Friday , October 20 2017

Samsung Galaxy A5 — Review

Samsung Galaxy A5 — Review

Samsung generally make great hardware, and the tens of millions of devices sold suggest that it’s well liked generally by many customers. In recent history Samsung have had one or two flagships available for the top end users who want the best on offer right now, but also a slew of devices that fill the void between the no-name entry level devices and those flagships and selling a lot of devices through their range. Sitting atop the mid-range Samsung devices is the Galaxy A5 which you can purchase outright for between AU$420 and $AU$500 depending on your source.

Like previous Samsung phones in the middle of the road, the Galaxy A5 has not been picked up by all carriers in Australia; in fact this time around only Vodafone have jumped on the white version of the device to bolster their sub $50 per month plan device range. If you choose to go down the outright purchase path you can pick up one in white or blue.

The Galaxy A5 has been released with only one storage option, 16GB which will frustrate some users who “need” more storage; however there is good news that Samsung have included a MicroSD slot which will allow you to expand the storage by a further 64GB. There are a lot of phones in the Android space that aim at the mid range market for a number of reasons, the Galaxy A5 has the advantage of the Samsung name and stands strong in the crowd.

Pros

  • Super thin design at only 6.3mm
  • Screen is very good for the market this phone is aimed at
  • Battery life is outstanding, not just for the capacity of battery; stand alone outstanding
  • Sound quality is very good for ringtones and music

Cons

  • Sound (ie. ringtones) could be louder
  • Slim and lightweight design makes the phone feel fragile
  • Volume rocker is in a bad position for right handed users, I keep turning the in call volume down
  • The camera is capable, but not outstanding and Samsung can do better

Design

The look is unmistakably Samsung, thats the first thing that crossed my mind when I unboxed the Galaxy A5. The device is ridiculously thin, but that comes at a cost; it feels a bit bendy, I’m not getting onboard bendgate because that annoys me beyond belief but it’s not the most solid phone I’ve ever used.

Having been a Samsung phone user in the past, the behaviour of this phone was very familiar as soon as I dumped my SIM in it and fired it up. The physical home button, the power button position and (perhaps unfortunately) the position of the volume rocker. Being right handed, I found myself (as I did with my old S3 and S4) turning the volume down in call all the time which is very frustrating but I’m assured by people in the know that I’m holding it wrong.

The other thing that really stuck out for me on the design front for the Galaxy A5 was the near comically sized bezel. The technology is there, the ability is there when you look at other recent Samsung devices; why the extra deep & large bezel? Not really sure, but as it turns out it wasn’t a massive negative on the overall usability or user experience with the device.

Hardware

One of the issues I have had in the past when reviewing devices is that the natural instinct is to compare it to the top end devices and if it’s not up to par, bag it rather than looking at the merits of the device in the apparent target market. When it comes to the guts of the device, it’s not desperately far behind the flagships on spec. Samsung have included a Quad-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A53 running 2GB RAM and 16GB of storage (Don’t expect 16GB to be available when you fire it up though, I had just under 9GB free on first boot) with what is a pretty low resolution screen. That being said, the lower resolution and ppi screen put less load on the GPU to render images on screen which lowers the demand on the battery which plays into the strength of this device; battery life.

The Galaxy A5 has a 5 inch display which is going to make it a reasonably large device, impressively though despite the size of the device it’s not chunky. The phone runs at 139.3 x 69.7 x 6.7 mm in size which isn’t bad at all, particularly at 6.7mm thin it’s got a nice feel to it. The power button is on the right edge near the top which is a natural feeling position for a right handed user, the volume rocker in a similar position on the left edge which caused me some issues as I’ve already mentioned.

Screen

The screen that Samsung have included on the A5 is surprisingly good when considering the price of the device, but certainly not up to the standard that they can deliver when compared to some of their top end devices. The 5” Super AMOLED screen runs at 720 x 1280 resolution at 294 ppi which on paper at least, doesn’t stack up against a 3 generation old phone such as the Galaxy S4.

Having just told you that the screen isn’t any good, I’m now going to give it a big accolade. During the review time I had with the Galaxy A5 I found myself reflecting on the target market for the device, thinking “what is important” and how the device is likely to be used by that market. I handed the phone over several times to average users who were all pretty impressed by the screen siting vibrant colours, nice and bright, very responsive and easy to read. To be honest, I have to agree with each of those statements whole heartedly, in fact one of these people compared it favourably to their HTC One (M7) which is pretty big praise given that was (in its day) a flagship device.

It’s not until you look at HD video you start to see flaws in the screen quality where it’s simply not up to the job, but putting it bluntly I don’t think someone who would be watching full HD videos is going to purchase a device in this range; they’re going to shoot higher.

