Samsung Galaxy A3
We’ve already reviewed the Galaxy A5, which turned out to be a nicely built mid-range Android phone, but too expensive given the mediocre components inside it. But what about its smaller brother, the A3?
Not everyone wants a phone with a huge screen and the A3 offers a 4.5in qHD Super AMOLED display. To unpack the acronyms, this means it has a resolution of 960x540 pixels, which is a quarter of the number in a full HD screen (1920x1080).
Many phones have LCD displays, but Super AMOLED is completely different. Like other OLED displays, individual pixels emit light rather than there being a backlight which illuminates an entire LCD screen. This means contrast is better and AMOLED screens also have more vivid colours, in general.
So, given its price, the A3 has a relatively low resolution but good-quality screen. Some will think it looks a little blocky or fuzzy if coming from a phone with a higherresolution screen, but the 244ppi pixel density means it’s acceptable.
As with the A5, the A3 has an aluminium unibody much like an iPhone. It looks stylish and is slim and lightweight at 6.9mm and just 110g. There’s a physical home button, with touch-sensitive back and recent buttons either side of it. Micro-USB and headphone sockets can be found on the bottom edge and iPhone-style trays hold a nano SIM and up to a 64GB microSD card on the right-hand side. The sleep/wake button is above the trays, and the volume rocker is on the left. Mounted centrally on the back is a camera that’s flanked by an LED flash and the main speaker.
You get the same choice of four colours: white, black, gold and silver.
Like the A5, the A3 runs Android KitKat. That’s strange given that the new version – Lollipop has been around for six months now. However, an update to Android 5.0 for both phones is rolling out right now.
Samsung’s TouchWiz interface masks most of Android anyway, so the upgrade won’t be as noticeable as on a phone running plain Android. It’s still worth having Lollipop though for its other features.
You might expect the A3 to have the same internals as the A5, but you’d be wrong. Yes, there’s the same Snapdragon 410 processor with the Adreno 306 GPU, but you get only 1.5GB of RAM instead of 2GB and only an 8Mp camera at the rear instead of 13Mp. Wi-Fi is single-band in the A3, so unlike the A5 it won’t be able to connect to 802.11n routers on 5GHz. It’s a non-issue for most people, of course.
The front camera is the same at 5Mp, and there’s Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and NFC. There’s also 4G LTE support as well as 3G. The A3 is one of few phones with built-in ANT+ support, which could be useful if you have any ANT+ fitness gadgets.
Unsurprisingly, the A3 is more or less exactly as fast as the A5. In our tests, it returned roughly the same scores and in general day-to-day used proved fast enough. The problem is that it’s not really good enough for the price: you can buy the Motorola Moto E for just £109, which has the same processor, supports 4G and has basically the same screen size and resolution.
The battery is rated at 1900mAh which is a lot less than the 2300mAh cell in the Galaxy A5. In general use though, we found the A3 would last a full day with no problems. There’s the same Ultra Power Saving mode as the A5, which extends standby time for over a day even if you’re down to 10 percent.
In our battery test, the A3 lasted just a couple of minutes shy of six hours. That’s only quarter of an hour less than the Galaxy A5, despite the smaller battery. Overall, it’s a decent result.
One area where the Moto E 4G shows its budget nature is the plastic body. But the low-resolution cameras also let it down. In this respect the Galaxy A3 is much better. Photos have a decent amount of detail and are sharp. Don’t expect quality to rival the iPhone 6’s 8Mp camera, but snaps are respectable enough to share with family and online.
Bear in mind that both cameras default to a 16:9 aspect ratio, which means they take lower resolution photos (6Mp rear, 3.7Mp front) unless you change the settings to use their native 4:3 aspect ratios.
Also, the front camera defaults to selfie mode which itself automatically retouches your face giving a strange plastic look. With this disabled, photos from the front camera are very good. Along with the handy options for automatically taking selfies when holding up your palm and a wide-selfie mode, the A3 is a good choice if you take a lot of photos of yourself.
Samsung’s RRP is £249, but you can buy the Galaxy A3 SIM-free for a little under £200 if you search around online. If you do want it on contract, there should be no up-front cost. But as we’ve said, it’s possible to get a phone with similar specifications for a lot less, so it’s hard to justify spending the extra on the A3 for its cameras or even Samsung’s software.