Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017) Review: The Little Galaxy That Could (Video)

Every once in a while we come across a small and compact phone, the kind of which the unsuspecting type would claim has a modest battery and it...

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Every once in a while we come across a small and compact phone, the kind of which the unsuspecting type would claim has a modest battery and it blows battery phones out of the water. Such performances belong to the Xperia X Compact models often times, but now they enter Samsung’s playing field. Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017) dazzled us with its battery and we’ll tell you all about over the next lines. The device debuted in January this year and it’s priced at $240.

It’s one of the few compact modern phones and it’s a 4.7 incher with a design inspired by the Samsung Galaxy S7. It uses glass and metal and adds some welcome extras compared to the A3 (2016). The handset is available in black, blue, gold or pink and it uses a 2.5D glass panel at the back and one at the front. It’s got a metal frame sandwiched between the two and gets IP68 dust and water proofing.

It’s a compact and comfy machine, that’s easy to use with a single hand and it has a solid build. The phone has comfy buttons, the Home one included and comes with narrow bezels. Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017) measures 7.9 mm in thickness, weighs 138 grams, so it’s basically 0.6 mm thicker than the predecessor and also 6 grams heavier. It’s also thicker than the iPhone 7 and has the same waistline as the Galaxy S7.

I would say it’s a great buy for a compact phone passionate and the only drawback would be the fact it gets smudged easily. The display is a 4.7 incher with a 1280 x 720 pixel resolution and a Super AMOLED panel. Keep in mind that this is similar to what we got last year on the A3 (2016): Super AMOLED HD, 4.7 inch. The video playback was done with the aid of the Gallery app, that had a Pop Up Play feature and a Make GIF option.

The screen offered some very vivid colors, bright image and wide view angles. The black was deep, typical for an AMOLED and the Pentile Matrix arrangement was right where we expected it, as shown by the microscope. We also did a brightness test, achieving 445 LUX, which is a good value, albeit not superior to the last year’s Galaxy A3 (2016) 504 LUX.

It surpassed the Huawei Mate 8 and Huawei P10 Plus, but scored below the HTC One A9. Settings have to do with Brightness, Blue Light Filter (opacity slider), font (size and style), while the Screen Mode still lets you choose between Adaptive, AMOLED Cinema, AMOLED Photo and Basic. There’s also a Color Balance area, with RGB sliders and finally an Easy Mode.

Users can tweak the icon frames, select the Always On Display and its showing of the clock, image and so forth. There’s a Screen Saver and Smart Stay finally end the options list. I’d say this one is a good screen, especially for a midrange phone and it’s quite bright. Moving on to the rest of the hardware, we are treated to an octa core Exynos 7870 processor, clocked at 1.6 GHz, plus a Mali T830 MP2 GPU.

We’ve got 2 GB of RAM in the mix, 16 GB of storage, of which 9.8 GB are available to the user and there was no lag here, but sometimes apps took too long to load up. The gaming checks out OK and Riptide GP Renegade ran like a champ, with no frame rate problems. We also did a bunch of benchmarks, like Quadrant, where we scored above the ASUS ZenFone 2 and Galaxy A5 (2016), but below the Huawei Honor 5X.

AnTuTu 6 is more relevant and in this one we beat the Moto G5 and Galaxy A5 (2016), while scoring below the Xperia XA. The gamers’ benchmark, 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited had us at a pretty modest value, above the Huawei G8 and the Honor 5X, but below the Nubia N1 and Moto G5. I’d say that overall performance is on par with the Moto G5 and above the Galaxy A5 (2016) somehow.

The temperature tests we did were satisfying, with 30.8 degrees Celsius after running GFXBench and 34.5 degrees Celsius after running Riptide GP Renegade. This means the device keeps cool and there’s no overheating. Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017) has a 2350 mAh battery, of the Li-Ion kind, which on paper offers 41 hours of audio playback, or 17 hours of video playback. It also provides 12 hours of 3G Internet usage, but let’s leave the paper behind and see how we did.

In our HD video playback test, the device achieved 15 hours and 39 minutes, which is excellent for a phone of this size and price. It surpassed the predecessor by about 3 hours and also the Galaxy S7 Edge, but stayed below the Moto Z Play. In PCMark things got stunning, with 13 hours and 20 minutes, beating a few battery phones in the process, like the ZenFone 3 Max.

Still, it stays below the Moto Z Play and the ASUS ZenFone Max. Charging is done in 1 hour and 58 minutes, not bad for the usage time we’re getting. It’s still inferior to the predecessor, that juiced up in 1 hour and 43 minutes. It’s superior to the Google Pixel XL at least. We also did several steps of charging, like going to 6% in 5 minutes, 18% in 15 minutes and 35% in 30 minutes.

One hour equals 68%. Of course Settings for the battery are included here, letting you put unused apps to sleep, use a Power Save Mode set to Mid or Max. They limit performance, network and brightness among others. It’s a fantastic battery this one, possibly the best on a phone below 5 inches in diagonal. On the acoustics front, the story is similar to the one of the Galaxy A5 (2017), with an unusually side placed speaker.

It’s in the top right side of the metal frame and it won’t be covered by your hand in gaming or video watching situations. The music player we used here was Play Music and we had the usual generous EQ from Samsung, with Genre settings, knobs for bass, treble and so forth, as well as 7 custom channels. Thrown in upscaling and surround and it feels like too much variety. Anyhow, that speaker proved to be quite good, as it delivered a loud sound, generous bass and no distortion.

We reached 89 decibels at the top and front, plus 84.5 dBA at the bottom. And that was with a musical sample. With Riptide GP Renegade we went to 96.9 dBA, which is better than good, great. The headphones were basically the same from the past years, ever since the Galaxy S5 let’s say, so they were comfy, loud, clear and had good cancelling.

