Samsung Galaxy A models are interesting midrange devices, because they have the special gift of taking design elements and traits from the flagships that came the year before and offering them in a midrange package. That’s been happening ever since the Galaxy Alpha and also happens with the Galaxy A5 (2017), that we reviewed earlier this year. What came out can be learned after the break. In the meantime you must know that the handset is priced at $339.
The design of the device is inspired by the Galaxy S7 a lot and in many ways this feels and IS a Galaxy S7 Mini. It debuted in January 2017 and it’s available in black, blue or gold. There’s 3D glass at the back and front and we’ve got curved edges of the front and back panel. There’s still a metal frame in the glass sandwich and everything is IP68 certified, so it’s water and dust proof.
This means that the device can be immersed in up to 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes. The handset measures 7.9 mm in thickness, the same waistline of the Galaxy S7 and weighs 159 grams, which is 4 grams more than the Galaxy A5 (2016). Also 7 grams more than the S7. The handset is by no means slippery and it comes with a premium build, an elegant design and great button feedback.
One hand usage is OK… ish and our version was a bit of a fingerprint and grease magnet. Nice design overall.
On the display front there’s a 5.2 inch Full HD panel of the Super AMOLED variety and this feels a lot like the one we got last year. Since there’s no preinstalled video player, we resorted to the Gallery to play our clips. It offered a Pop Up Play feature and even the option to make a GIF. The viewing experience offered us vivid colors, that seem to pop out of the screen, plus good brightness and a nice contrast.
View angles were wide and the black was deep. Pixels have a Pentile Matrix arrangement with diamond shapes. We also pulled off our usual Luxmeter test, reaching 468 LUX units on this panel, which is rather good, no matter what your landmarks are. It surpasses the Motorola Moto Z Play and ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe, but also scores below the Galaxy A5 (2016) and its 505 LUX.
Settings are reasonably generous for this display, with brightness, Blue Light filter and an opacity slider included. You can set up the style and size of the font and the Screen Mode offers the following options: Adaptive Display, AMOLED Cinema, AMOLED Photo and Basic. There’s also a Color Balance area with a RGB slider or two thrown in for good measure.
Finally, we’ve got an Easy Mode and Icon Frames as options, plus Always On Display. That one shows notifications, clock and an image on the standby screen, without drawing too much power. It’s a good screen overall, so no objections here.
Moving to the rest of the hardware, we came across an octa core Exynos 7880 processor, clocked at 1.9 GHz and using a Mali T830 MP3 GPU. There’s also 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage, of which 23.1 GB are available to the user. Then there’s a microsD card slot, with support for up to 256 GB. We didn’t experience any lag per se, but some apps take a bit longer to start than we’d like them to.
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) is able to run the game Riptide GP Renegade like a champ and it also looks swell. In benchmarks it also did fine, surpassing the Moto Z and Huawei Honor 8 in Quadrant, but scoring below the Huawei Nova Plus. In AnTuTu 6 we scored above the Huawei P10 Lite and Motorola Moto M, but also below the ASUS ZenFone 3 and Huawei Nova.
3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited offered us OK results, beating the Huawei P10 Lite and ASUS ZenFone 2, but going below iPhone 5s even, so that’s not encouraging for gamers who want a future proof machine. Somehow having solid specs here doesn’t mean you get the best performance in the world, but the general usage was fine by me. The temperature tests we did brought us to a value of 33.6 degrees Celsius in GFXBench and 32.3 degrees in Riptide GP Renegade. That means the device remains quite cool.
Now off to the battery! This one is a 3000 mAh unit, a 100 mAh bump from the predecessor, that promises on paper to deliver 53 hours of audio playback or 19 hours of video playback. Our actual video playback test revealed a time of 14 hours and 59 minutes, which makes the device the 11th in our top 100. It’s superior to the A5 (2016) before it and the Huawei Mate 9, but scores less than the Galaxy S7 Edge and the Galaxy A3 (2017).
In PCMark we scored 11 hours and 59 minutes, a stellar value placing us above some battery phones even, like the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max. It’s also a 2-3 hour bump from the predecessor. Still, the Galaxy A3 (2017) is slightly better. We tested the charging in steps and 5 minutes meant 8% battery level, while 15 minutes meant 23% and 30 minutes 44%.
