Best Samsung Galaxy phone of 2016
If you’re a fan of Samsung’s Galaxy phones but aren’t sure which one to get, Marie Brewis looks at your options
Samsung offers phones and phablets to suit every user, from the top end Galaxy Note and S-series to the mid-range A-series, budget J-series and plenty more. Things get even more confusing when you consider that oldergeneration models within these lines are still available, and often they present better value.
An important thing to keep in mind when looking for a Samsung Galaxy phone is that more so than any other brand they rapidly drop in price following launch. Within three months of their UK release
date you can often find in excess of £100 off their price. This means previous-generation phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 (which we’ve included here despite the fact it’s a 2015 phone) can offer extraordinary value in comparison.
All Samsung phones run Android (the 2016 models run Marshmallow) with the TouchWiz UI overlaid. You’ll find that the lower down the range you go the fewer extra features (such as Smart stay, Pop-up View and Multi-Window) are included, but all run the same Samsung, Google and Microsoft apps.
Here we detail the best Samsung Galaxy phones you can buy in 2016, and reason why each might be the best Samsung phone for you.
Samsung Galaxy Note7
Price: £749 inc VAT
The Galaxy Note7 is the newest model in Samsung’s line-up. Pre-orders began on 16 August, and the phone goes on sale on 2 September. At this point it will also be available on contract through all the UK’s major mobile operators, which gives the Note7 an instant advantage over its predecessor, the US-only Note 5. If you are intending to buy the Note7 outright, we suggest you wait a few months as the price will quickly fall.
The Note7 is a phablet (that is a cross between a smartphone and a tablet in size) with a large 5.7in screen, so don’t buy it if you have tiny hands. This is an excellent display with a crystal clear Quad-HD resolution and Samsung’s edge feature on both sides. The dual-edge screen is used to display
notifications and provide shortcuts to your most frequently used apps. In common with all the Samsung Galaxy phones in this article the Note7 uses a SuperAMOLED screen, which offers excellent contrast and a highly saturated effect that produces vibrant colours. This is protected by the best-inclass Gorilla Glass 5.
The core hardware is the same as what you’ll find in the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge below, with an octa Exynos 8890 processor and 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM. We’ve yet to benchmark the Note7, but we expect performance to be every bit as good as we found with the S7.
The Note7 is the first Samsung phone to come with a generous 64GB of storage as standard, and there’s also support for up to 256GB of additional storage via a microSD card. It’s also the first Samsung phone to come with an iris scanner for extra secure logins, the first to feature a reversible USB-C port for charging and data transfer, and the only one to feature the S Pen stylus (with improved pressure sensitivity and functional even when the screen is switched off). Both the stylus and the phone itself are waterresistant, rated IP68.
For cameras the Note7 once again follows the Galaxy S7’s example, with a 12Mp Dual Pixel rear camera with f/1.7 aperture and a 5Mp selfie camera.
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
Price: £639 inc VAT
Prior to the Samsung Galaxy Note7 launch the Galaxy S7 edge was the top phablet in Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone family. It’s a larger version of the standard Galaxy S7 with a 5.5in QuadHD SuperAMOLED display that, in common with the Note7, has the edge feature on both sides. The smartphones look and feel much the same in the hand (the S7 edge is just 12g lighter at 157g), with the same metal frame and glass front and rear design that has now filtered all the way down to the A series. Notable differences include the lack of the S Pen and iris scanner on the S7 edge, half the amount of storage as standard and, of course, the difference in price.
The S7 edge was announced back in February, and as such its price has dropped dramatically from its original £639 RRP. You can now pick up the Galaxy S7 edge for just £519. That’s more than £200 lower than the expected price for the Galaxy Note7. However, the standard Galaxy S7 is cheaper still, and for the sake of a slightly higher-capacity battery and the larger dual-edge screen you might find it the better option.
The battery capacity is ever so slightly higher in the Galaxy S7 edge than it is on the Note7, with
3600mAh against 3500mAh. Given the slightly smaller screen this could translate to longer battery life, but we’ve yet to test this. Both are higher in capacity than the 3000mAh battery that comes with the Galaxy S7 below. We clocked the Galaxy S7 edge at 685 minutes in the Geekbench 3 battery life test, which is second only to the Samsung Galaxy A7 2016.
The Galaxy S7 edge is to date the fastest phone we have ever tested, scoring 6,469 points in the multi-core component of Geekbench 3. Graphics performance is incredible, despite the fact its large Quad-HD screen hinders it somewhat in our onscreen GFXBench tests. We recorded 53fps in T-Rex and 27fps in Manhattan.