Battery life

The battery life that you get from any mobile device is going to be subjective on how and how much you use it throughout the day. I’m a pretty heavy user of mobile phones; with the State Emergency Service I get a lot of calls, messages and email throughout the day. With Ausdroid I use messaging and email quite heavily. For work I have email running and receive calls and (believe it or not) I also have time for a personal life where I receive calls, messages across various medium and emails.

Even with all of that, on one of my heaviest use days of continual phone calls, messages and emails the battery (which is a relatively low capacity battery at only 2300mAh) life I got from the Galaxy A5 was very impressive at a whisker over 18 hours with 10% battery left when I plugged it back in for the night.

Out of curiosity, I decided to try out some of the power saving options, and ultra power saving mode blew me away. I let the battery run down on Friday at work and didn’t plug the phone in to charge overnight. Starting the day on 20% battery is never going to work, or is it?

The ultra power saving mode essentially turns down your backlight to the lowest level, makes your screen monochrome and disables all background data. This is configurable to allow specific apps to have data, but as a default nothing gets through unless you open the app and request data. To my complete amazement, the battery lasted from 8 am until 4pm before going critical and shutting down the phone; it’s not an option you’d use as a first choice but if you did get caught out without any of the failsafes that are around nowadays you could easily get through the rest of the day.

Camera

The 13MP camera is really capable in variety of conditions, everything from full daylight to dubious (at best) fluorescent lit areas. If you’ve got a steady hand you’re going to get some pretty acceptable results on anything you take a photo of.

If you’re in poor light conditions and need to use the flash, you’ll need to be aware that the colour will wash out quite significantly; unfortunately there’ not a lot that can be done about that.

The front facing selfie cam is 5MP and takes selfies, there’s not a lot else to say about it. In ideal light conditions the results are going to be (for a selfie cam) really good, but if you are in a dim lit area like a pub, nightclub or outdoors after dark you’re going to get some grainy & washed out results.

Connectivity

Like any other phone worth looking at these days, the Samsung Galaxy A5 has all of the connectivity that you’d expect from a device. The 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi is quick, really quick! Transferring files (particularly videos) over Wifi was seamless.

Bluetooth 4.0 including A2DP is very much an expectation of devices now, its much more battery friendly than early Bluetooth and the quality of audio is so much higher than it was in the early days.

I did find that the Bluetooth range was a little restrictive if you are streaming to a Bluetooth device with dropouts occurring as soon as there is a physical divider between you and the device you’re connected to. Perhaps a bit disappointing, but I can handle that as a trade off to maintain battery life while streaming.

LTE Cellular is an absolute must for me personally, I wouldn’t even look at a device that doesn’t support it which the Galaxy A5 does. I found the signal strength was very good right through the metro and fringe areas, but when the signal wasn’t good the battery depletion was disturbingly quick.

Sound

Being into good quality sound can often jade my opinion of mobile phone audio quality. I find myself wanting to really whack the manufacturer but then remember that the speaker is about the size of my little fingernail.

There’s no bass and the high range sound is a bit shrill, which makes music playback on the external speaker something you’ll only do for background noise. Unfortunately that’s a trade off for having a reasonable quality mid range (voice range) of sound that can be put up to a good volume on speakerphone without causing echo or distortion.

The other issue with playback was that the power output on the headphone jack was quite low. My Sennheiser headphones were flat until I really cranked it up. Clearly the output is designed intended for the supplied earbuds, not a power hungry set of headphones; not a deal breaker but certainly something to keep in mind if you’re looking at this phone and listen to a lot of music.

Performance

When you take into account the market that this device is aimed at and particularly the cost involved, the performance of the Galaxy A5 is possibly the most impressive area for this phone. While I had the phone there were only two occasions where I detected any significantly noticeable lag in the device. On both occasions I’d recently had a number of apps open and had been switching between them rapidly, so they were likely still memory resident.

Right throughout my testing of the Galaxy A5, there was no point in time (aside from HD videos, but that’s more a screen limitation than performance) where I thought that I’d be disappointed with its performance if I had purchased the device. The menu navigation is snappy, the app switching is really quick and in app performance is really impressive.

Software

From the moment unbox up the Samsung Galaxy A5 its very clear that you’re looking at a Samsung device. It’s got the look of a Samsung phone; The shape, the physical button in the centre at the bottom of the screen and the positioning of the buttons.

Fire it up and (in case you didn’t notice the Samsung logo as well as the unmistakable look) and if you’ve used one before, the home button and stereotypical Samsung behaviours are there unfortunately there are a couple of low points from a software perspective for the phone.

