Under increased pressure from Chinese rivals, Samsung overhauled its budget strategy last year. The underwhelming Galaxy J series was gone, and the Galaxy A lineup essentially took its place. Samsung traditionally limited the Galaxy A series to the mid-range segment, but now it fields devices starting as low as $120 all the way to $600.
The new-found change in focus also came with better product releases. The Galaxy A50 was one of the best budget phones you could buy in 2019, featuring great hardware, a fresh design, and decent cameras. In typical Samsung fashion, the company introduced an updated model six months down the line in the Galaxy A50s, and now we have the Galaxy A51.
The Galaxy A51 is a continuation of what Samsung has been doing in this segment for the last 12 months. There are a few enticing changes — particularly around the camera side of things — but the fundamentals are unchanged from last year. In fact, 80% of what I wrote in my Galaxy A50 review last year is relevant for the A51, because the underlying hardware hasn't changed much.
That said, the Galaxy A51 isn't a bad phone. If anything, the new design and the fact that it comes with One UI 2.0 based on Android 10 out of the box makes it a decent option for under $350. With the phone slated to go on sale in the U.S. and other global markets later this year, let's find out if it may just be the budget phone for you in 2020.
At a glance
Bottom line: The Galaxy A51 shares the same fundamentals of last year's A50 and A50s. The 48MP camera takes decent shots during the day, you get all-day battery life, a vibrant AMOLED display, 3.5mm jack, and Android 10. But the hardware just doesn't hold up in 2020, and there are much better alternatives available at the same price point.
- 48MP camera
- 3.5mm jack
- Gorgeous new design
- Long-lasting battery
- One UI 2.0 with Android 10
- Aging hardware
- Laggy in daily use
- Low-light shots are unusable
- Macro lens is limited
Samsung Galaxy A51 Design and display
No other brand rolls out iterative updates quite like Samsung, and in the last five years it has managed to turn iteration into an art form. The Galaxy A51 takes a lot of cues from the A50s, which in turn was based on the A50. So essentially, a lot of the internal hardware that you get in the A51 is over a year old at this point.
But that doesn't mean there are no new features on the A51. Let's start with the back: the A51 has two diagonal lines across its surface that break up the design — just like the A50s — but this time there's a gradient effect that shows up when light hits the surface. That gradient effect is the basis for the device's colors, with the A51 available in Prism Crush Black, Prism Crush Blue, and Prism Crush White.
With a vibrant design and Infinity-O cutout, the Galaxy A51 is one of the best-looking phones Samsung has released.
The lower quadrants also feature subtle lines that further differentiates the design, and the overall effect is that the A51 is one of the best-looking phones Samsung has released to date. I'm using the blue option, and the vibrant color makes the phone stand out. Like last year, the back is made out of plastic, but the glossy finish gives it a glass-like feel. The best part is that it doesn't smudge as easily as a glass back, and it is more durable.
Another major change at the back is the camera housing. The rectangular camera housing is identical to that of the Galaxy S20 series, and it's clear that Samsung is trying to create a design identity here. While the camera housing is by no means attractive, it is consistent across all of Samsung's 2020 devices.
The major design change at the front is the Infinity-O cutout for the front camera module. Last year's A50 and A50s featured the Infinity-U cutout, and the cutout on the A51 is smaller and better integrated into the design. The bezels are razor-thin this time around, and it makes using the A51 that much more enticing.
Rounding out the design, you'll find the power and volume buttons on the right, and the 3.5mm jack, USB-C charging port, and a solitary speaker at the bottom. Samsung has also moved away from the 3.5mm jack on its flagships, so it's good to see the analog jack intact on the A51. The SIM card tray is on the left, and you get the option to slot two SIM cards as well as a MicroSD card. Of course, the variant of the A51 sold in global markets will likely have a single SIM slot.
The Galaxy A51 is astonishingly light at 172g for a phone that has a 4000mAh battery, and it has a great in-hand feel thanks to the subtle curves at the back. With a width of 73.6mm, the phone is also narrow, and while it isn't conducive for one-handed usage, it is on the lower end of the scale as far as phone sizes go in 2020.
The Galaxy A51 has the same AMOLED display as last year's A50, but that's not a bad thing.
