ALL EYES ARE ON Samsung this year after their meteoric rise to Android supremacy ended in a Note 7-shaped fireball in 2016, and thankfully they’re off to a good start with the Galaxy A5. T
his year’s edition of the mid-range phone is well-priced, well-built and well-specced, though it can’t compete with the similarly-priced OnePlus 3T in terms of pure hardware chops.
If you like Samsung phones but don’t want to wait for the upcoming Galaxy S8, or you’d rather not spend top-end money, this one might well be for you.
The A5 very much looks like a member of the Galaxy family. That means smooth curves, the familiar rounded back panel with Samsung logo and a physical home key beneath the display. At a glance, the A5 could easily be mistaken for the Galaxy S7.
The 2017 Galaxy A5 comes in a choice of four colours: Black Sky, Gold Sand, Blue Mist and Peach Cloud. Our review handset is black, and sadly it doesn’t have the gorgeous petrol blue sheen of Samsung handsets past – plus it shows up fingerprints like you wouldn’t believe. Still, for the price, it looks great.
There are some unusual choices in the placement of features on the handset. On the left edge, you’ll find two separate volume buttons (not a rocker) above the SIM slot, with the microSD tray on the top edge of the phone. The power key is on the right, and unlike some previous Samsungs, the home key is flush with the front of the handset. It still presses properly inwards, though, and has a super-quick built-in fingerprint sensor. By default, you can double-tap this key to quick-launch the camera, and as ever with Samsung, it’s ready to shoot within a fraction of a second.
The bottom edge houses the central USB-C charging port and the 3.5mm headphone jack, but the speaker is all the way over on the top right edge, which is really unusual. It sits behind five drilled holes and offers decent sound output, if unsurprisingly a little thin and directional.
Another odd choice you’ll notice if you’re coming from a different phone brand: Samsung likes to swap the Apps and Back buttons so that Back is on the right and Apps is to the left of the home key. They’re both capacitive keys that only light up when used, and you do quickly get used to it – but it’s jarring at first, and Samsung – unlike other manufacturers – doesn’t offer a way to swap them back. You can get third-party button remapping apps, but really, this should either be standardised or easy to fix out of the box.
Hardware, storage and performance
This is a mid-ranger, so it’s not going to be acing any benchmarks. It does have good specs, though: an octa-core Samsung Exynos 7880 CPU (1.9GHz) with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of onboard storage and a microSD slot to increase that by up to 256GB. That means it’s decently future proofed, as 3GB will be enough for a good while yet, and if you run out of storage you can just whack some more in. MicroSD cards are already cheap, and getting cheaper.
Geekbench 4’s multi-core CPU test gave a solid score of 4135. By comparison, the pricier Galaxy S7 got 5213 and the only-slightly-more-expensive OnePlus 3T got 4321. The S6 Edge sits at 3948, the S6 at 3846 and the S5 at 2362.
Meanwhile, AnTuTu gave a total benchmark score of 60544, ie not enough to make the top 50 – which wouldn’t be surprising for the price, except that the £399 OnePlus 3T scored 161596 and is currently ranked third overall for the AnTuTu test. If hardware performance is important to you, you might prefer to stump up the extra £30 for that phone – you’d get an extra 32GB of storage, too.
Finally, the PCMark Work 2.0 performance test gave an OK result of 4047, which puts the A5 (2017) at around the same ranking as the BlackBerry Priv (4007), LG V10 (4046) and Motorola Moto X Pure Edition (4077). By comparison, the OnePlus 3T scored 5641 in our test, while the S7 averages at 4536, the S6 at 4380 and the S5 at 3507.
Overall, then, it’s not going to set the world on fire (no shade intended, Note 7) but the Galaxy A5 (2017) is more than capable of meeting most people’s day-to-day smartphone performance needs.
The handset includes NFC for Android Pay, and is water and dustproof to IP68 specification, meaning you can immerse it in up to 1.5m of water for up to half an hour. If you must.
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