Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
Samsung’s A-series of mid-range Galaxy smartphones has been updated for 2017. This A5 is the middle model, with the smaller, cheaper and less powerful A3 (2017) below it and the larger A7 (2017) above. The new A5 shares many of the same specifications as the latest A7, and in our opinion offers much better value unless you particularly demand the larger screen. All three adopt the same design, one we’ve seen previously in the gorgeous Samsung Galaxy S7.
Because this is a brand-new phone, chances are right now you’ll pay close to its RRP to get it SIM-free – and clearly the improvements to the Galaxy A5 (2017) have come at a price, since its RRP has shot up from £319 to £399, taking it away from the affordable midground and dangerously close to flagship territory.
At this price there is a difference of just £47 between this Galaxy A5 and the Galaxy S7 (you can now buy the year-old Galaxy S7 SIM-free from Amazon.co.uk for £446).
That RRP comes from MobileFun, though, which supplied our Galaxy A5 for review. You will find it a little cheaper if you shop around online through the likes of Carphone Warehouse, which at the time of writing lists the Galaxy A5 (2017) at £369. The extra £30 discount could be enough to sway you over the Galaxy S7, but it all depends on how tight is your budget.
As with all Samsung phones, we expect the price to rapidly drop – usually by as much as 20 percent within the first few months. At which point the Galaxy A5 (2017) would offer better value, though brand-new today it just doesn’t represent a good deal when compared to the high-end Galaxy S7, which we still regard as the best Android phone on the market.
The alternative, of course, is to get the Galaxy A5 on a contract. While monthly prices for the Galaxy S7 (with no upfront charge) start at £30.99, you can get this Galaxy A5 from £27.50 per month. That seems to be a relatively small saving, but over the course of 24 months it works out just short of £85.
MobileFun supplied our Galaxy A5 2017 with a handful of cases to protect it from damage. It sells a wide range of Galaxy A5 (2017) cases and covers, chargers, car holders, screen protectors and other accessories. It particularly recommended to us the official Samsung S View Premium Cover Case (£34.99), which comes in black, blue, pink and gold to match the available colours of the Galaxy A5, the Olixar FlexiShield Samsung Galaxy A5 Gel Case (£4.99) and the Olixar Ultra-Thin Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) Case (£5.99), covering a range of styles and budgets. The latter is not only cheap but as close as you’ll get to invisible should you want to show off the Galaxy A5’s gorgeous design.
If you’ve ever played with a Galaxy S7, you will know roughly what the A5 (2017) looks and feels like. In our office at least, we found the tendency was to think of it as a smaller S7, which is crazy since it’s actually larger – albeit only just.
The reason for this is the ever so slightly larger screen – 5.2in against the S7’s 5.1in. The S7 is both shorter and narrower than the A5 (2017), measuring 142x70mm against its 146.1x71.4mm, although with matching 3000mAh batteries inside both are 7.9mm thick. That’s not bad for a mid-range phone such as this.
The screen might be larger, but it has significantly fewer pixels. The S7 has a Quad-HD resolution of 2560x1440 pixels, turning in a screen density of 577ppi, while the full-HD resolution of this 1920x1080pixel panel works out at just 424ppi. We say ‘just’, it’s actually a very sharp screen (sharper than that of any iPhone, for example), simply inferior to that of the Galaxy S7.
We can’t complain about the display, though, which uses our personal favourite SuperAMOLED tech. SuperAMOLED produces rich, vibrant, saturated colours with deep blacks and dazzling whites. Viewing angles are excellent, and the display is very bright and clear – a pleasure to use. Another plus: SuperAMOLED places less of a hit on battery life than many competing technologies.
New to the Galaxy A5 is Samsung’s always-on display. We’re still not convinced as to whether it is much more than a gimmick, but experts tell us that we each check our phones several hundred times a day. By displaying the information we need on the screen at all times we don’t need to wake the screen to read it, which saves time and power. And although it is on at all times (unless you specifically turn it off in the settings), the feature uses very little battery life.
Everything we said about the improvements to the S7 design is also true here. The A5 of 2016 was
a fantastic-looking device, but this year’s model is much more refined. The newly curved rear edges result in a glass-backed phone that make it less slippery in the hand and more comfortable to hold. It feels far less fragile – and that’s not just down to the glass.
The addition of IP68 certification, which means it is resistant to dust and water and can survive a 1.5m dunk for up to 30 minutes, is very welcome. And pleasingly, as with the Galaxy S7, it has been achieved without fiddly port covers and flaps but the application of an anticorrosive coating to the metalwork.
As USB-C becomes more mainstream – and will eventually become the standard for all Android phones – we’re pleased to see Samsung has finally brought it to its smartphone line-up. USB-C is more convenient, a reversible port that Apple users have enjoyed for years, and potentially much faster than Micro-USB. USB-C will almost certainly be added in the next Galaxy S-series update, too.
The positioning of the speaker on the device’s top right edge is a welcome move, since no matter how you hold it you’ll struggle to muffle the sound. Pleasingly, following rumours Samsung would move to USB-C audio only, you also get a standard 3.5mm jack on the bottom of the phone.
The Galaxy A5 2017 is available in Black, Gold, Peach Cloud and a new Blue model replacing last year’s White. We tried both the Black and Gold models, and though both are very good looking we very much prefer the black version. It will be worth your while trying them in store before you decide which is right for you.
