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Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) review: Worth buying in 2018?

Alan Martin Katharine Byrne
12 Jun 2018
Expert Reviews Recommended Logo
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
290
inc VAT (as of 12th July)

Fast and beautifully designed, the Galaxy A5 (2016) is Samsung's best mid-range phone yet, but is the 2017 A5 a better purchase?

Pros 
Cheap flagship alternative
Great camera
Lengthy battery life
Cons 
2017 Galaxy A5 is better in every way
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Update: Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) launches

A new Galaxy A5 smartphone has launched. The first phone from the South Korean manufacturer since the Note 7 explosion debacle, the latest A5 is a significant upgrade from last year's model, sticking to that crucial mid-range price point.

For starters, this year's A5 runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow straight out of the box, with an octa-core 1.9GHz Exynos 7880 chip and 3GB of RAM. There's also twice the onboard storage at 32GB, too.

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016)Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
Android versionAndroid 5.1 LolipopAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
Display5.1in 1,920 x 1,080 Super AMOLED5.1in 1,920 x 1,080 Super AMOLED
ProcessorOcta-core 1.6GHz Exynos 7580Octa-core 1.9GHz Exynos 7880
Memory2GB RAM3GB RAM
Storage16GB32GB

READ NEXT: Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) review

What does this mean if you're thinking of picking up the 2016 A5? Well, there's that latest model to consider. Currently, it's priced at just under £300, and it's seen a pretty hefty price drop since launch. That's just £50 more. My suggestion? If you've got the spare cash kicking about, get this year's A5, although the 2016 model should still serve you well should you wish to save some pennies.

Regardless, you can read my original Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) review, below.

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) review

From a distance, you could almost mistake the new Galaxy A5 (2016) for Samsung's year-old flagship, the Galaxy S6. The A5 has a slightly boxier, more rectangular profile than its S6 cousin, but with its metal frame, squared off sides, front-facing fingerprint scanner and gorgeous glass rear, it's not exactly hard to see which phone the A5 gets its good looks from.

Thankfully, the one thing the A5 (2016) hasn't inherited from the S6 is its premium price, as you can currently get one for around £290 SIM-free or £23-per-month on a contract. That puts it in prime Nexus 5X and OnePlus 3 territory, but there's no denying which smartphone I'd rather have in my pocket given the choice. Of course, its glass back means it's rather prone to picking up messy fingerprints most of the time, but its hard, slim frame does feel immensely comfortable in your hand and its narrow bezels make it easy to grip despite its somewhat slippery rear surface.   

The most pleasing thing about the A5 (2016), though, is that it doesn't fall into the same spec-sharing trap as last year's A5, which was essentially just a larger version of the miniature Galaxy A3. This year's A5 still has plenty in common with the A3 (2016), most notably its design and rear camera sensor, but it stops short of using the same processor, which was one of the main reasons why last year's A5 wasn't quite such good value as the 2015 A3.

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) review: Performance

This time Samsung's used an octa-core 1.6GHz Samsung Exynos 7580 chip and 2GB of RAM for the A5 (2016), which gives it a significant boost in speed over its A3 (2016) sibling. In Geekbench 3, for example, the A5 (2016) scored 727 in the single core test and 3,558 in the multicore test, the latter of which was around 1,400 points faster than the quad-core-based A3 (2016).

It's still got some way to go before it beats the OnePlus 3, which had respective scores of 2,371 and 5,416, but it's more or less on a level playing field with the Nexus 5X and just about inches in front of the Moto G4. Indeed, Samsung's Android 6.0.1 TouchWiz interface felt lovely and quick during day-to-day use, and scrolling through menu settings rarely left me waiting for anything to happen. Web browsing was also very smooth, and it showed few signs of stuttering even on media-heavy web pages despite its somewhat mediocre Peacekeeper score of 631.

Where the A5 (2016) stumbles slightly is its gaming performance. With a score of just 295 frames (or 4.7fps) in the offscreen Manhattan 3.0 test in GFX Bench GL, the A5 (2016) isn't best suited to playing intensive 3D games. Hearthstone, for instance, wasn't wholly unplayable, but animations and special effects were very jerky and caused the game to judder quite a bit before I could lay down my next card. Simpler games like Threes, though, were absolutely fine, so it should still be able to handle the vast majority of Google App Store games.

