Samsung has been having a hard time in the mid-range and budget segments in markets like India, where Chinese manufacturers have created quite a storm with smartphones that are cheap yet offer more features than were thought possible only a year ago. The Galaxy E series is Samsung's attempt to thwart the competition, with the Galaxy E5 and Galaxy E7 the first phones in the series. The E5 and E7 offer better hardware for their prices than any Samsung phones in the past, and the company has played to its strengths by putting in features like a Super AMOLED display, which have been reserved for flagship phones in the past.
The Galaxy E5 and E7 also bring another feature unseen on previous mid-range Android phones from Samsung. Both come with unibody builds that eschew removable batteries for a more premium feel, something we haven't seen on any other mid-range Android phone from Samsung till date. At first glance, the Galaxy E5 and E7 aren't exactly the most attractive smartphones in terms of hardware and pricing, but the actual story is rather different.
Read on to find out how.
Unibody design. Those two words aren't what you would relate with Samsung's smartphones, but the Korean manufacturer has been embracing them with open arms in recent times. The entire Galaxy A series (not counting the Galaxy Alpha) has a unibody design, and so do the Galaxy E5 and E7. These aren't metallic devices, reducing the premium feel that you get on the Galaxy A devices and phones like the Galaxy Note 4, Galaxy Alpha or the Galaxy S6. But thanks to the unibody construction, the two devices feel very well made. The Galaxy E5 is incredibly light, too – the first time you pick it up, you would think the device doesn't have a battery inside.
At first glance, neither the Galaxy E5 nor the E7 look much different from other Samsung devices, with both rounded at the edges. But once you pick it, it's clear that some thought went into the phones' builds. The back is a soft-touch plastic without any of the textures found on the Galaxy Alpha or Galaxy S5, and while it's a tad slippery, it feels nice to the touch. The sides are made of metal and have a light brushed finish, which is more prominent on the white variants and makes the phone look a tad cheap. We only had the Galaxy E5 in black, and in the darker color it does look somewhat attractive, which we're guessing is true for the Galaxy E7 as well.
Now let's talk about the basics. On the front, it's a standard setup. There's the earpiece grille, front camera, proximity sensor and Samsung logo at the top, and the recent apps, home and back button (in that order) at the bottom. The back has the LED flash, camera and loudspeaker (again, in that order) at the top, and the DUOS logo at the bottom. The camera module juts out a little, which isn't exactly surprising as the E5 and E7 are pretty thin. On the bottom edge, you get the microUSB port, primary microphone and 3.5 mm jack, while the top has nothing but the secondary microphone.
The left side of the phones have the volume buttons, and the right side holds the power button and the two SIM slots. One of these SIM slots doubles as a microSD slot, but this slot can either hold a SIM card or a microSD slot at any given time. That's a pretty disappointing approach Samsung has taken in the name of design – you can either use the phones as dual SIM devices and give up expandable storage, or take the latter and put your secondary SIM in another phone. Again, not a good approach, and we really hope it's a temporary thing that won't affect phones from the company in the future.
The Galaxy E5 and E7 aren't the most attractive smartphones around (though the black E5 looks pretty good), but they are pretty well build and defy what we've seen on existing Samsung devices in the same price range. Samsung really needs to change the general look of its phones, as it's still not easy to differentiate between them given their similar shape. Neither phone is going to be winning a design contest, but the unibody builds make up for the lack of innovation in the overall design.
Super AMOLED displays on mid-range devices? That might have seemed impossible just last year, but in order to meet changing market conditions, Samsung has brought its popular display technology to the Galaxy E5 and Galaxy E7, both of which are priced around the same devices like the Galaxy Grand were priced just last year. And boy, the displays on these devices are pretty good considering the mid-range hardware. Despite being Super AMOLED panels, colors don't exactly pop out as much as they do on Samsung's flagship devices, but they still offer a much more punchy visual experience compared to LCD panels on competing phones.