The Galaxy A5 (2017) has had a decent upgrade on the inside, and is now significantly faster than last year’s model. There’s an octacore Exynos processor clocked at 1.9GHz which builds in the Mali-T830 GPU. Samsung has also increased the RAM allocation from 2- to 3GB, and doubled the internal storage – now 32GB as standard.
TouchWiz, Samsung’s own user interface that is applied over Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, has been significantly slimmed down over recent years, and is now much more user-friendly. There is still a lot of preinstalled software compared to some Android phones, with just 22.7GB of that 32GB available out of the box. Nevertheless, the interface feels smooth and fluid, and you can always add on more storage with up to 256GB possible via the microSD slot.
We ran the Galaxy A5 (2017) through our usual performance benchmarks and found decent performance that translates to a genuinely usable device in realworld use. Unfortunately, we have no Geekbench 4 scores with which to compare the Galaxy S7 and A5 (2016), since these were tested under Geekbench 3, but from the other results it’s clear that the A5 (2017) has improved on all fronts. Gaming framerates are higher, as is general processing performance. It might be a mid-range phone, but it’s capable of helping you fulfil all your daily tasks.
In Geekbench 4 we recorded a single-core score of 775 points, but with all its eight cores in action it gave a multi-core result of 4125 points. As a guide, 4000 points is the baseline set by an Intel Core i7-6600U processor, and higher scores are better. This score is right up there with many of today’s flagships, though its AnTuTu 6 score of 60,437 is significantly lower.
Decent gaming framerates of 33-, 15-, 9- and 5fps respectively in GFXBench’s T-Rex, Manhattan, Manhattan 3.1 and Car Chase components are partially thanks to a lower-resolution full-HD screen, since we run only GFXBench’s on-screen tests, and yet they are still some way off those achieved by the Quad-HD-display S7. For casual gaming, though, you should have no problem with the A5 (2017).
Inside the A5 (2017) is a 3000mAh battery, which matches the capacity of the S7 and is 100mAh higher in capacity than that of its predecessor. Because the phone doesn’t use a Snapdragon processor it does not support Quick Charge, but just like Samsung’s flagship there’s support for the company’s Adaptive Fast Charging. Unlike that phone there’s no wireless charging. Battery life should easily stretch to a full day, though how much longer will really depend on how frequently you use the phone and for which type of tasks.
The version of the Galaxy A5 (2017) we review here is a single-SIM model, though apparently dual-SIM versions are or will be available in
other territories. If you decide to buy one of these, then we advise you first check the specifications to ensure it will work on your network.
The Galaxy A5 (2017) comes with both a fingerprint scanner built into a physical home button and NFC, two of the key requirements for making mobile payments through Android Pay or Samsung Pay. Samsung Pay is not yet available in the UK, so you won’t find the app preinstalled on this phone, though we suspect it might arrive alongside the Galaxy S8 in late March.
Both the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have been upgraded over last year’s model, now with support for the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2. You also get GPS with GLONASS and OTG. As with the Galaxy S7, there’s no IR blaster, and this phone also lacks its heart-rate scanner.
One of the key changes in the A5 (2017) over last year’s A5 is its improved cameras. Previously fitted with a 13Mp camera at the rear and 5Mp at the front, both are now rated at 16Mp, suggesting Samsung is targeting the selfie-loving younger generation with this handset. As before, they have an aperture of f/1.9, and there’s a single-LED flash at the rear while the display itself can act as a flash for the selfie camera. Video still maxes out at 1080p (full-HD), so don’t buy this phone if you’re hoping for 4K.
The quality of its still images is very good, though. As you can see in some of our test shots above (with Auto and HDR modes engaged), sufficient detail is captured that you can make out the road names from shots captured from our seventh-floor roof terrace. There is some blurring toward the edges, but overall the camera does a great job and produces some excellent, lifelike colours.
The camera app is pretty decent, offering a range of real-time filters that include several beauty options. There are also Auto, Pro, Panorama, Hyperlapse, HDR, Night and Food presets, with a couple more available to download. Right now there’s just Animated GIF and Sports shot, though we will hopefully see more added to the collection. As with Samsung’s flagship you can open the Camera app with a double-press of the home button, and there is support for gestures and voice controls to trigger the shutter.
Last year’s Galaxy A5 came with Android Lollipop out of the box and, although Nougat is now rolling out to the S series, this A5 (2017) comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Samsung applies its TouchWiz UI, plus some additional apps – most notably the Microsoft Office suite, S Health and the Galaxy Apps Store.
TouchWiz has been refined over the years, and is not the resource hog it once was. Some new design changes include enhancements to the drop-down notification bar, with quick settings that are cleanly listed with none of the circular buttons of old. The Settings menu mirrors this with a very clean layout that is one long list rather than being separated into categories. It feels much more like vanilla Android than TouchWiz has previously, though it’s still far from a carbon copy.
There are new wallpapers that react to movement by changing colour, and new features introduced in the Galaxy S7 such as the ability to take longer screenshots when you want to capture a web page or text conversation. Add to that one-handed operation and games modes, smart stay (stops the display timing out while you’re looking at it) and a handful of gestures for quickly calling contacts, alerting you to missed notifications and more, and the Galaxy A5 (2017) has some very useful software indeed.
The Galaxy A5 (2017) is a fantastic mid-range smartphone, with the looks of a flagship and some decent performance and all-round specs. Our only real concern is that Samsung is pricing itself out the market, with just a small difference in price separating this and the Galaxy S7 – we like the new A5, but we’d choose the higher-spec Galaxy S7 every time. Marie Brewis
You can open the Camera app with a doublepress of the home button, and there is support for gestures and voice controls to trigger the shutter