Review: Samsung Galaxy A31 packs a powerful punch, but at a price
Cape Town - Mid-tier market smartphones have to work hard to get your attention. As one of the most popular and most populous of segments, these are the phones that South Africans buy in droves with the smallest differences ending up as the biggest factor when they choose one. That, combined with an economy set to increase prices, these phones have to impress to catch your eye and wallet.
Enter the Samsung Galaxy A31, baby sibling to the A51 and successor to last year’s A30. The A-Series is a big seller for the Korean brand and so they’re working hard to convince you to upgrade for the key headline features. Let’s discuss those features.
Samsung keeps three things in mind when it comes to their phones: “Awesome screen, awesome camera, long-lasting battery life”. It’s a catchy phrase for the TV adverts, but it’s also nice of them to indicate where they focused on and what we must pay more scrutiny towards.
The Galaxy A31 packs a 6.4-inch 2400x1080 UHD+ display bursting with colour and brightness. Photo: Sam Spiller
At first handling, the A31 is a buff box. Weighing 185 grams, it’s heavy compared to other Samsung A-Series phones. That said, it’s still a comfortably-sized phone to use. It’s better described as a tall phone rather than a phablet, measuring 159.3mm tall and 73.1mm wide. It sits comfortably in the hand and while any device these days can be difficult to wrap around, holding and operating it with the same hand is possible with one’s thumb free to traverse a fair distance. There is something that stands out in its appearance, though.The 6.4-inch display of the A31 is saddled with a large black chin at the bottom. Seriously, the gap between the lower bezel and the display is immense, bordering on being big enough to house the home buttons that previously would have been there. I can only assume this extension is thanks to the technicals stuffed inside it, but it is very noticeable thanks to the current trend of the front of your phone being nothing but screen.
Probably responsible for weighing and heightening the A31 is what I believe to be its best feature, the battery. This 5 000mAh power canister is a beast and combined with a restrained, Mediatek Octa-Core processor, one can get by on a full charge for two full days, possibly a third depending on your usage. This is the same battery that Samsung has put in their flagship S20 lineup and what it’s doing here in the lower end of their mid-tier lineup is a bit of a mystery. Still, I’m glad it’s here and it’s wonderful.
Meanwhile back on the top, the battery powers the next aspect of Samsung’s strategy. A 6.4-inch 1080x2400 UHD+ display. This display is vibrant and colourful with high levels of adaptive brightness. This is the element that Samsung is really excelling in across the entire range and even budget options are being bolstered by this focus.
The Samsung Galaxy A31 is available in Prism Crush Black and Prism Crush Blue. Photo: Sam Spiller
Underneath, that Mediatek chipset, good for speeds up to 2.0Ghz, is adequate for general scrolling and the interface is smooth and responsive. Despite assertions that it’s fit for intense gaming sessions, the processor backed up by 4 gigs of RAM will start to show strain quickly despite the gaming booster function. Rather stick with the more casual distractions. The A31 comes standard with 128GB storage which is a good amount and can be increased up to 512GB with a MicroSD card. The processor and technical capabilities is where the budget restraints are most evident with this phone.
The camera in the Galaxy A31 is nearly identical to the setup in the A51. It’s a quad setup consisting of a 48MP main camera, 8MP ulta-wide (down from 12MP in the A51), 5MP macro, and 5MP depth sensor. Like the A51, the camera can best be described as...fine. Images are adequately detailed. Colours are a bit oversaturated but nothing that isn’t too unrealistic. On the Pro setting, the camera does one-up its own shading and quality of depth, but you need to have a steady hand to take those shots. The 20MP notch selfie camera is acceptable provided you’re not zooming in too often.
An image taken by the Samsung Galaxy A31 on regular settings. Photo: Sam Spiller
An image taken at night by the Samsung Galaxy A31 on regular settings. Photo: Sam Spiller
A fine camera, but there are shortcomings spread out across the media elements of the phone. There is no support for stereo sound (a major disappointment for a music lover like myself), 4K video playback and recording is a no-no, and lack of camera options such as a night setting limit the extent of content creation capabilities. To that end, the A31 goes against Samsung’s boasting that their phones are for budding YouTubers and the like. Armed with that battery and the display, it’s much better at just being a phone than creating content for social media.
The Galaxy A31 is much better at being a phone than a content creation device, which is what Samsung would have you believe with any of their smartphones. A larger-than-life battery combined with a really good display makes for a solid and extended usage experience. With a retail price of R7 499 (a high price for a phone in the lower-to-mid tier segment), you’re a great deal paying for a phone that’s great for daily functions but less so for activities beyond that. Limitations in the software and user features are the biggest drawback.