Viewing angles are pretty great as is expected from Super AMOLED displays, blacks are deep, and the screens get pretty bright, too. Sadly, there's no ambient light sensor on these phones so there's no auto brightness mode. However, you do get an Outdoors mode that increases the gamma on the displays. The result? Displays that are very easy to use even under direct sunlight. Screen reflectivity is kept under control, so that also helps out in the sun, and even indoors.
The biggest shortcoming of these screens is their low resolution. At 1280×720 pixels, these aren't the sharpest displays around, and it's especially noticeable on the Galaxy E7, which comes with a 5.5-inch display. That's a size meant for 1080p displays, so if you're someone who doesn't like their screen's pixels peeping out at them, you might be disappointed at what is on offer in terms of the screens' sharpness.
Overall though, these are great displays that can't be matched by any of the competition (unless you look at the displays on devices like the Xiaomi Mi 4 or the OnePlus One, which are flagship devices parading as mid-range ones in terms of pricing.) Most people I showed the devices to were quick to point out that the displays are very nice to look at, so this is one aspect where the Galaxy E5 and E7 really shine.
The Galaxy E5 and E7 come with a pair of 8/13 and 5-megapixel rear and front-facing camera. Let's talk about the rear camera first. The two devices don't exactly capture the highest detail, but in good lighting, detail levels were still pretty good, unless you're zooming in on photos too much (in which case even the 13MP camera on the E7 blurred everything.) Noise levels are kept under control, and the phones were quick to focus on objects both near and far. The photos captured have enough contrast without feeling too unnatural, and it's easy to see Samsung spent some time working on its camera algorithms as pictures come out in a pleasing manner for the most part.
Under low light, these phones don't perform so well, which is to be expected from these standard sensors. Samsung offers both an HDR and Night mode in the camera app – while HDR mode manages to light up scenes and increase things like exposure, Night mode only works to do the former and hence takes less time to process photos after the shutter button has been pressed. Basically, you wouldn't want the Galaxy E5 and E7 if most of your camera usage happens in low-light conditions, though they don't necessarily perform too badly in such scenarios.
The front-facing camera is also impressive for the amount of detail it captures. Again, that's in well-lit conditions, but the photos do come out in a pleasing manner. Don't let the color and contrast in these photos fool you though – the Super AMOLED displays make selfies look more colorful than they actually are, but that doesn't mean the actual photos don't have any punch at all. Samsung took a long time to move to high-resolution front cameras on its devices, but now that it has, the company doesn't seem to have left it all to the hardware but has worked on the software side of things as well.
The camera interface is the same as the one found on the Galaxy Note 4. You get the shutter, video and mode buttons at one end, and the settings, flash and the option to switch between the rear and front cameras on the other. The phone lets you select between Auto, Rear-cam selfie, Panorama, Night and Animated GIF modes by default, but you can also add HDR (Rich tone) and Continuous Shot to the list through the Manage modes option. Like on Samsung's flagship devices, you can download additional modes as well, with Sports shot and Sound shot two of the options available by default.
On the front camera, the modes options include Selfie, Wide selfie (basically a panorama mode for the front camera), Night and Animated GIF. The phones support Samsung's palm gesture feature, which basically initiates a two-second timed capture if you point your palm at the camera. Palm gesture works well for the most part, though it didn't do so good when there wasn't enough lighting in the scene (which is only natural, since the camera needs to be able to make out your palm.) Samsung also offers the usual beauty mode setting for selfies, and tops it off with settings that let you increase the slimness of your face and enlarge your eyes.
The Galaxy E5 and E7 run Android 4.4.4 KitKat with Samsung's traditional skin on top. The phones come with the same interface as the one found on the Galaxy Note 4, right down to the settings and recent apps menu. Since not much changes between various Samsung devices in terms of the interface, we will be focusing only on a few important things in the software section.
