Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) Review: Good mid-range phone with a few flagship features

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Samsung Galaxy A5

The year 2015 was the period which turned the tables for Samsung. Two of its devices, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy Note5 released that year received much acclaim, and still are arguably the eye-catching and neatly designed smartphones that we’ve seen from Samsung in recent times. Now, the company took a leaf from its own book and used its flagship devices as a reference point for the Galaxy A series, the company’s attempt at the upper-mid-range segment.

Samsung’s Galaxy A series of smartphones offer a similar design as its flagship devices but feature slightly downgraded hardware. Three of the devices in the series – the Galaxy A3, A5 and A7 – were released last year, and boasted of an all-metal body. The 2016 refresh of the Galaxy A series basically follows the footsteps of the S6 and the Note5 in terms of design, at least.

The Galaxy A5 (2016) is priced at Rs.28,500 and competes with the likes of Google Nexus 5X, HTC One E8 and the Moto X Style. The smartphone is available in two colour variants – gold and silver. We got our hands on a gold coloured variant of the A5 and here’s our in-depth review of the device.

Design
The 2016 version of the Galaxy A5 is essentially a Galaxy S6, what with identical design and almost the same construction. If one has to nitpick the minute differences, one would note that the Galaxy A5 corners are less rounded. However, without a shadow of a doubt, the device gives the appearance of a premium top-end phone.

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Glass panels are seen on both front and back of the device and it has a metal frame that runs along its edges. The presence of the glass panel at the back does make the device slightly slippery, but the frame helps in maintaining grip. Moreover, the back panel is prone to getting fingerprints, so you will have to be extra careful while handling the device to look it clean.

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Apart from the distinguishing look and feel of the device, all the keys, buttons and ports are in their typical positions as one would expect from Samsung devices. The volume rocker and power button keys are on the right and left edges respectively. The buttons are made of metal and offer good tactile feedback. The fingerprint scanner, as typical of Samsung devices, is integrated into the home button and is belted by the capacitive back and the recent app key on its either sides. 

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The Galaxy A5 (2016) flaunts a 5.2-inch display. Samsung has done a decent job at keeping the side bezels very thin, which made the one-handed usage with Galaxy A5 lot easier. The headphone jack, the microUSB port, and the single speaker unit are located on the bottom of the device. At a weight of 155g, the device feels good to hold in hand. We’re going to go as far as to say that the Galaxy A5 has one of the best designs for a smartphone. 

Display
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The Galaxy A5 (2016) has a 5.2-inch Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 1080x1920p, further resulting in a pixel density of 401 PPI. While Samsung has been using Quad-HD displays on many of its flagship devices such as the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge and the Note5, a Full-HD display is decent enough, and the Super AMOLED further helps in resulting a good viewing experience. Browsing the web, reading the text, watching videos are very pleasant to watch on this screen. The screen offers saturated and punchy colours apart from deep inky blacks. The display also has good viewing angles and the brightness levels allow you to comfortably view the screen outdoors in bright sunlight.

Hardware
The Galaxy A5 (2016) sold in India features Samsung’s octa-core Exynos 7580 SoC with 2GB of RAM. The Exynos chipset is the same one that was used in Samsung’s lower mid-range device, the Galaxy J7. Moreover, we’ve been so accustomed to seeing 3GB of RAM on many devices in the sub-Rs.20,000 price range, that just 2GB of RAM on an upper mid-range device feels disappointing. The device’s competitors like the Vibe X3, the OnePlus 2 and the Honor 7 feature 3GB of RAM with faster processors. Although the Nexus 5X features the same 2GB of RAM, it packs a relatively faster processor. 

Samsung_Galaxy_A5_2016_Hardware1The device has only 16GB of internal storage space, but thankfully Samsung decided to restore the expandable storage option on the 2016 edition Galaxy A series, so now you can expand the storage space up to 128GB using a microSD card. 

Samsung_Galaxy_A5_2016_Hardware2The single speaker is at the bottom edge, as seen on Samsung flagships. As mentioned earlier, the Galaxy A5 comes with a fingerprint scanner which is belted into the physical home button. This implementation is the same as on previous iterations of Samsung. The scanner is very accurate and very reliable at unlocking the device.

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In terms of connectivity, the smartphone supports dual-SIM connectivity, NFC, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, USB 2.0 and USB OTG. Additionally, it is 4G-compatible. While the chipset has received some upgrades such as faster Category 6 LTE and faster clock speed, it is still dated compared to most similarly priced devices. Also, considering its price point, the fact that this device has only 2GB of RAM could work strongly against it.

Software and apps
The Galaxy A5 (2016) runs Android 5.1.1 Lollipop out of the box with Samsung’s TouchWiz on top of it. While it is disappointing to see Android 6.0 Marshmallow not present on a device launched in 2016, an upgrade to this latest version is in progress and should be available shortly. The device runs the newer version of TouchWiz and has the same square-with-rounded-edges icons as seen on the Galaxy Note5. The general look and feel of TouchWiz are largely the same, though, and the experience of using this software is pretty identical to the Galaxy S6’s.

Samsung_Galaxy_A5_2016_softwareandappsThe device has a multi-window option which allows you to split the screen in order to multi-task. It also has a bunch of useful motion gestures like ‘swiping your palm over the screen to take a screenshot’ and features like the one-handed mode that can be activated by a triple tap of the home button. It also has a theme store which remains one of the best additions to the TouchWiz UI. With numerous themes to choose from, you can change the look and feel of the UI as per your liking. Although the theme engine is a great addition, it showed some lag. The worst affected was the dialer which would freeze every time we had an incoming call. We had to uninstall all the themes and restart the smartphone to make it work smoothly. These issues can be easily addressed via a software update, but as of present, its rivals such as the Nexus 5X and the Vibe X3 offer a better user experience in terms of software.

