You have a Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G there, I hear you cry. Why would you want to dabble with a lesser Samsung offering when the former ticks all the boxes any sane person could hope to have ticked, you follow up! Well, the answer is the one box that isn't ticked. The box that gets harder and harder to tick these days as people in the far east seem to think that everyone uses their phone as their main and often only computing device. Yes, size matters!
The Samsung Galaxy A41 certainly ticks the size box for me. Pictured here on the left alongside the Pixel 3 and iPhone SE (2020). A place where the Pixel 3, 4, 5 all sit comfortably. A place where the Samsung Galaxy S10e sat, missed out in the S20 and now S21 ranges. A place where Nokia used to help out, but not any longer - at least if the user wants a half-decent set of specs. So having established that this size is about right for me, enter the A41. It's a tad narrower and taller than the Pixel 5 but about the same width as the Pixel 3, if still a shade taller again. But it's certainly within range. So, is it good enough, I ask myself. It's a budget phone, pretty much, at £269RRP, challenging the Moto, Realme, Redmi, Nokia place. Congested.
As usual I'll start with the box. It's a small and simple one with some papers, pokey-tool, charger, USB-A to USB-C cable, a pair of basic earphones and no case. I did grab a TPU to put round it but the user might well not. It doesn't feel too slippery in the hand, it just feels thin, light and dinky! It has a plastic frame and plastic back and unspecified grade of glass on the front. On the right there's a power button and volume-rocker which are plastic and feel very much like plastic. There's no wobble much and they don't feel like they're going to break, but that's a sign of the price-point. On the left there's a card tray and unusually this has two nanoSIM Card slots and alongside, a microSD one. Where I have seen this before, up to now, it's been arranged in a long line, not sideways. But it works just fine.
On the top of the phone there's nothing much and the bottom, 3.5mm audio-out socket, USB-C port and a mono speaker. On the back there's a camera island top-left (portrait) which sticks out a millimetre but has a raised edge to protect the lenses from tables. There seems to be three lenses and an LED flash. More on that later. The front is almost all glass, bezels small, enabling good viewing on such a small device. There's a teardrop top-centre for the selfie camera just under the earpiece speaker on the very edge and that's about it. It doesn't feel premium in the hand with those plastics, but then it's not a flagship. At this price it feels like the compromises on build are spot on.
Where this phone differs from many at this price-point is the screen. Samsung have put their own flat Super AMOLED 'Infinity-U' screen in place here where others are wallowing around with LCD, claiming that it's better for battery and long-life etc. I'd go with OLED every time and this is a huge plus-point. It's no cheap old rubbish AMOLED either. It's bright, colourful, sharp and 1080p. The screen can be switched for colours between Vivid and Natural, with slider adjustments for white balance too. It's 6.1" which sounds bigger than it should be but at 20:9 ratio, 431ppi and all pushed out to the edges, it makes for a better and bigger-feeling experience. There has been a corner cut with the chipset as Samsung have decided to use the Mediatek MT6768 Helio P65 (12nm). I'm not geek-enough to know what that all means but in discussion on Phones Show Chat with Steve Litchfield and Mike Warner it seems that this has been equated with the performance of a SnapDragon 670. The very chipset used in the Pixel 3a which was certainly no slug, though that wasn't in any way bogged down by manufacturers layers on top of the vanilla Android. My appraisal of all this is for real-world use going forward, not technical specs. There's also only 4GB RAM which potentially might hit multi-tasking - and how long the user can expect apps to stay open in the background. In reality, I haven't noticed anything problematic here - neither on my Pixel 3, nor a great deal of phones that I have reviewed with this same so-called limitation of 4GB. As the S21 Ultra arrives with 16GB RAM you have to really wonder why!
If I'm being picky, then yes, it's not as fast as other phones with more powerful hardware but in general daily use it's hard to see. Copying large amounts of files across from a computer, for example, takes more time. Restoring SMS backup files, downloading security updates - yes, other phones whip through that which is nice to see, but actually, are we really in that much of a hurry? This is not the kind of phone that a gamer is going to buy, so no, it's not going to be pulled apart for that kind of high-end graphics-gobbling activity. But for Snooker and Tetris apps? No issues - as there isn't for pretty much any real-world use for most people. Again, compromises spot on.
The phone comes with Android 10 out of the box with October 2020 Google Security (which updated to November 2020 during setup) and OneUI 2.5 over Android. I have explored the likely update path and it seems that Android 11 is coming, maybe even 12, and security updates until the end of 2023 at least. Good show Samsung. I shall be keen to see OneUI 3.1 where Samsung are apparently allowing users to choose to have the Google Feed panel to the left of the home screen. This will ensure that I personally don't bother with Nova Prime any longer as OneUI is super-sleek and great to use these days.
