Small improvements and subtle tweaks over its predecessor but the Galaxy A51 is still incredible value
- Astonishing value for money
- 48MP camera for less
- Massive Super AMOLED screen
- Slightly shorter battery life than Galaxy A50
- Cheaper alternatives in Xiaomi
Despite what Samsung’s slick adverts would like you to believe, your smartphone buying options aren’t limited to £1,000+ flagships. Samsung itself has all manner of mid-tier phones in its repertoire, all of which are far better suited to smaller budgets than their high-priced counterparts.
Indeed, recent releases from Samsung’s Galaxy A-series lineup are among the best flagship-killing smartphones on the market. And, in a refreshing move, Samsung decided against waiting until later in the year to launch the mid-priced Galaxy A51 this year, giving Samsung fans a wider selection of handsets to choose from than normal.
Samsung Galaxy A51 review: What you need to know
A word of caution before we continue, however. The Galaxy A line is a bit of a minefield: at the time of writing, there are a total of seven A-series phones on sale at Carphone Warehouse, with prices ranging between £140 and £480. The A51 is currently the third-best in the lineup, sitting just behind last year’s A70 and the new A71.
That means you’re getting a 6.5in handset that looks just as swish as the Galaxy S20, with a few cuts here and there. Rather than being powered by Samsung’s top-end Exynos 990 processor, the A51 instead uses the new Exynos 9611, which is roughly equivalent to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 712, a mid-tier chipset employed by Chinese brands such as Realme and Vivo.
Perhaps most impressive, however, is that the A51 has no fewer than four cameras: a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens, a 5-megapixel macro unit and a depth sensor accompanies the main 48-megapixel camera. The A51 also comes with Samsung’s Super AMOLED display, has an in-screen fingerprint reader and runs Android 10.
Samsung Galaxy A51 review: Price and competition
That’s a lot of stuff for a handset with a SIM-free cost of only £320, or £20 a month if you’d rather sign up to a 24-month contract. The A51 is much cheaper than any Samsung handset we’ve reviewed recently, so we have to look at other manufacturers to find any similarly-priced rivals.
The Google Pixel 3a still sets the gold standard when it comes to mid-range photography, and currently costs £329. If you’d rather opt for an Apple handset instead and you don’t mind spending £100 more then the new iPhone SE (2020) could also be a solid pick – you can expect a review from us of that in the coming weeks.
Samsung Galaxy A51 review: Design and key features
Despite the price, you won’t spot any cost-cutting measures when it comes to the A51’s design. It may not push the boundaries of smartphone engineering but the A51 is a handset that’s as eye-catching as any other smartphone.
The black model I was sent for review might seem unassuming at first but, upon closer inspection, the back of the phone has a faint pearlescent finish, much like the Galaxy S20. Its subtly-curved sides and slender dimensions – it’s a mere 7.9mm thick – ensure the phone fits well in the hand.
As with Samsung’s other releases, there’s an upright oblong in the top-left corner on the back, which houses the quadruple-camera array. The A51 also has a massive 6.5in notched display with slim side bezels as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack, which sits next to the USB-C port on the bottom edge. It doesn’t have any official IP rating for dust or water protection, but the screen is protected by a layer of Gorilla Glass.
Samsung Galaxy A51 review: Display
Samsung’s “Infinity-O” display makes an appearance here, which – if you look past the marketing jargon – essentially means the Super AMOLED screen employs a circular hole punch for the selfie camera. There’s also an ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint sensor embedded in the bottom portion of the display, too, which can be used for mobile payments and the like.
The image quality of the A51’s FHD+ (2,400 x 1,080) screen is good for the price. There are two display modes to choose from, but I found the ‘Normal’ setting to be the most colour accurate with an average Delta E of 1.82. Likewise, If you prefer your phone screens with colour vibrancy dialled up to the max, then you’ll feel right at home with the phone’s ‘Vivid’ setting.