After one hour we were at 86% and the full charge was done in one hour and 30 minutes, which is not bad at all and it’s even superior to the Galaxy S8. Settings for the battery have a pretty nice UI this time around, letting you tweak Power Saving (Off/ Mid / Max), put unused apps to sleep and monitor apps. A great battery indeed.
Time to see what the acoustics bring! We’ve got Play Music here and the most original speaker placement I’ve seen in quite a while: on the top right edge of the device. It’s not easy to cover with the hand in portrait luckily and the equalizer is quite generous, as usual for Samsung. You can tweak the genres, give the bass, treble and instruments an extra nudge, or play with 7 custom channels.
There’s also Surround, Tube Amp Pro and Adapt Sound. The listening experience using that speaker brought us a very loud sound, crisp too and a great bass. It’s actually one of the best listening experiences we had lately on midrangers. We also did a decibelmeter test and got to 85.1 dBA at the front and top and 80.7 dBA at the front and bottom, with our usual acoustic sample.
In Riptide GP Renegade we got to 83 dBA, which in real life feels like so much more. That’s inferior to the Moto Z Play and Galaxy S7 by the way, while the first result was superior to the Huawei P10. The headphones we got bundled with the device are pretty much the same as those we keep getting from Samsung over the past years. They’re loud, comfy and deliver clear sound, with good cancelling.
And now let’s talk about the camera. Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) has a 16 megapixel back shooter with F/1.9 aperture and also uses a 16 MP front camera with the same aperture. The Camera app starts up fast and has an UI similar to the one on the Galaxy S8 a bit. The focus speed is far from the S7 or S8 and I would call it OK for a midrange phone.
Picture taking is very fast though. Options are classic for a Sammy phone, with Auto, Pro and Panorama on offer here, plus Hyperlapse, HDR, Night, Food and the option to download more. The Pro mode also offers tweaks for white balance, ISO, exposure, resolution, timer, grid and voice control. There’s also Beautify and Effects in the mix. Time to see how the camera actually performed.
We handled it on a very sunny day of May and the sky was rendered as almost white, on account of the strong sun. Clarity was great and there was some over sharpening here and there. Sometimes the shots felt a bit “too perfect”, if you know what I mean. They were oversharpened and felt unnaturally clear. Zooming in revealed that there are a lot of details captured here.
I was also happy with the selfies, loving the texture of the skin and hair. The clarity was great and the background got totally blurred. Nice color hue too. Back to the main cam, it delivers perfect focus and some pretty good colors. We put the zoom to the test and found the clarity still delivering even at max zoom level. In the shade and indoors we did encounter some blur, which appears if you’re too quick with the pic taking.
Some burn appeared in full sunlight and this really couldn’t be avoided, believe me. I liked the dynamic range here and found the HDR to be OK, getting rid of some of the burnt areas. A problem I noticed right away was the fact that the main camera struggles to focus in closeup, but when you do focus, macros are amazing looking. The Panorama had a resolution of 11.136 x 992 pixels, which is quite nice.
I’d say that this device offers an experience 10% superior to the one of the Galaxy A5 (2016), less oversharpening (but still present) and better details, as well as colors. It beats the Huawei P10 Lite and can fight the ASUS ZenFone 3 on equal terms. It’s also slightly better than the Moto Z Play. Selfies totally stand out. Now as far as the low light capture goes, we got a great flash, that clearly lit up the captures, but we also recorded some blurrier shots.
Colors were OK, but frankly speaking I wasn’t expecting so many yellow pics and moved ones. Details were not impressive when zooming in and honestly speaking I found the Galaxy A5 (2016) low light pictures to be better than those of the Galaxy A5 (2017). I actually looked at both galleries, so it’s a fact. It’s also true that they were taken in different places and times of year.
I also feel that the ZenFone 3 handled the night better. Now let’s see if the video capture is any good. This phone films in Full HD, MP4 format, at 30 FPS and with a 17 Mbps bitrate. There’s no optical image stabilization here, which is odd, since the predecessor had it. I noticed that we got a solid objec tracking, realistic colors and good clarity.