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) review: Display

Of course, one of the big attractions of Samsung's Galaxy A series is that you get a beautiful Super AMOLED display instead of a more traditional LCD. AMOLED panels typically produce much richer, more accurate colours than LCD, and it's rare to see one on a phone under £300. Of course, the A5 (2016)'s 5.2in display only has a 1,920x1,080 resolution rather than a 2,560x1,440 panel like the S6, but it still looks perfectly sharp and crisp from a normal viewing distance.

Colours look stunning, too, as it covered a perfect 100% of the sRGB colour gamut, and blacks were a perfect 0.00cd/m2. It's also much brighter than your average AMOLED screen, as I measured a peak brightness of 399.74cd/m2. This is more than enough to see the screen clearly outdoors, but Samsung's also included an extra automatic outdoor brightness mode just to make sure it's always visible even in direct sunlight.

Thanks to its adaptive light sensor on the front of the phone, the screen jumped up to around 450cd/m2 when I shone a torch over it, which actually takes its real maximum brightness level beyond both the Nexus 5X and the OnePlus 3. This makes the A5 much more practical when you're out and about, and it effectively combines the best of both screen technologies, as you get all the richness and colour vibrancy of an AMOLED display without losing out on LED levels of brightness.

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Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) review: Battery life

Of course, having the screen on maximum brightness will inevitably drain the battery quite quickly, but provided you keep it set to a reasonable level, you should almost definitely get a full day's use out of the A5 (2016). In our continuous video playback test, for example, where we set the screen brightness to 170cd/m2 (around half on the A5), its 2,900mAh battery lasted an impressive 15h 26m, surpassing the Galaxy A3 (2016) by around 40 minutes and the Nexus 5X by over five hours. The OnePlus 3 just inches in front with its time of 16h 56m, but this is still a highly impressive score for a mid-range smartphone.

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) review: Camera

The 13-megapixel rear camera is a touch on the dingy side, but it still produced very good photos overall. Admittedly, the lighting conditions weren't exactly ideal when I tested the camera outdoors, but there was still a very high level of detail across the frame and there was hardly any noise present when viewed up close at their native resolution. Some areas of fine detail had a tendency to blur together slightly, particularly on lighter objects, but it wasn't particularly worrying.

^ Photos were a little dark overall, but there was still a high level of detail on show throughout

Switching on HDR mode also did an excellent job of bringing back some lost, overexposed cloud detail, but I was a little disappointed it didn't also brighten up the image generally, as shots continued to be a little dark overall.

Still, thankfully this wasn't too much of a problem with my indoor shots, as even in low light our still life arrangement had plenty of punch and colour. Shadows were perhaps a little pink, but our teddy bear fur looked crisp and defined and there was hardly any noise to be seen at all.

^ The A5 coped well indoors, too, capturing bright, vibrant colours with hardly any noise

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) review: Conclusion

The only real problem with the Galaxy A5 (2016) is that it currently costs just as much as a Galaxy S6 if you're buying on contract. When the S6 has a higher resolution screen, a faster processor, more onboard storage and a better camera, it's not really much of a contest. The one thing the A5 (2016) does have in its favour, though, is a microSD card slot, which the S6 is entirely lacking. As a result, this makes the A5 much more flexible than the S6, as you can always upgrade your storage later on (it supports cards up to 128GB) rather than being stuck with what you buy upfront.

Of course, the A5 is much cheaper than the S6 SIM-free, but when you can currently get an S6 for around £360, it's not as much of a leap as you might think. Still, there's plenty to like about the A5, and it easily sits alongside the Nexus 5X as one of the better phones you can buy for around £300 right now. The £329 OnePlus 3 is still better value overall, but if you're a current Samsung user and want something familiar that you can start using straight away, then you certainly won't be disappointed with the A5 (2016). 

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Hardware
ProcessorOcta-core 1.6GHz Samsung Exynos 7580
RAM2GB
Screen size5.2in
Screen resolution1,920x1,080
Screen typeSuper AMOLED
Front camera5 megapixels
Rear camera13 megapixels
FlashLED
GPSYes
CompassYes
Storage (free)16GB (11GB)
Memory card slot (supplied)microSD
Wi-Fi802.11a
BluetoothBluetooth 4.1
NFCYes
Wireless data3G, 4G
Dimensions145x71x7.3mm
Weight155g
Features
Operating systemAndroid 6.0.1
Battery size2,900mAh

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