Android OS

OK, lets get this out in the open here… Can I have your attention please Samsung: If you’re going to release a new device a generation old operating system namely Kitkat is totally unacceptable. It’s got all charm of a bad tempered masseuse, it does the job but leaves a bit of a sour taste because you just know that there’s something better out there.

The use of Kitkat (despite any promises of an update) may be enough of a deterrent to be a deal breaker for users who know what they want from a devices and frankly, despite some very impressive traits from a second tier phone was disappointing.

Skins

While we’re on gripes about the device, much like Scott wrote about a couple of weeks ago; I have some gripes with Touchwiz that for some users aren’t noticed, for others it can be overlooked but I choose Android for the ability to really control how my phone behaves. Unfortunately Touchwiz forces what it wants to do on you enough to make it intrusive and annoying to advanced users.

The UI isn’t to my taste and the design really hasn’t evolved much since the Galaxy S3, the bloatware not only chews up precious onboard storage but isn’t useful to me or many other users and I believe this is something that if you want a Samsung device in your pocket – you’re stuck with it.

Bundled Apps

I was pleasantly surprised to find that despite the missing storage on first boot, there wasn’t a heap of bloat on the device when I first booted it up. There wasn’t even the usual suite of Samsung apps installed on it, only the Samsung App Store and S Planner.

There are some very useful ‘daily use’ apps that are included in the out of box system for the Galaxy A5. Dropbox which for many users is now part of digital life and the standard array of Google Apps are also included on the device; Gmail, Calendar, Google+, Hangouts, Keep, Maps and YouTube.

Catch up TV; encompassing Plus7, SBS on Demand, Foxtel Go, ABC iView, 7 News and Ten Play are probably on the “bloat” list but given the propensity of some of the manufacturers today to fill your new phones with apps you may never use, this isn’t a bad outcome.

Compared to some phones in the past such as the Galaxy S4, the Galaxy A5 certainly has a reduced level of manufacturer installed bloat.

Samsung Galaxy A5 Specifications

  • 5in, 720 x 1280 display(~294 ppi pixel density)
  • Coretex-A53, Quad-core 1.2GHz
  • Adreno 306 GPU
  • 16GB onboard storage, 2GB RAM
  • MicroSD slot
  • Nano sim
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n,Bluetooth v4.0, A2DP
  • 13MP rear-facing camera
  • 5MP front-facing camera
  • 2300mAh battery
  • Android 4.4 Kitkat
  • 139.3 x 69.7 x 6.7mm, 123gm
  • LTE

Conclusion

Make no mistake, if you’re looking at the Galaxy A5 as a flagship device you’re going to be disappointed with pretty much everything that matters to flagship buyers. Being fair though, the specs aren’t bad, they’re just not up to the level current flagships are and the screen is too low resolution for the phone to be taken seriously when compared to some of the higher end devices.

Unfortunately, unless you’re not familiar with newer devices I still can’t get pas the fact that Samsung have released a new device a generation old operating system namely Kitkat and that is totally unacceptable; for me and many other users ‘in the know’ a deal breaker. There is an update floating around for the Galaxy A5 in overseas markets which you would hope will hit Australian shores.

All of that being said; The Galaxy A5 is a device that Samsung are using to plug a gap in the market where consumers are looking for a phone that doesn’t cost a grand but will do all the right things. The hardware is nice, it feels good and looks good. Battery life is good to start with, but the ultra power saver mode is outstanding but the ultimate and the sound quality is pretty impressive.

In complete honesty, the Galaxy A5 isn’t a phone that I would buy, but I’d certainly buy it for my parents with the confidence that it will do a good job for their needs and continue to do so for some time to come and believe that Samsung have done a good job of hitting the right specs for that section of market. Google+  

Phil Tann   Journalist

Phil is an Android enthusiast who spends most of his time reading up on U.S. Android news so he can get the low down on what could possibly hit Australian shores. Coming from a background in IT & T sales, he’s in the perfect position to give an educated view on hardware and software.

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2 Comments on "Samsung Galaxy A5 — Review"

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Member

Hey mate, do you know if your A5 has a Snapdragon 410 in it? The battery life sounds impressive!

Edit: Never mind, the Adreno 306 pretty much gives it away.

Nice review mate!

JeniSkunk
Valued Guest
JeniSkunk
Dan, Thanks for doing this thorough review of this mid-tier Samsung. I think your opinion on the Android version on this device was way off the mark. You looked at this aspect, from the POV of a bleeding edge, technically proficient and inclined, advanced user. How would the ordinary users, who this device is aimed at, see the bugs in the versions of Lollipop current when this device was being developed? How would that make them regard this device? Unless I’m way off track, it’d be bulk returns, claiming that ‘My phone is broken’, because they don’t know or understand… Read more »
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