Coming to the screen, the Galaxy A51 has a 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display that ticks all the right boxes. Colors are vibrant, you get decent viewing angles, and there weren't any issues while using the screen under harsh sunlight. You get to choose from Natural or Vivid picture modes, and there's no option to manually tweak the color balance of the screen.
But you do a blue light filter that can be customized to run from sunset to sunrise, and you get the other scaling and font sizing options that are standard on all Samsung phones. The screen is protected by a layer of Gorilla Glass 3, another area that's unchanged from last year. That's true for the panel quality itself — other than the switch to an Infinity-O cutout and a minor 0.1-inch increase in screen size, there isn't any difference from the A50 or A50s. That's not necessarily a bad thing though, as the screen holds up just fine in 2020.
Samsung Galaxy A51 Hardware
Samsung has been recycling hardware on its phones for several years, and it's no different on the Galaxy A51. The phone is powered by the Exynos 9611, the same as the A50s. The A50 had the Exynos 9610, and while the Exynos 9611 is marketed as a new chipset, the only difference from the 9610 is that it can facilitate 48MP camera modules. Both the 9610 and 9611 use the same set of cores and the same Mali G72 for visuals, and they're both fabricated on a 10nm node.
|Specs||Samsung Galaxy A51|
|Software||One UI 2.0 based on Android 10|
|Display||6.5-inch (2400x1080) Super AMOLED|
|Chipset||2.30GHz Exynos 9611|
|Rear Camera 1||48MP ƒ/2.0 (primary)|
|Rear Camera 2||12MP ƒ/2.2 (wide-angle)|
|Rear Camera 3||5MP ƒ/2.4 (macro)|
|Rear Camera 4||5MP ƒ/2.2 (portrait)|
|Front Camera 1||32MP ƒ/2.2|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, BT5.0, NFC|
|Battery||4000mAh | 15W|
|Colors||Prism Crush Black, Prism Crush White, Prism Crush Blue|
|Dimensions||158.5 x 73.6 x 7.9mm|
If anything, Samsung is shortchanging buyers on the storage front this year, with the A51 offering UFS 2.0 storage whereas last year's A50 and A50s had UFS 2.1 storage. Let's get back to the hardware, because Samsung's decision to use the Exynos 9611 in the A51 makes things sluggish in day-to-day use. The chipset has four Cortex A73 cores at 2.3GHz and four energy-efficient A53 cores at 1.7GHz, and there's just not enough grunt to handle even basic tasks like web browsing.
You will notice lag at times even while navigating the user interface, with actions like opening the app drawer causing a negligible delay. Then there's the issue of gaming, and the Mali G72 just does not hold up in titles like PUBG and Fortnite. If you're serious about mobile gaming, you're better off picking a phone with a Snapdragon 730 instead. The A51 is barely adequate even for everyday use — you should not be able to see lag when exiting an app to go to the home screen.
The phone is available with 6GB/128GB and 8GB/128GB variants in India, but in other markets Samsung will offer the A51 with a 4GB option. There's a MicroSD slot that can accommodate cards up to 512GB in size, and you also get NFC with Samsung Pay, Bluetooth 5.0 LE, FM radio, and Wi-Fi ac. The optical in-display fingerprint sensor is fast and reliable, and I didn't face any issues with it.
On the connectivity front, the A51 has LTE bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/20/26/28/38/40/41/66. That should be more than adequate to connect to most LTE networks around the world, and with the phone slated to go on sale in global markets, Samsung will tailor LTE bands according to the region.
Yet another area where things are unchanged is battery. The A51 has the same 4000mAh battery with 15W fast charging, and I didn't have any issues with battery longevity. The phone manages to last a day with ease, and although the hardware itself hasn't changed from the A50, I got better battery usage figures on the A51.
Samsung Galaxy A51 Software
One of the highlights of the A51 is that it comes with One UI 2.0 based on Android 10 out of the box. That wasn't always the case with Samsung's budget phones, so it is great to see the manufacturer offer its latest UI on all of its 2020 phones. One UI 2.0 integrates Android 10's system-wide dark mode, and you also get the ability to choose from Android 10's default navigation gestures or Samsung's take.
One UI 2.0 comes with Android 10 and a treasure trove of customization options.
Samsung's gestures include designated zones at the bottom of the screen from where you swipe up. It is an elegant solution, and is easier to get acclimated to if you're switching from the legacy navigation keys. But the fact that you also get Android 10's gestures — with the swipe-in from either side to go back, and swipe up from the bottom of the screen to go to the home screen — makes it that much more enticing.
