Samsung Galaxy A3 (2016), A5 (2016) and A7 (2016) Review

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Introduction

I like Samsung’s high-end, flagship smartphones and can recommend them to people without hesitation, but I couldn’t do the same with the company’s mid-range product lineup, until now. It’s the first time I see potential. And that’s mainly because of Chinese OEMs flooding the mid-range market with better devices and acquiring market share, which has forced the Korean giant to rethink its product lineup for this specific market.

Samsung wasn’t able to impress me with its original Galaxy A smartphones, even though they were the company’s first handsets to feature an all-metal construction. And that was probably the only compelling aspect of the devices, because, spec-wise, they weren’t up to par with the competition and were priced quite high for what they actually offered.

Nevertheless, they were launched over a year ago, and now we have their successors — Galaxy A3 (2016), Galaxy A5 (2016), and Galaxy A7 (2016) — to play with. And, while the first-generation products only emphasized on form, their heirs possess both, form and function. Speaking of function, the Korean firm has brought a number of features from its high-end Galaxy S line to the A Series (I’ll be talking about those characteristics later down the review), which has allowed the company to market the new devices as high-end smartphones — check out Samsung Pakistan’s Galaxy A Series ad, for instance.

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Design and build quality

Design-wise, we are looking at Galaxy S6 clones. Yes, with the new A Series (2016), the OEM has ditched the old all-metal design and has gone with a mix of glass and metal, instead. Just like the Galaxy S6, all three A Series (2016) devices feature a sheet of Gorilla Glass 4 on the front and the back with an aluminum frame sandwiched between them.

The glass, however, is of the 2.5D variety, which means it’s slightly curved on the edges; much like the one on the new Galaxy S7, but less significant. It also solves one of the gripes I had about the GS6’s design — as the glass’ edges seamlessly integrate into the frame, the devices don’t feel sharp in the hand.

There are two issues of having a glass back on a smartphone. One of which is that the devices kept sliding off of my table, couch’s armrest, and even my bed sheet. So, as you can imagine, it was really difficult for me to read my Twitter timeline and check Instagram in bed in the mornings. And the other one is that the glass backs are complete fingerprint magnets, which drive me crazy, and every once in awhile I had to give them a wipe with my t-shirt. Anyhow, they are less visible on bright color variants, so keep that in mind before making the purchase.

Moreover, I must say, I was really impressed with the performance of the Gorilla Glass 4; I have been testing the A Series (2016) lineup for over three weeks now, and there are no scratches or scuffs on any of the device’s back glass panels. Also, I find the glass surface to be more grippy in the hand than a metal back, so that’s a plus as well. The aluminum frame, too, is in pristine condition with no scratches or nicks. Having said that, I would still recommend you to get a case for any of the Galaxy A series (2016) models, if you tend to drop your smartphone often because everyone knows that glass is more fragile than metal. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

The A Series (2016) comes in four different color variations: Black, Gold, White, and Pink-Gold. Samsung sent me the A3 (2016) review unit in black, while the A5 (2016) and A7 (2016) units are in gold. Except for the white version, all other colors come with a black front panel, which, in combination with the Super AMOLED display, exudes a very consistent look. The paint job, itself, isn’t as flashy as on the Galaxy S6 and S7, and it doesn’t feature a mirror-like characteristic — Samsung is keeping the jewel-tone color treatment exclusive to its flagship line, at least for now.

As far as port, sensor, and button placement is concerned: on the back, we have our main camera sensor and a LED flash, there’s no heart-rate sensor on the A series; on the front, we have our proximity and ambient light sensors, a front-facing camera, earpiece, display, back and recent app capacitive keys, and a home button with an integrated touch-based fingerprint sensor (A5 and A7 only); on the bottom, there’s a microphone, 3.5mm headphone jack, MicroUSB port, and the speaker grille; on the top, we have nothing other than the secondary microphone, and, just like the new GS7, there’s no IR blaster on board; and the volume buttons are located on the left side of the aluminium frame, while the power button is located on the right side — all three buttons are very tactile with excellent reachability and positioning.

In terms of dimensions, the A3 (2016) measures in at: 134.5 x 65.2 x 7.3mm — 132g, A5 (2016): 144.8 x 71 x 7.3mm — 155g, and A7 (2016): 151.5 x 74.1 x 7.3mm — 172g. When Samsung announced the original A series back in December of 2014, they were the thinnest smartphones ever manufactured by the company. However, this time around, each device in the series is slightly (by around a millimeter) thicker and heavier than its predecessor, and that’s how the OEM managed to fit in bigger batteries and reduce the camera hump on the back. The extra heft actually enhances the feel of the devices, making them seem more high-end. The screen-to-body ratio on each device has been greatly increased as well; the bezels are extremely thin, and that’s a good thing.

So far, everything seems fine and dandy, right? Well, it’s not, I manipulated your brains in thinking that. And, now is the time for everything that’s wrong with the design.

