Prod­uct Test

Don’t have the cash to splash out on the most ex­pen­sive flag­ship phones? We re­view three of the lat­est great-value al­ter­na­tives

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We test the Sam­sung Galaxy J5 (2017), Moto E4 and Nokia 5 to find the best bud­get phone

While the big-name phone man­u­fac­tur­ers would love us all to rush out and buy their lat­est top-ofthe-range mod­els – prefer­ably, ev­ery time they launch a new one – they also cater for those of us who can’t or won’t pay top dol­lar for a new phone.

Here, we’ve com­pared three of the lat­est bud­get An­droid smart­phones: the Moto E4, the Nokia 5 and the re­cently re­vamped Sam­sung Galaxy J5. Th­ese new mod­els can do most of the things that the best smart­phones can do, but won’t crip­ple your wal­let.

The cheap­est of the three is the Moto E4, which costs £119.95 for the Sim-free model (which means you can in­sert your own Pay As You Go SIM from any provider and stay con­tract-free). The Nokia 5 is also af­ford­able, with Sim-free mod­els avail­able from £179.99. If you want the Sam­sung Galaxy brand, you’ll need to pay a lit­tle more – the J5 was orig­i­nally launched last year but has had its com­po­nents tweaked for this year’s ver­sion and is a lit­tle more ex­pen­sive than its pre­de­ces­sor at £219 Sim-free.

If you don’t mind be­ing tied to a con­tract, you should be able to get any of th­ese

phones on very af­ford­able monthly plans through your pre­ferred net­work, but it pays to shop around.

Build qual­ity

You may ex­pect build qual­ity to be closely linked to price but all three of th­ese phones have the kind of high-qual­ity metal cases you’d ex­pect to see on more costly mod­els.

The Galaxy J5 can’t be faulted and pro­vides a flag­ship feel at a frac­tion of the price. At first glance, it looks a lot like Sam­sung phones of old, right down to the cen­trally placed Home but­ton, which now dou­bles as a fin­ger­print reader. But flip it over and you’ll see im­prove­ments over last year’s ver­sion. Sam­sung has man­aged to get rid of the chunky camera bump of last year’s model, so the rear camera now sits flush with the case. This means you can place it flat on your desk with no risk of scratch­ing the lens. Its all-metal uni­body de­sign feels more sub­stan­tial than the plas­tic cas­ing of its pre­de­ces­sor, with rounded, “cham­fered” edges that al­low it to sit snug in your palm.

The Nokia 5 feels ev­ery bit as high-end as the Galaxy J5. Its soft round edges make the de­vice easy to hold, and its sturdy alu­minium body looks like it should sur­vive a knock or two. It also has a fin­ger­print sen­sor built into the Home but­ton.

Even the cheaper Moto E4 comes with a metal body and looks ev­ery bit as good as its ri­vals, with a gen­tly curved, tex­tured back and rounded edges. Its slightly raised glass front seam­lessly joins the metal body, with no over­hang­ing lip. Our only gripe is the con­spic­u­ous Moto logo not-so sub­tly placed above the dis­play.

All three phones are equipped with mi­cro-usb charg­ing ports, so if you were hop­ing to move over to USB-C (which charges de­vices faster), you’ll have to look else­where. Thank­fully, none of the phones has ditched the 3.5mm head­phone socket, so you can still use your ex­ist­ing head­phones with them.

Screen and dis­play

While the build of th­ese phones is able to com­pete with their top-of-the-range coun­ter­parts, there’s a marked drop in screen qual­ity. All three dis­plays have res­o­lu­tions of 1,280 x 720 pix­els. Still, the Sam­sung Su­per AMOLED panel is rich and vivid, cov­er­ing 98.5% of the SRGB stan­dard colour pal­ette and the Nokia 5 does al­most as well in this test, man­ag­ing 92.8%. How­ever, the Moto E4 trails far be­hind with only 75.7% cov­er­age.

The Nokia 5 is the best for read­ing in glar­ing sun­light and has a max­i­mum bright­ness of 578cd/m2 (can­dles per square me­tre), which is one of the bright­est screens we’ve ever seen. To put this in con­text, the max­i­mum bright­ness of the Moto E4 is 386cd/m2 and Sam­sung’s is even less im­pres­sive at 300cd/m2. This is on the low side and means it wouldn’t be ideal for out­door use in very bright sun­light, al­though it’s pass­able.

Build and screen qual­ity is fairly even be­tween the phones but their per­for­mance is no­tice­ably af­fected by price

Per­for­mance

While build and screen qual­ity is fairly even be­tween the three phones in this test, the dif­fer­ence in their per­for­mance is no­tice­ably af­fected by price. The most ex­pen­sive of the three – the Sam­sung Galaxy J5 – did the best in our tests, helped along by its dual-core Exynos 7870 pro­ces­sor and 2GB of mem­ory. In Geek­bench 4’s multi-core test, it scored 3,736, which is an in­crease of al­most 50% over the re­sults we saw with last year’s model. It im­pressed in sin­gle-core per­for­mance, too, scor­ing a to­tal of 800.

