say I wasn’t a fond of the Awesome Lime color variant that I used for this review. It just looks too dull and boring, though that’s a subjective point of view that not everyone will agree with. And you can always go with another color: there’s black and violet available in India, and there’s also a silver version that Samsung is selling in some markets.

The best thing about the A34’s design is the IP67-rated dust and water resistance, a feature that was also present on the A33. The absence of a 3.5mm headphone port is another design aspect the Galaxy A34 shares with its predecessor. Thankfully, Samsung’s still finding enough space inside its mid-range phones to keep the microSD slot alive. As usual, you get a hybrid SIM slot that can either accommodate a second SIM or a microSD card in addition to the first SIM card.

Display and audio

Galaxy A34 5G review

The huge bezels aside, the Galaxy A34 5G’s got an excellent 6.6-inch Full HD+ AMOLED display. Samsung has bumped the 90Hz refresh rate up to 120Hz  for an even smoother user experience, though there’s not a big difference between 90Hz and 120Hz so perhaps sticking to 90Hz would have helped with the phone’s performance. The screen’s brightness can go up to 1000 nits thanks to a feature Samsung calls Vision Booster (introduced last year with the Galaxy S22) so legibility isn’t an issue outdoors even under harsh sunlight. Corning’s Gorilla Glass 5 protects the display from damage.

The huge bezels aside, the Galaxy A34 5G offers an excellent viewing experience

All the good qualities of AMOLED panels are present, of course, from the vivid colors (with the option to tone them down through the display settings) to the deep blacks and wide viewing angles. And like the A54 5G, the Galaxy A34 5G can reduce blue light emission to a minimum of 6.5%, nearly half of what the A33 5G was capable of, when you enable the blue light filter feature (called Eye comfort shield on modern Samsung devices).

If you read our review of the Galaxy A54, you might have wondered why there was no mention of its new and improved flagship-grade haptic motor. Well, it’s something that completely slipped my mind because frankly, while the haptic motor has technically been upgraded, I didn’t really feel any notable improvement. And that’s exactly the case on the A34, as well, with haptic feedback feeling very similar to older mid-range Samsung smartphones.

Galaxy A34 5G review

The optical in-display fingerprint reader on the Galaxy A34 works great, with fast detection and very high accuracy. I never got to use the Galaxy A33 so I’m not sure if there’s a difference in the fingerprint reader’s performance, although I’m guessing nothing has changed because of how in-display fingerprint readers, both optical and ultrasonic ones, are generally great these days.

The Galaxy A34 5G, like the A33, has stereo speakers, with a dedicated speaker at the bottom for one channel and the earpiece acting as the second channel. And the sound they produce is generally pleasing, though a little light on the bass. They do sometimes distort at the highest volume, even with videos or audio files having a high bitrate, but it’s rare enough to not be a major issue and might even be fixable through updates if it’s a software bug.

The worst thing about the speakers is that they are not very loud during phone calls. Samsung advertises its Voice Focus feature, which is supposed to filter out background noise, as a big deal on many of its mid-range and budget phones, but Voice Focus is of no real use when the sound doesn’t get loud enough for you to hear anything, whether it’s the caller’s voice or the background, and I would suggest using a headset for long calls whenever possible.

Cameras

Galaxy A34 5G review

I won’t make the camera section too long, as what you’re getting here is something you’ve already seen on many other Galaxy smartphones. First, let’s get the secondary rear cameras — the ultra-wide and macro cameras — out of the way.

The 8MP ultra-wide camera takes okay pics in daylight and noisy pics at night. The 8MP resolution isn’t high enough to capture much detail in ultra-wide shots, and at night you should always try to use the dedicated Night mode.

The resolution is also a problem for the 5MP macro camera, and it’s a problem that has been present on Samsung’s phones ever since macro cameras entered the scene. With no autofocus and a low megapixel count, it’s a pain working out if the object is in focus, and even when you do, there’s not a lot of resolved detail. And at night, the macro camera simply doesn’t work.