FM radio was also here. Time to see if this little guy has some camera aptitudes in the mix. The Galaxy A3 (2016) was a bit of letdown in this area, even for its segment of pricing. Anyway, we are treated with a familiar package here: 13 MP back camera, with LED flash and F/1.9 aperture, but upfront there’s an 8 MP F/1.9 surprise.

All the classic Samsung options are here, with stuff like Auto, Pro (white balance, ISO, exposure), Panorama, Continuous Shot, HDR, Night, Food and Beauty. Effects, timer and grid complete the list. The camera app starts up fast, focus wasn’t bad and the zoom was fluid. Picture taking is also fast. We proceed to the gallery, that was taken on a sunny day in the park.

We achieved some good selfies and I was totally digging the skin texture, clarity and hair texture. Colours were very well calibrated, clarity was good and some oversharpening happened, because you know… it’s Samsung and old habits die hard. It takes a bit to focus in closeup situations, but it’s worth it, as the flower macros are great. Details were also quite good, particularly in landscape, where you wouldn’t expect this to happen at 13 MP.

I liked the clarity and texture of the swan shots and I liked that the HDR made the burning summer sky more visible. There was no blur, no focus loss and no burn, all 3 aspects that gave the predecessor some trouble. The Panorama was a reasonable 7408 x 656 pixel in resolution and I like the water texture. It’s clearly a camera setup superior to the one of the Galaxy A3 (2016) and very, very close to the Galaxy A5 (2017).

Surprisingly no compromises have been made and I’d be hard pressed to find a sub 5 inch phone with the same quality and lack of camera bugs. Low light capture tempered us a bit, with blur and focus loss. The flash made things OK, but in general I found the pics to be “milky”, as if infused with white. The colors’ calibration was decent, but the street light halos were big.

Texture of buildings and objects was acceptable and at least we didn’t have any bizarre hues like violet or blue, as we saw on the A3 last year. Still, I’d placed this cam’s low light behaviour below the P10 Lite and P9 Lite (2017) from Huawei. Video capture happened in MP4 format, Full HD, at 30 FPS and 17 Mbps bitrate. Electronic stabilization wasn’t champ material and the microphone was OK, minus the times it met the wind.

Video capture proved to be pretty clear, but don’t expect clarity to last when you zoomed in. Colors had well calibrated, focus didn’t have any hassle and voices were well caught on mic. Some minor burn happened, but once again it was summer time. Overall, it’s not bad filming for below $300. It’s once again above the Galaxy A3 (2016) capabilities, when it comes to colors and details.

Low light videos can be defined through these keywords: long halos, refocusing, shaky, OK microphone, not bad colors. A bit of yellow tint sneaked in and I’d say that the clarity was 80% spot on. It’s tolerable for night time shooting, but it certainly won’t be a memorable performance. Overall, the camera went above our expectations, especially after remembering the A3 from last year as the black sheep of the A 2016 series in the camera area.

The web browser offered by Samsung here was rather fast and it also produced some mid level benchmark results, in SunSpider and Vellamo. The keyboard was comfy and featured a numeric row at the top. As far as connectivity is concerned, there’s dual SIM action here, with nano SIM card slots and you can use a combo of SIM 1 and microSD or SIM 1 and and SIM 2.

4G LTE Category 4, USB Type-C, NFC, WiFi Direct and WiFi a/b/g/n/ac, as well as Bluetooth 4.2 are all here. GPS, ANT and Glonass made the cut, too. The Dialer offers a Speed Dial feature and the calls were loud and clear, noise cancelling was good and so was the microphone. We also performed a SpeedTest, reaching 91 Mbps in download on 4G and 19 Mbps in upload, while on WiFi we were at 250 Mbps in download and 25 Mbps in upload. All of those are good midrange results.

Time to discuss software. Once again I’m puzzled that Samsung dared to launch a bunch of quality midrange phones without Android Nougat. This one has Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, with the same UI we saw on the Note 7 basically. It’s Grace UX, very white, clear, clean, almost “surgical”. Multitasking involves a carousel, the leftmost homescreen is reserved for Briefing and you can tweak the experience with the usual wallpapers, themes, widgets and screen grid.

There’s a Secure Folder here and nope, there’s no split screen on this diagonal size. The dropdown bit has the clear toggles/quick settings and notifications, while the Settings include a DND feature, Smart Stay, Game Launcher/Game Tools and Easy Mode. Security and Knox are here and the fingerprint scanner finally made it to an A3. It involves 20 steps to set up and lets you sign into websites, do purchases and other such things.

Somehow the biometric authentication felt a bit slow… The preinstalled apps list includes 38 names, which is quite a few, but many of them can uninstalled. There’s Galaxy Apps as the app store, Microsoft action via Excel, Word, OneDrive, OneNote and Skype, plus Samsung Health, S Voice and Samsung Notes. Time for the verdict!

Here are the Pros:

  • stellar battery
  • waterproof
  • cute design
  • bright screen
  • OK performance
  • good acoustics and camera
  • nice selfies

And the Cons:

  • gets smudged easily
  • poor low light capture even for price
  • Marshmallow instead of Nougat
  • not much storage left after a few apps are installed.

Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017) is basically a tiny battery phone, with a good pair of cameras and it’s the best small phone that $240 can buy. It fights in a segment of very few competitors, like older iPhone 6s or 6 models, maybe an Xperia Compact or two. It’s less pricey than its alternatives and beats models like the Moto G5, plus a few Huaweis.

Even the iPhone SE and iPhone 6 purchases would be put to the test if you had to choose this model over them. You can get the handset here.

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