Camera

The 2016 version of the Galaxy A5 has a 13-megapixel rear camera with an F1.9 aperture and Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), but as expected, the camera doesn’t inspire confidence of what we have seen in the company’s flagship smartphones.

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HDR Mode On

In terms of image quality,  images captured with the A5 are, unfortunately, not up to the mark. You get some decent images in good light, but in bright sunlight conditions, images tend to get overexposed. The Galaxy A5 seems to lack Samsung’s image processing capabilities that result in vibrant colours and sharpness, therefore, the images on this camera look quite dull. With the HDR mode, you can get some well-balanced shots. 

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HDR Mode off

The camera’s ‘professional’ mode is fairly basic. It offers manual control over White Balance, Exposure, and ISO values from 100 upwards, but doesn’t offer options such as Shutter Speed setting and the ability to save RAW data.

The camera app can be launched by pressing the home button twice, which is a simple and useful feature. In low light, images tend to have a lot of noise, lack details, have inaccurate colour reproduction and tend to be on the softer side. 

Samsung_Galaxy_A5_2016_camerasample3The A5 has a 5-megapixel front shooter which is sufficient for all wide-angle selfie requirements and is also efficient when there is not a lot of light. Do take note that there is no HDR mode for it. Overall, the camera on the Galaxy A5 gets the job done but is far behind from what Samsung has shown in recent times

Audio and video
Samsung packs one of the best music players on its devices. The app has a simple interface which allows you to browse through music by different categories such as playlists, albums, genres, artists, folders and even composers. There is a SoundAlive mode using which you can tune the audio output to match your taste. The SoundAlive option reveals two circular dials – one to adjust the Bass and Treble, and the other to have the sound shift towards Instrumental or Vocal.

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The single speaker unit located at the bottom is loud and clear and does not have any distortion even at high volumes. There are a slew of other mid-range smartphones out there that offer a better audio experience, though.

The interface of the default video app is pretty simple and easy to use. You can sort videos into folders. The video player can play video formats up to 4K, however, we observed that there was a noticeable lag while playing the 4K videos. We enjoyed watching both .mp4 and .mkv files in 1080p resolution.

All being said and done, the audio and video playback are only decent on this device and are nothing great that could trump the device’s rivals like the Vibe X3 which has one of the best loudspeakers in recent times.

Performance
Under the hood, the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) comes with a 1.6GHz octa-core Exynos 7580 processor that is backed by a Mali-T720MP2 GPU. Additionally, it has 2GB of RAM for handling system processes. The device is available in a number of different variants that feature different hardware configurations. For instance, there is another variant of the smartphone with a Snapdragon 615 chipset clocked at 1.5GHz and backed by the Adreno 405GPU. The Exynos variant, though, will be available in India.

Samsung_Galaxy_A5_2016_PerformanceThe smartphone runs reasonably well for the most part and handles almost everything – from web-browsing and multi-tasking to running graphic-intensive games – with ease. However, we noticed some stutter in the UI. Moreover, it showed some lag when moving the screen from the Flipboard to the main home screen. This issue has been previously noticed in Samsung’s high-end devices. However, the stutter is much more evident on the A5 which is packed with just a mid-range chipset. Third-party apps such as Facebook, Snapchat and WhatsApp also tend to stutter and lag. These issues, however, can always be fixed via a software update.

Call quality on the A5 is fairly good – the earpiece delivers clear sound and the inbuilt microphone doesn’t let ambient noise pass through.

In our benchmark tests, the A5 scored 41,472 in the AnTuTu benchmark test which tests the overall performance of the handset. The device scored 14fps in the GFXBench GL and 2,569 in the  Vellamo browser test.

Battery
Samsung’s flagship device- Galaxy S6 has been plagued with battery life issues, but in recent times with the Galaxy J and On series of smartphones, Samsung has done a very good job by solving the battery life issues. With the Galaxy A series of smartphones, Samsung seems to have figured this aspect. Moving on to the battery, the A5 (2016) comes with a large 2,900mAh battery. Battery life on this device is extremely good. With normal usage, the device comfortably lasted through a full day of use and more often, survived an additional half a day as well. The screen-on time has been good either with the device surpassing the 4-hour mark and has been around 5 hours on most days in our review period. Wireless charging may not be available, but the smartphone do come with fast charging capabilities, which is very helpful most of the time.

Conclusion
The Galaxy A5 (2016) is a sturdy smartphone that offers flagship features in an upper mid-range package. From the premium design and build quality, to the availability of a fingerprint reader, the Galaxy A5 ticks off most off the requisites of a flagship. The only flaw with this device is its camera which lacks details and captures shadowy images. Only because of its price point, we feel that there are other better options like the OnePlus X, the Nexus 5X, the Moto X Style or even the Nexus 6P (which we consider the best Android smartphone till date) for a bit extra. Samsung needs to consider how much the budget smartphone scenario has changed in order to allow the Galaxy A5 (2016) a fighting chance in terms of pricing.

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016)

7.5

Design

9.0/10

Display

9.0/10

Hardware

6.0/10

Software and apps

7.5/10

Camera

6.0/10

Audio and video

7.0/10

Performance

7.0/10

Battery life

8.5/10

What Is Good?

  • Premium build
  • Vibrant Full-HD display
  • Decent performance
  • Great battery life
  • Fingerprint scanner is fast
  • Features a microSD slot

What Is Bad?

  • Weak loudspeaker
  • Mediocre camera
  • Only 16GB of internal storage
  • Priced higher than its competitors

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