The microphone was also good and the exposure change was accurate from shadow to sun and viceversa. I also found the front camera video to be solid, vlogger worthy even. Zoom brought out pretty OK details, but don’t start moving around when filming, otherwise you’ll trigger some shakiness. Electronic image stabilization wasn’t my cup of tea here, but at least the focus was good.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked the resulting videos, but looking back at the previous A5 I didn’t feel much of an upgrade. One thing I can say for sure: this handset can film better than the Xperia XA or the ASUS ZenFone 3, plus the Huawei P10 Lite. Low light video capture was actually a bit of a pleasant surprise, with excellent brightness, colors, textures and details. The mic didn’t let us down either.
It’s truly not bad at all and even the zoom is OK. Goes to show that a camera can still surprise even after it didn’t win any medals during day time capture. Judging it strictly by brightness, clarity and mic, I’d say this phone is good for recording video at night time concerts. This time it actually beats the predecessor, but overall things are pretty tight.
Moving to another area now, we find the preinstalled web browser, which we played with and digged its page loading speed. The virtual keyboard was comfy and had the advantage of a numeric row. Back to the browser, it has some useful extensions and in spite of its apparent speed, its benchmarks weren’t great. On the connectivity front things are modern enough, with USB Type-C, NFC, Dual SIM slots (nano SIM), 4G LTE, ANT+, GPS, Glonass and an audio jack (still here!).
There’s also WiFi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2, WiFi Direct and the calls we did had a loud sound and also very clear. I loved the mic behavior and I was happy with the calling experience. Also, not bad connections, as SpeedTest showed. We reached 92 Mbps in download via 4G and 19 Mbps in upload, while WiFi brought us to 222 Mbps in download and 25 Mbps in upload.
And finally we have reached the software area. Here we have Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, for some strange and unjustified reason. It should be Nougat all the way by now. Anyway, we at least get modern Samsung UI, the one from the Note 7 if I’m not mistaking. There’s lots of blue and white, transparency and elegance. Multitasking is done via carousel and split screen and the leftmost homescreen is the Briefing one, courtesy of Flipboard.
Keeping the homescreen pressed reveals widgets, wallpaper, theme and grid. The dropdown bit has a lot of white and clear UI, plus it shows notifications and Quick Settings. Everything is very well organized, I would even call it “medical” and architectural. Settings bring you gaming features, like the Game Launcher, DND for games and recording and since we’re in the Settings area, there’s also a one hand use mode, Quick Launch for the camera, Easy Mode and the fingerprint scanner.
That can be set up in 20 or so steps and it’s pretty fast and accurate with the unlocks. It lets you access a secure folder, sign into websites and confirm digital payment. The preinstalled app list includes 39 names, which is reasonable I’d say, since there are ZenFones with 55 apps out there. Samsung bundles here Microsoft apps, like Excel, Word or Skype, plus the Galaxy Apps store, S Voice, Samsung Health, voice recording and the pretty capable Samsung Notes, with some cool brushes.
There’s also Themes and luckily you can uninstall most apps. I guess it’s time for the verdict now!
Here are the Pros:
- good build quality, premium materials
- great battery
- good performance
- waterproof body
- great selfies
- bright screen
- nice UI even for Marshmallow
- fast charge
- films nicely, even at night
- great connectivity
And the Cons:
- no Android Nougat
- fingerprint magnet
- not that loud
- some over sharpening for pictures
- focus struggles in closeups
- low light a bit below rivals (photo)
- no optical image stabilization
In the end this handset stays true to the “Galaxy S7 Mini” nickname, although its screen is actually a bit larger. You feel that you’re getting a taste of Galaxy S7, maybe 70% of the experience or 80% tops, by spending a few Benjamins less. It’s a very good looking phone, with an extremely capable battery and camera. It doesn’t make compromises and upgrades the predecessor enough to make it tempting.
The only drawbacks are the lack of OIS, Nougat and maybe some lesser camera aspects. One can only imagine what the Galaxy A5 (2018) will bring once it gets S8 inspiration… You can get the Galaxy A5 (2017) here.