The 48MP main rear camera is solid in most situations

Now, on to the actually useful cameras. The 48MP main rear camera is solid in most situations. During the day, pictures and videos (limited to [email protected] fps) have a good amount of detail and dynamic range, at the expense of a little noise in the shadowy/dark areas of the scene. The same goes for well lit indoor conditions, though you will see less detail than what you see in daylight pics.

The rear camera also does well in low-light outdoor settings as long as Night mode is turned on, although it doesn’t always manage to keep noise under control. Optical image stabilization helps keeping shake and blur to a minimum, even if not to the extent that OIS on Samsung’s flagship phones does.

Below are some pictures shot using the main camera. I’ve placed portrait pics for some scenes after their standard photo, in addition to ultra-wide version of the same scene before the standard photo.

The A34 5G also has a capable 13MP front-facing camera. It gives you pleasing images both indoors and outdoors when the lighting is right, but with the former naturally having some negative effect on resolved detail. Separation of the foreground and background in portrait mode works great, too, even though there’s no dedicated depth camera.

As for camera modes, the A34 5G has them all, from something as basic as Food mode to both a Pro photo and a Pro video mode that let you control shutter speed and more for better results when the automatic photo and video modes aren’t up to the task. It can also take astro hyperlapse videos, a feature that was introduced with the Galaxy S23 but seems to be available on all devices launching with One UI 5.1 out of the box.

To take hyperlapse videos of the sky, you just need to switch to the hyperlapse mode in the camera app, set the recording speed to 300x and tap the record button. As long as you live in an area or region where you can actually see things in the night sky, you could capture something amazing using the astro hyperlapse feature, so don’t forget to give it a go!

Software

Galaxy A34 5G review

The Galaxy A34 5G runs Android 13 with One UI 5.1 out of the box and has mostly all the bells and whistles as Samsung’s flagships. You’re not getting features like Samsung DeX, but everything else is here, including all the One UI 5.0 and One UI 5.1 features, which we go into detail in the videos below, that help Samsung’s software continue to be a cut above the rest.

The A34 5G is also eligible for the best support from Samsung as far as updates are concerned. It will receive four Android OS upgrades and up to five years of security updates. A couple of other smartphone manufacturers promise a similar level of support for some of their devices, but only Samsung is offering it for devices as affordable as the Galaxy A34 5G and even last year’s Galaxy A33 5G.

Performance and connectivity

Galaxy A34 5G review

The Galaxy A34 5G’s performance came as a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting a lot from the MediaTek Dimensity 1080 after using the Galaxy A54, which stutters a lot despite having an Exynos chip that is more powerful, but it turns out the A34 is the winner here.

The A34 has fewer stutters and lags when navigating through the user interface or opening apps. In fact, unless you have a YouTube video running in picture-in-picture mode while using other apps, the A34 keeps everything running smoothly 98% of the time. Some stutter and lag creeps in from time to time, especially in the camera app, but they’re mild enough to not be considered a problem.

The Galaxy A34 5G’s performance came as a pleasant surprise

Another aspect that surprised me about the A34 is that RAM Plus, Samsung’s virtual RAM feature that uses your phone’s storage to virtually increase the amount of RAM available so that more apps can stay open in the background, is now actually doing what it’s supposed to.

E.g.: I fired up a graphically intensive game, sent it to the background, used Google Chrome a bit, checked my messages on WhatsApp and Slack and had a few chats with my friends, watched a short YouTube video, then ran the highly demanding 3DMark benchmarks a couple of times, and that game that I left running in the background resumed exactly where I left it.

The A34 is good for gaming, as well. It runs heavy titles like Call of Duty well, although long gaming sessions can result in the area around the rear cameras getting a little hot. Thermals are not the A34’s strong suit – it keeps its cool in general use, but gaming or recording long videos on the camera can make it hot enough that you will want to put it down for a little while to let temperature drop.

