Battle of the Budget Smartphones: Google vs Samsung vs Apple

Battle of the Budget Smartphones: Google vs Samsung vs Apple
Contributor: Asha Barbaschow and Zachariah Kelly

Google has just released its latest ‘cheap’ handset, the Pixel 7a, coming mere weeks after Samsung’s Galaxy A54 hit shelves in Australia. Last month, we brought you a comparison of the Samsung Galaxy A54 to the other two budget handsets from the top-tier brands, but alongside the Apple iPhone SE 5G, we also used the Google Pixel 6a, which its 7a older brother has now superseded.

We thought we’d take the opportunity to update this ranking, pinning the Samsung Galaxy A54, Apple iPhone SE 5G, and the Google Pixel 7a against one another to see who wins the battle of the budget handsets.

Which is better Google Pixel 7a, Galaxy A54, or Apple iPhone SE 5G?

Which phone is better? Let’s break everything down.

Pixel 7a vs Galaxy A54 vs iPhone SE 5G: Price

  • The Google Pixel 7a (128GB) RRP $749
  • The Samsung Galaxy A54 (128GB) RRP $699
  • The iPhone SE 5G (64GB) RRP $719, (128GB) RRP $799, (256GB) RRP $969.

If we go like-for-like, using the 128GB iPhone SE, the winner is clearly the Galaxy A54, but they’re all under $800, and $699 is really $700, so all three phones are $50-$100 within each other. But…

Pixel 7a vs Galaxy A54 vs iPhone SE 5G: the Samsung Galaxy A54 is cheapest.

Pixel 7a Galaxy A54 iPhone SE
Samsung Galaxy A54. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Pixel 7a vs Galaxy A54 vs iPhone SE 5G: Best look and feel

The Google Pixel 7a is gorgeous. It measures 152 mm x 72.9 mm x 9 mm and weighs 193.5 grams. While the phone looks a little different to the 6a, it’s still very obvious that this phone is a Pixel. Like with the 7 and 7 Pro, the search giant has made the camera on the 7a something to accentuate, rather than tuck away. It mixes the perfect blend of Google software with Google hardware and gives you a very similar experience to the $850-more-expensive Pixel 7 Pro.

The Galaxy A54 is the largest of the trio, measuring at 158.2 mm x 76.7 mm x 8.2 mm and weighing 202 grams. It’s a particularly attractive phone with three individually protruding rear lenses, rounded edges and a glass rear, with matte colouring on the sides. It’s running the latest Samsung Galaxy OneUI operating system, and quite frankly looks like a notched-down version of the recently released S23 series.

The SE 5G is pretty much the size of a (now potentially discontinued) iPhone mini. The iPhone SE 5G is 138.4 mm x 67.3 mm (the mini is 131.5 mm x 64.2 mm and the standard iPhone 13 is 146.7 mm x 71.5 mm). It weighs 144 grams. The iPhone SE 5G looks like an iPhone, but it doesn’t look like its latest siblings due to the fingerprint reader – it swaps Face ID for Touch ID. Given it runs the latest software from Apple, it feels almost like you’re using a 2022 phone trapped in the body of a 2016 iPhone.

Pixel 7a vs Galaxy A54 vs iPhone SE 5G: The Apple is the least impressive of the three, but it’s that mix of Google hardware and software that bumps the Pixel above Samsung.

Pixel 7a Galaxy A54 iPhone SE
(The real winner is Zac’s onesie). From left to right: Google Pixel 7a, Samsung Galaxy A54, iPhone SE 5G. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Pixel 7a vs Galaxy A54 vs iPhone SE 5G: Specs

Here’s how the three phones compare when it comes to hardware.

Google Pixel 7a specs:

  • Display: 6.1-inch FHD+ OLED with 90Hz refresh rate
  • Processor: Google Tensor G2 (same brains as the Pixel 7 Pro)
  • Storage: 128GB
  • Rear Camera: 64MP (wide) 13MP (ultrawide)
  • Front Camera: 8MP
  • Battery: 4,300 mAh (two-day battery)
  • Connectivity: 5G
  • Colours: Charcoal, Sea, Snow.

