New to the Galaxy A5 is Samsung's always-on display. We're still not convinced as to whether it is much more than a gimmick, but experts tell us that we each check our phones several hundred times a day. By displaying the information we need on the screen at all times we don't need to wake the screen to read it, which saves time and power. And although it is on at all times (unless you specifically turn it off in the settings), the feature uses very little battery life.
Everything we said about the improvements to the Galaxy S7 design is also true here. The Galaxy A5 of 2016 was a fantastic-looking device, but this is much more refined. The newly curved rear edges result in a glass-backed phone that make it less slippery in the hand and more comfortable to hold. It feels far less fragile - and that's not just down to the glass.
The addition of IP68 certification, which means it is resistant to dust and water, and can survive a 1.5m dunk for up to 30 minutes, is very welcome. And pleasingly, as with the Galaxy S7, it has been achieved without fiddly port covers and flaps but the application of an anti-corrosive coating to the metalwork.
As USB-C becomes more mainstream - and will eventually become the standard for all Android phones - we're pleased to see Samsung has finally brought it to its smartphone line-up. USB-C is more convenient, a reversible port that Apple users have enjoyed for years, and potentially much faster than Micro-USB. USB-C will almost certainly be added in the next Galaxy S-series update, too.
The positioning of the speaker on the device's top right edge is a welcome move, since no matter how you hold it you'll struggle to muffle the sound. Pleasingly, following rumours Samsung would move to USB-C audio only, you also get a standard 3.5mm jack on the bottom of the phone.
The Galaxy A5 2017 is available in Black, Gold, Peach Cloud and a new Blue model replacing last year's White. We tried both the Black and Gold models, and though both are very good looking we very much prefer the black version. It will be worth your while trying them in store before you decide which is right for you.
Samsung Galaxy A5 2017 review: Core hardware and performance
The Galaxy A5 2017 has had a decent upgrade on the inside, and is now significantly faster than last year's model. There's an octa-core Exynos processor clocked at 1.9GHz which builds in the Mali-T830 GPU. Samsung has also increased the RAM allocation from 2- to 3GB, and doubled the internal storage - now 32GB as standard.
TouchWiz, Samsung's own user interface that is applied over Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, has been significantly slimmed down over recent years, and is now much more user-friendly. There is still rather a lot of preinstalled software compared to some Android phones, with just 22.7GB of that 32GB available out of the box. Nevertheless, the interface feels smooth and fluid, and you can always add on more storage with up to 256GB possible via the microSD slot.
We ran the Galaxy A5 2017 through our usual performance benchmarks and found decent performance that translates to a genuinely usable device in real-world use. Unfortunately we have no Geekbench 4 scores with which to compare the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy A5 2016, since these were tested under Geekbench 3, but from the other results it's quite clear that the Galaxy A5 2017 has improved on all fronts. Gaming framerates are higher, as is general processing performance. It might be a mid-range phone, but it's quite capable of helping you fulfil all your daily tasks.
In Geekbench 4 we recorded a single-core score of 775 points, but with all its eight cores in action it gave a multi-core result of 4125 points. As a guide, 4000 points is the baseline set by an Intel Core i7-6600U processor, and higher scores are better. This score is right up there with many of today's flagships, though its AnTuTu 6 score of 60,437 is significantly lower.
Decent gaming framerates of 33fps, 15fps, 9fps and 5fps respectively in GFXBench's T-Rex, Manhattan, Manhattan 3.1 and Car Chase components are partially thanks to a lower-resolution full-HD screen, since we run only GFXBench's onscreen tests, and yet they are still some way off those achieved by the Quad-HD-display Galaxy S7. For casual gaming, though, you should have no problem with the Galaxy A5 2017.
You can compare the Galaxy A5 2017's benchmark results with its predecessor and the Galaxy S7 in the chart below.
