Samsung Galaxy A5 full review
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The A5 is the latest model in Samsung's Alpha range and is a smart looking mid-priced phone. It comes in black, silver, gold and white. The 5 refers to the screen size - five inches - and it weighs a feather-like 123g. See also: best new phones
*** This model has now been updated for 2016 with the Samsung Galaxy A5 6 (2016) - read our Galaxy A5 6 review ***
In the hand it feels remarkably svelte, and that's mainly because it's just 6.7mm thick. These figures are slightly lower than those for the iPhone 6, which is 129g and 6.9mm.
Although it doesn't look like it, the A5 has an aluminium unibody. The chamfered aluminium edges make it look like it has a plastic rear cover: it certainly doesn't feel like metal. However, along with the smooth glass front it looks like a premium phone. Plus, the absence of any flex means build quality is right up there.
Turn it on and you'll immediately notice the vibrant colours of the Super AMOLED display which also has excellent viewing angles. You also get a 13Mp camera at the rear complete with LED flash and a 5Mp front-mounted "selfie" camera.
Inside, it's clear that there have been some compromises. The Snapdragon 410 processor isn't going to top any benchmark charts, and the phone runs the older version of Android: KitKat instead of the latest Lollipop.
Samsung Galaxy A5 review: design and build
Set into the metal band are two removable trays whose design is so similar to the iPhone that at a glance you could mistake the A5 for a bigger version of the iPhone 5.
The bottom edge is home to the micro USB charge and sync port as well as a headphone jack. On the left-hand side is a volume rocker, and opposite on the right is a power button - the same setup as the iPhone 6. On top is only a tiny hole for the microphone.
We like the shimmery metallic effect of the rear cover, but it isn't removable and neither is the battery. We didn't appreciate the three black dots at the top of the screen which were easily visible on our white test phone, although this is easily solved by buying the black model.
Also see: Samsung Galaxy A5 in pictures
Samsung Galaxy A5 review: detailed specs
Another niggle, which serves to make the A5 look overpriced, is the fact that the screen has a 1280x720 resolution. This is acceptable on, say, the latest version of the Motorola Moto G, but at almost £300 SIM-free from online retailers, it's not as easy to swallow.
Don't get us wrong: the A5 has a great-quality AMOLED screen with some nice features including extreme power saving, but if you're prone to notice individual pixels, the A5 is quite obviously lower resolution than the Galaxy S6. And, for that matter, the Galaxy S5.
There's 16GB of internal storage, 2GB of RAM and a microSD slot for adding up to 64GB of extra storage.
You don't get 802.11ac Wi-Fi, but the 802.11n radio works on both 2.4- and 5GHz. There's also Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, GPS and ANT+.
And when comapared to the Galaxy S5, there's no fingerprint scanner, IR blaster or heart-rate sensor. Few people will miss these extras, but it's worth noting.
Samsung Galaxy A5 review: performance
There were no surprises in our benchmarks, with the Snapdragon 410 performing just as it does in the £109 Motorola Moto E. The Geekbench scores of 483 and 1476 for the single- and multicore tests respectively were within the margin of error.
Somewhat strangely, the Adreno 306 GPU in the A5 produced slower frame rates than the 2015 Moto E which uses an identical chip. On the A5 we saw 3.9fps in Manhattan and 9.2fps in T-Rex, while the Moto E managed 6 and 13fps respectively. None are great results, of course, but both phones will play casual games well enough.
In Sunspider, the A5 completed the web-based test suite in 735ms, while the Moto E was slower at 1301ms. In general use, though, both phones load web pages quickly and only script-heavy sites were what we'd call slow to load and use.
Battery life is comparable with other similar size phones. With a 2300mAh cell on board, Samsung says you'll get eight hours of 3G web browsing and 12 hours of video playback. There's also an Ultra Power Saving mode that you get with Samsung's flagship phones. This turns the display to greyscale, disables mobile data when the screen is off and restricts which apps you can use in order to extend standby time to 1.2 days when you have only 10 percent power remaining.
In Geekbench's battery rundown test, the Galaxy A5 lasted for 6 hours and 15 minutes: a pretty respectable time. (The LG G4 lasted 4 hours 44 minutes, by comparison.)
Samsung Galaxy A5 review: cameras
It's a little odd that Samsung didn't use the Galaxy S5's rear camera in the A5. The S5 has a 16:9 16Mp sensor, whereas the A5 has a 13Mp 4:3 sensor. By default it's set to a 9.6Mp 16:9 setting like a lot of Android phones, meaning you're effectively cropping off the top and bottom of each photo.
You'd think there would be little difference in quality between the cameras, but you'd be wrong. The S5's photos are visibly better than the A5's and there's a noticeable lack of detail when you zoom in to make the A5's photos the same size at the S5's at 100 percent.
Of course, we're being picky here and the A5 still has a great camera when compared to many phones: it captures more detail than an 8Mp iPhone 6 and is leagues better than the 5Mp Moto G.
Exposures are accurate, colours generally realistic and the lens is sharp right to the corners. The photo below was taken with the A5's rear camera and has been resized to 800x600 but is otherwise untouched.
We're not huge fans of Samsung's confusing camera app but it does allow you to customise the settings available in the quick-access bar so if you like to adjust ISO and exposure correction often, you can drag these controls to the bar.
Oddly, the HDR mode isn't a toggle control as on the Galaxy S5: instead it's a shooting mode all by itself. But as it isn't shown in the list of shooting modes by default, it's easy to miss.
One handy feature is that you can hold up your palm when using the front camera to trigger a two-second countdown timer to take a selfie. This isn't unique, but it's very useful if you're using a selfie stick.
Photo quality from the 5Mp front camera is good. Detail levels are better than phones with fewer pixels (let's pick on the iPhone 6 again) so the A5 is a good choice if you take a lot of selfies.
Video, which tops out at 1920x1080 at 30fps from the rear camera, is sharp and detailed but there's no optical stablisation and this makes handheld footage shakier than we'd like. The Galaxy S5 doesn't have OIS either, but it can shoot UHD (4K) footage.
Samsung Galaxy A5 review: should you buy a Galaxy S5 instead?
The A5 is a stylish, thin and lightweight phone with good cameras. However, its processor isn't particularly powerful and also happens to be found in the Moto E which costs only £109. The Moto E is also a 4G phone and if you're not fussed about its slightly smaller, lower resolution screen and mediocre cameras is a much better value choice.
Interestingly enough, the A5 has serious competition from Samsung's own Galaxy S5, last year's flagship which now costs only a little more than the A5 when bought SIM-free. It has a higher resolution AMOLED screen (1920x1080) and a faster processor. It also has a better main camera, but a lower-resolution 2Mp front camera.
You get extra features, too, such as the IR blaster, fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor. Plus, the S5 is waterproof and has a microUSB 3.0 connector for super-fast transfers.
You might not care one jot for any of these, but the better screen and performance are enough to make the S5 worth paying an extra £20-30 for.
Samsung Galaxy A5: Specs
- Android 4.4.4 KitKat 5in Super AMOLED screen 1280x720, 294ppi Qualcomm Snapdragon 410, 1.2GHz quad-core processor Adreno 306 GPU 2GB RAM 16GB internal storage microSD card slot (up to 64GB) 13Mp rear camera with LED flash 5Mp front camera Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n (dual-band) Bluetooth 4.0 LE Non-removable 2300mAh battery 139x70x6.7mm 123g