In terms of what you get with the Samsung experience, I have been pleased to see that there are some bells and whistles that have made it down from flagshipland. Edge Lighting, for example (missing on some previous A-series phones), Edge Panel, Always on Display, to mention just a few amongst a plethora of neat touches, useful add-ons and enhancements to the Android experience, covered here many times before. I had expected more corners to be cut so as to protect flagship-features for those with more money! There's an optical fingerprint scanner under the glass which works, even if it is a little slower than other models. You do have to hold your finger there for a second or so before it kicks in, though this is supported by a very fast face unlock system and of course the usual pattern/PIN other ways to get in.
I would have paid another tenner for a 128GB version of this phone as it's only got 64GB storage. Maybe plenty enough for many users, but I contend that also not for plenty of others. Fortunately, they haven't skimped on missing out a microSD Card facility (like they have with the S21 range) and this is playing nicely with my 512GB card. Read/write times are not the fastest of course, but it's really alright for the target user who won't notice a thing as the system competently plays music and video from the card. USB OTG works fine though and the phone has no problem working with my SanDisk Extreme 2TB SSD.
There's no sign of DeX or HDMI-Out here and I really wasn't expecting that, though if Samsung want to hook their users into the DeX system, I guess it may be smart to start down-porting that functionality. Gareth Myles and I discussed this very topic on this week's Tech Addicts Podcast. Sound output from speakers (particularly) is where many cut costs with cheaper components providing often only one speaker with poor volume and a tinny sound. I try to test sound output against other devices I have handy, previously reviewed and my general experience over the years. I use the same music app with flat equalisation to start. The Pixel 3's stereo forward-facing speakers are significantly better than this Samsung's for volume and tone. Next to each other, the A41 sounds tinny, with focus on the top-end. Adjustment in the equaliser helps the Samsung but at the cost of volume. So maybe that wasn't a fair fight as, after all, the Pixel 3 was a device selling at release, three times the price of the A41. How about the Nokia 9 PureView then, with a single mono speaker. Nokia has it, not so much on volume but certainly on quality. OK, last challenge then, the more similarly-priced-on-release Motorola One. Again, the Moto has it. On volume and tone. It's fair to say though that in isolation, the output is really not bad on the A41. These kinds of tests are always going to show up small degrees of difference these days. The truth is that for most people the output is good enough for placing on a bedside table or kitchen top for casual listening and certainly spoken word stuff. Audiophiles will no doubt shudder but those in between will shrug and grab some headphones or bluetooth speaker. It is a corner cut, but how important that is, is clearly down to the user to decide. Let's then turn to audio-out via the 3.5mm socket and a decent pair of reference AKG headphones. The output is excellent - actually staggeringly good. Far too loud for my ears at anywhere near top volume and with an excellent tone. Certainly enough bass on flat equalisation for me but flick the Dolby switch and it's even better and with access to sliders to adjust further. Even the bundled earphones are really very usable, even though they are plastic and very basic-looking. There's some bass which would be even better if they were in-ear-canal buds (even though I personally hate those)! It really feels like these's some fancy high-powered DAC thing going on here somewhere, but I don't see it in specs. Maybe it's a feature of that chipset? I'll try to find out, but it certainly punches well above its weight in my view, but then maybe I'm not audiophile-enough to speak on this authoritatively. I report what I hear!
There's a bundled FM Radio app which needs something plugged into the 3.5mm socket as an aerial but can then be switched to speaker if needed. It's a recording radio which saves to either the phone's storage or a microSD card. The reception seems strong enough in my neck of the woods after it scans for stations efficiently enough.
Output via bluetooth as we all expect now is on another level and armed with 5.0 this is no exception, pumping out fabulous sound to connected equipment. Bluetooth is quick to pair and seems to have a reliable hold and decent enough range (depending of course on connected equipment). Connectivity is generally good as GPS demonstrates a fast lock for mapping and NFC is present as we'd expect for Pay options and connection to other gear. I've taken and made a number of phone calls during my test period here and cellular connectivity using VodafoneUK seems reliable, no breakup and data transfer appears to be good via the same and also with a couple of routers for WiFi and also my MiFi. No problems here, except that under current restrictions I can't test Google Pay - but I have every confidence in that being perfect.
Samsung have got better at giving users the choice of whether or not they want to use their apps and services in recent times allowing boxes to be unticked at startup (and I started this up as a fresh install, no copy or transfer, only signed into my Google account). Sadly, this unit is not so good in that respect as a number of apps are installed at the outset. Some can be
uninstalled, some disabled/force-stopped/hidden. Here's the list...