Inside the Galaxy A5 2017 is a 3,000mAh battery, which matches the capacity of the Galaxy S7 and is 100mAh higher in capacity than that of its predecessor. Because the phone doesn't use a Snapdragon processor it does not support Quick Charge, but just like Samsung's flagship there's support for the company's Adaptive Fast Charging. Unlike that phone there's no wireless charging.
Battery life should easily stretch to a full day, though how much longer will really depend on how frequently you use the phone and for which type of tasks.
Samsung Galaxy A5 2017 review: Connectivity and extras
The version of Samsung's Galaxy A5 2017 we review here is a single-SIM model, though apparently dual-SIM versions are or will be available in other territories. If you decide to buy one of these then we advise you to first check the specifications to ensure it will work on your network.
The Galaxy A5 2017 comes with both a fingerprint scanner built into a physical home button and NFC, two of the key requirements for making mobile payments through Android Pay or Samsung Pay. Samsung Pay is not yet available in the UK, so you won't find the app preinstalled on this phone, though we suspect it might arrive alongside the Galaxy S8 in late March.
Both the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have been upgraded over last year's model, now with support for the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2. You also get GPS with GLONASS and OTG. As with the Galaxy S7, there's no IR blaster, and this phone also lacks its heart-rate scanner.
Samsung Galaxy A5 2017 review: Cameras
One of the key changes in this A5 over last year's A5 is its improved cameras. Previously fitted with a 13Mp camera at the rear and 5Mp at the front, both are now rated at 16Mp, suggesting Samsung is targeting the selfie-loving younger generation with this handset. As before, they have an aperture of f/1.9, and there's a single-LED flash at the rear while the display itself can act as a flash for the selfie camera. Video still maxes out at 1080p (full-HD), so don't buy this phone if you're hoping for 4K.
The quality of its still images is very good, though. As you can see in some of our test shots below (with Auto and HDR modes engaged), sufficient detail is captured that you can make out the road names from shots captured from our seventh-floor roof terrace. There is some blurring toward the edges, but overall the camera does a great job and produces some excellent, lifelike colours.
The camera app is pretty decent, offering a range of real-time filters that include several beauty options. There are also Auto, Pro, Panorama, Hyperlapse, HDR, Night and Food presets, with a couple more available to download. Right now there's just Animated GIF and Sports shot, though we will hopefully see more added to the collection.
As with Samsung's flagship you can open the Camera app with a double-press of the home button, and there is support for gestures and voice controls to trigger the shutter.
Samsung Galaxy A5 2017 review: Software
Last year's Galaxy A5 came with Android Lollipop out of the box and, although Nougat is now rolling out to the S series, this Galaxy A5 2017 comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Samsung applies its TouchWiz UI, plus some additional apps - most notably the Microsoft Office suite, S Health and the Galaxy Apps Store.
TouchWiz has been refined over the years, and is not the resource hog it once was. Some new design changes include enhancements to the drop-down notification bar, with quick settings that are very cleanly listed with none of the circular buttons of old. The Settings menu mirrors this with a very clean layout that is one long list rather than being separated into categories. It feels much more like vanilla Android than TouchWiz has previously, though it's still far from a carbon copy.
There are new wallpapers that react to movement by changing colour, and new features introduced in the Galaxy S7 such as the ability to take longer screenshots when you want to capture a web page or text conversation. Add to that one-handed operation and games modes, smart stay (stops the display timing out while you're looking at it) and a handful of gestures for quickly calling contacts, alerting you to missed notifications and more, and the Galaxy A5 2017 has some very useful software indeed.
Samsung Galaxy A5 2017: Specs
- 5.2in full-HD (1920x1080) SuperAMOLED screen, always-on display
- Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with TouchWiz
- 1.9GHz Eynos octa-core processor
- Mali-T830 GPU
- 3GB RAM
- 32GB storage
- microSD up to 256GB
- 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.2
- 16Mp, f/1.9 rear camera, single-LED flash
- 16Mp, f/1.9 front camera
- 3,000mAh non-removable battery, fast charging