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Samsung Galaxy A5 review (2017): Samsung’s mid-range Galaxy S8

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
369
inc VAT

Following the Note 7 debacle, Samsung saved their skins with the keenly-priced Galaxy A5

Pros 
Flagship-like quality on a budget
Lengthy battery life
Versatile camera
Cons 
Middling performance
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With the Note 7-related horrors of 2016 well and truly behind Samsung, the South Korean firm released a new handset: the 2017 refresh of its award-winning Samsung Galaxy A5 phone.

The Galaxy A5 has more in common with Samsung’s now-outmoded flagship Galaxy S7 than its budget J-series lineup, and despite costing significantly less than £450, the Galaxy A5’s clean metal frame and all-glass front almost puts some of its pricier siblings to shame. It fits snug in your palm with its tapered back and it’s nice to see that the rear camera is flush to the body of the phone.

With the Samsung Galaxy A5 you get four paint jobs to choose from: Black Sky, Gold Sand, Blue Mist or Peach Cloud. And while Blue Mist isn’t to my taste, all other colours look pretty snazzy.

It’s a lovely phone to hold and behold, but then 2016's Galaxy A5 was pretty nice, too. The key differences lie beneath the phone’s glossy exterior, with a new CPU, more RAM, storage and a higher resolution camera.

Galaxy A5 (2016)Galaxy A5 (2017)
ProcessorOcta-core 1.6GHz Exynos 7580Octa-core 1.9GHz Exynos 7880 
RAM2GB3GB
Display5.2in 1,920 x 1,080 Super AMOLED5.2in 1,920 x 1,080 Super AMOLED
Camera13 megapixel16 megapixel
Storage16GB32GB
Weight155g157g

Samsung Galaxy A5 review (2017): Display

The Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) as it did last year comes equipped with a 5.2in, Full HD, Super AMOLED display, racking up a pixel density of 424ppi. That’s not sharp enough to use the A5 with the Gear VR headset according to Samsung (and thus it isn’t supported), but there’s nothing stopping you from using Google Cardboard instead.

Colours are striking, too, covering a perfect 100% of the sRGB colour gamut. While our X-Rite colour calibrator did spot some slight inaccuracy in some of the darker green shades, it’s so marginal that you won’t spot this with the naked eye.

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It's also a reasonably bright Super AMOLED screen, too, with the calibrator picking up a peak brightness of 355cd/m2. It’s not as dazzling as, say, the Huawei P8 Lite and its blinding 700cd/m2, and you’ll need to shade the screen to read it in really bright conditions, but for the most part it’s adequate for outdoor viewing. That adaptive light sensor on the top of the phone does bump brightness up to a max 451cd/m2, should the need arise.

Samsung Galaxy A5 review (2017): Performance and battery life

When it comes to performance, impressions of the Galaxy A5 were solid to begin with. The octa-core Samsung Exynos 7880, clocked at 1.9GHz, seems a nippy enough performer and the accompanying 3GB of RAM keeps Android feeling snappy. 

The A5 does fall behind the One Plus 3T in the benchmarks, scoring 767 in the Geekbench 4 single-core test and 4,054 in multi-core compared with 1,903 and 4,274. At £60 less than the 3T, however, I think that’s a fair compromise.

The phone’s graphics performance is somewhat less impressive. Running GFXBench’s onscreen Manhattan 3.0 test it gained an average frame rate of 14fps, which is 33fps fewer than the OnePlus 3T scored. Sure, it wasn’t so bad in practicality. I found Sky Force: Reloaded ran with minimal hiccups, even when there was lots going on on-screen, but you need to bear in mind how the phone will perform not just with the games of today, but also those released two years from now when you’re coming to the end of your contract. Then, things may well not look quite so rosy.

As for battery life, that’s much, much better. This year’s Galaxy A5 ships with a 3,000mAh power pack, while it's cheaper A3 sibling runs on a slightly smaller 2,350mAh offering and it put in a sterling performance in our video playback tests. With the phone in flight mode and the screen calibrated to 170cd/m2 it lasted 22hrs 5mins before giving up and shutting down, beating the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge by almost four hours. Oh, and there’s USB Type-C fast charging, too.

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As for software, I was more than a little disappointed to find that Samsung Galaxy A5 wasn’t Nougat-powered straight out of the box. Since this article was published, however, the A5 has received a slew of software updates, and now comfortably runs Android Nougat – just don't expect it to run anything beyond that. Android Pie, and indeed any future updates from Google, are out of the question. 

Samsung Galaxy A5 review (2017): Camera

We’ve seen the camera protrusion at the back steadily recede with every iteration of the Galaxy A, and now it’s entirely vanished. The 2017 Galaxy A5’s camera is now completely flush with the rear panel, a change that means you can tap out texts and emails on a flat surface without the handset teetering back and forth.

Samsung has also boosted the resolution to 16-megapixels in both the front and rear cameras, a sizeable improvement over the 2016 A5’s 13- and 5-megapixel cameras. I was able to capture some nicely detail-rich shots of the streets below the office with that rear camera on a strangely clear (and warm) winter’s morning.

Switching on HDR didn’t yield massive improvements, even if the image was already well exposed to begin with. A tad more cloud detail can be spotted in the HDR shot but not much else.

Indoor snaps weren’t a problem, with shots of our low-light still life arrangement picking up an abundance of colour. Take a look at those pens and colour swatches: they’re bright and vibrant, not dull and murky, which is exactly what we look for in this test. Visual noise is kept at bay, too, while the teddy bear’s fur looks crisp and well-defined.

Samsung’s camera software has seen a bit of an update, too. In a similar move to Huawei’s slick Camera app, specific shooting modes can be accessed via quick swipes to the left and right, rather than having to navigate through convoluted menus. It’s the almost-perfect one-handed experience – especially with the new movable virtual shutter button – and especially handy for selfie enthusiasts.

There’s also Samsung’s new “Food Filter”, which applies a basic depth-of-field effect and some colour tinkering. Photos with this filter applied were a tad oversaturated for my liking, though, and I wasn’t a fan of the extreme background blur, either. I’d stick with normal shooting modes and post-shot editing if you want your food shots to look their Instagram-worthy best.

Samsung Galaxy A5 review (2017): Verdict

The Galaxy A5 might not be the absolute latest from Samsung, but don’t disregard this little mid-range handset just yet. It’s just the ticket if you’re not fond of handing over flagship–sized sums of cash but want something that looks and feels just as sleek.

As ever, the OnePlus 3T still looms large in this mid-range territory, so it’s still a little tricky to recommend the Galaxy A5, although at £399 it is a not-insignificant £60 more expensive.

Still, I think Samsung has just about done enough to put the Galaxy A5 (2017) in the mix here, and takes a well-deserved place as one of the best mid-range handsets we've reviewed. Even if it doesn’t quite edge out the OnePlus 3T, its lengthy battery life is worth the price of admission alone.

Hardware
ProcessorOcta-core 1.9GHz Samsung Exynos 7880
RAM3GB
Screen size5.2in
Screen resolution1,920 x 1,080
Screen typeSuper AMOLED
Front camera16 megapixels
Rear camera16 megapixels
FlashLED
GPSYes
CompassYes
Storage (free)32GB
Memory card slot (supplied)Yes
Wi-Fi802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
BluetoothBluetooth 4.2
NFCYes
Wireless data4G
Dimensions146.1x71.4x7.9mm
Weight157g
Features
Operating systemAndroid 6.0.1
Battery size3,000mAh

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