Flagship smartphones are often the ones checked out by reviewers, but companies still make mid-range options, and the Galaxy A5 might be Samsung’s best take on that middle ground yet.
Samsung doesn’t only make flagship phones, and if you head to any phone store, you’ll see quite a few options out there, catering to all sorts of prices, including those made for $200, $500, and around the thousand dollar mark.
The Galaxy A5 edges closer to the $500 mark, coming in with a recommended retail price of $599, and yet offering technology from today and designs that are a culmination of yesterday to offer customers a value when that’s what they’re looking for.
Inside the phone, Samsung is relying on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 410, a quad-core processor clocked at 1.2GHz and paired with 2GB RAM, 16GB storage, and a microSD card if you want to expand on the available space that you have on offer.
Google’s Android 4.4 “KitKat” is provided on this phone out of the box, a little out of date, but still recent, and running Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay.
Connections for this phone are fairly standard for a mid-range model, with 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 with Low Energy (LE), Near-Field Communication (NFC), GPS, and 4G LTE connectivity, with wired ports working through microUSB for charging and data transfer, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Cameras are included, of course, and you’ll find a 13 megapixel shooter with flash on the back, while the front-facing camera is a 5 megapixel camera. Full HD videos are capable from these, too, if you decide to capture any movies.
This sits under a 5 inch Super AMOLED display running the high definition resolution of 1280×720 (720p), and is protected by Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 4. As far as pixel clarity goes, the numbers on this display add up to 294 pixels per inch, around 30 below Apple’s Retina grade panel.
As with all smartphones, there are only a few ports and a few buttons on this phone, with merely a 3.5mm headset jack and a microUSB port at the bottom, while the remaining trays are accessible via pin ejection on the right side of the phone, catering to microSD and nanoSIM.
Meanwhile, the buttons are your typical Samsung selection, with a volume rocker on the left side, a power button on the right, and the home button on the bottom front flanked by multitasking and back buttons on either side.
The battery in the Samsung Galaxy A5 is rated at 2300mAh and is not removable.
The majority of Samsung phones we see at GadgetGuy tend to sit in the upper end of the spectrum, making their way out to people eager for the latest and greatest, but what if that’s not you?
What if you want a phone that does everything well, but doesn’t cost the $999 to $1449 that the current crop of Galaxy S6 handsets go for?
For this, you can either turn to one of the older handsets, such as the Galaxy S5, which is no doubt dropping in price with its brand new brother and sister out (Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge), or you can look for something made for this purpose, and for that, Samsung has the Galaxy A5, one of the more interesting phones we’ve seen from the handset, primarily because it does a lot of good for a price range that well and truly is mid-range.
Take a look at the phone and you’ll see what we mean.
On the one hand, it’s clean, with a white plastic back that isn’t textured to be the fake leather like we’ve seen in the past, but just feels slick enough to be good, and not like the overly glossy plastic of some other handsets.
Offsetting this is a metal edge, and it’s real metal, not that fake metal trim Samsung used on the S5.
In fact, that metal trim has been borrowed from the style of the Galaxy Note 4, and that’s when it dawns on you that the Galaxy A5 is a bit of a balancing act, providing some of the better bits of past established Samsung flagship phones in a design that works well for a mid-range price.
For instance, there’s the back of the Galaxy S3 with its left to right flash-camera-speaker design, the edge of the Galaxy Note 4 made from metal painted white, and the camera from the Galaxy S4, because they’re both 13 megapixels and it makes more sense to assume Samsung grabbed the same sensor from the two year old phone instead of developing something new for the mid-range.
Yes, this appears to be Samsung looking back on past products and saying “this will work” by plucking various elements for an all-rounder that works across the board.
And that’s what this does, working across the board to provide something decent for a middle range price.
In the hands, it’s definitely comfortable enough, and Samsung’s staple button configuration is here, unchanged from the past year, with a power button on the right edge, volume rocker on the left, and the regular home button flanked on other side by the multi-task and back buttons which are soft (no physical button underneath) but light up and vibrate when you press them.
Hooray for simulated presses.
Switch it on and a lovely little 5 inch screen comes to life, bright and cheery, and reliant on Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology offering excellent viewing angles, though offering the 720p HD screen resolution instead of the Full HD 1080p res used on the S4 and S5, and the new Quad HD 1440p on the Galaxy S6.
Despite that fact, the screen is still very pretty and easy on the eyes, and while it won’t win the pixel wars for being the sharpest on the block, a different of 30 pixels before Apple’s Retina quality isn’t likely to bother anyone, especially since this is a mid-range phone and doesn’t try to compete with the big boys.
Using the phone is pretty much pure classic Samsung, with TouchWiz revealing itself to be the same sort of experience we’ve seen on the Galaxy S5, the Note 4, and so on, with multiple home screens, various Samsung widgets, an app menu that flows left and right, and a drop down notification bar with power control you can edit yourself.
Some things are still typically Samsung, though, such as being forced to press a rotation button when you want to rotate an image in the Samsung image gallery (something you can get around by replacing the gallery app), but at least the shortcut dock can now be customised to match your own choices.
And the 5 inch screen is a good size, too, providing a large enough on-screen keyboard with gesture typing included, and an easy to see dial pad, you know, in case you have to call someone whose number isn’t stored in one of the many accounts you can synchronise the mobile with.
