Samsung Galaxy A5 review: Tweaks for a new year

The revamped Samsung Galaxy A5 smartphone.

While it’s probably been lost in the recent announcement of Samsung’s soon-to-be released Galaxy S8, Samsung has quietly launched a revamped Galaxy A series.

Aimed at the mid-priced point is the Galaxy A5 , which has an RRP in New Zealand of $749, and it’s clear it’s taken a lot of design cues from Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S7 smart phone. The two phones look remarkably similar in design, albeit with a few subtle differences.

Sure, the S7 feels a lot more premium and high-end than the A5 but, you know what? Samsung’s new 2017 phone is now slouch in the design department and put them side by side and at a glance, you’d have a hard time working out which was the cheaper model. The A5 actually has a slightly larger display than the S7, too.

Running Android 6.0.1 (Marshmallow), the A5 has been tweaked over the old model: It has a 5.2-inch Super AMOLED screen (1280×720 resolution), powered by a 1.9GHz Octa core processor and 3Gb of RAM (up from 2Gb in the previous generation A5). Internal storage is locked at 32Gb but it’s upgradable via microUSB (upto 256Gb). The Galaxy A5 is part of a three-phone line up, sitting between the 5.7-inch Galaxy A7 and the 5.3-inch Galaxy A3.

Samsung has moved the speaker grille to the top right hand side of the chassis (it’s now next to the headphone jack on the S7), just above the power button, and uses a USB-type C connection for charging.

As is common these days, the A5 has a non-removable battery, rated at 3000mAh. The new season A5 now has 16MP cameras, front and rear (an upgrade from the 13MP and 5MP of the previous A5). Like previous late-model Samsung phones, the A5 seems to have less bloatware pre-installed, which is always a good thing in my book.

I have to say that despite being a “budget” handset, the Galaxy A5 felt really solid in my hands. It had a high-end finish, which is nice in a smart phone that sits mid-range in Samsung’s new line-up, and it just felt comfortable holding it, although the back is quite slippery.

The Galaxy A5 handled snapshots with ease.

The Galaxy A5 took good photos thanks to its 16 MP camera. For no reasons, here’s a photo of my dog resting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to the Octa core CPU, the user interface (UI) was snappy enough swiping through screens and the camera produced some pleasing results and I got probably a day out of it before needing a recharge. It’s clear, though, that the screen just isn’t as sharp as the Galaxy S7’s sharper display, which offers higher resolutions.

The question, though, is: At $749 is the 2017 Galaxy A5 worth the budget-friendly moniker?

A quick glance over Pricespy shows that a Galaxy S7 can be had for as little as $693 or as much as $1203 (chain electronic retailers were priced around $999 for the S7 handset) and another online aggregation site had the A5 ranging from $$498 right up to $749 so it can be found cheaper than Samsung’s RRP. If you can find it cheaper, then I’d go for it if you’re keen: Why pay full retain, right?

The bottom line is if you don’t need all the bells and whistles that you’ll find in Samsung’s top  models, such as the Galaxy S7 and upcoming Galaxy S8, then the Samsung A5 will fit the bill nicely(as will the entire A line-up). It’s a great looking phone that’ll do everything you need it to, and that’s sometimes all you need in a smart phone.

Samsung Galaxy S7 review: The smartphone to beat

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“Hello, HTC One M8 my old friend” (Sung to the tune of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence)

“I’d found a new phone. For you this is the end.””

OK, so apologies to Simon & Garfunkel but after spending the best part of the last two weeks using the Samsung’s new Galaxy S7 smart phone, my almost-two generations old HTC One M8 looks like it’ll be confined to my bedside cabinet when it’s time to be replaced. The Galaxy S7 has just wiped the floor with it – and the M8 is still a bloody good phone.

When I was offered an S7 for review the PR woman asked a simple question during our email exchange: “What colour would you like? Blue or gold?”

I’d owned a blue S3 in the past and it looked nice but it’s was, you know, blue. Blue’s everywhere, right? There’s nothing special about blue, but gold? Gold’s a great colour. It screams of affluence, status and power [OK, probably not the power one]. So I went for gold – and it looks sick.

It’s a subtle gold colour, too, not loud. Sometimes, depending on the light, it almost looks a coppery gold.  It’s a nice gold.

