The Samsung Galaxy A51 is one of Samsung’s biggest mid-range entries for 2020. This is the first time Samsung’s A-series has been available in the US, arriving as an affordable option for people who want a Samsung smartphone but don’t want to pay $1,000 to get one.
With so much competition in the mid-range, is it a good option for the price? Find out in Android Authority’s Samsung Galaxy A51 review.
For $399, the Galaxy A51 has a lot of competition. There’s the new iPhone SE with Apple’s newest flagship processor, last year’s Pixel 3a, which is hovering around $350 but has been recently discounted even further, and a plethora of phones from Redmi, Realme, Motorola, Nokia, and more that bring a ton of value to the table. And with the Pixel 4a looming on the horizon, it’s going to take a lot to get customers to purchase this phone at retail price. Let’s see if it stacks up.
The Samsung Galaxy A51 is made of a material Samsung calls “Glasstic”. This gives it a higher quality feel than pure plastic phones, but it definitely doesn’t feel as premium as something like the Samsung Galaxy S20 series. It’s still plastic after all, though I didn’t mind it nearly as much as the plastic on other phones in this price range, such as the Moto G Stylus. The phone is smooth but not slippery, and fairly light at just 158g. For comparison, the OnePlus 8 Pro weighs 199 grams.
The rim of the device is aluminum and feels pretty high quality. On the right, you’ll find a power button and volume rockers, with a USB-C port, speakers, and a headphone jack on the bottom. The left side of the phone houses a dual-SIM card tray, which can hold two SIMs and an SD card up to 512GB. While most phones double up on the 2nd slot to allow for either a SIM card or microSD card, the A51 has two dedicated SIM slots and a separate microSD card tray. That’s nice to see.
I quite like the crazy color and design on the rear of the device. It’s definitely different, and I appreciate phones with interesting colors. The model I have is Prism Crush Black, which gives off a sheen of rainbow color when hit with light from the right angle. It also comes in Prism Crush Blue and Prism Crush White, which offer similar rainbow-colored reflections.
The speakers in the phone got fairly loud but lacked any sense of bass. I wouldn’t use the speakers to directly listen to music, though the headphone jack is a big plus.
The vibration motor on this phone was very bad. It’s light and tinny and feels almost loose.
For a sub-$400 phone, the Samsung Galaxy A51 has a surprisingly good display. Most mid-range phones use LCD’s instead of OLEDs, but Samsung was able to stuff in a large OLED screen with a fairly dense pixel count. This is a 1,080p screen. Considering most high-end phones come in 1,080p mode by default, this didn’t bother me. Colors were punchy and bright, which is common for Samsung panels. It’s great.
One annoying thing about this display is the hole-punch camera cutout in the center of the phone. While I normally like hole punch cutouts, Samsung decided to put a silver metal ring around the camera, which makes it much more obvious than it would be without the ring. This isn’t a dealbreaker, but it forces you to notice it even when the display is off. I don’t understand why Samsung did this.
This is a surprisingly good display on such an inexpensive phone.
There’s an optical in-display fingerprint reader on the Galaxy A51. Unfortunately, the fingerprint reader is slow and inaccurate. It took about two seconds to register my fingerprint every time. Moreover, the accuracy rate seemed to be about 50% while I used the device, which is pretty bad. You might be better off using the pin unlock or even the 2D face unlock option for speed and accuracy.
With a mid-range Exynos chip and just 4GB of RAM, we didn’t expect performance to be great on the Samsung Galaxy A51. After using the device for a while and running our benchmarks, we confirmed our fears.
I haven’t said this about a phone for a while, but the Samsung Galaxy A51 is slow. You can feel a delay opening apps and multitasking, and there would often be stuttering while swiping around the UI. The phone used 1.9GB of the 4GB of available RAM even with all apps closed, which is a pretty bad sign. In some testing late last year, we concluded that modern versions of Android need about 6GB of RAM to run smoothly, and that was verified by this device.
The Samsung Galaxy A51 has a fairly large 4,000mAh battery. With a low-powered CPU and a small amount of RAM, you’d hope the device would get killer battery life. And honestly, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as great as it should have been. The phone lasted about 29 hours, from 8am one day to 1pm the next day. This certainly isn’t as good as phones with bigger batteries like the LG V60, but I’m glad it can at least last a full day. I got about four and a half hours of screen-on time on this device.
The A51 supports 15W charging, which isn’t the fastest. Considering the original Google Pixel supported 18W charging in 2016, this feels a bit sluggish for 2020. Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S20 devices charge at 25W by default these days, so I would have liked to see 18W at the minimum on the Galaxy A51.
For a sub-$400 phone, the Galaxy A51 has some decent cameras and quite a few of them to boot. There’s a main 48mp sensor that bins down to 12MP images, as well as wide-angle and macro lenses, a depth sensor, and a 32MP front-facing camera.
Dynamic range seemed good on this camera set, though it did feel like the photos were a bit underexposed — probably to avoid blowing out highlights. That being said, some camera systems can force the shadows up too much for the sake of dynamic range, which produces an annoying gray haze in the shadows. Samsung phones have traditionally done this, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the A51 did not.
Colors were generally good, but the A51 tended to oversaturate specific colors such as blue and green far too much. This is likely to make the sky and plants pop, but it made some images look a bit cartoony. Samsung has always done this with its camera systems, though, so I’m not exactly surprised.
The depth sensor seemed to help quite a bit, and I’m glad it works on more than just people and animals. While the bokeh could definitely look a little more natural, object detection and cutout was pretty accurate. I was pleasantly surprised. Hair detection remained fuzzy, but that’s common with artificial bokeh. This mode also tended to soften skin more than I would like.
2,400 x 1,080
Even though the MSRP of the Samsung Galaxy A51 is $399, it can already be had for much less. At the time of publication, you could find the phone on Amazon for just $273.99. At that price, it’s hard to ignore the value Samsung is offering with the phone.
With the A51, you’re getting a really great screen, decent build quality, some okay cameras, and even a headphone jack. While the build quality and screen are great, however, the sub-par performance of this phone is its Achilles heel.
For the retail price of $399, the competition is very, very high. The iPhone SE has Apple’s newest processor and equally great build quality for the same price, and the Google Pixel 3a has a fantastic Android experience and wonderful camera for less than $300. And with the Google Pixel 4a on the horizon, I wouldn’t recommend buying this device right now.
Ultimately, I would only purchase the Samsung Galaxy A51 if you’re hellbent on having a Samsung phone. Otherwise, the sluggish performance makes the experience too frustrating to use as a daily driver.