Reviewed by Jasvir Nanackchand for Hypertext.
Following hot on the heels of our Samsung Galaxy A51 unboxing a few weeks ago, we put our noses to the grindstone and tested out the Korean manufacturer’s latest mid-range smartphone offering.
With the Galaxy A50 being one of Samsung’s highest selling smartphones last year, 2020’s Galaxy A51 has some serious shoes to fill. And with a plethora of mid-range offerings available from brands such as Huawei and Nokia, the Galaxy A51 faces some stiff competition across the board as well.
We found three standout highlights which make the Galaxy A51 a tough mid-range contender to beat, plus a few troublesome issues which brought our overall rating slightly down.
First on deck is our favourite feature of the Galaxy A51 – namely, its heavy hitting camera.
The Galaxy A51’s quad camera setup produced some of the most gorgeous photos we’ve seen from any mid-range smartphone, in a while. With a 48MP main camera, a 12MP wide-angle camera, a 5MP macro lens and 5MP depth sensor, we have to say that this is one area in which the Galaxy A51 excels.
The camera produced detailed and colour accurate images in any environment, and adjusted well to different ambient lighting conditions, as well. Add to this, amongst other features, a tweakable Pro mode, and even a dedicated Food mode, and the camera on this phone is a continuous delight. We’d venture to say that it outshines its mid-range competition here, like the Huawei P30 Lite and Nokia 7.2.
Samsung’s effort here left us seriously impressed.
Not letting up, the Galaxy A51 houses a 32MP punch hole selfie camera up front, which again, has dropped our jaws with its image quality. With selfie-taking capability a strong deciding factor in the mid-range segment these days, the Galaxy A51’s sharp photos add significantly to the phone’s value proposition.
The Galaxy A51 couldn’t begin to be able to do justice to its impressive camera setup without an equally impressive display, and, here again, the Galaxy A51 doesn’t hold back.
Sporting the same Super Amoled capacitive touchscreen found on Samsung’s more premium offerings, we found the 2400×1080 Infinity O Display – so called because of the aforementioned in-display punch hole selfie camera – extraordinary, and it performed equally well when it came to both watching video and inspecting still images.
The clarity, resolution and definition on offer are remarkable, and it does a stellar job at displaying rich and vivid colours, too. The Galaxy A51’s camera and display combo will be tough to beat in 2020, and will easily hold their own in the mid-range marketplace for a while to come.
Lastly, but certainly not least, along with its excellent cameras and display, the feature that next impressed us was the Galaxy A51’s great battery life.
Packed with a meaty 4 000mAh battery and 15W fast charging unit, our review phone had plenty of juice left over after a full day of use.
This is more than handy performance from a mid-tier device, in an age where daily charging is a burdensome necessity. Our real world testing saw the phone go from 50 percent battery capacity to full charge in around 45 minutes thanks to quick charging.
Another thumbs up from us.
Unfortunately, we did find a few areas in which the phone comes up just the tiniest bit short (ok, we’ll admit it, some of these are just niggles.)
The first of these is the phone’s design, which we’d like to call middling, at best. At 6.5 inches in size and a tad heavier than the A50 at 172 grams, its conventional form factor has nothing to distinguish it from the rest of the mid-range pack, and its overall aesthetic does not make waves either.
Notably, it uses plastic for its rear, which is a design feature that compares poorly with some of its competitors, like the all-aluminium Nokia 7.2 for example, which at R6 299 (RRP), is cheaper, too.
Samsung’s main attempt at jazzing up the phone is its variety of colour options, namely white, blue, pink and prism crush black. Lamentably, only Prism Crush Black will be available in South Africa. While the latter option does employ some visual trickery to produce a prism-like array of colours when the phone is moved around under different lighting conditions, we found it gimmicky, at best.
Overall, we felt that the phone’s middling design is one area in which it solidly betrays its mid-tier roots.
For a phone looking to make a serious dent in the marketplace, we found the Galaxy A51’s performance strangely underwhelming, to say the least.
Despite housing some strong internals – the latest gen Exynos 9611 (10nm) chipset, an octa-core processor, a dedicated microSDXC card slot, and, on our review unit, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage – our time with the phone saw us experience frequent system stalling, unpredictable app opening and closing, and overall, a jagged user experience.
Whilst these issues might have been due to Samsung’s new Android 10 overlay, the One UI 2 (about which we’ve not heard anything negative, as yet), or were just a problem with our review unit, we’d be remiss if we did not mention them here.
Our reference benchmarking tool, AnTuTu (v8), seemed to bear these performance issues out as well, yielding a score of 175 363 for the Galaxy A51, which places it solidly in the mid-tier (compare this with the Nokia 7.2’s score of 177 719, for example), but towards the bottom of AnTuTu’s overall smartphone rankings.
Lastly, we have to mention the truly abysmal performance of the Galaxy A51’s under display fingerprint sensor: no matter how many times we tried placing our finger on the sensor and no matter what the orientation of said finger was, we were left pulling our hair out at the phone’s stubborn refusal to unlock.
Not to mention the 3.5mm headphone jack, which is, we feel, in an age of widespread wireless earphone usage, an anachronism.
The Galaxy A51 is a solid mid-range phone with an exceptional array of cameras, a superb display and excellent battery life. It’s not faultless though, viz. bland design, subpar performance and a horrible fingerprint sensor.
Overall, we’d rank the Galaxy A51 near the top of the mid-range playing field, but we wouldn’t rule out contenders from other OEMs, either. At R6 999 (RRP) for the Galaxy A51, it’d be worth your while, and your hard earned bucks, to have a good look around the rest of the mid-range market before committing to the affordable smartphone of your dreams.