Consumers are getting spoiled for choice these days with the barrage of affordable and very capable smart phones especially from China. While Samsung is still one of the brands to beat at the high-end spectrum of smart phones with the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4, its mid-tier offering is struggling to compete with the high value-low price proposition the Chinese brands can offer. This is giving the people at Samsung sleepless nights.
The Chinese brands are changing the smart phone game and Samsung is forced to learn the new rules. And it seems the rule is simple, give consumers the good stuff but we’re not going to pay top dollar for it. Build quality has to be good and it should feel like you’ve gotten more than what you paid for. The user experience has to be top notch too. People are expecting a whole lot more from their money when it comes to smart phones.
And it’s specifically because of this Samsung created a new line of smart phones to deliver a stellar user experience at an amazing price. Say hello to the Galaxy A series. The Galaxy A5 is supposed to be Samsung’s elegant answer to the Chinese invasion. Does the A5 have what it takes to beat China in its own game? Read on to find out.
Let’s run through some numbers first. The Galaxy A5 is a mid-range device that comes with a 5-inch Super AMOLED 1280×720 display. This is a slight bump over the Galaxy Alpha’s 4.7-inch screen. To ensure a smooth user experience, the A5 is equipped with Qualcomm’s latest 1.2GHz Quad-Core Snapdragon 410 processor that supports both 64-bit as well as 4G LTE.
Samsung has also included 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage in the A5. This is interesting because you hardly see more than 1GB RAM and 8GB storage in a non-flagship Galaxy model. If you need more storage, there’s a microSD slot that takes cards up to 64GB. For you selfie junkies out there, there’s a 5MP front camera that’s packed with features to keep most narcissists happy, while the back gets a rather average 13MP shooter. In a nutshell, the A5 is like an affordable version of the Galaxy Alpha, minus the heart rate sensor and fingerprint scanner.
[nextpage title=”Design and Usability”]
If it’s premium that you’re looking for then the Galaxy A5 has it. The device has a design that’s heavily inspired by the Galaxy Alpha, and there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, the Galaxy Alpha is arguably one of the best build and best looking phones Samsung has ever created. It’s good that Samsung has managed to carry over much of the premium feel of the Galaxy Alpha to the Galaxy A5. You get a metal frame that’s layered with a ribbon smooth plastic back panel (non-removable) that’s a big departure from the plastic Samsungs of old. The premium feel is also possible thanks to a sturdy unibody design. The back feels just as smooth as the sides and the top portion reminds us of the Galaxy S3 with the main camera being flanked by an LED flash and loud speaker on each side.
Since the back cover is not removable, the A5 uses slot trays that houses a nano-SIM and a microSD card, both located on the right. Annoyingly, the trays doesn’t sit flush in the metal frame and it protrudes out slightly making it feel like extra buttons when you run your fingers along the side of the device. As usual, the volume rocker button is placed on the left and the headphone jack is now located at the bottom of the device right next to the micro USB port which is not unlike what you see in the newer iPhones.
Over at the front, the Galaxy A5 retains the same Samsung look with a physical home button at the bottom centre flanked by the recent apps and back capacitive buttons on each side. The capacitive appear hidden when not in used. A minor niggle we have with the A5 is the lack of an LED notification light. Yes, the light can be annoying to some people but we rather have the option to turn the notification light off then not have it at all.
At time of writing, the Samsung Galaxy A5 is running on Android 4.4 KitKat with the latest version of Samsung’s Touchwiz UI that’s similar to the one on the Galaxy Note 4. You’ll get an updated Multi-Window functionality as well as the new recent app interface that incorporates Android Lollipop’s Material Design. Following what the Chinese makers are doing, Samsung has also included the option to change UI themes on the fly but unlike the Chinese manufacturers, the choice of themes are limited and there’s no theme store at the moment.
The 5-inch HD 720p screen is decent and we don’t really have much to complain. Text appear sharp and clear, while colours are rich with solid blacks thanks to Super AMOLED technology. For the loud speaker, it is OK but not great. We would like more punch and volume. The loud speaker would have performed better if it was placed at the sides or towards the front instead of at the back.
We expected a lot from the 13MP shooter on the Galaxy A5 but it turns out to be average. While pictures are decent when the light is good, especially in outdoor conditions, the camera struggles in low light conditions. It especially susceptible to camera shake when you take pictures in the dark. If you’re planning to take pictures without flash, especially indoors, you gotta have a very steady of hands.
On the software front, Samsung retains the same easy to use camera interface. You can also download camera features that suitable for you. This is a neat trick, allowing you to choose the features that you really like and drop the ones that you don’t. New advanced camera feature are just a download away, which is nice as well. If you’re into selfies, the A5 makes it really easy to take your best shot. All you need to do is show you palm to the front camera and the camera is ready to take your selfie with a 2 second timer. If you need to take a group shot, there’s also a wide selfie mode just like the one seen on the Galaxy Note 4. For the ladies (and guys too), you can also apply real time beautification such as face retouch, face slimming and eye enlargement.
[nextpage title=”Battery Life and Performance”]
In terms of battery life, you can probably leave your power banks at home during a normal working day. With our average use, we managed to get about 23 hours in a single charge and that’s with 5 hours of screen-on time including using Waze and heavy instant messaging. In short, the battery life of the Galaxy A5 is stellar. It’s not as phenomenal as the Xperia Z3 or Z3 Compact but it’s much better than most devices can muster.
The Snapdragon 410 processor is not only frugal but it is a competent performer on the Galaxy A5. The A5 is a smooth multi-tasker and if we didn’t know better, we could be fooled into thinking that there was a Snapdragon 800 processor under the hood of the A5.
Of course, having 2GB of RAM does make a difference too especially when running a lot of apps at the same time. This, however, doesn’t tally with 21,000 Antutu score that we got out of the A5. That score is just marginally higher than Xiaomi’s now dated Redmi 1S but you shouldn’t look at benchmark scores alone. Take our word for it, the A5 is more than up for most of the things you can throw at it. Also, the scores should improve once Samsung updates the A5 to the newer Android 5.0 Lollipop.
[nextpage title=”Conclusion and Gallery”]
So can Samsung beat the Chinese players in their own game? We can’t say Korean giant didn’t try. Overall, it looks like Samsung has really made an effort to create a mid-range smart phone that’s performs well and looks good. If would appear that Samsung didn’t cut a lot of corners with the Galaxy A5 but they still have a long way to go if the want to compete with the Chinese brands.
For just over RM1,000 (RM1,199 to be exact), there are better spec’ed devices in the market — like the Honor 6 for example. So where does the Galaxy A5 sit in a market of cheap and good phones. The Galaxy A5 may be a descent effort in this segment for Samsung, it has great build quality and the battery life is one of the best you can get in this price range but if its outright value for money you’re looking for, then the Galaxy A5 might just be sitting in the sidelines for now.