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Samsung Galaxy J3 review (2016): Good in 2016, but past its peak in 2017

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The Samsung Galaxy J3 has now been out for some time, and even when Jon wrote the original review below, it was still worth seeking out the J5 if you could find it.

The slow march of time doesn’t make the Samsung Galaxy J3 a more appealing prospect, and if you’re buying in 2017, you’re better off considering the Moto G4 or Huawei P9 Lite. Better, better still: hang on for the myriad budget phones just around the corner, announced at MWC 2017 – the Nokia 5 for example. Samsung has yet to refresh its budget phones for 2017, but if it does, it’s likely that the 2017 J3 will be worth hanging on for.

But if you’ve read the review below and you’re determined, where should you go for a Samsung Galaxy J3? Well, if you’re prepared to jump through some cashback hoops, you could pay as little as a tenner a month for 1GB data and a free phone with EE. That’s not bad, but worth remembering that if you slip up, you’re looking at a considerably less wallet-friendly £17.99 per month. Alternatively, if you want to buy it outright, it can be had for around £113 from Amazon:

…but that doesn’t feel too good a saving, considering how long in the tooth it is now. I would hold out a couple more months if you can – and if you can’t, consider getting last year’s Moto G4. It performs better than this year’s G5, and should be available at a fair old discount now.

Jon’s original review continues below. 

With the number of different smartphone models Samsung kicks out every year, it’s a surprise it isn’t more successful with its budget models. However, this is a market it’s had trouble cracking, with its budget offerings lagging a long way behind the Motorola Moto G.

As you’d expect of Samsung, though, it’s giving it’s all in an attempt to elbow its competitors aside, and the Samsung Galaxy J3 looks to be a strong contender for the crown of budget smartphone king. It’s a £150, 5in Android smartphone equipped with what looks like a killer specification. It’s only £10 cheaper than the Galaxy J5, though — another impressive budget handset from the South Korean manufacturer — so is it worth saving the money?

Samsung Galaxy J3 review: Design and display

At first glance, the J3 looks similar to the J5. The J3 is a touch more compact, perhaps, but with a difference in screen size of a mere 0.2in, it’s not a night and day difference.

The construction of the two phones isn’t terribly different, either. Both are finished in bland, matte plastic all over, but both feel staidly solid at the same time. The case doesn’t bend or creak unduly and its buttons all depress with a good, solid click. Despite its budget appearance, the Galaxy J3 is a robust-feeling smartphone.

I’m not a huge fan of the two-tone black-and-white front panel of our review sample, but it is possible to grab the phone in all-black if you want. Generally, it’s pretty inoffensive, although I have to say I prefer the look of the Motorola Moto G (3rd gen) and Motorola Moto G4.

Where the appearance and build is run of the mill, however, the J3’s display is anything but. Just like the Galaxy J5, it uses an AMOLED panel – a real rarity in this price bracket. This brings with it a sharp 720p resolution and a vibrancy and colour-packed image that most budget handsets can’t get near, with its perfect, inky black level ensuring images look incredibly punchy solid.

OLED displays have a tendency to look a little dull — it’s their one major weakness — but not here. I recorded maximum brightness of 447cd/m2, which means it’s readable in the brightest sunshine. Note, however, that you’ll need to enable the phone’s auto-brightness mode for it to hit these heights. In manual mode, the screen peaks at a much lower 318cd/m2.

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