OK, so that enough paragraphs devoted to the colour of the S7. What’s the phone like? After using it every day for the past two weeks, it’s a fantastic phone. It’s responsive, it looks good and it’s probably the best Samsung phone I’ve ever used. Seriously.

To the naked eye, the S7 doesn’t looked profoundly different from its S6 sibling – and that’s not a bad thing. The S7 seems a tad thinner to me and it feels comfortable in the hand. It’s crystal-clear 5.1-inch Quad HD AMOLED screen displays things vividly but the phone’s metal and glass back means it’s a real fingerprint magnet. The S7 also has a microSD slot, which is a nice addition, and the always-on screen feature means I could see if I had a message or what the time was without having to touch the phone. The phone has a 3000mAh battery.

Talking of the glass and metal back, I was nervous about what would happen if I dropped the phone on the ground. A few days I found out: It dropped out of my bag as I was picking it up and the S7 dropped onto a tiled floor. It wasn’t far but it was enough to make me nervous. It was fine but I’m still extra careful with it.

Transferring contents from my HTC One M8 was painless using Samsung’s Smart Switch application (the S7 also comes with an adapter that will let you use the USB cable to transfer data) and before long I was up and running, and thoroughly impressed with the S7. I set up the fingerprint scanner so I didn’t have to faff about with a PIN number lock code – and it’s snappy from thumb read to unlocking the phone. It might not be as quick as the fingerprint scanner on the Nexus 6P (my son has one and he showed me how quick that one is) but it quick enough for me.

The S7 has a 64-bit Octacore processor, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of memory, a dual pixel camera (12MP back, 5MP back) and the S7 (and its brother/sister the S7 Edge) has an IP68 water rating, which means you can submerge the phone in up to 1.5m of water for 30mins and it’ll still working when you’re done. I just squirted it with a bicycle drink bottle (as Samsung has done in an ad for it): It’s nice that you don’t have to worry about spills on your phone.

One of my gripes with Samsung phones in the past is the amount of bloatware that came pre-installed on its handsets, much of it apps that couldn’t be uninstalled. Well, I’m pleased to say that the S7 handset  came without the bloat that past S model phones came with. I’m happy with that. Clearly Samsung have been listening. Battery life was great, and while I still had to charge it every night, a full charge would get me through a heavy days use.

The S6 had a great camera (I had a review unit when it came out, too) – perhaps one of the best I’d used on a smart phone –  and Samsung has delivered the goods again on the S7, with a camera that produces bright and vivid images and surpasses what the S6 was able to do. The phone has a nice selection of shooting modes (including a food mode. That’s for people who really like taking photos of food, I suppose) and a Pro mode that should keep keen photographers busy. I was impressed with the low light camera, too, and used it to take some photos of my dog in a dark room (which you can see here). There’s also a focus mode which lets you focus on a particular object in a photo. There’s also a variety of options when taking video, too, so it’s got you covered.

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It’s Autumn and we’ve still got roses in our garden!

 

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Using the Galaxy S7’s low light camera to capture this photo of my Samoyed, Drew. Good boy!

 

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Samsung is also targeting gamers with the S7 and it comes with software called Game Tools which lets gamers fire up their favourite mobile game (currently mine is Alto’s Adventure and Lara Croft Go!) and do things like turn off notifications while your playing or record game play footage and take screen shots. The video below shows it in action. You can also add commentary using the phone’s  external microphone if you want. I didn’t.

If you’re the sort of person who likes to post game play walk-throughs or Let’s Plays of your favourite mobile games, Game Tools is a great feature.  Samsung’s Game Launcher app also manages all your mobile games in one spot (I don’t have that many as I don’t tend to do a lot of mobile gaming and I refuse to allow Candy Crush or any of that ilk of mobile game anywhere near me).

Look, you can probably tell by now that I really like the Galaxy S7.  It’s a fantastic looking phone, it has a brilliant screen that is vibrant and sharp, it’s snappy, the fingerprint scanner works well, and it handled everything I threw at it. So far the only fault I have is the phone’s metal and glass body  is a fingerprint magnet!

I guess it’s a ringing endorsement, too,  on how good the S7 is when your teenage son, who worked hard over the summer to get enough money to buy a Nexus 6P, contemplates (briefly) selling that phone and buying an S7. It says a lot about the quality of the Galaxy S7 and tells me that it’s has set the benchmark that other smartphones have to live up to.