Samsung Galaxy A5 review
- Full metal unibody design
- Snapdragon 615 CPU
- 13-megapixel main camera
- 5MP front-facing camera
- 16GB internal memory 2GB RAM
- Manufacturer: Samsung
- Review Price: £349.00
WHAT IS THE SAMSUNG GALAXY A5 (2016)?
Samsung has mastered the high-end with the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, but it has always struggled a with affordable devices. This is because Samsung kept skimping on important features to save money.
That changed with 2015’s Galaxy A5, and even more so with the updated 2016 version. The Galaxy A5 (2016) ticks all the right boxes; good screen, fast camera and sleek design. But it’s still not perfect, and some of Samsung’s older issues come back to haunt it.
SAMSUNG GALAXY A5 (2016) – DESIGN
Remember Samsung’s Galaxy Alpha from 2014? A lot of people don’t, but this minor release was vitally important. It was a turning point where Samsung shifted its design focus and began creating handsets capable of standing beside the iPhone visually. The A5 (2016), like last year’s version, is the spiritual successor to the Alpha.
It’s all metal and glass, with rounded corners and a flat back. It lacks the curved sides that make the Galaxy S7 such a pleasure to hold, but it’s still comfortable in hand.
Metal phones in this price-range are far from rare, Honor and OnePlus have been doing it for a while, but none feel quite as good as this. The volume buttons and lock switch have a satisfying click, while the microUSB port and speaker grilles on the bottom are finely cut and precise. The headphone jack sits on the bottom too, a design choice I’m always on board with.
The Galaxy A5 is slightly taller than both the Galaxy S7 and S6, but ever so slightly lighter.
As is typical with just about every Samsung phone, there’s a home button sitting below the screen. Tucked inside is a fingerprint scanner that’s about as fast as the one on the S7, but it seems much less accurate. It can’t compete with the Honor phones for unlocking speed, but it’s absolutely fine.
There’s a strong hint of the Galaxy S6 here, and it’s still a fingerprint magnet. Use the phone for 5-minutes and it will be covered in marks and smudges. There are a couple of improvements in design though; the ugly blue colour scheme has gone for a much nicer black and there’s almost no camera hump.
The Galaxy A5 is easily one of the sleekest looking phones at this price-range. It feels much sturdier than the OnePlus X (£199) and it’s much nicer than the plastic Nexus 5X.
SAMSUNG GALAXY A5 (2016) – DISPLAY
Samsung’s displays have long been regarded as the pinnacle of mobile screens, with the Galaxy S7 currently the best out there.
While the A5 isn’t going to match its classier brothers for visual fidelity, it’s still a great display for the price.
It’s 5.2-inches, with a 1080p resolution and uses Super AMOLED tech which is the killer feature.
It’s bright, vivid and oh so colourful just as you’d expect from AMOLED. If you prefer something a little more true to life, there are a number of screen modes to choose from. I like the default one myself, but it’s all down to personal preference.
Whites can sometimes look a little muddy, but blacks are deep and bright colours have multiple levels of vibrancy. Outdoor visibility isn’t great though, unless you jack the brightness up (or keep the rather uneven auto-brightness on) all the way. Thanks to the dense resolution, pixels are universally hard to spot unless you get really really close.
SAMSUNG GALAXY A5 (2016) – PERFORMANCE
Depending on your region, the Galaxy A5 will either be powered by a Snapdragon 615 or an Exynos 7580 CPU. My phone is running the latter, but I’d expect them both to perform equally.
There’s a decent 2GB RAM too, plus a Mali-T720 GPU. There’s nothing particularly out of the ordinary here, but it’s a stellar set-up that gets the job done.
Scrolling the web, knocking out emails and all that day-to-day stuff is done with ease. The majority of gaming is handled well too. Rounds of Monument Valley, Horizon World Tour and Alto’s Adventure are all smooth with no dropped frames.
More graphically intense games run fine too, though loading times in Asphalt and Hitman Sniper are especially laborious. The games themselves run fine, though.
In our usual array of benchmarking tests, the Samsung Galaxy A5 performs as expected. In the Geekbench 3 test it scores a middling 721 in the single core test (similar to last year’s HTC One A9) but it does better with a Nexus 5X matching its 3,646 multi-score test.
16GB of internal storage is towards the lower end of what I would call reasonable, but considering the £500 iPhone 6S comes with it as its starting point it seems harsh to criticise Samsung here. There’s a microSD slot too, so at least you can boost that even further.
The downward facing speakers are, well, fine. They’re loud enough for a morning alarm and watching YouTube, but they lack the clarity and bass needed for music.