Equally decent — hey, it’s better than that — is battery life, and we’re instead rating that as impressive.
In our time with the Galaxy A5 — in our general time of using the phone to make phone calls, send texts, talk online on various social systems, surf the web, listen to music, read and write emails, and so on and so on — we found roughly two days were possible from the A5’s 2300mAh built-into-the-body battery.
That has to be one of the better battery runtimes we’ve seen of any Samsung phone in the past… well… ever, and this beats any of the past flagships we’ve seen from Samsung in at least two or three years.
Granted, what you’re likely seeing here is a combination of the high definition only screen — 720p makes a difference, and the less pixels there are to power, the more a battery can do its job — as well as Android 4.4 KitKat, and of course that Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 chip that Samsung is using in this phone.
Power users will see closer to a full day of life, but it’s a full day, not the “I need to find a charger the moment I get home” type of day that other “full days” resemble, and just in case you can max out the battery — and you’d have to practically live on the phone — the A5 supports Samsung’s ultra low power saving mode which saves power by switching almost everything off, updating much less frequently than the push updates you’re used to getting that are pushed to you the moment they happen.
Mobile speeds are also pretty good, with 4G speeds hitting around the 30Mbps upload mark in our tests on Telstra’s 4GX network in the Sydney CBD, though it’s possible you could definitely net faster speeds depending on where you are and the network you’re on.
Download speeds were all over shop, suggesting Telstra may need to do some work to keep its 4G speeds consistent, but a 30Mbps upload tells us this phone can do the downloads if the telco is doing its job properly.
Sufficed to say, you shouldn’t be disappointed with mobile broadband performance, and this phone handles its own.
WiFi is also decent, though only supportive of up to 802.11n, so if you’re looking for faster and stronger WiFi via the 802.11ac technology, this will pick up on the n network you’re broadcasting, not the faster ac one.
We guess you have to save something for the flagship phones of today.
Over to the camera side, and the 13 megapixel shooter isn’t the best we’ve used, but is very reminiscent of our time with the S4, those two years ago, providing nice and bright images when the sun is out, and mostly detail-less images when the sun goes away at night.
Out in the real world, you’ll find that’s a usable amount of megapixels with a camera that can handle its own in general daylight, though up close, few of the images are every that detailed, suggesting these would be better for online use than printed, though we don’t know how many people would print their photo these days, anyway.
When the lights go down, the image quality isn’t too impressive — again, like what we recall with the S4 — with blotchy colours and little detail in the black, though with a flash on the back, we suspect most won’t be complaining dramatically, and overall, most should be happy with this camera.
At the front, the 5 megapixel selfie camera is definitely an improvement on the 2 megapixel front-facing camera the S4 relied on, offering more image quality from a newer and slightly more capable sensor, so selfie lovers should be relatively happy with this.
But the camera performance is one area where the Galaxy A5 can take a bit of a hit, and it seems to come from trying to load up the gallery in this section, of all places.
Load the camera up from the standby screen and you’ll see it ready for you to take a shot, and generally, it does this with ease, but the moment you want to load your photos, prepare yourself for a couple of seconds of waiting, waiting, waiting for the phone to do your bidding, delivering you that photo you just shot a couple of moments ago.
It’s one of those bizarre little bugs that really needs to be squashed, though it’s reminiscent of some of the camera and gallery issues we’ve had on other Samsung phones, such as when the galleries would refuse to load, waiting for the phone to synchronise with Dropbox and other galleries every time you wanted to open the gallery app.
We even recall fixing this flaw with one of our “how to fix the flaws” article, written for at least two generations of Samsung’s flagship phones (but not this year’s, which actually does something to mend this situation).
Strangely, beyond the camera, the performance is actually pretty good, with quick swiping, relatively speedy menu and app loads, and a general feeling that the phone itself is pulling its weight quite well.
Benchmarks aren’t the strongest in the world, coming in at not far off from where the Galaxy S4 sits, but this should be acceptable for most users, provided they’re not loading the latest games that take advantage of lots of new graphical technologies.
Synthetic benchmarks are good like that, with little real world value for mobiles, and more an indicate of what the processor can do. In the case of these benchmarks, it’s showing how strong the processor is, and while it’s not Galaxy S5 or S6 level performance, it still handles itself for regular activities, such as making phone calls, messaging, emails, and lots of other activities that don’t lean too hard on high-end performance.
But it’s the camera that throws a bit of a question mark, and particularly that gallery app, because when you touch the app, it almost feels like the whole thing has stalled, which is odd for something that appears to be otherwise well engineered.
It’s a shame, too, as for the most part, the inclusion of 2GB RAM really helped this phone pull its weight, providing more of a backbone than so many other phones.
Unfortunately, that lag was frustrating to deal with, producing a wait that happened every single time you opened the gallery from the camera that was totally out of your control.
Samsung sure manages to surprise us every so often, and while we’ve loved seeing what its engineers can do in regards to a flagship product, it’s this year’s mid-range marvel that is impressing us greatly, taking technology from the past year, a design that meshes two of Samsung’s products, and making something that could possibly be Samsung’s best value phone altogether.
And with up to two days of battery life, fairly solid all-round performance, and a great design mixing metal and plastic, that seems to be what we have: a solid phone for a solid price.