Samsung Galaxy S7
Price: £569 inc VAT
The Galaxy S7 is the flagship smartphone in Samsung’s Galaxy family with a 5.1in Quad-HD SuperAMOLED screen (with no edge feature). If large phones aren’t for you and money is no object, this is the Samsung Galaxy for you.
That said, now six months old the Galaxy S7 has fallen considerably below its £569 RRP. You can buy the Galaxy S7 from SIM-free from £460, which is still £60 cheaper than the SIM-free price of the edge model. But you should also consider that the Galaxy S6 (below) is still available, and arguably offers better value at £359 SIM-free.
That extra £100 spent on the Galaxy S7 over the Galaxy S6 will buy you expandable storage via microSD, waterproofing, an always-on display
(a rather gimmicky feature also seen in the Note7 and Galaxy S7 edge), faster performance and an enhanced camera - the S6 features an excellent 16Mp camera, but don’t let the numbers fool you as the 12Mp Dual Pixel model on the Galaxy S7 is faster, with larger pixels and it works better in low light. When you consider that, though improved, many of these things were already very good in the S6, the older phone might seem more appealing. But if expandable storage and waterproofing are important to you then the Galaxy S7 is your only choice.
If the money doesn’t concern you, the Galaxy S7 is absolutely the very best Android phone you can buy. As we note in our review, Samsung has taken into account what its fans want, addressing the three main areas of concern: removable storage, waterproofing and battery life. It’s also upgraded the core hardware and photography gear, added an always-on display and some useful software. Even six months on the Galaxy S7 is simply unbeatable.
Samsung Galaxy S6
Price: £599 (32GB), £660 (64GB)
You might think it strange we’ve included last year’s Galaxy S6 in our round-up of the best Samsung
Galaxy 2016 phones, but we’ve made an exception because at its current SIM-free price of £359 it offers better value than the Galaxy A series and, arguably, the flagship Galaxy S7.
As we’ve noted above, key differences between the Galaxy S6 and S7 are a smaller-capacity battery (2650mAh), no always-on display, no waterproofing and no expandable storage. Samsung has also enhanced the cameras and performance in the Galaxy S7 – not that it needed to, because the Galaxy S6 is a brilliant phone and incredibly fast.
In Geekbench 3 the S6 recorded 4438 points, which is some way off the S7’s 6466, but still faster than many 2016 phones. In GFXBench T-Rex and Manhattan it scored 30- and 14fps, which is again lower than the S7’s 53- and 27fps but still good.
In common with the Galaxy S7 it has a 5.1in Quad-HD SuperAMOLED display, and a gorgeous design with a metal frame and glass front and rear. It’s not as curvy as the newer Galaxy S7, S7 edge and Note7, but it feels good in the hand. The Galaxy S6’s design has this year been incorporated into the Galaxy A series, which we expect next year will get the newer design.
The Galaxy S6 was not only the best Android phone of 2015, but it was so good that it still beats many 2016 flagships. Combine that fact with its amazing value at £359, and this could easily be the Samsung Galaxy flagship for you.
Samsung Galaxy A7 2016
Price: £399 inc VAT
If money was no object the Galaxy A7 would be a fantastic phone. However, priced at £399 SIMfree, it simply cannot compete against the £359 Galaxy S6, which is now 18 months old. It’s also comparatively difficult to get hold of in the UK.
Samsung has updated its A-series for 2016 to the same design it used for the S6 in 2015. That means you get a premium-looking metal frame with Gorilla Glass 4-protected glass front and rear, but like the S6 it is not waterproof. These phones aren’t as rounded at the rear as the newer Galaxy S7, S7 edge and Note7, but they look much more expensive than their mid-range price tags would suggest.
There are three models in the Galaxy A-series: this Galaxy A7, and the Galaxy A5 and Galaxy A3 listed below. They are differentiated primarily by their screen size, core hardware, battery capacity and price. As you might expect this Galaxy S7 is the largest model with a 5.5in screen and a 3300mAh battery. If you particularly want a phablet then this is one reason to buy the A7 over the S6, but note that its screen resolution is a lower 1920x1080 pixels (Full-HD). It’s still an excellent SuperAMOLED display, but it’s not Quad-HD. The A7 also offers incredible battery life (we clocked it at 709 minutes in Geekbench 3, which is much higher than the S6’s 413 minutes), and has the added bonus of removable storage via microSD.
The core hardware is much lower than that which you find in the Galaxy S6, though, with a 1.6GHz
Exynos 7850 octa-core chip, 3GB of RAM and a Mali-T720 MP2 GPU. In Geekbench 3 we recorded a multicore score of 3718 points, while in GFXBench its 14fps in T-Rex and 5fps in Manhattan are much lower than what the Galaxy S6 is capable of. That said, this is a mid-range phone, and its performance is plenty good enough for day to day tasks and casual gaming.