None of the A Series (2016) devices are packing a notification LED, and I have no idea why Samsung decided not to include it. Like, by how much would a single LED have increased the cost price and decreased the company’s profit margin on each unit? It doesn’t make sense, and I, for one, find the notification LED to be very useful. There’s also no vibration feedback when pressing back or recents capacitive keys.

And the touch-based fingerprint sensor isn’t that great, I had to tap my finger 3-5 times before the device was successfully able to recognise my fingerprint. The recognition got better after I enrolled the same finger three times separately, and that’s simply ridiculous.

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Display

Let me start by saying this: the Galaxy A3 (2016), A5 (2016), and A7 (2016) boast the best display panels in the mid-range smartphone market, period.

The Galaxy A3 (2016) comes with a 4.7-inch, HD (1280x720), Super AMOLED display with a pixel density of 312ppi. On the other hand, its bigger brothers, the A5 (2016) and A7 (2016), are packing Full HD (1920x1080), Super AMOLED displays at 5.2- and 5.7-inches with pixel densities of 424ppi and 401ppi, respectively.

In terms of sharpness, I had zero issues with either of the handsets — a Full HD (1920x1080) resolution is simply perfect for the A5 (2016) and A7 (2016)’s respective screen sizes, and an HD (1280x720) resolution for the A3 (2016)’s 4.7-inch screen is adequate.

Now, these aren’t the top-of-the-line AMOLED displays, like the ones found on the Korean giant’s Galaxy S and Note lineup; however, they are significantly better than their competitions’ LCD panels, that’s for sure. Additionally, thanks to an almost bezel-less design, the viewing experience is deeply immersive and breathtaking.

The Super AMOLED panels on all three devices provide high contrast levels, deep, inky blacks, and pretty good viewing angles. Speaking of viewing angles, they aren’t as impressive as on the Galaxy S6, as I did notice a green tint when viewing the display from an off-axis — they are in the same ballpark as the Galaxy S5, though. On top of that, the panels can get super bright and dim, so viewing the displays under direct sunlight or at night time didn’t cause any problems.

Just like Samsung’s other smartphones, the A Series (2016), too, comes with four different color profiles: Adaptive display, AMOLED Cinema, AMOLED Photo, and Basic. By default, the devices come with the Adaptive Display profile enabled, which some users might find a bit oversaturated, and to them, I would recommend the AMOLED Photo profile for more natural-looking colors.

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Camera

Samsung has equipped the trio of devices with a 13-megapixel camera sensor with an aperture of f/1.9, optical image stabilization (except the A3), and support for Full HD (1080p) video recording at 30FPS, alongside a LED flash. And, just like there’s not a single mid-range device known for its imaging system, neither will be Samsung’s new Galaxy A series.

The quality of the pictures is directly proportional to the lighting conditions. If you have lighting at your disposal, then your pictures will come out pretty good, and vice versa — simple as that. The Same case is with videography, but, I must say, the addition of the OIS really helps smooth out the shots.

Moreover, I found the dynamic range of these sensors to be reasonably weak, auto-focus was slow too, and the sensor had a tendency of over-exposing. To fix the dynamic range issue, I started shooting in HDR and found more problems. In HDR mode, Samsung has capped the maximum resolution to 8 megapixels, instead of 13 megapixels, it takes quite a few seconds to process the image, and there’s no way to know how the end result will look like — as the devices don’t support real-time HDR.

In terms of software, the user interface of the stock camera app is identical to the one found on the Galaxy S6, it’s intuitive and very easy to use. It comes with various pre-installed shooting modes: Auto, Pro, Panorama, Continuous shot, HDR, Night, and more can be downloaded from the Galaxy App store. And if you were wondering, the Pro mode isn’t as feature-rich as on the company’s high-end smartphones; manual control is limited to only white balance, ISO, and exposure. There is, however, Quick Launch, which allows the user to open the camera app by double-pressing the home button — it’s one of my favorite features of Samsung’s Android UX.

For all your selfie needs, the devices are also packing a wide-angle, 5-megapixel sensor with an aperture of f/1.9 and come with shooting modes like Wide Selfie, Continuous shot, Night, and more. A plethora of mid-range smartphones boast a high megapixel count for their front facing imaging system, but not many have a wide-angle lens, which is a crucial element for beautiful selfies, in my honest opinion.

Click here to check out camera samples.

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Performance and software

The Galaxy A5 (2016) and A7 (2016) are rocking the company’s own 64-bit, octa-core, Exynos 7580 SoC with a clock speed of 1.6GHz, a dual-core, Mali-T720 GPU clocked at 800Mhz, and 2GB and 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM, respectively. The Galaxy A3 (2016), on the other hand, is packing an underpowered variant of the same chipset. How underpowered, you may ask? Instead of 8-cores, it only has 4 cores enabled, and they are clocked at 1.5GHz; the GPU’s maximum frequency is 668MHz, and it only comes with 1.5GB of RAM.

All three devices sport 16GB of internal storage, which is user expandable via a microSD card (up to 128GB).

