After the 2016 revamp of the Galaxy A series, Samsung has also started releasing similarly updated versions of its affordable J series phones. This year, the 5-inch slot in that series will be taken by the Galaxy J3 (2016), the review of which is provided here for your reading pleasure. Without spilling all the beans, we will give away that it is a simple, affordable smartphone with a gorgeous (for its price range) AMOLED display.
As uninteresting as the design of the all-plastic Galaxy J3 (2016) may seem at first glance, there are a few points that deserve mention. First off, unless you buy the black version of the phone, you will get a device with a two-tone front. The display is embedded in a black panel. Whether you think it looks nice is a matter of personal preference, but at least it gives the phone a distinctive look that, so far, it only shares with the smaller Galaxy J1 (2016).
Furthermore, Samsung has replaced the rounded, shiny frame seen in last year's J devices for one with a matte finish that more resembles the design of the Galaxy A (2016) series. Combined with an equally matte back plate, the J3 (2016) definitely looks less cheap than, for example, the first-generation Galaxy J5. Because this back plate is removable, so is the battery of the phone.
The shiny frame of the Galaxy J5 (left) and the matte frame of the Galaxy J3 (2016)
Next to the improved body, the Galaxy J3 (2016)'s bright shining feature is the Super AMOLED display. Or, to be more precise, the fact that Samsung now provides the choice between different screen modes in the J line up. Contrary to last year's models, you can choose between Adaptive display, AMOLED cinema, AMOLED photo and Basic color modes. On the Galaxy J3 (2016), the more natural looking AMOLED photo or Basic settings provide colors that are friendly on the eyes and, once again, avoid the cheap look of former, oversaturated AMOLED displays. Obviously, color reproduction isn't as good as on the more expensive Galaxy devices, but it still makes for a very pretty screen, overall.
Apart from this, the J3's 5-inch display packs 1280×720 pixels resolution. Its 294 ppi pixel density is neither high, nor too low, and will be sufficient for anyone looking for a smartphone in this price range. Sunlight readability is decent, especially using the special Outdoors setting, that pumps up the screen's brightness for fifteen minutes. This feature, unfortunately, comes in place of automatic brightness, which is nowhere to be found on the J3 (2016).
Despite the fact that the Galaxy J3 (2016) has a display size similar to last year's Galaxy J5, a look under the hood quickly reveals that the J3 is in no way the J5's real successor, as hinted by the arrival of the Galaxy J5 (2016) as well. In other words: the Galaxy J3 (2016) and its quad-core Spreadtrum processor and 1.5GB of RAM are significantly less powerful. Particularly in the graphics department, the new J3 clearly reveals its low-end nature.
In practical terms, if you're looking to play the latest games, you'd better shell out some more cash for a Galaxy A device, or at least wait and see how the Galaxy J5 (2016) performs. The Galaxy J3 (2016) offers sufficient performance to guarantee a relatively smooth user experience, as long as that user sticks to messaging and some modest browsing or video watching. For light usage, the J3 (2016) is fine. Anything more demanding will bring out the limited processing abilities of the Spreadtrum SoC and its Mali-400 GPU, which first gained fame in the Galaxy S2 five (!) years ago.
Still, thanks to the newest version of Samsung's own fairly optimized interface, at least the basic daily tasks will run fast enough on the Galaxy J3 (2016). If you don't expect heavy games to run smoothly, or apps to install within the blink of an eye, you will be just fine with the experience.
Samsung often does not include its theme store on some low-end smartphones like the On5 and On7 or on the recently launched Galaxy J1 (2016), but the Galaxy J3 (2016) does have access to it, so you won't be stuck with TouchWiz's standard, colorful design.
Though its bigger brothers, the Galaxy J7 (2016) and J5 (2016), will soon launch in Europe running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, the J3 (2016) is stuck with Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. We'll spare you the rant about how unnecessary this is, but suffice it to say this is just not the J3's strongest point. We're tempted to predict an update to Marshmallow will arrive in the future, but we'll refrain from that too, knowing how unpredictable Samsung's updates for its cheaper phones have been in the past.
When it comes to the camera of the Galaxy J3 (2016) we can keep things really simple. We were not surprised to encounter camera performance on par with the phone's price tag. The front camera is, relatively speaking, the best of the two, providing well-lit 5-megapixel selfies. You can use the display as a front flash, just as on the Galaxy S7.
The 8-megapixel rear cam is capable of shooting decent images if there is enough, if not too much, light. Dynamic range is very limited, and thanks to the modest processing power, the HDR mode is too slow to take sharp pictures reliably. By comparison, last year's Galaxy J5 camera clearly outperforms that of the J3 (2016).
Camera samples: bottom row has 100% crops of images in the top row
Overall, we won't fault the J3 for its low camera quality, though. If you're looking for a more capable shooter, you not only have to look elsewhere but should likely spend more money no matter where you go. Just don't buy this phone hoping for a good camera experience.
As little as we expected of the Galaxy J3 (2016)'s camera, we did have high hopes for the device's battery life. After all, a phone with such modest hardware and a 2,600 mAh battery should be capable of above-average endurance. As it turns out, this is the J3's second real strong point, next to its AMOLED display.
When using the device in a way befitting its modest hardware, i.e. sticking to email, messaging, browsing, no gaming, the J3 (2016) got us through a long, full working day with plenty of juice to spare. Light smartphone users should have no problem charging their phone only every second day.
On top of that, the J3 (2016)'s old-school design enables exchanging of the battery, a feature Samsung once advertised loudly for all of its phones but has now become a feature limited to the more affordable Galaxy devices.
Just like Samsung's other ‘three', the Galaxy A3 (2016), the Galaxy J3 (2016) is basically a ‘no frills experience'. Aside from the SD card slot, NFC and the FM radio, there are no fancy extras. The body does not resist dust or water in any particularly special way, nor are there any sensors capable of reading fingerprints or heart rate. Charging is done the old-fashioned way, with cable, and without the addition of the word ‘quick' to the process.
Sure, some extra software goodies known from other Galaxy devices are found on the Galaxy J3 (2016) too. There is the Smart Manager app, and not one but two power saving modes. Microsoft's Excel, PowerPoint, OneDrive and Word apps enhance or clog up the phone's user experience, depending on what you need it to do. There is the unique S Bike Mode on the Indian variant of the J3 (also available on last year's Galaxy J devices as part of an update), a feature that we will be talking about in detail in a separate article.
Wrapping all of the above into a neat conclusion, the Galaxy J3 (2016) really is a simple, down-to-earth phone, with its Super AMOLED display and above-average battery life as primary selling points. It should be noted that the device, despite being an all-plastic affair, does not look as cheap as previous Galaxy J models. However, anyone looking for fast performance or a good camera should do so elsewhere (and perhaps even bring some more cash).
|Nice AMOLED display||Mediocre performance|
|Solid battery life||No Marshmallow|
|Use of matte plastic|