Samsung Galaxy J3 full review

The J3 is one of the entry-level models in Samsung’s Galaxy line-up, and you can buy it in the UK for £150 through distributors such as Mobile Fun. We see whether it’s worth your money in our Samsung Galaxy J3 2016 review. See all budget phone reviews.

At this price you shouldn’t expect an outstanding specification, and the Samsung Galaxy J3 is indeed a jack of all trades and master of none. A good all-rounder, it will suit non-demanding users who want a large-screen, no-frills phone for basic tasks such as browsing social media or the web. 

Highlights include a 3000mAh removable battery and up to 128GB of additional storage via microSD. And while the 5in SuperAMOLED screen is just HD in resolution, it’s a great display for a budget phone. 

Samsung Galaxy J3

New Samsung Galaxy J3 2016 review: UK price and availability 

The Galaxy J3 is not sold directly through Samsung in the UK, and it’s unlikely you’ll find it available through any of the main UK mobile operators. However, at £150 it’s arguably cheap enough to buy outright and add a SIM-only plan from any network you like.  Also see: Best Samsung phones 2016: What is the difference between Galaxy Note, Galaxy S, Galaxy A and Galaxy J?

Our Samsung Galaxy J3 2016 came from Mobile Fun, where it costs £150 for the gold edition. There are also black and white versions of this phone where available, and Mobile Fun sells a range of cases and accessories for the J3. 

Throughout this review you’ll see us compare the Galaxy J3 to the £125 Vodafone-locked Smart Ultra 6, which sits at the top of our best budget phones chart, and Chinese super-value brand Xiaomi’s entry-level £115 Redmi 3 (add import duty and you’ll pay a similar amount to the Galaxy J3). Also see: Best smartphones 2016

The Galaxy J3 is slower and has less built-in storage than either of those phones, as well as less well specified cameras. There is certainly an element of you paying for the Samsung name here, although the Smart Ultra 6 is clearly subsidised by Vodafone, and Chinese phones are notoriously cheaper than those sold in the UK. 

A fairer comparison might be to a phone such as the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua, which is now available for £159 from Tesco Direct. Both phones have the same storage capacities and similar screens, but the new Samsung Galaxy J3 2016 again falls down on performance. 

It’s worth pointing out that the Samsung Galaxy J3 sold by Mobile Fun is the European variant and region-locked. If you want to use it anywhere other than the EU/EEA, Switzerland, Albania, Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Former Yugoslav Repulic of Macedonia, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino, Serbia and Vatican City, a cumulative call lasting five minutes must first be placed using a SIM from one of these countries to remove the regional lock. If this isn’t possible you should contact the nearest Samsung service centre. 

The Samsung Galaxy J3 is also available in versions with dual-SIM functionality and 16GB of storage. The J3 sold by Mobile Fun is a single-SIM (Micro-SIM) phone with 8GB of built-in storage (plus up to 128GB via MicroSD), and you can see where the second SIM slot has been blocked off under the rear cover. Also see: Best dual-SIM phones and buying advice

Samsung Galaxy J3

New Samsung Galaxy J3 2016 review: Design and build

The J3 features the familiar Samsung Galaxy candybar design, with rounded corners, chamfered edges, the Samsung logo above the screen and a physical home button nestled in between back and recent keys. Unlike flagship Samsungs of recent years, the J3 has an entirely plastic build, with a removable rear cover that has an also-removable lithium-ion battery, SIM and microSD slots below. 

This is a smooth plastic case, not at all like the dimpled covers Samsung favoured a couple of years back, and our gold review sample has a shimmery finish that looks better than some plastic phones but still gives away its low price tag. Removable back panels can often be flimsy, but while it is thin it holds on tight to the chassis and the J3 feels reasonably sturdy. 

If you go for a Chinese phone such as the Xiaomi Redmi 3 it’s quite possible to get a more premium-looking metal chassis at this price, but most UK phones at this price point will be plastic. Even the waterproof Sony Xperia M4 Aqua with its nicely designed glass front and rear has a plastic body. 

