Samsung needed to change something in their smartphone strategy, as Chinese vendors have begun giving you more bang for your buck with their devices. Mainly, it’s the overall premium feel we are talking about. If you take a look at an average Chinese phone, they offer a premium build and great specifications for the price. This is something Samsung hasn’t been able to do for a long time, with the company flooding the mid-range market with phones with average specifications, and it’s where Samsung has lost the biggest share of consumers. So it was time for Samsung to do a turnaround, something that was headed by the Galaxy Alpha. The Galaxy A5 was long rumored and faced production difficulties, but we have finally managed to get our hands on the device, meaning it’s time to see what this phone has to offer for the asking price.
Before I begin, we would like to thank 28mobile.com for providing us with a Galaxy A5 unit. If you want a Galaxy A5, or any other phone for a very good price, just head over to their site.
When the Galaxy Alpha was released, I thought it was one of the most beautiful phones Samsung would ever release. I was wrong, as the first you pick up the Galaxy A5 from its box, you know it’s something else. The feeling this phone gives you is something that caught me offguard. The A5’s unibody is made entirely from metal/aluminium with chamfered edges (a Samsung first), giving it a very different feel, which is further helped by the fact that the phone is very slim as well.
The thinness comes with a quirk as well. Our review unit faced a small crack around the right side of the camera. In certain lighting conditions, it is easy to see the place where this (extremely small) crack has formed. I was using the phone for around four days before I noticed it, though it’s something you won’t see on the blue version, thanks to its color. However, it certainly looks like one of the reasons Samsung might have faced difficulties in producing the A5, though it remains to be seen if this is a one-off issue or a common one.
The overall feeling I get from this phone would be that of a Galaxy S II in metal. Its design looks the same, with the same squared off corners but in a bigger body. We received the white color version – I’m not usually a fan of white phones but here it looks pretty nice. Samsung calls it Pearl White and it is beautiful, it has a very subtle pearl finish on the back and sides, which looks gorgeous. The phone feels very sturdy and I never get the feeling that it will bend or break.
We have the Duos version that has two SIM slots, with the two slots on the right side of the phone beneath the power button. The issue here is that you can either insert two SIM cards, or use one SIM card and a microSD card, as one of the slots is common for both a SIM card and a microSD card.
The only thing I missed on this phone is that it has no notification LED, which is something that needs to be on every phone.
The Galaxy A5 runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 chip, which is clocked at 1.2GHz and has four Cortex-A53 cores. It runs on Android 4.4.4 KitKat out of the box and will be updated to Lollipop in the future. There’s 2GB of RAM, and you will notice that TouchWiz sometimes redraws the entire home screen and that it takes a while to open or close an app sometimes. We are also used to Samsung’s Gallery app taking a second or two to load, and here that is no different. TouchWiz is basically the same as we know from other Samsung phones, with the only new thing here being the support for themes. These themes can only change the phone’s icons, nothing more, nothing less. At the time of this review, there were only three themes available with no more options in the Samsung Apps Store. I hope Samsung will allow third-party themers to theme more aspects of TouchWiz, though that is likely a dream that will never come true. Overall, the A5 is right on par with what you can expect from a phone in the mid-range category.
The rear camera on the Galaxy A5 is a 13-megapixel sensor made by Sony, the Sony Exmor IMX135 that dates back to 2012. It’s the same sensor that was used on the S4 and does shoot good pictures overall. In daylight conditions the pictures come out pretty awesome with great detail and good overall sharpness. When you take photos in low-light, it’s another story – pictures often come out grainy with a lot of distortion and noticeable lack of sharpness.
A cool new feature that was introduced with the Galaxy S5 and is present on this phone as well is that you can set different filters to take pictures in, including Sepia, Vintage, Posterize and more. It’s cool as these filters are shown live when taking pictures. As for the front-facing 5-megapixel camera, it shoots decent photos that you can check out in samples below.
Of course, you can record videos as well. The A5 shoots videos at up to 1080p at 30 frames per second. The filters talked about above are present here as well, and you can check out a sample video down below.
The screen of the Galaxy A5 is something I’m still baffled about. The display measures 5-inch and is of HD resolution (1280×720). It’s quite bright and you can read it easily in outdoor conditions. I’m coming from the QHD screen of the Galaxy S5 LTE-A and I didn’t mind the lesser pixels at all. But Samsung has fix one thing, and soon. The purple banding is something that is getting really annoying – it was there on the Galaxy Alpha, the Galaxy S5 LTE-A, and now on the A5 as well. Purple banding is when you are viewing black images and scrolling up and down results in a purple smearing beneath/above that black image as the Super AMOLED display’s individual pixels can’t be turned on that quickly. It’s irritating when you notice it, and it is something Samsung should have fixed a long time back.
Battery /Call Quality
The Galaxy A5 has a 2,300mAh battery and its stamina is just insane. I was totally shocked by its battery life. It runs me through the day with heavy use and at the end of the day I still had around 25 percent left. With heavy use on a mobile network I managed to get a screen-on time of 4 hours. On a Wi-Fi connection the battery life is around the same, and this is with Bluetooth on at all times, connected to my Gear S.
Call quality on the A5 is awesome: people on the other side could hear me well and it was the same on my side. I never had issues with call drops, with the sound always clear and crisp.
What I did notice was that the call reception is a lot weaker than on other phones that I’ve tried. Where my Galaxy S5 LTE-A would catch a 4G signal in my living room, I was often left with an EDGE connection on my Galaxy A5. This is likely a result of that full metal body, and it’s disappointing that you have suffer such issues in exchange for a more premium feel (though Samsung will likely get a hang of this as it makes more full metal devices in the future.)
The Galaxy A5 left me with an overall positive feeling. The phone feels awesome in the hand, and I wonder why Samsung waited so long to do this. If they had done this sooner, Samsung would certainly not have seen the insane profit drops of the last few months. The phone misses a notification light, which is really annoying. The screen is pretty nice save for that purple banding issue.
The call reception is bearable. I could notice the issues in my daily use, and I understand this could be the main turndown for potential buyers. It’s a sacrifice you got to take to walk around with a mid-range phone that offers a premium feel like high-end devices (again, one that will likely be fixed by Samsung with devices in the future.) This premium feel is actually something you won’t find on anything in this price range; Samsung has taken a step in the right direction if they keep producing phones like this.
But is Samsung too late? Time will tell…
- • Premium build
- • Thinness
- • Themes (Finally)
- • Awesome Battery Life
- • Purple banding/Smearing on its otherwise nice display
- • Reception isn’t that great all the time
- • Low Light Pictures are horrible
- • No Notification LED