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Review #61: Samsung Galaxy A50 (May 2019)

Being an early adopter of devices is a huge risk because you don’t often know what you are getting into. In some cases, it is less of a risk because the company has a good track record and the device is a flagship one. However, that may not be true of mid-range devices, especially when the company doesn’t quite have a track record of providing long-term, timely updates even for flagship devices.

It has been two and a half years since I switched from Android to iOS and the fact that I am still holding on to my first iPhone is a testament to the device continuing to meet my expectations. However, circumstances necessitated the move to a multi-SIM, consumption oriented device and for that, there are no shortage of options in the Android ecosystem that provide bang for the buck. Thus, for all the horrors in the world, I am now cohabiting with two mobile devices that are capable of going thermonuclear.

The Samsung Galaxy A50 was a logical choice for my use case because it ticked all the boxes I was on the lookout for:

 A large Super AMOLED screen for reading and viewing content
 A large battery to support longer screen-on times
 Processing capability that stands up to my 2.5 year-old iPhone 7
 3.5mm headphone jack (Bluetooth still doesn’t cover all bases)

Yeah, so there are certain things missing from my list that others would hold dear like the camera, so you are free to be sceptical about my choice. However, even if another device met my checklist, I would have taken the A50 for its design, in no small part due to its Glasstic-ness.

Most reviews are posted soon after the release of a device and frankly, with software being updated all the time, these initial reviews are not a good reflection of susbsequent device performance since a lot of the user experience now depends on the software. Although I purchased the device soon after its release in March, I decided to wait until the software was much more stable and optimised before starting with my review. It seems Samsung reached that stage with the release of firmware A505FDDU1ASD6 on April 25, 2019 for the INS region.

I have done traditional long-format reviews in the past but I don’t think I was adding a lot more to what others had already mentioned previously. Hence, this time, I have decided to do things differently. I will be using images and videos to cover the device in a manner that hasn’t been before (hopefully!) and thereby add value to those seeking to know more about the device. In that spirit, any suggestions are most welcome in the comments.

1. Fingerprint Scanner

This might seem like an odd choice to start the “review” with but I can assure you that it is the most divisive aspect of the phone. There are no words to describe the frustration I experienced with the scanner using the initial firmware that led me to the point where I was considering selling off the device.

Fortunately, Samsung did a good job of fixing things. While the first fingerprint scanner update did nothing to alleviate the situation, the most recent one seems to have extracted the most from the hardware to the point where it is comparable to other optical scanners in flagship devices like the OnePlus 6T.

It still has an accuracy of about 80-90% but that is miles better than the 50-60% accuracy I was getting with the initial firmware. More importantly, the speed has been significantly improved to the point where it takes less than a second to unlock. If you are experiencing slower unlocks, you are simply doing it wrong because the in-display scanner requires you to register your fingerprints in every which way you would hold the phone. Registering your fingerprint by just tapping down multiple times in the same orientation will lead to a frustrating experience.

For the record, I am using a Nillkin CP+ tempered glass while bumping up the screen sensitivity, an option provided within OneUI. Things could actually be faster without the tempered glass. For the time measurement, I recorded the video at 240 FPS and then did a frame-by-frame analysis to come up with the exact moment (as much as 240 FPS would allow) when the sensor was completely covered and when the screen came on. If you are frustrated with comparative unlocking videos, then this one provides you with an objective answer.

2. Performance

The judgement of performance inevitably falls to benchmark scores which I never found to be a practical reflection of the device’s usage. However, I indulge in the same as it offers an objective score to pin down the device’s performance.

The A50 has been touted to fall somewhere between the Snapdragon 660 and 675 in terms of Antutu benchmark scroes, but that doesn’t in anyway capture the user experience. One might check a myriad of app launch videos and come to a conclusion about the device performance but it will not change the manner in which one uses one device compared to another. At the end of the day, the device performance should be justifiable for the use case.

I don’t happen to have a lot of devices lying around to compare but when I first saw the A50 scoring above 140000 in Antutu, I immediately recollected my iPhone 7’s score from a couple of years back. Hence, I thought it would be interesting to have a face-off between these two devices considering they are in the same ballpark.

While the iPhone 7 still manages to beat the A50 overall, it was interesting to see the manner in which the benchmark played out. The A50 lost all of its deficit solely in the initial tests where the GPU comes in to focus. It is all thanks to Samsung’s decision to only use 3 clusters in the Mali-G72 GPU. It is not without precedent though since Samsung has always stuck to 3 or 4 clusters in its mid-tier devices (or older flagships like my last Samsung phone – the S3), gimping them I assume at the expense of a simpler chip design with further benefits in heat reduction and battery life.

Samsung could have certainly done a better job considering the Honor Mate 10 from a year and a half back used 12 clusters for the same GPU. Even then, keeping gaming aside, the benchmark scores indicate that the A50 is a good general purpose device and once again fits my use case which doesn’t include mobile gaming.


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