As far as connectivity features are concerned, the Galaxy A34 comes with 5G support as standard and is quite good at maintaining a strong celullar connection, including 5G connections inside the house. But the A34 misses out on Wi-Fi 6 support, which is one of the new features you get if you spend more and buy the Galaxy A54 5G (or if you get an older model, like the Galaxy A52s). Wi-Fi 6 is not exactly a must-have feature, but I would like to see Samsung make it more common on its mid-range phones than it is right now.

Battery

Galaxy A34 5G review

Samsung marketed both the Galaxy A54 5G and the A34 5G as having two-day battery life when the phones were announced. Our experience with the Galaxy A54 revealed the real-world battery life does not hold up to Samsung’s claims, and I had assumed I would have a similar experience on the A34, especially since its MediaTek chip is technically made on a less efficient process node than the A54’s Exynos chip.

The Galaxy A34 has superb battery life and can last more than 2 days on a single charge

But, just like the phone’s performance, the battery life on the A34 beats that of the Galaxy A54 (another indication that Samsung just can’t get optimization right on its in-house chip, which has become downright embarrassing for Samsung fans like us who hope the Exynos brand will eventually make a comeback).

The Galaxy A34 has superb battery life and can last more than 2 days on a single charge, at least if you keep activities like gaming out of the picture and stick to things like watching videos and browsing through your Instagram feed.

And heavy use doesn’t make the A34 falter, either. To test this, I played a high-end game for an hour or so, watched YouTube for a similar duration, and used the camera to record videos for an hour and a half, with the Wi-Fi off and 5G mobile data active in the background when those videos were recorded. The phone still managed to last a full 24 hours while achieving 7.5 hours of screen on time – it’s that good.

The charging speeds are okay, at least as long as you have a 25W charger from Samsung. The battery can charge to around 45% or so in half an hour and around 80% in an hour, similar to the Galaxy A54, but a full charge takes nearly an hour and a half, which feels a little too long. Naturally, 15W fast charging takes even longer, with a little under 60 minutes of charging required for the charge to reach 50% and nearly 2 hours for 100%.

Verdict

Galaxy A34 5G review

The Galaxy A34 5G took me by surprise. It costs considerably less than the Galaxy A54 5G but manages to one-up it in some key areas: performance and battery life. Or, to be more precise, it behaves as you would expect any device with a spec sheet like the A34 to behave unless the manufacturer drops the ball on optimization, which Samsung seems to have done with the A54, making all that hype about its fancy new Exynos 1380 chip moot.

If I were to dock points from the A34, it has to be for its rather outdated front-facing design and plastic-heavy build – the A54 wipes the floor with the A34 here thanks to its glass back and the more modern punch hole camera cutout. Speaking of cameras, the A54 has a better camera setup and capabilities. Apart from that, well, the Galaxy A34 is the clear winner of the award for the most well balanced mid-range phone from Samsung in 2023.

The alternatives include last year’s Galaxy A53 and even the Galaxy S20 FE 5G, which is still available here in India and could be available in other markets as well. You will be paying a little more for these alternatives (unless you can get a deal like this), but you will still be saving money compared to the A54. The A53 and S20 FE won’t get as many OS upgrades as they have been on the market for a year and more, but that’s a sacrifice I would gladly make.

Samsung
Galaxy A34 5G

What we like

  • Smooth 120Hz 6.6" AMOLED display
  • Water and dust resistant design with IP67 certification
  • Fantastic battery life, easily lasts two days with light use
  • Runs smooth and fast, base variant has 8GB of RAM in some markets
  • Good main and selfie cameras
  • Stereo speakers that sound great most of the time
  • Android 13 and One UI 5.1 out of the box, eligible for four major OS upgrades

What we don't

  • Outdated bezels and front camera notch
  • No 3.5mm headphone port
  • 25W charging slower than expected, no charger in the box
  • Mediocre ultra-wide and macro cameras
Review Galaxy A34 5G
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