Screen bezels are slim, but a black border outlines the 5in full-HD screen. This is a SuperAMOLED panel, which Samsung is famed for, producing vivid - if a little oversaturated - colours and sharp text and images at 294ppi. The screen is bright enough in standard light, although in direct sunlight may be more difficult to see. Pleasingly, although fingerprints are attracted to the screen, they aren’t overly visible. 

The 138g J3 is reasonably slim for a cheap phone, just 7.9mm. It’s not quite thick enough for the headphone jack and rear camera sensor to lie flush with the case, and in fact Samsung has purposely raised the case around the rear-mounted speaker to prevent the audio being completely muffled when placed flat on a desk. See all smartphone reviews.

Samsung Galaxy J3

New Samsung Galaxy J3 2016 review: Core hardware and performance

Compared to other phones at this price point the Galaxy J3 is underpowered. Where we’d usually expect to see a low- to mid-range 64-bit octa-core processor with 2GB of RAM, we get a 32-bit quad-core chip with just 1.5GB of RAM. The 1.5GHz Spreadtrum SC7731 (Cortex A7) chip is no match for the Snapdragon 615s and 616 found in the Vodafone-, Xiaomi- and Sony competition, and that was clearly evident in our benchmarks.

Where the Samsung managed just 1303 points in the multi-core component of the Geekbench 3 processing-performance benchmark, the Sony turned in 2344, the Vodafone 2469, and the Xiaomi 3045. And it was the same story for AnTuTu, with the Samsung recording 26,373 points against Vodafone’s 26,572 and Xiaomi’s 33,175.

In our graphics tests the Samsung’s Mali-400 MP GPU didn’t stand a chance against the Adreno graphics of its rivals, and in T-Rex measured the same sort of result they notched up in the more intensive Manhattan graphics test (the J3 wasn’t able to complete Manhattan). We recorded 7.5fps in T-Rex for the Samsung, 14fps for the Vodafone, 24fps for the Xiaomi and 25fps for the Sony. That said, the Samsung is up to speed for HD videos and casual games.

We also ran each of these phones through the JetStream JavaScript test, and the Samsung once again came last with 16.378. Here, where a higher score is better, the Xiaomi recorded 19.019. (Both Vodafone and Sony were tested using the onlder SunSpider test.) See all Android phone reviews.

It’s not all about benchmarks, of course. Real-world performance is less easily measured, but far more important to an end user. Side by side with the Galaxy A5 2016 (which we’ll be reviewing later this week) and last year’s flagship Galaxy S6 it was clear just how much slower is the entry-level Galaxy J3 - no matter what you’re doing. However, when used on its own it didn’t feel too slow.

No app takes longer than a second or two to launch, and we appreciate the Quick Launch functionality for the camera (you can launch the Camera from standby with a double-tap of the Home button). It’s not quite so quick to capture a shot, mind, which could lead to you missing the moment if your subject refuses to sit still.

While performance will be sufficient for many users out of the box, its 8GB of internal storage (of which just 4.4GB is available) will be used up rather quickly, at which point we can see performance slowing right down to the point where use becomes frustrating. You can add a microSD card up to 128GB in capacity, but it’s not possible to move absolutely everything to SD. If you do intend to make use of the camera or download any apps you will need to factor in the price of expandable storage. Also see: How to add storage to Android.

Samsung Galaxy J3

On the plus side the Galaxy J3 has a 2,400mAh battery inside. That might not sound overly generous, but there is no demanding hardware here to drain the juice - even the SuperAMOLED display will use less power than typical IPS. The battery is also removable, should you need to swap in a spare, and features an Ultra Power Saving mode, but based on our experience we’d expect you to easily get a full working day. Fast- or wireless charging is not supported.

Audio is a bit of an afterthought with a rear-mounted mono speaker, but its positioning high up next to the camera sensor makes it less easy to muffle with your palm. A pair of earphones is supplied in the box, which isn’t always a given these days, and when used with the phone you can take advantage of an FM radio.