The Nokia 5’s eight-core 1.4GHZ Snap­dragon 430 pro­ces­sor and 2GB of RAM sound im­pres­sive but it failed to match the per­for­mance of the J5, scor­ing 2,845 in the multi-core test and 669 in the sin­gle-core test.

The Moto E4 is the cheap­est of the three by some mar­gin and only man­aged a re­sult of 1,529 in the multi-core test and a sin­gle-core re­sult of 555. It, too, comes with 2GB of RAM but has a less-im­pres­sive quad-core Me­di­atek MT6737 pro­ces­sor.

In­ter­est­ingly, we didn’t get the same or­der of re­sults when run­ning our 3D-gam­ing tests, where the Nokia 5 pro­duced the best re­sults, run­ning the Gfxbench Man­hat­tan 3.0 on-screen test at 14fps (frames per sec­ond). This isn’t fast enough to seam­lessly run the most de­mand­ing 3D games but it’s im­pres­sive for a phone of this price and it knocked the Sam­sung’s Galaxy J5 into sec­ond place with its 10fps re­sult in the same test. Bring­ing up the rear again was the Moto E4, which only man­aged 5fps, al­though it’s still fine for run­ning most ca­sual games.

Bat­tery life

We test bat­tery life by fully charg­ing the phones, set­ting their screens to the same bright­ness, then run­ning a loop­ing video on the de­vices, mea­sur­ing how long it takes for the phone to run out of power and shut down.

The test was aced by the most ex­pen­sive phone – the Galaxy J5 – which lasted for 18 hours and 26 min­utes. It’s an im­pres­sive re­sult that will eas­ily get you through a day’s use on a sin­gle charge and, as a point of in­ter­est, is nearly two hours longer than the bat­tery life of Sam­sung’s flag­ship Galaxy S8.

The Nokia 5 bat­tery also fared well, last­ing 14 hours and 53 min­utes, but the Moto E4 wasn’t as im­pres­sive, last­ing just 10 hours and 20 min­utes. How­ever, we reckon that’s still enough to pro­vide a day’s worth of mod­er­ate use on a full charge.

Camera qual­ity

Few peo­ple th­ese days use a ded­i­cated camera and most of us now take snaps with our phones, so it’s im­por­tant that it’s a good one. Bud­get phones are no­to­ri­ous for cut­ting cor­ners in this area, as was evinced by last year’s ver­sion of the Sam­sung Galaxy J5, which had a ten­dency to over-ex­pose photos. De­spite hav­ing sim­i­lar specs on pa­per, with a 13-megapix­els res­o­lu­tion sen­sor, the 2017 ver­sion is a marked im­prove­ment over the old model. The images we took with it were clear and well-de­fined, with out­stand­ing colour re­pro­duc­tion and very lit­tle vis­i­ble noise. It han­dled low-light sit­u­a­tions very well, while day­light shots were packed with de­tail. Even tricky sub­jects such as fo­liage were cap­tured with out­stand­ing clar­ity. No doubt about it, this is a much more ver­sa­tile camera than you’d ex­pect for the price.

The Nokia 5’s rear camera is also a 13-megapixel model. De­tail is good, and there isn’t any no­tice­able smear­ing, al­though the de­fault set­tings pro­duce re­sults that look a lit­tle drab. Tog­gle on the HDR and images sud­denly come to life: ev­ery­thing be­comes a lot brighter and more colour­ful. With­out HDR en­abled, colours are dark, but im­age de­tail is good. Low­light HDR per­for­mance isn’t the best, though, with im­age noise ob­scur­ing de­tail. Turn­ing on the flash im­proves the light­ing and gives much sharper pic­tures, but also gives ev­ery­thing an un­wel­come blue tint.

The cheap­est phone of the group once again suf­fers from its bud­get re­stric­tions. The Moto E4 is only ca­pa­ble of tak­ing 8-megapixel photos, al­though in good light you’re gen­er­ally treated to a clear and vi­brant shot with well­bal­anced tones. Brick­work – a no­to­ri­ously tricky test for a bud­get phone camera – is well de­fined, too. How­ever, in low light, the Moto E4 doesn’t fare so well. We found it strug­gled to cap­ture enough light, re­sult­ing in grainy shots and ill-de­fined images. The built-in flash helps cut through the dark­ness but af­fects the over­all tone. For bet­ter images, you’ll have to spend a bit more.

VS Nokia 5

VS Moto E4

Sam­sung Galaxy J5 (2017)

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