Last week we saw some of the first smartphones to launch locally for the year 2017. They were upper mid-range devices from two of the top 5 smartphone manufacturers in the world and are designed to give you a flagship-like feel for below RM2,000. These devices are the Samsung Galaxy A (2017) and the OPPO R9s.
Despite the rather different marketing skews, these smartphones actually share quite a lot of specifications in common — chief of which are their selfie-centric 16-megapixel front-facing cameras and premium build. But which should you get if you wanted one?
Let’s see if we can help you decide.
On hand, we have representatives from both OPPO and Samsung’s camp — the R9s and the Galaxy A5 (2017). We’ve been using them for a couple of days now, so we thought we’d share our first impressions of these handsets with you.
Let’s start with the on-paper performance figures. On the OPPO R9s, you’re getting a 5.5-inch Full HD AMOLED display with a Snapdragon 625 octa-core processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage that you can expand via a microSD card. Although this is a dual-SIM smartphone, the second SIM slot shares its space with the microSD card, so you’ll have to pick one or the other.
On Samsung, the Galaxy A5 (2017) — which will now be referred to as the Galaxy A5 — sports a 5.2-inch Full HD Super AMOLED display with an Exynos 7880 octa-core processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage that’s expandable via microSD. Unlike the R9s, you do get a dedicated SD card slot, so you can have two SIMs and an SD card at the same time.
Left: OPPO R9s; Right: Samsung Galaxy A5
Left: OPPO R9s; Right: Samsung Galaxy A5
Despite the R9s benchmarking a little better than the A5, we can say that these devices have both performed smoothly so far, with neither really feeling sluggish or laggy. Launching applications, multitasking and playing games have thrown up no major problems. Of course, they’re not as snappy as something like the OnePlus 3, but they don’t feel like you’re walking in mud-filled boots either.
Where the R9s edges the Galaxy A5 is memory. Along with more RAM, the R9s also has more built-in storage — double that of the A5. However, the R9s loses out in expandable storage options because they employ a hybrid SIM slot compared to the A5’s dedicated microSD slot. If you’ve got two SIMs and want to use expandable storage as well, the A5 is the better choice. Though, if you think you’re not going to use more than 64GB, then the R9s will do just fine.
As far as the displays are concerned, they both look pretty good. They’re both high-resolution (upwards of 400 ppi) AMOLED panels, so they’ve got great colour, good vibrancy and good viewing angles. When we put them side-by-side, Samsung’s panel looks a touch cooler than the R9s’ with slightly better contrast out of the box.
Software and UI
Both smartphones are running Android Marshmallow with each manufacturer’s own skin on top. We personally like Samsung’s new TouchWiz more than OPPO’s colorOS 3.0 because we’re big fans of the app drawer, so your preference will vary.
We also like that Samsung has cut down on a lot of their UI’s ugliness, making this one of their prettiest interfaces yet. That said, OPPO’s new colorOS is also the company’s smoothest and best-looking UIs yet, so they’re both big improvements over previous versions.
However, the A5 pulls ahead when it comes to additional software features. One of our favourites is the Always-On display. It’s the latest version, so the same as the Note7, which gives you support for third party applications like WhatsApp and Gmail. Additionally, you can double tap on each notification icon to launch directly into the corresponding application.
For security and ease of access, both devices come with front-mounted fingerprint scanners. Samsung’s is tucked under a physical home button, while OPPO’s is tucked under a capacitive one. Here, the R9s blows the Galaxy A5 out of the water in terms of speed. Then again, that’s no surprise as OPPO makes one of the fastest fingerprint scanners in the market right now.
Samsung’s Galaxy A5, however, will support Samsung Pay when the service eventually launches in Malaysia, so that could be a big benefit if you’re into paying with your smartphone.
Battery and charging
Along with their similar size, both smartphones also have similar battery capacities. On the OPPO R9s, you’ll be getting a 3,010 mAh battery while the Samsung Galaxy A5 sports a 3,000 mAh capacity cell. More good news is that both smartphones support fast-charging technology, though there is a little caveat.
While the R9s supports OPPO’s legendary fast-charging technology VOOC Flash Charge, this fast-charging standard is very tightly controlled in a 5V/4A standard, so you’ll only get access to fast-charging if you use OPPO’s cable and power brick. Anything else and your smartphone will be charging at slow speeds.
Samsung’s Galaxy A5, on the other hand, features the South Korean electronics giant’s Adaptive Fast Charging standard. Although still a Samsung proprietary fast-charging technology, the Galaxy A5 can also fast charge with most 3rd party 9V power bricks and powerbanks.
