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Samsung Galaxy A12 review: A killer battery for a great price

If you get all your phone news from TV adverts – and thankfully, as you’re reading this, it appears you don’t – you’d be forgiven for believing that Samsung’s smartphone range begins with the Galaxy Note 20 and ends with the Galaxy S21.

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It doesn’t, of course, and there are plenty of cheaper options, including Samsung’s latest budget entry, the Galaxy A12. With a big 6.5in edge-to-edge screen and a camera bump containing no fewer than four lenses on the back, it certainly looks like a premium offering – so how is Samsung able to sell this for less than £200 apiece?

Samsung Galaxy A12 review: What you need to know

The Galaxy A12 is something of a departure from previous Samsung handsets we’ve reviewed, thanks to its use of the MediaTek Helios MT6765 SoC. In the past, the company’s handsets, from the most expensive to the cheapest, have either used a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, or one of Samsung’s own Exynos chips. 
 
Still, on paper, it sounds decent enough. This is an octa-core chipset with four cores clocked at 2.3GHz and four more at 1.6GHz. That’s backed up by 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage in our model, though there are international variants with 3- or 6GB of RAM, and 32- or 128GB of storage. While we’d generally argue you want at least 4GB of RAM in 2021, the storage space is a bit of a non-issue, as the Galaxy A12 supports microSD cards of up to 1TB in size.

Notably, it also comes with no fewer than four cameras on the back, arranged in a neat, square hump. The main camera is a 48MP, f/2.0 number, and it’s supported by a 5MPl, f/2.2 ultra-wide lens and two 2MP, f/2.4 snappers – one for depth-sensing and the other for super-close-up macro shots. 

Samsung Galaxy A12 review: Price and competition

You can get all of that for a not unreasonable £169, which isn’t bad at all – but before you get too excited, you should know that the sub-£200 price point has got very crowded with some wonderfully solid handsets in recent years.
 
Most recently, there’s the Moto G9 Power – a very capable phone which, as the name hints at without directly saying, has a ginormous 6,000mAh battery, which delivered just under 27 hours of stamina on a single charge in our video rundown test. It sells for £180.

  

Then there’s the Nokia 5.3, which also packs a quad camera, with surprisingly snappy performance that defies its £150 cost of entry.     

There are also a handful of well-priced Chinese handsets to choose from. For starters, the brand-new and feature-packed Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T sells for £229 and the Realme 7 can be bought for £169. Better still, there’s the superb Xiaomi Poco X3, which has a nasty habit of showing up all other budget offerings thanks to its unmatched performance and 120Hz screen for less than £200.

Samsung Galaxy A12 review: Design

While there are a few obvious signs that the Galaxy A12 isn’t a Samsung flagship, at a glance, it certainly has a premium look. The 6.5in screen dominates the front of the phone with bezels just a couple of millimeters thick all the way around, doubling in size around the chin. The front-facing camera is embedded in a shallow notchlette at the top, which is slightly offputting, but no more so than any other solution until the promised in-screen camera tech comes through.

Flip it over, and it’s evidently plastic all the way, although it’s the most convincing faux-metal looking plastic I’ve ever seen. There’s a two-tone approach on the back, where the bottom fifth is a flat matte finish, but the top four-fifths have a diagonal lined pattern giving it a pleasing, lightly corrugated look and feel. 
 
The quad-camera bump in the top left-hand corner looks neat enough, though it does jut out a tiny bit from the handset, meaning the phone won’t lie completely flat on its back. A fingerprint scanner is embedded into the power button on the right-hand side, which is my favourite position for it.

  

It’s also worth noting that the Galaxy A12 even has a number of consumer-friendly features that aren’t always found in premium phones. It supports microSD expansion up to 1TB unlike any iPhone and the recent Galaxy S21, and has a 3.5mm headphone jack. Of course, there’s no room for wireless charging or IP-certified waterproofing, but you can’t have everything at this price.

Samsung Galaxy A12 review: Display

The Galaxy A12 comes with a 6.5in PLS display (basically Samsung’s IPS-like panel) with a resolution of 720 x 1,600, giving you approximately 264 pixels per inch. And while this may be some way short of Full HD experiences that you can get for the price, even with the large panel it looks perfectly sharp in day-to-day use.
 
Testing with the colorimeter confirms that it’s a solid, if unremarkable panel. With an sRGB colour gamut coverage of 88% from a gamut volume of 95.7%, its colour accuracy is a little off, and the peak brightness of 439cd/m2 isn’t exactly searing. Still, with a contrast ratio of 1,740:1, everything is certainly sharp enough.

It’s far from being a bad panel, and is roughly in line with both the Moto G9 Power and Nokia 5.3. It’s just some way short of the high standards set by the Poco X3 NFC, however.

Samsung Galaxy A12 review: Performance

If the mention of a MediaTek processor in the intro left you with a sinking feeling in your stomach, then you were correct to be cautious. While MediaTek chips have certainly improved in recent years (both the G95 processor in the Realme 7 and Dimensity 800U chips in the Redmi Note 9T are surprisingly strong), the Helio P35 in use here isn’t exactly a winner.

Right out of the box, the phone feels sluggish with stuttery animations and apps that take a couple of seconds to open. Granted, it does catch up with itself after a period of use, but it’s certainly not ideal for multitasking, despite the relatively generous 4GB of RAM it’s endowed with. 

These gut impressions are confirmed by the benchmarks. As you can see in the graph below, Geekbench 5 has it performing quite a bit worse than all the rivals I highlighted in the beginning, but it’s an especially poor performer compared to the three Chinese branded handsets – two of which use a superior MediaTek chip.