Samsung has always offered a healthy list of customization features, and it's no different on the A51. You now get Edge screen, with the ability to configure pull-out Edge panels and set up Edge lighting for incoming notifications and calls. Edge lighting makes up for the fact that phones these days don't have an LED notification light, and there's just a lot of customizability to choose from here.
The A51 also has software-based face unlock, and while it isn't as secure as a fingerprint reader, it is fast. Elsewhere, you get the ability to use two instances of an app at once, Bixby, off-screen gestures, Digital Wellbeing controls, and one-handed mode. Samsung made a dedicated effort to modernize its UI in recent years, and the result is that One UI 2.0 feels modern and a far cry from the TouchWiz days.
Samsung Galaxy A51 Camera
The highlight with the Galaxy A51 is the quad camera array at the back: there's now a 48MP primary camera joined by a 12MP wide-angle lens, 5MP macro shooter, and another 5MP lens for portrait mode. You get a 32MP camera up front, which is a minor upgrade from the 25MP shooter on last year's A50.
The camera interface itself should be immediately familiar if you've used a Samsung phone recently. The main shooting modes are laid out in a ribbon at the bottom, and you can edit these as needed based on your preferences. There are toggles for flash, timer, filters and beautify effects, and you can easily switch between the primary lens and wide-angle shooter.
The 48MP camera is a known quantity at this point, and it takes great shots in daylight conditions. Resultant images have plenty of detail and decent dynamic range, and you get those saturated colors that define Samsung's cameras. One of the biggest changes Samsung made in 2020 is with the ultra-wide lens, with the shooter managing to produce shots with the same level of detail as the primary lens.
As good as the A51 is in daylight conditions, shots in artificial or low lighting are a blotchy mess. There's far too much noise, colors are washed out, and the final images are just nowhere near good enough for sharing on social platforms.
The macro lens does not have autofocus, and it struggles to dial in on busy subjects, like a watch face. Regardless of what I tried, I could not get it to focus on the watch face of my Promaster Skyhawk, and although the 5MP resolution is higher than what you get with most other phones, the macro lens is still very limited in its usability.
Samsung Galaxy A51 Should you buy it?
The Galaxy A51 isn't vastly different from what Samsung offered in this segment last year, but the upgrades to the camera and design allow it to stand out. The 48MP camera takes decent shots during the day, the display is one of the best you'll find in this segment, the battery life is fantastic, and you get the latest One UI 2.0 based on Android 10.
There are far too many trade-offs here to justify the $350 price tag.
That said, the hardware is slow compared to the rest of the field, and you will see noticeable lag in day-to-day use. Also, it doesn't make sense to switch to the Galaxy A51 if you're already using the A50 or A50s, because for the most part this is the same phone that Samsung released last year.
Obviously, the Galaxy A51 doesn't make much sense for the Indian market, because there are phones that offer much better value and beefier hardware in 2020. The Realme X2 Pro, Redmi K20, or the POCO X2 would be a better option if you're in the market for a phone under ₹25,000 ($350).
However, none of those phones will make it to most Western markets — unlike the Galaxy A51. The A51 will be going on sale in the U.S. and other global markets in a few months, and while there aren't many devices at the $350 price point, there are a few options like the Pixel 3a. If you're spending $350 on a phone in 2020, you'll want usable hardware, and the A51 fails to deliver on that front.
If you want to save some cash, you can just get the Galaxy A50s for ₹19,999 ($280) and get a phone that's nearly identical to the A51. Or if you're in the market for a device for gaming, the POCO X2 at ₹16,999 ($236) is my recommendation.
There aren't many alternatives to the Galaxy A51 in global markets. Samsung dominated with the Galaxy A50 last year for this reason alone, and while the phone by itself had a lot going for it, that isn't the case with the Galaxy A51. If you need a phone for under $400, you should pick up the Pixel 3a or wait for Google to launch the Pixel 4a series.
Too little too late
Decent design letdown by poor hardware.
The Galaxy A51 shares the same fundamentals of last year's A50 and A50s. The 48MP camera takes decent shots during the day, you get all-day battery life, a vibrant AMOLED display, 3.5mm jack, and Android 10. But the hardware just doesn't hold up in 2020, and there are much better alternatives available at the same price point.
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