The mid-range smartphone market is red hot right now and the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) is right up there among the front-runners. And although it was launched early on in 2017, its design, specifications and all-round performance have been holding up well. Now that there’s a new player in town, though – the superlative, £450 OnePlus 5 – is it still the mid-range phone to buy?
Certainly, the Samsung Galaxy A5’s look and design remain competitive. Indeed, if you were told this was a phone that cost £600 or more and you didn’t know any better, you probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid. The design, look and feel is premium through-and-through and there’s very little to tell from the outside it’s not a flagship device… aside, perhaps, from the lack of curved screen.
And yet the price, which started out originally at £380, is now around £300 on Amazon (Amazon US has it on sale for even less, at under $250). That makes it £150 cheaper than the OnePlus 5 and a hell of a bargain.
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Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) review: Display
It’s available in four colours – Black Sky, Gold Sand, Blue Mist and Peach Cloud – and although I’m not a big fan of the blue, the rest look suitably handsome. As for size, the A5 comes with a manageable 5.2in display using an AMOLED panel with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080.
That gives you a pixel density of 424ppi, which isn’t sharp enough to use with the Samsung Gear VR (according to Samsung), but it’s plenty sharp for everyday use; you’ll have to look close to see any kind of pixel structure.
It’s a decent screen as well, although not the brightest. I recorded a peak brightness of 350cd/m2, a long way behind the brightest IPS-based screens of the iPhone range or Sony’s XZ smartphones, which top out at 550cd/m2 and higher. This is typical for mid-range AMOLED displays, however, and on really bright days with automatic brightness enabled, the screen will temporarily boost to a brighter 451cd/m2 so you can read emails without having to shield the screen with your hand.
Colour reproduction is impressive. Samsung has had this nailed on its AMOLED panels for some time, but it never fails to impress me how it manages to tame the lurid, oversaturated colours the technology is known for. Here, the screen simply looks sharp, wonderfully rich and tack-sharp, covering 100% of the sRGB colour space.
Samsung Galaxy A5 review: Performance
As with most modern smartphones, both budget and premium, the Samsung Galaxy A5 feels suitably snappy and responsive once you’ve installed all your apps and it’s settled down after updating everything.
It’s powered by one of Samsung’s own octa-core Exynos 7880 chips, clocked at up to 1.9GHz, and backed by 3GB of RAM. The key competitor for this chip is supposed to be the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 like the one in the Moto Z Play, so I didn’t expect performance to be all that great.
In fact, it performed much better than that, sitting in between the Moto and the more expensive OnePlus 3T (the newer OnePlus 5 is far faster) with impressive all-round CPU and graphics-benchmark results. It’s certainly a good deal faster than last year’s Samsung Galaxy A5.
The difference in performance between the Samsung Galaxy A5 and the OnePlus 3T is starker when it comes to graphics fluidity, but again the Samsung chip performs better in the benchmarks than either the Moto Z Play or last year’s A5. It’s fine in practice, too, with SkyForce: Reloaded playing smoothly with very little evidence of slowdown or dropped frames.
Another area in which this year’s Samsung Galaxy A5 impresses is battery life. It comes with a larger power pack than last year, at 3,000mAh, which helped it last a whopping 22hrs 5mins in our video-playback test with the phone in flight mode and the screen calibrated to 170cd/m2. That’s not quite as good as the Moto Z Play’s 23hrs 45mins, but it’s near as makes little difference.
Samsung Galaxy A5 review: Camera
I’ve never had a problem with the protruding camera lens on recent Samsung phones, but if you’re in the habit of tapping out text messages and email with the phone flat on a table, you’ll be pleased to find that the lens protrusion is no more on the Galaxy A5 – the camera module now sits completely flush with the rear of the phone.
The camera itself is capable, too, if not as spectacularly good as the cameras on the Google Pixel XL or the Samsung Galaxy S7. The resolution of the rear camera is 16 megapixels and produces detailed-enough shots for most purposes, and there’s a bright, wide f/1.9 aperture that ensures that images shot in low light aren’t a complete loss. There’s no OIS, though, which is one sacrifice you’ll have to put up with.
Either way, the snaps I’ve been able to grab while testing look pretty good. Outdoor photographs are balanced, sharp and colourful, although our test street scene was over-exposed in the highlights. Enabling HDR mode sorts this out, however, knocking back those highlights and retrieving lost details.
^ Our outdoor street scene captured with HDR off offers good colour and detail capture, although some areas are over-exposed
Indoor shots are also competently captured, with our still life showing reasonably sharp details, a balanced exposure and little distracting noise. The colour reproduction does suffer a little in low light, however, and on close inspection, there’s much more smearing going on, reducing the crispness of your photographs. In this respect at least, the Moto Z Play does better, as does the OnePlus 3T, both producing sharper, more colourful low-light photos.
^ Low-light photographs look quite nice but colours are a little on the dull side and noise-reduction and smearing affects sharpness
It is, however, good to see that Samsung has made an effort to improve its camera software and make it easier to use. The different shooting modes can now be accessed by swiping across the screen left and right, and the onscreen shutter button can be relocated to a location you’re comfortable with.
There’s a new food filter, too, for those keen to show off their culinary credentials. This applies a depth-of-field effect and ups the saturation in an effort to avoid the dreaded brown-plate-of-sick effect.
Samsung Galaxy A5 review: Verdict
The one fly in the ointment is that the phone doesn’t come with Android 7 Nougat out of the box, which is mildly disappointing, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that the Samsung Galaxy A5 is a great mid-range smartphone. The current price of around £300 makes it a cheaper option than the OnePlus 5, it has even better battery life, and it’s a faster phone than the similarly priced Moto Z Play.
My personal preference would be the OnePlus 5, if only for the superior performance and better camera, but that phone is £150 more expensive than the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017); if you have no more than £300 to spend on a smartphone right now, this currently your best option.
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