The J3 covers all the connectivity basics with single-band 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS and GLONASS, OTG and NFC. It also supports 4G LTE Cat4,  which is slower than what you would find in more expensive phones. 

Compare the Samsung Galaxy J3’s performance to all the phones we’ve recently tested in our article What’s the fastest phone 2016?

New Samsung Galaxy J3 2016 review: Cameras

Samsung Galaxy J3

The 5Mp selfie camera at the front of the Galaxy J3 is a fairly common feature in today’s Android phones, no matter their price. It has beauty- and sound & shot modes and allows you to add real-time grey-scale, sepia and negative effects. You can also use the screen as a makeshift flash to brighten low-light shots.

At the rear is an 8Mp camera with f/2.2 aperture. It’s nothing spectacular, and will not replace a proper digital camera, but it’s handy to have about you. You get the same real-time filters but a few more camera modes, including HDR, Continuous shot, Panorama and Pro. There’s also a physical LED flash on the rear, and the J3 can shoot 720p HD video.

Below you can see a couple of our test shots, here showing St Pancras Renaissance Hotel with Auto- and then HDR settings. It’s very difficult to tell the difference between the two on this moody London afternoon, although edges are softer on the HDR shot where the camera has moved in between taking each photo. The J3’s camera could certainly be a little faster to capture an image, but at £150 it’s difficult to complain. And although there are some soft edges and it’s difficult to make out finer details such as individual bricks, the colours aren’t bad and we’ve certainly seen worse. Also see: Best phone camera 2016

Samsung Galaxy J3

Samsung Galaxy J3

New Samsung Galaxy J3 2016 review: Software

The Samsung Galaxy J3 might be a 2016 model but it runs previous-generation Android Lollipop 5.1.1 out of the box, with no software update available. This isn’t so bad, since only 4.6 percent of all Android phones are running Marshmallow, but it is still mildly disappointing to find a new phone supplied with anything other than Marshmallow in April 2016.

As usual Samsung overlays its TouchWiz UI, but without all the bells and whistles you see in the high-end Galaxy smartphones. There’s no Multi Window or Pop Up View, for example, nor smart gestures that let you swipe the palm of your hand to take a screenshot or raise the phone to your ear to make a call. Keeping your eyes on the screen won’t stop the screen timing out while you’re watching a video, either.

In terms of extra software you do get Microsoft’s Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneDrive preinstalled, plus 100GB free OneDrive storage. Frustratingly, given the low amount of internal storage, these cannot be removed. Also see: Best Android phones 2016.

Samsung Galaxy J3

You’ll also see the Themes store and Easy mode found in Galaxy smartphones higher up the range, with the former offering some nice customisation options for your wallpaper, app icons and fonts, and the latter a simplified user interface that places the most commonly used settings, apps and contacts on the home screen.

As we mentioned earlier in this review, just 4.4GB is available to the user out of the box, so you will need to factor in the cost of a microSD card unless you have no intention of downloading apps or using the camera.

Read next: Samsung's Galaxy S7 is still the best phone you can buy, and here's why

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Specs

Samsung Galaxy J3: Specs

  • 5in HD (720x1280, 294ppi) SuperAMOLED display
  • Android 5.1.1 Lollipop with TouchWiz
  • 1.5GHz Spreadtrum SC7731 (Cortex A7) quad-core 32-bit processor
  • Mali-400 MP GPU
  • 1.5GB RAM
  • 8GB storage
  • up to 128GB via microSD
  • 4G LTE Cat 4, single Micro-SIM
  • 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • GPA, GLONASS
  • NFC
  • OTG
  • 8Mp, f2.2 rear camera with autofocus and LED flash, 720p video at 30fps
  • 5Mp front camera
  • 2600mAh removable lithium-ion battery
  • Micro-USB 2.0
  • 142.3x71x7.9mm
  • 138g
  • Geekbench 3: 408 (single-core), 1303 (multi-core)
  • AnTuTu: 26,373
  • GFXBench 3 T-Rex: 7.5fps
  • JetStream 16.378