SAMSUNG GALAXY A5 (2016) – SOFTWARE
My biggest issues with the Galaxy A5 stem from its software. In my Galaxy S7 review I praised for Samsung for finally turning around TouchWiz and making it much more visually appealing and less buggy, but most of that work has been undone here.
Instead of running the latest version of TouchWiz and Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, it’s stuck on Lollipop with the same look as the Galaxy S6 when that launched over 15-months ago. I’m not sure why Samsung has done this, but it’s an unacceptable and lazy step. To really make a go of the mid-range you have to treat them just like higher-end devices, and Samsung hasn’t done that here.
Without Marshmallow you miss out on things like Now on Tap, Doze for improved standby times and deep support for the fingerprint scanner. It does work with Android Pay though, as there’s an NFC chip inside.
Will we see Marshmallow hit the Galaxy A5? Hopefully, there are shots of it running on the device, but I’m not sure when.
With Android N on the horizon, I’m a little shocked to see phones still coming out with Lollipop.
There’s also some strange bugs throughout the software. Apps randomly crash, streaming video often causes the back to get very hot and so on. Nothing is catastrophic, but the bugs are noticeable.
SAMSUNG GALAXY A5 (2016) – CAMERA
Maybe I’ve come to expect too much from Samsung cameras, but the rear-facing 13-megapixel camera used here isn’t anything special. It’s soundly beaten by the Moto G4 Plus, which costs £100 less, and feels like not much effort has gone into it.
Opening up the camera is fast, just double tap the home-button, and focusing is snappy too. It’s just the results aren’t always up to scratch. Daylight shots can look a tad washed out, especially when the conditions aren’t great and there’s a lot of post-processing going on that can make details look fuzzy and unrealistic. This is something I used to find constantly with Samsung cameras, so it’s annoying to see it creep back in.
Though low-light snaps are fairly impressive
Colours look good though, even if they could do with a bit more zing and the wide f/1.9 aperture means it’s possible to some lovely shots with a shallow depth of field.
There’s optical image stabilisation here too, but it doesn’t do a fantastic job of reducing blur. As you can see in the sample shots, any sort of shake on the camera leads to blurring around details and in movement especially.
Blurring around details is common, even with the OIS
Dusk shots are acceptable and actually better than those in pure sunlight because there isn't quite as much need for the colours to look punchy. There’s plenty of detail and it doesn’t overexpose light sources.
Video maxes out at 1080p 30fps, which is absolutely fine as 4K recording on phones is still only useful to a small number of people. Footage is nice and smooth, helped by the OIS.
The 5MP front-facing camera is unremarkable, but acceptable. It’s wide enough to cram a few faces in and the sensor is good enough to not make you look like a ghost.
SAMSUNG GALAXY A5 (2016) – BATTERY LIFE
The 2,900 mAh cell – non-removable as is now common with Samsung phones – is capable of making it through the day with very few issues, and if you’re only using it infrequently throughout the day it should have some juice left over if you forget to charge it one evening.
The lack of Doze mode does impede standby times, and it drops about 10% overnight. Phones with Doze, like the Galaxy S7 usually only lose between 3-4% of their charge overnight.
What the Galaxy A5 does really well is conserve battery during usage. An hour of Netflix streaming uses about 7-8%, while the same amount of time listening to Spotify with the screen off consumes on average 3%.
It’s the same story with everything but the most intense of games. Monument Valley chews through about 11% per hour, through it drains much quicker if you’re playing long sessions of Asphalt 8.
Adaptive Fast Charging is a nice addition at this price-range and it’ll take you from 0-80% in an hour and to full in just under 90-minutes. You’ll need to use the included brick and cable, though. There’s no wireless charging, but again that’s not common here.
SHOULD I BUY THE SAMSUNG GALAXY A5 (2016)?
For £299, the Samsung Galaxy A5 is a good phone. But, it feels like some of Samsung's past mistakes have been made again. Not having the latest software is a prime example that shows Samsung isn’t overly bothered about this phone.
Even so, it has a nice screen along with decent battery life and a sturdy metal and glass design. It does a lot of things right, without trying to push the mid-range any further.
When the Moto G4 Plus sits at £199 and has much similar specs, albeit with a less classy design, there isn’t that much that pushes the Galaxy A5 above it. There’s also the OnePlus line, which again offers much more bang for your buck.
Samsung clearly doesn’t have as much interest in the mid-range as the high-end, but things are improving. It’s a shame that a nice, S7-inspired, design and strong screen is let down by outdated software.