This means that you’ll be able to fast-charge the A5 with Qualcomm QC-enabled powerbanks and power bricks and cables, instead of being bound to just the brick that came with your phone like the R9s.
One other thing that can be seen as both a pro and a con is the choice of ports. While the A5’s USB Type-C port is more “future-proof”, it’s also more inconvenient because those cables are still relatively rare and are quite expensive to buy. The R9s, on the other hand, supports the more commonly available microUSB but if you want access to OPPO’s VOOC fast-charging technology, you’ll also need a compatible VOOC cable.
As far as battery life is concerned, I’m mighty impressed with the Samsung Galaxy A5 as I’ve been able to clock in about 5 hours of screen-on-time per charge. My colleague who is using the OPPO R9s also reports good battery life, though he hasn’t really put it through its paces yet to nail down some hard numbers. Still, the Snapdragon 625 is a frugal 14nm processor, so we’re not surprised that it’s doing well.
[nextpage title=”Camera, build, conclusion”]
Despite not being in the “selfie-expert” category, OPPO’s R9s actually sports formidable selfie camera specifications. It’s got a 16-megapixel f/2.0 aperture camera in front that takes pretty detailed high-resolution images.
Over on the Samsung camp, the Galaxy A5 also comes with a 16-megapixel selfie camera but it comes with a slightly faster f/1.9 aperture lens instead. Here’s a simple comparison I threw together of the selfie shooters. Both were taken at pretty much the same time, from roughly the same angle in exactly the same lighting. (click to view the full resolution)
Samsung Galaxy A5:
Keep in mind these are just two photos. I do intend to do a full test of the selfie camera before giving you any concrete judgement on performance.
On to the back camera, OPPO is really pushing the capabilities of their new 16-megapixel Dual PDAF f/1.7 aperture primary camera this time. While, again, we haven’t had the chance to really shoot with it in a variety of situations, our initial impressions are rather positive.
The dual PDAF is certainly fast to focus, which is a stark — almost jarring — contrast to the slow (and sometimes inaccurate) focusing of the Galaxy A5’s camera.
Although Samsung’s Galaxy A5 has a 16-megapixel f/1.9 aperture camera, it just doesn’t feel satisfying to use. It’s slow to focus and often inaccurate to lock onto subjects. Things fall apart even further in low light as the lack of optical image stabilisation seems to hurt his phone a lot.
Still, these are my initial impressions and I intend to test the smartphone a little more before giving you my final answer on how good the camera is. For now, I’ll leave you with a quick photo comparison between the R9s and Galaxy A5 shot in identical conditions. (click to view the full resolution)
Samsung Galaxy A5:
If I had to pick an aspect that both these phones excel at, it would be their build qualities. OPPO’s R9s is by far the most refined smartphone we’ve ever seen from them with a nice metal build, slim profile and a beautifully anodised finish on the all-metal body. OPPO has even tried to hide the the antenna bands by opting for six super-thin lines instead of two thick ones, and it looks pretty good.
Samsung’s Galaxy A5, on the other hand, reminds me of a flagship Galaxy S7 when it comes to build quality. The glass and metal finish is exquisite, and I particularly like the black metal rails compared to the silver ones on the S7. It hides the antenna lines better, and I think it also makes the smartphone look sleeker. You’ll also find a nice curved back for better grip in hand.
What’s more, the Galaxy A5 is also IP68 water resistant, so you won’t have to worry about dunking it in water, which is great. Although the R9s isn’t water resistant, both smartphones are winners here when it comes to build quality. I doubt you’ll be disappointed with either.
Are either of these devices for you? Well, I think we’ve laid out a pretty comprehensive list of pros and cons for both smartphones so you’ll be able to pick the one that aligns better with what you need from a device.
Are either of these devices great value-for-money? Well, that depends on what you value. For the RM1,699 that you’ll be paying for the Galaxy A5 and the RM1,798 you’ll be paying for the R9s, you would probably be able to find a phone with better on-paper specifications. But those phones will probably lack some features that these phones have too.
When you’re buying a smartphone like this from large smartphone manufacturers like Samsung and OPPO, you’re also not just paying for the handset itself. You’re paying for the brand — and all the prestige or whatever that comes with it — as well as the after-sales service.
Does that make it worth it for you? Well, I think that’s something only you can answer. Which would you pick? Let us know in the comments below.