Can Uninstall: Spotify, Smart Things, Voice Recorder, Samsung Internet, Samsung Health, Galaxy Wearable Office, LinkedIn, Microsoft Outlook, Samsung Pay, Calculator, Samsung Notes and Global Goals.
Can't Uninstall: FaceBook, My Files, Microsoft OneDrive, Netflix, Samsung Gallery, Clock, Contacts, Calendar, Game Launcher, Phone, Messages and Camera.
It's quite a list really. Especially as Google have got so good at making their core apps available in the Play Store, which means user can choose. I'd like to have seen that big list at setup which is missing, I guess because of the target audience expecting things to just be simple and get going quick.
On the positive side (for me), I've not seen the word Bixby anywhere from turning the phone on first to now! Bixby Vision is there in the Apps List but I think that's because it's in the Camera. To the left of the home screen there's no sign of Bixby any longer, rather the Samsung Daily (which can be turned off by long-pressing the home screen, swiping right and throwing a switch). In fact, I can't see much of Bixby anywhere. Looks like they've made that totally optional, which is great for many of us. Not so cool for those who want to use Routines or whatever. I guess that if I signed into a Samsung Account and Galaxy Store I could download all this stuff but I really wanted to keep away from all that and use the phone as Vanilla as possible. Themes, Icons and Wallpapers are all here for those who want to get involved in those options - or hang it all and just use Nova! There is of course a whole bunch of stuff that Samsung does well for those who want to use it, but the good thing here seems to be that it is optional, even if that apps list needs some attention to sort out. As I said before, the usual array of bells and whistles and many well thought-out options in Settings.
The battery in this unit is 3,500mAh
and I have done some testing with this in the first few days that I have had the phone in the usual way for me. My 10% Reading Test returns a very respectable 1 hour 45 minutes over a few runs - and average use for me over time is looking like being something like 30 - 36 hours between charges with around 5-7 hours of screen on time. I am, most days, getting to lights-out with 50% left, again, for my average use. Fair to note that it has indeed been just a few days so if things change over time I shall update and report back. Against other devices I have to hand, this is better than many, not as good as some (especially those powerhouses from Moto with huge batteries and LCD screens) but perfectly respectable and a good return. There's no wireless charging here but my Qi Receiver works perfectly on the stand and under the TPU it barely makes the phone rock, unlike some others. The brick in the box is capable of 'fast' charging at 15W (though this is quickly becoming not so 'fast' in 2021) so about 90 minutes for a full charge and 45 minutes to 50% or so. Every night on the Qi Charger and I don't even have to think about this!
on this phone seem to offer fairly basic functionality as a group. There's the popularly-used 48MP f2 Sony Quad-Bayer main shooter for a 'normal' viewpoint and 48-down-to-12MP results unless you force the camera into a full-res 48MP. There's a wide-angle 8MP f2.2 unit to support along with another 5MP f2.4 for depth. Could be more exciting - but it is a budget phone, so we didn't expect a 108MP periscope with 8K video shooting now, did we! There is also a 25MP f2.2 Selfie camera in the mix and I guess you know what I'm going to say - yes, that this bunch of cameras/lenses is really all that 95% of users will ever need from a phone in order to post to social media and share with family, all looking on small screens too. The results look great to me. If you want more of an analysis I suggest a peep at Steve's video review which will be up in the coming weeks on his YouTube Channel
The software in the camera app
is clear with an on-screen button in Photo to switch between normal and wide-angle alongside a 'scene optimiser' shortcut to save digging into menus. The usual options for blurring backgrounds are present through 'live focus' or Portrait Mode and there's a Pro Mode where the user can fiddle with some of the settings (though not so many as some). There's a quick flick to switch to centre-weighted metering, spot or matrix which feels very 'Sony' and even 'proper camera' though there's no sign of any kind of Night Mode here, presumably reserved for more powerful/clever hard/software. As you'd expect with Samsung, you can deep-dive into further settings for all sorts of AI stuff, video shooting changes, watermark and gridlines. You know the drill, all very common these days. I realise that I have low expectations from cameras in phones but to me the result look excellent (for the aforementioned purposes) though not for creating billboard adverts! Close-focus is not great but results generally are colourful, bright and perfectly good-for-purpose.
This is a cracking little phone. I love the size, so rare these days. I would like more, of course - give me an S20e or S21e - but as this is what we have in this size then I welcome it with open arms. It's really well priced now that it has been out a good few months at round £200 in the UK, it has a fabulous screen, great battery, fun camera and that chipset really is good enough for the target user - and beyond. You can get it in black, red, blue or silver - what's not to like! Highly recommended for non-heavy-gamers who want a pocketable phone still, with a fabulous screen, some key Samsung goodies and are not that concerned about flagship performance, high-end features but with an eye on their bank balance. A return to sanity in a sea of massive phones! Put it on your shortlist.