The biggest feature that the Galaxy A and E series introduce to Samsung's software is the support for themes. These devices come with five preloaded themes – Samsung Basic, Natural, Craft, Classic, and Sweet. There's no option to download additional themes (something the Galaxy S6 rectifies), and that's not a good thing since Samsung's default themes are pretty bad (with the exception of the Craft theme, which is okay-ish.) Another disadvantage is that changing themes doesn't exactly change much – all that changes are the icons in the launcher and the wallpaper. Samsung probably wanted to take things one step at a time, but I'm not really sure the themes feature should have made it to a commercial device without being developed into something more useful and versatile.
The Galaxy E5 and E7 come with full support for Samsung's multitasking features. You get Multi Window for running two apps on the screen at once, and there's also the option of running supported apps in a pop-up window. These pop-up windows can be moved around on the screen, minimized for later access at any time, and you can have multiple ones opened at any given time. Naturally, the 5-inch display of the E5 doesn't exactly offer the best experience for either of the aforementioned multitasking features, but at least you have the option to use them should the need arise.
Apart from themes, there isn't really anything here that you can't find on other Samsung devices. You get things like Private Mode, Easy Mode (for the launcher), Blocking Mode and more; naturally, there's a dedicated section for managing multiple SIMs, with the option to set defaults for which SIM will be used for voice calls and mobile data. While both SIMs are active at all times, one of them gets disabled when you are making a call on the other. To make up for that, you can enable call forwarding from one SIM to the other and vice versa, so that you don't miss a call on one network if you're taking a call on the other.
While Samsung's UX here isn't much different than what has come before, it's certainly a much needed step in the right direction as far as the general experience (read performance) is concerned. Read through the next section to find out how.
The Galaxy S6 brought along much needed optimization to TouchWiz, Samsung's custom Android overlay, making it smoother and faster than anything we've seen before. But it certainly looks like Samsung was working on optimizing its software before the Galaxy S6 came along, as the Galaxy E5 and E7 are two of the best performing Galaxy handsets, especially among those in the mid-range section.
The Snapdragon 410 processor under the hood keeps things chugging along nicely. Animations are smooth throughout, and the phones run pretty well as far as general interface performance is concerned. Apps are pretty quick to load, and you would be hard pressed to notice much difference between the E5 and E7 and a more high-end Galaxy smartphone in opening most apps. Even apps like the camera, phone dialer and gallery, which are usually rather slow on Samsung devices, are quick to load on these devices, though the gallery app still has noticeable stutters.
Browsing in Chrome is mostly a stutter-free and smooth experience, and even running two apps at once in Multi Window isn't a problem. However, not everything is rosy. The settings menu lags like crazy the first time you open it, and the recent apps menu takes time to show up once you press the recent apps button. The latter is a nuisance on the Galaxy Note 4 as well, and it has sadly not been fixed on the E series phones either.
When it comes to gaming, the phones performed very well, with games like Asphalt 8, Modern Combat 5 and Republique running without hiccups (Republique ran particularly well, despite the high-end graphics.) Modern Combat did have some issues – there was noticeable texture pop-in and a lot of effects seemed to be missing, but I'm guessing that was more a fault of the game and its support for the phones' GPU rather than the phones themselves. Even games like Tales from the Borderlands ran nicely, despite being ports of what are PC and console games (oddly, Game of Thrones from the same developer was barely playable.) Okay, so the framerate might not be as smooth as it is on flagship devices, but generally the gaming performance on the Galaxy E5 and E7 should make all but the most demanding users happy.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, both phones will be updated to Android 5.0 Lollipop sometime in the future, and you can expect them to get even better once they make the jump to the newer version of the OS.
The audio department is where it's clear Samsung focused a huge part of its cost-cutting efforts. The E5 and E7 both come with loudspeakers that are so low in volume that it's hard to make out any sound that's coming out from them unless you're in a really quiet environment. The sound quality isn't bad – music comes out nice with good mids and highs, but again, you would be hard pressed to notice the quality when it's so hard to actually make out what is playing on the devices. Expect to miss a few calls and notifications if you're thinking of buying either of these phones.