This basic performance is mirrored in the graphical tests with GFXBench, where the Samsung Galaxy A12 managed a paltry 19fps in the native 720p resolution, and just 12fps when output to 1080p. Given the Realme 7 and Poco X3 NFC manage around four times the frames at that resolution, I think we can say that’s simply not good enough for the price. The Redmi Note 9T is sadly missing here as GFXBench refused to run, but it would be surprising if it ran worse, given its Geekbench 5 score.

It’s not all bad in the performance charts, though: the one area where the hardware really shines is in efficiency, with the 5,000mAh battery managing a whopping 25hrs 58mins in our looped video battery test.

Credit where credit’s due: that’s exceptional. It’s under an hour less than the Moto G9 Power – a phone which not only has 1,000mAh more to play with, but actually names itself after how strong its battery life is. In short, you’re unlikely to be caught without charge using the Samsung Galaxy A12.

The Galaxy A12 comes with Android 10 out of the box, albeit a version of Android that’s skinned in Samsung’s own One UI. I’m happy enough with One UI now, personally, though this particular vision does raise hackles a bit by trying to get you to install a bunch of ‘recommended apps’ including Candy Crush Saga when you’re setting it up for the first time. 

Samsung Galaxy A12 review: Camera

 I’ve been reviewing phones long enough to remember when Huawei putting three lenses on the P20 Pro was considered a bit much. Nowadays, even the budget handsets are in on the act. The Samsung Galaxy A12 has four cameras on the back, bringing it in line with all of the phones I’ve compared it to, aside from the Moto G9 Power, which has ‘just’ the three.
 
Frankly, I don’t think I’m alone in preferring phones with just one really good camera like the Pixel 4a, rather than needing to keep up with the Joneses with barely used peripheral lenses. But regardless, the Samsung Galaxy A12 has four: a 48MP (f/2.0) main camera, supported by a 5MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide lens and two 2MP (f/2.4) snappers for depth-sensing and macro photography.

As you might guess from the narrow aperture and the low price of entry, photography on the Galaxy A12 is a mixed bag. In bright conditions, photos are quite good, with a decent composition and enough detail to be worthwhile. Yes, you can certainly do better by spending more money, but the pictures are clear enough for sharing, and you can get good results in the right conditions.

Even zoomed in, you can clearly make out individual bricks on the roof of the church, although things do get a touch more blurry.

That said, the Galaxy A12 does suffer from the same problem plenty of budget handsets do, which I assume is exacerbated by the poor performance of its MediaTek processor. It’s what I euphemistically call ‘the cat problem’:

Basically, the delay between pressing the shutter button and a picture being taken means that anything that’s prone to any kind of sudden movements – think birds, babies, cats or dogs – will almost inevitably be a blurry mess by the time the phone finishes capturing the image. It’s here in spades.

You also shouldn’t expect miracles of composition as soon as the light levels drop. As these pictures of my garden at sunset show, as soon as the light goes, so does the image quality, with plenty of noise and blur replacing the crisp detail of the daylight shots. This is a problem that all phone cameras face, to be clear, and the Samsung Galaxy A12 isn’t the worst offender by a long shot.

The other camera modes are fine as far as they go, but aren’t the kind of thing you’ll turn to often. Still, should you ever want to take a close-up shot of a 5p piece as I did below, you’ll get decent results.

The 8MP (f/2.2) front-facing camera is good enough for selfies and video calls. By default, it has ‘beautification’ options enabled (centre) which are more subtle than some, but can be turned off completely (left) or maxed out (right). As ever, max out at your own risk, because to me the results look anything but natural.

The Samsung Galaxy A12 captures video at 30fps in 1080p or 720p – there’s no 60fps option for either and, clearly from the footage I captured, no attempt at stabilisation either. Video of me walking through a park was just too bumpy to be usable, and swift pans also temporarily turned the footage into a blur fest. In short, this isn’t one for wannabe filmmakers.  

Samsung Galaxy A12 review: Verdict

Ultimately, it’s hard not to think of the Galaxy A12 as something of a misfire by Samsung. Yes, it has phenomenal battery life, and I sincerely hope that the company adopts the two-tone look onto other handsets, but even at £169 it still misses the mark.

Much of that is down to the outstanding things other manufacturers are doing on a budget, but Samsung’s entry-level handsets have been able to hold their own in the past. It’s hard not to pin the disappointment entirely on the MediaTek Helios MT6765. Exynos and Qualcomm handsets never felt this sluggish.

What should you buy instead? While all of the options highlighted in the ‘price and competition’ section would be preferable, my suggestion is the Poco X3 NFC if you can stretch to £199. If you can’t, then you should pay the same £169 for a Realme 7 or save £19 and buy a Nokia 5.3.

Samsung Galaxy A12 specifications
Processor Octa-core Mediatek MT6765 Helio P35 (4 x 2.35GHz, 4 x 1.8GHz)
RAM 4GB
Screen size 6.5in
Screen resolution 720×1600
Pixel density 264ppi
Screen type PLS TFT LCD
Screen refresh rate 60Hz
Front camera 8MP, f/2.2
Rear camera 48MP, f/2.0; 5MP, f/2.2 (ultrawide); 2MP, f/2.4 (macro); 2MP, f/2.4 (depth)
Flash Yes
Dust and water resistance N/A
3.5mm headphone jack Yes
Wireless charging No
USB connection type USB-C
Storage options 64GB
Memory card slot (supplied) MicroSD up to 1TB
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz
Bluetooth v5.0
NFC Yes
Cellular data 2G, 3G, 4G
Dual SIM Yes
Dimensions (WDH) 164 x 75.8 x 8.9 mm
Weight 205g
Operating system Android 10
Battery size 5,000mAh

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