Using our colorimeter, I found the Galaxy A51 covers 99% of the sRGB colour gamut in ‘Normal’ mode, with a total volume of 113%. Thanks to the screen’s AMOLED panel, contrast is effectively perfect and the screen is plenty bright, too. I measured a peak luminance of 478cd/m2 with the auto-brightness setting engaged and a torch aimed directly at the ambient light sensor to simulate the brightest outdoor lighting.
Samsung Galaxy A51 review: Performance and battery life
The Galaxy A51 is powered by Samsung’s own 2.3GHz octa-core Exynos 9611 processor, which is interesting because it’s not a chipset we’ve tested before. That’s because the A51 is the first phone to use the Exynos 9611 and it stacks up reasonably well against our alternative picks, offering similar levels of performance as both the Redmi Note 8T and Pixel 3a:
You might have noticed that the A51’s Geekbench 4 benchmark results are roughly 15% weaker than those of last year’s model, the Galaxy A50, and the single-core test is 32% slower as well. Just to make sure this wasn’t a rogue anomaly, I ran the tests multiple times and got the same result each time.
If I had to guess, it seems the Exynos 9611 hasn’t been optimised for Geekbench 4, a suspicion reinforced by the fact that the results from the two phones were closer aligned in the newer benchmark, Geekbench 5:
The Galaxy A51 gains a slight advantage in the graphics tests. Here, the A51 delivers more frames per second in the GFXBench Manhattan 3.0 benchmark than both the A50 and Redmi Note 8T but it doesn’t quite reach the same score achieved by the Pixel 3a, which employs the Snapdragon 670:
Battery life, by the way, has dipped slightly, but the end result is far from atrocious. When subjected to our battery rundown test, the Galaxy A51 lasted 19hrs on the dot, before the screen eventually switched off. There’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t be consistently hitting a full day’s worth of moderate use on a single charge.
Samsung Galaxy A51 review: Cameras
Not only does the Galaxy A51 employ more cameras than its predecessor, but the only piece of hardware that’s carried over is the 5-megapixel depth-sensing unit. This year, we have a 48-megapixel camera unit at our disposal, which has an aperture of f/2, a 26mm (35mm equivalent) focal length and rapid phase detection autofocus (PDAF).
Aside from the depth sensor – which helps create more effective blurred background portraits – there’s also a 12-megapixel wide-angle camera with a 123-degree field of view and a new 5-megapixel macro camera. The latter allows you to capture lovely close-up pictures with considerable detail:
The main camera captures 12-megapixel images by default but you can enable the 48-megapixel shooting mode in the camera settings. I recommend using this as much as possible, too: the amount of detail capture that’s presented to you on a phone that costs this little is really quite something:
In the image above, it’s easy to spot the finer details in the brickwork of one of Canary Wharf’s many office buildings and the window reflections look lovely, too. If I have one complaint, it’s that the camera does tend to over-expose images to some degree, although this can easily be adjusted with the on-screen slider, however.
The A51’s camera works well enough when the light begins to fade, too. There’s a dedicated night mode in the “‘more” section of the phone’s camera app and it does a good job of brightening up low-light images while keeping visual noise to a minimum. The below picture was taken in my flat, with the curtains closed:
As for video, the Galaxy A51 can record fully-stabilised footage at up to 4K resolution, which is a nice addition for a phone at this price. Whatever resolution you choose, however, the A51 is limited to 30fps recording – the far cheaper Redmi Note 8T can shoot Full HD footage at 60fps.
Samsung Galaxy A51 review: Verdict
In fact, the mere existence of the Redmi Note 8T presents a bit of a problem for Samsung. Xiaomi’s budget beauty is just as good – if not better in some cases – than the A51, and it costs £150 less. On value terms alone, the Redmi Note 8T is a worthy pick.
Overall, though, the Samsung Galaxy A51 is still the better choice in many ways. It’s bigger, more powerful and looks nicer than the Xiaomi. Samsung also provides better post-launch software support, supplying Android updates on a more frequent basis.
Barely setting a foot wrong, and expertly navigating that fine line between affordability and top-spec features, Samsung’s mid-range options continue to be a recipe for success. If it’s a Samsung phone you want, there’s no need to spend more than a thousand pounds on a Galaxy S20 Ultra – do your wallet a favour and buy the A51 instead.