Colorful, bright OLED display
Good build quality
The Samsung Galaxy A51 is one of Samsung’s biggest mid-range entries for 2020. It marks 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.
Update, January 2021: Added details about new alternatives, the 5G model, and Samsung’s three year software update promise.
How’s the Galaxy A51’s build quality?
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. 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 second 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.
Related: The best Samsung phones
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 on 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.
How’s the screen?
- 6.5-in OLED
- Full HD+ (2,400 x 1,080)
- In-display fingerprint sensor
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 1080p screen. Considering most high-end phones come in 1080p 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.
How’s the Galaxy A51’s performance?
- Exynos 9611
- 4GB RAM
- 128GB Storage
With a mid-range Exynos chip and just 4GB of RAM as standard, 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 our testing, we concluded that modern versions of Android need about 6GB of RAM to run smoothly, and that was verified by this device.
In benchmarks, we saw a similar story. The phone lagged behind a majority of devices in our testing. It’s fallen even further behind the rest of the mid-range since launch, with Snapdragon 700 series phones far outperforming the Galaxy A51’s Exynos processor. Check out the results below.
What is battery life like?
- 4,000 mAh
- 15W charging
- No wireless charging
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 much bigger batteries, 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.
What are the Galaxy A51’s cameras like?
- Main camera: 48MP, f/2.0, 26mm, 1/2.0-in, PDAF
- Wide-angle: 12MP, f/2.2, 123-deg.
- Macro: 5MP, f/2.4
- Depth: 5MP, f/2.2
- Front-facing: 32MP, f/2.2, 26mm, 1/2.8-in
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.
The selfie camera was quite good as well, with decent dynamic range and color. Sharpness was pretty good, though it still over-saturated colors like green and blue.
Samsung Galaxy A51 specs
2,400 x 1,080
Samsung Galaxy A51 review: The verdict
Even though the MSRP of the Samsung Galaxy A51 is $399, it can already be had for much less. You can easily find the phone for under $300 if you shop around. 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. It’s also offering three years of guaranteed software updates which guarantees support until at least Android 12. However, while the build quality and screen are also great, the sub-par performance of this phone is its Achilles heel. And for the retail price of $399, the competition is very, very high.
Even with discounts, there are better options available from Apple and Google.
The iPhone SE has Apple’s newest processor and equally great build quality for the same price, and the Google Pixel 4a has a fantastic Android experience and wonderful camera for $350. And if you’re willing to spend more but not $1,000, Samsung also offers the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, which has many of the same features of the full-fledged Galaxy S20 for $699 before trade-in. If you are looking for something similar with a little more power though, the Samsung Galaxy A71 is out now as well, as is the Galaxy A51 5G — an upgraded version of the A51 with a faster chipset and a larger battery.
Ultimately, I would only purchase the Samsung Galaxy A51 if you’re hellbent on having a Samsung phone and don’t want to spend over $400. Otherwise, the sluggish performance makes the experience too frustrating to use as a daily driver.