Context: I bought this phone in February 2020 through a telco with a 2 year contract. I live in Singapore and the device model is A515F, the 4G version.
[Hardware & Design] The hardware on this device is decent. Samsung was kind enough to ship a plastic screen protector that was on top of the Gorilla Glass 3 panel. When removed, the glass felt pristine and a premium look to it – that is being coupled with slight curved sides and a bezeless screen. However, the sides and the back is made out of polycarbonate. But Samsung implemented some microscopic glass crystals to the rear that is infused with plastic, calling it “glasstic”. The looks of it gave it a premium look – almost as though it was glass. I used a case as fast as I unboxed the phone, so there were no scratches on the rear. The feeling of gripping the device is wonderful, most of it due to the lightweight and the curved sides of the back, making it comfortable to hold. The plastic sides has also a shiny look to it that looks like metal. I did wished that the sides were metal but then again, Samsung wanted to develop this phone with a lightweight feel and a low price. So considering the price, asking for premium materials is a little too much. However, I’m not too sure if it could just be dirty, but I noticed that the sides has closed some of its shine after long term and heavy usage – I’m speculating that it could be due to the nature of painted polycarbonate. I will give Samsung bonus points for the headphone jack. Even though I use wireless earbuds, I sometimes use the headphone jack if I miss the wired headsets. The buttons were very clicky, but was not too loud. I did wished that the volume buttons were at the left hand side, but it was a personal preference.
[Display] The Super AMOLED panel on the A51 is fantastic. It has very inky blacks, and punchy and saturated colours. With a 1080p resolution, it does not suck too much battery. I really appreciate the 20:9 tall aspect ratio here, as I am able to watch YouTube and widescreen movies without feeling too claustrophobic from a regular 16:9 display. Even the bottom bezel is not being compromised – I dare say it has one of the thinnest bottom bezel smartphone in the mid range market. The punch hole design – or the Infinity-O display as Samsung puts, makes consuming content and gaming without much interruptions. It quickly disappears from your mind as you continue to use it in the long term. The display is one of the best ones you can get in the mid range segment of the smartphone market. However, I do wished that it supported HDR videos, but again when factoring the price, the display is more than enough.
[Audio] The audio in the smartphone is very good. Even though it only has a bottom firing speaker, when tuning the equaliser in the Samsung Music app, the speakers get loud enough at around 45%. It has crisp dialogue, and good mid tones. As it has only one speaker, it does lack some bass, but that could be further tuned in the Samsung Music application. The earpiece on this phone is fantastic, it does get really loud that sometimes, I have to lower down the volume by one level. As my telco (Singtel) supports VoLTE, phone calls made through both the earpiece and the speakers has fabulous clarity. Audio though Bluetooth 5.0 is really good. The first few months of using it was… the opposite. The audio kept on stuttering and disconnecting from the phone, but was then quickly patched up by a software update. It is safe to say that from then on, the audio experience through Bluetooth was really good, except for slight audio lag when watching videos with the audio through Bluetooth, but as with the nature of wireless, it was expected (my Bluetooth headset is a Sony C310).
[Cameras] The cameras on the A51 was good, but not excellent. For me it felt like there were… 2 and a half lenses rather than 4. Needless to say, the main 48MP camera, that pixel-bins to 12MP, outputs great images. It has saturated colours, with good sharpness. Auto focusing and dynamic range was fantastic too. Although the focusing was not an iPhone-like quality, but it was very good when factoring in the price. Video on this puppy was good too. The lack of optical image stabilisation (OIS) made a few of my photos slightly blurry, but implementing OIS on this device could result in a higher price tag and thicker body. Night shots on the main lenses were really good, with restored highlights and better colours, but slightly more noisier, that could be due to the slightly more narrower f/2.0 lens. I really liked that it could record in 4K, but I wished that the normal 1080p HD supported 60 FPS recording. Im not too sure if it was a hardware or software limitation. Stabilisation using the in-built electronic image stabilisation (EIS) was excellent. I was able to get really smooth video footage, albeit slightly wobbly due to the nature of EIS. Just like the images, it produced punchy colours and great sharpness. Using the ultra wide lens for photography, we get an almost same results, but softer images due to the lens itself not having autofocus. The same could be said for video – great colours, wide dynamic range and softer outputs. The macro lens was average at best. While I was able to take photos more unclose than the standard lens, it lacks focus, so a little trial and error was needed. The low-res 5MP did not helped either. It outputs soft and grainy images. Portrait mode on the main lens was decent. While the secondary 5MP dedicated portrait lens assisted the main lens in depth, the edge detection was average. There were some inconsistencies when it comes to subject separation. Dynamic range on portrait mode could be better, with most of the times having the background blown out by indoor lighting or natural lighting. But a software update could fix some of that issues. In the first few months of using it, launching the camera app though the lock screen was painful. It was laggy and took forever to take a picture. With a software update earlier this year, the camera was much smoother to use now, albeit still slightly laggy when snapping a picture. The front 32MP camera was excellent too. It pixel-bins to 8MP, with a wider view upscaled to 12MP. The camera has great sharpness, along with saturated colours. Similarly, dynamic range, whether using portrait mode or not, is on the narrower side. With the front camera able to record 4K footage as well, Samsung really deserves extra credit for this.
[Performance & Battery Life] The performance on this device was good. With everyday tasks like launching social media apps, consuming streaming-based media and games, it was quite fluid, though with slight lag around the UI,. With the slightly older Cortex-A73 cores, loading times were slightly longer then I expected, but not too unreasonably long. Zoom and Google Meet on the device was perfect, no audio or any interface lag. The device did get slightly warm sometimes, but it was pretty reasonable due to my heavy usage like YouTube and (please don’t bash me) Roblox games. Switching between apps was a breeze, especially with the 6GB of RAM and the One UI 2.1 navigation gestures. The RAM can store a considerable number of apps, before slowing the phone down. I was also able to multitask with about 3 apps, without having much lag, if not at all. The 128GB of storage also helped plenty here, although slightly downgraded interface from UFS2.1 to UFS2.0, but it was plenty for me as I have a ton of apps on my phone from food deliveries to media streaming. This is where the 4000mAh really shines as regarding battery life, I can get to a full day of usage with medium to heavy tasks on the phone like streaming content to gaming, with battery saver turned on. With lighter usage, around 1 and a half days can be stretched out. Charging was decent at best. With the maximum rating of 15W, it takes me about 2 hours to completely charge the battery. I wished that Samsung would support their A51 devices with 25W fast charging, whether being included in the box or not.
[Software] In terms of software, there isn’t much to say. One UI2.1 has a pretty aesthetic interface, with very minimal bugs. I also love that Samsung splits the viewing and interaction area, bringing top corner items like menu bars to the bottom, making it easier for one-handed use. There are also tons of customisability, a few which are not present on the stock Android like live wallpapers. It is the typical software skin found on almost all Samsung devices you see out there, including tablets. I personally love this interface over Google’s stock Android, as there is tend to be more colour in the icons.
[Overall] Samsung’s plan to merge the J series with the A series seems to work pretty well, albeit some sacrifices notwithstanding. Most boxes are checked for me, like having an ultrawide camera, having a high-quality OLED screen and (kind of) fast charging, with good performance and great battery life. Having said that, if you are coming from an older A series device, you might miss the glass or metallic back, with metal sides but a much better screen and performance.
(What do you guys think? I only started these tech review very recently, so there could be some mistakes here and there that I could not spot. Drop a comment down below if you have any questions, (constructive) feedback or general comments!)