Cameras aren’t as good as they are in the Galaxy S6, but they’re decent for a mid-range phone with a 13Mp f/1.9 camera with single-LED flash at the rear and a 5Mp, f/1.9 selfie camera at the front.
Going against the Galaxy A7 is its lower 16GB of internal storage, but it has an ace up its sleeve with Dual-SIM functionality and that aforementioned microSD slot. In common with the S-series and Note smartphones there is a fingerprint scanner, but it doesn’t feature their heart-rate scanners or the Note7’s iris scanner.
Samsung Galaxy A5 2016
Price: £319 inc VAT
If the large 5.5in screen and Dual-SIM functionality of the Galaxy A7 isn’t of particular interest to you, we’d argue that the Galaxy A5 offers by far the better deal. It’s easier to get hold of in the UK, so you can pick it up from SIM-free for just £209.99,
and it has much the same core hardware and the same design as the more expensive Galaxy A7.
The screen is still a generous size at 5.2in (that’s a little larger than the display on the Galaxy S7), without the phone being unwieldy, and this SuperAMOLED panel is Full-HD in resolution. As with the Galaxy A7 there’s a fingerprint scanner built into the home button, and cameras are also matching, at 13Mp and 5Mp.
Battery life from the 2900mAh pack is remarkable, and we clocked the Galaxy A5 at 706 minutes in Geekbench 3. That’s just three minutes fewer than the Galaxy A7, and its performance in our other benchmarks was similarly matched thanks to an identical Exynos 7850 processor inside (there is 2- rather than 3GB of RAM, however). We recorded 3688 points in Geekbench 3 and in GFXBench saw 14fps in T-Rex and 5fps in Manhattan. There’s only 16GB of internal storage, but in common with its bigger brother you can add up to 128GB via microSD, making this an excellent mid-range Android.
Samsung Galaxy A3 2016
Price: £269 inc VAT
The Galaxy A3 is the entry model in the Galaxy A series. It looks just like the Galaxy A5 and Galaxy
A7, but it’s cheaper (£175.95 SIM-free), with a lower-capacity battery, a smaller (4.2in), lowerresolution HD screen, less powerful hardware and no fingerprint scanner. Cameras are the same, though, at 13Mp and 5Mp, and the 16GB Galaxy A3 also supports removable storage up to 128GB.
In our performance benchmarks the Galaxy A3 recorded 2156 points in Geekbench 3 from its 1.5GHz Exynos 7578 quad-core processor and 1.5GB of RAM. Its smaller, lower-resolution screen proved to be an advantage in GFXBench, where it recorded 20fps in T-Rex and 8fps in Manhattan. Battery life from its 2300mAh pack isn’t as good as that of the other A-series phones, though, and we recorded 444 minutes in Geekbench 3. In reallife usage the Samsung Galaxy A3 will capably handle many of the jobs you throw at it, but try not to throw too many things at it at once.
Though the screen is just 4.2in and only HD in resolution, it’s still a great SuperAMOLED screen. And for some users its size will be attractive: this is the best compact Galaxy phone you can buy.
Samsung Galaxy J3
Price: £150 inc VAT
Samsung’s J-series is the budget line in its Galaxy range. We’ve reviewed the middle Galaxy J3 model,
but there are also Galaxy J1 and Galaxy J5 versions. Both J3 and J5 are HD smartphones, while the J1 supports a 480-x800-pixel resolution. As you might expect they are differentiated by their screen size, core hardware, battery capacity and price.
The Galaxy J3 is a fairly decent budget phone at £132.98 SIM-free, if potentially a little overpriced and somewhat underpowered. It differs from the other phones in this round-up with its plastic build and lack of a fingerprint scanner built into the home button. However, it’s a good all-rounder with a 5in HD screen, a 3000mAh removable battery and up to 128GB of additional storage via microSD (you get 8GB as standard).
The J3 failed to impress in our benchmarks with 1303 points in Geekbench 3, and 8fps in GFXBench T-Rex (it didn’t complete Manhattan). That said, it is up to speed for watching HD videos and the odd spot of casual gaming.
Photography is catered for with an 8Mp camera at the rear and a 5Mp selfie camera at the front. It’s nothing spectacular, and will not replace a proper digital camera, but it’s handy to have about you.
One thing to note is that this J3 runs Android Lollipop out of the box.
The Samsung Galaxy J3 is a no-frills phone that will suit many users needs, but it’s not quite cheap enough for our liking. At £132 it is underpowered and under-featured, though we like the microSD support and removable battery.