Samsung Galaxy A54 specs:

  • Display: 6.4-inch AMOLED with 120Hz refresh rate
  • Processor: Exynos 1380
  • Storage: 128GB
  • Rear Camera: 50MP (wide), 12MP (ultrawide), 5MP (macro)
  • Front Camera: 32MP
  • Battery: 5,000 mAh battery (more than two days battery life)
  • Connectivity: 5G
  • Colours: awesome violet (violet) and awesome graphite (black).

Apple iPhone SE 5G specs:

  • Display: 4.7-inch LCD with 60Hz refresh rate
  • Processor: A15 Bionic chip (same brains as the iPhone 13)
  • Storage: 64GB, 128GB & 256GB
  • Rear Camera: 12MP (wide)
  • Front Camera: 7MP
  • Battery: 2,018 mAh battery (up to 10 hours of video playback)
  • Connectivity: 5G
  • Colours: midnight (black), starlight (white) and (PRODUCT)RED (or just ‘red’).

Galaxy wins refresh rate, battery life, and screen size; Pixel wins camera and guts; iPhone wins…it wins because it’s the cheapest new iPhone you can buy but that’s really just leaning into the brilliance of iOS, isn’t it.

Pixel 7a vs Galaxy A54 vs iPhone SE 5G: It’s hard to get past the camera and the handset’s guts, so the Google Pixel 7a is the winner.

Pixel 7a Galaxy A54 iPhone SE
Google Pixel 7a. Image: Google

Pixel 7a vs Galaxy A54 vs iPhone SE 5G: Camera

Let’s move on to the cameras on each device. For this comparison, we put the three phones against each other in the exact same conditions. A recurring theme this time around was that Google’s cameras are far better at pulling off natural, more true-to-life colouring. The cameras on the iPhone SE 5G are the least impressive with the least detail, while the cameras on the Samsung Galaxy A54 add a lot of artificial colouring.

Here’s how the phones did when capturing a wide-camera photo.

From left to right: Google Pixel 7a, Samsung Galaxy A54, iPhone SE 5G. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

And here’s a second with more colour variety and a closer object.

budget phone cameras
From left to right: Google Pixel 7a, Samsung Galaxy A54, iPhone SE 5G. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Now a third with a colourful central object at a greater distance.

budget phone cameras
From left to right: Google Pixel 7a, Samsung Galaxy A54, iPhone SE 5G. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

And a fourth with a dominant colour.

budget phone cameras
From left to right: Google Pixel 7a, Samsung Galaxy A54, iPhone SE 5G. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Now let’s see how the phones do at the macro level.

budget phone cameras
From left to right: Google Pixel 7a, Samsung Galaxy A54, iPhone SE 5G. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

And now a second macro shot for good measure.

budget phone cameras
From left to right: Google Pixel 7a, Samsung Galaxy A54, iPhone SE 5G. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Now let’s do a selfie camera test.

budget phone cameras
From left to right: Google Pixel 7a, Samsung Galaxy A54, iPhone SE 5G. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

And now a wide camera test, starting with Google.

7a v a54 v SE 5G ultrawide
An ultrawide photo captured by the Google Pixel 7a. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Now the Samsung Galaxy A54.

budget phone cameras
An ultrawide photo captured by the Samsung Galaxy A54. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

And now the iPhone SE 5G.

budget phone cameras
An ultrawide photo captured by the iPhone SE 5G. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Pixel 7a vs Galaxy A54 vs iPhone SE: Once again, Google’s cameras on its budget phone far surpass those on the budget devices from its closest competitors. The iPhone SE 5G’s cameras are beginning to show their age with less detail and fewer features (like less extensive ultrawide), while the Samsung Galaxy A54 still splashes more lighting and artificial colouring than what is necessary.

The verdict

Just like it did when we did this same comparison with the Pixel 6a, the Galaxy A54 has put up a good fight against its two closest competitors, matching the Pixel 7a in several ways and raising it in others. But, it’s hard to go past the sheer power of the Google Pixel 7a – hell, it’s even a competitor to its older sibling, the 7 Pro (which, don’t forget, is $850 more).

If you’re a Samsung user, wait until you start using a Pixel – it’s Android at its best.

The only way we’d recommend the iPhone SE 5G is if it’s important to stay within Apple’s ecosystem. Apple makes brilliant top-tier phones, such as the iPhone 14 Pro Max, but at a budget level, in many ways it doesn’t even come close to these other phones.

Check out our Google Pixel 7a review over here, our review of the Samsung Galaxy A54 here, and our Apple iPhone SE 5G thoughts over here.


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