Thankfully, the phones redeem themselves when it comes to sound through headphones. Samsung's traditionally nice earphones are part of the package; these can get extremely loud, and there's little to no noticeable distortion even at the highest volume (though you will need to make sure you're files with respectable bitrates.) The earphones have a lot of punch; the high frequencies sometimes get overpowered by the the beats, but overall there's not much to complain about as far as in-ear sound performance is concerned.
Battery life is often a concern on devices that come with dual SIM slots, especially when both SIM cards are active at all times. On the Galaxy E5, the battery life was nice. On the Galaxy E7, it was downright impressive. With both devices, on a typical day, I was syncing two email accounts, one Facebook account, Twitter, and WhatsApp. On the E5, this gave me 20 hours or so of total battery time with 2.5+ hours of screen on time. On the E7, this translated into almost a day of total battery time and nearly 6 hours of screen time.
It was amazing, really, and I'm guessing the mid-range hardware (including the not-so-high-resolution display) and the large battery on the E7 were the reason for the epic endurance. All this was on mostly Wi-Fi of course, but even on an HSPA connection, battery life was enough to get me through the day on each device.
Idle battery drain is quite low, with around 3-4 percent of drain over a typical night with Wi-Fi and sync on. The 2,400 and 2,950 mAh batteries on these phones charge quickly enough (there's no quick charge technology here, since these aren't flagship devices) to not make you impatient waiting for the battery level to reach 100 percent. The only thing some might take issue with is that the battery isn't removable on these devices, thanks to to their unibody designs, but otherwise battery life is a big pro for both of Samsung's E series phones.
Call Quality/Network Performance
Call quality wasn't an issue on either device, with both parties able to hear each other clearly at their end and call volume being sufficiently loud on the earpiece (though it's a different story when you use the loudspeaker.) Signal strength wasn't a problem either, though I did see the phones struggling with the network inside my house, where one of the networks I'm using doesn't have enough coverage. Where I would have two network bars on my Galaxy Note 4, the E5 and E7 would only show me one (and sometimes even no bars, though they did stay connected to the network instead of going into emergency mode.)
Calls never dropped though, so I'm guessing the phones' inability to match other devices in terms of network connectivity doesn't extend to actually making phone calls. Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity worked as well as they should, and overall, call quality and network performance were up to the mark, even if the results weren't anything impressive.
The Galaxy E5 and E7 are pretty good mid-range devices, especially when compared to Samsung's earlier offerings. The Super AMOLED displays and the unibody designs are two standout features, and the smooth and fast performance on the software side is a hidden talent that I wasn't expecting to see given the hardware these phones are running on (and again, compared to Samsung's previous offerings in the lower mid-range segment.)
But in 2015, Samsung doesn't just have to contend with itself, it also has to take on a competition that is ferocious and continuously targeting the consumer with smartphones that offer much higher bang for the buck than what major OEMs like Samsung are capable of. The Galaxy E5 and E7 are sure to be best-sellers in the market based solely on Samsung's popularity in the Indian market (and other emerging markets), but there is surely room for the company to do better.
All things said and done, the Galaxy E5 and E7 are well-rounded smartphones that offer a lot of value, in both standard and phablet sizes. If you're in the market for a new mid-range smartphone, the Galaxy E5 and Galaxy E7 are worth a consideration, and the two devices are great examples of what Samsung can do once it really gets down to focusing on offering a good experience to those that aren't willing to spend a lot of money on their smartphones.
- • Great displays
- • Nice build quality
- • Fast software
- • Good cameras
- • Impressive battery life
- • Can't use microSD card with dual SIMs
- • Poor loudspeaker
- • Same design as other Samsung phones
- • White color variants look somewhat cheap
- • No auto brightness option