On paper the Samsung Galaxy A31 should be a runaway hit. It’s packing massive numbers in the screen, camera and battery department – all very important numbers for most people looking for a phone – and it manages to do this with a comparatively small body and very reasonable price. While all of that is great, we did find some problems after a few weeks of review.
Popping the A31 out of the box and it’s very much well built and a looker too. The “Prism Crush Blue” version we have on hand is rather pretty, ignoring the garish ICASA sticker on the back. The screen is the first big surprise here given how large it is compared to the rest of the phone.
On offer is a 6.4inch at 1080 X 2400 display. While we’ve seen bigger screens and higher resolutions, it’s the overall size that’s the kicker – just 185 grams and 159.3 X 73.1 X 8.6 millimetres.
This is achieved with a waterdrop front camera notch and a fingerprint scanner that’s under the screen. All this needs to be considered together because it all affects the screen experience.
— Hypertext (@htxtafrica) June 1, 2020
On aggregate, it’s very good. Everything is as sharp as it can be and you really will never be wanting for more detail or size. When so much of the front of the phone is the screen, you just can’t go wrong. Those worried about the notch will be pleasantly surprised to find that it mostly sits unobtrusively at the top, never really getting in the way. Even die hard notch haters will mostly forget it’s there.
The scanner is much more of a nuisance. Samsung’s tech in this area has gotten better, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. If we’re doing some napkin math we’d say it unlocked the phone on the first try maybe half of the time it was used. It’s nowhere near as fast or accurate as a regular sensor and we’re back to asking for this piece of tech to return to the back of phones or even the sides. It’s a nice party trick but one you’ll abandon after using this phone for a while.
Once you’re done gawking at the hardware and you’re inside of Android, the A31’s biggest flaw becomes apparent, and that is performance. The ARM MT6768V/CA eight core processor and 4GB of RAM on our model just couldn’t keep up with us, chugging along and spluttering about as we tried to use it. Underwhelming performance is something we also noted with the A51 earlier this year, and the A31 continues this trend.
You can see the synthetic results from Geekbench and 3DMark below, but it’s much more nuanced in use. Apps just take those few extra moments to open, close or switch between, and that really adds up in daily use. Multitasking is handicapped as software fights for resources and the A31 just never felt responsive enough for us.
That being said we have to take into account that we do demand a lot more from our phones than you might. If you’re not hammering away for testing purposes or using multiple apps at once, you may never feel the same way as we do – wanting for more.
The performance is very much a letdown here given how great the rest of the package is. That screen is the big seller and it has a camera array to match. That front facer under the glass is a massive 20MP camera that can also record 1080p video at 30 fps. We’ve never been fans of selfies but the extra resolution here is a godsend as video meetings become the de facto for most of the world during the pandemic.
The back cluster of lenses is even more impressive. You’re getting a main 48MP camera, an 8MP one for ultrawide shots, a 5MP one for macros and a 5MP depth sensing camera. This means that whatever you want to capture who have the hardware to do so.
We had a lot of fun going around the house snapping whatever we liked. The rather accurate scene optimiser combined with all that hardware means that even someone with no photography skills like this reviewer can capture some pleasing shots, which are on this page.
The camera’s kryptonite, however, is low light. Everything taken at night looks absolutely lifeless and it seems even a high amount of artificial lights from studio settings can only go so far. Natural light is your best friend here and we can’t recommend sticking to that setting more.
The lack of processing power also rears its ugly head here as capturing images and video, again, just takes that little amount longer than you’d want. It really is the difference maker when trying to get good shots of animals, kids, or anything else that won’t sit still for two seconds. All that camera power doesn’t mean much if you miss your opportunity to actually snap any pictures.
Powering all of this is another big hitter in the 5 000mAh battery. Unless you’re screen is on literally 24 hours, you won’t struggle to get through a 100 percent charge through an entire day. If you cut down usage and play with some power settings you can extend that too, but the included charger does 15W Fast Charging so a few minutes in the wall buys you a lot of extra use time.
It’s not until we went back to a phone with a smaller capacity did we really appreciate how far that 5 000mAh can go.
The RRP of the Samsung Galaxy A31 is R7 499 in South Africa. For that the screen, cameras, battery and overall build quality are a bit of a steal. Unfortunately the cuts were really made in the area of performance, so you may find yourself frustrated when trying to enjoy the rest of the phone.