Performance-wise, I wasn’t expecting something spectacular from these devices, and they didn’t disappoint me. They handled the day-to-day task with ease. The experience was mostly lag-free, but I did notice a bit of stuttering when switching from one app to another. And the usual Android lag is present, just like on any other Android-based smartphone, no matter if it’s low-end, mid-range or high-end.

Each device handled multitasking differently, due to the difference in the amount of RAM. The A3 (2016) could only keep 2-3 apps in the memory and often killed the launcher as well, resulting in launcher redraws. The A5 (2016) was able to keep 4-5 apps in memory at once, while the A7 (2016) was able to keep 5-6. Due to only packing 1.5GB of RAM, the Galaxy A3 (2016) doesn’t support Samsung’s Multi-Window feature, so you can’t run two apps, simultaneously.

As proved in the past, the Mali GPUs are quite powerful. I was easily able to play graphic intensive games at high settings without any of the devices breaking a sweat. So, if you’re into gaming, these should be ideal for you. Despite that, as it’s only a dual-core GPU, games released in the future might not perform too well, but you shouldn’t have problems with any of the current titles. What’s more, the smartphones never got too hot, they ran comparatively cool.

Out of the box, the A Series (2016) comes with Android 5.1.1 Lollipop with Samsung’s latest TouchWiz UX running on top of it. Yes, Google just recently started rolling out developer previews of Android N 7.0, and Samsung’s devices are still stuck on Lollipop. I have reached out to the Korean firm for an official comment regarding the Android 6.0 Marshmallow update, I’ll update this review once I receive a response.

Samsung has mostly kept the software identical to the one on the Galaxy S6 with only a handful of additions and subtractions, so click here to read my GS6’s software review.

The A Series (2016) doesn’t come with a Private mode, Pop-up view feature, Direct call, Wallpaper motion effect, Multi-Window (only A3), and Screen grid (only A3). Nevertheless, it does come with a built-in FM Radio, which isn’t available on the Galaxy S6, nor the Galaxy S7, so that’s a win for some. And there’s also a one-handed mode on the Galaxy A7 (2016).

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Connectivity and speaker

Connectivity is where the biggest corner has been cut. The Galaxy A3 doesn’t come with dual-band Wi-Fi support, and while the Galaxy A5 and A7 do, they are limited to 802.11n speeds — no high-speed, AC Wi-Fi support. And where I live, there’s no way someone can get a decent amount of speeds on a 2.4GHz network, so you either connect to a 5GHz network, or you’re stuck with a barely usable internet connection. Therefore, my experience with the Galaxy A3 wasn’t that pleasant.

Rest of the connectivity stack includes 4G LTE, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, GPS and GLONASS support. There’s a microUSB 2.0 port for syncing and charging the device. Samsung Pay support is built into the A5 and A7 as well.

Samsung has relocated the speaker module from the back to the bottom of the devices, which means, the sound no longer gets muffled when putting the smartphones on a table. However, at the new location, when playing games in a landscape orientation, the speaker grille does get covered by my palm.

In terms of quality, the mono speaker is very loud, but the sound does start to crack at the highest volume. Moreover, the sound profile is flat, which means it doesn’t have that much bass to it. The speaker on the Galaxy S6 was far superior. If you’re more of a headphone person, then there are Samsung’s Adapt Sound, SoundAlive+, and Tube Amp+ features bundled with the software, which will allow you to output some majestic sound.

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Battery life

Battery life should be one of the highlight features of the new A Series (2016) because it’s simply outstanding. All three devices would easily last you an entire day, which means no more recharging sessions during the day. With the A5 and A7, you might even be able to get through two days, only if you’re not a heavy user.

The A3 (2016), A5 (2016), and A7 (2016) are packing 2,300mAh, 2,900mAh, and 3,300mAh batteries, respectively. On average, I was getting almost 3 hours of screen-on time with the A3, 4.5-5.5 hours with the A5, and 5-6 hours on the A7. I have no idea what Samsung has done to its software, but the standby time on these is just incredible, they simply don't drain. I have never seen such incredible battery performance on any previous Samsung smartphones.

The Galaxy A5 and A7 also come with Samsung’s Fast Charge technology, which allows the batteries to get 50% charged in 30 minutes. None of the devices come with wireless charging, though. They do, however, come with Power Saving and Ultra Power Saving modes, which help the already amazing batteries last even longer.

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Conclusion

Overall, Samsung’s new Galaxy A Series (2016) is just like any other mid-range smartphone, except of its design and Super AMOLED display. And those two characteristics are exactly what the series needs to differentiate itself in the market.

Korean giant’s mid-range smartphones mimic the design language of its flagship Galaxy S line, and there’s no doubt that the Galaxy S6 is one of the most beautifully designed and well-built smartphones on the planet. Basically, they are mid-range Galaxy S6s, and that’s not a bad thing. People who wanted to buy the GS6 but didn’t, due to its enormous price tag, will definitely be attracted towards the company’s new Galaxy A Series.

Here’s the thing: currently, the new A Series is only available in Asia and a few parts of Europe, they are yet to land on the American soil and in the United Kingdom. If Samsung prices them aggressively, they might be one of the highest selling devices in the mid-range category.