Samsung refreshed the Galaxy A series of smartphones late last year, and as was the case with the original line, the lineup covers a variety of smartphones across the size, specifications, and price spectrum. Starting with the Galaxy S6, Samsung certainly seems to have found its path with regards to design and build quality, wand these carriers over to the the mid-range Galaxy A line, which all feature premium metal and glass unibody constructions. We’ve already given the full review treatment to the two more high-end smartphones of the series, and we now take a closer look at the most entry-level of the trio in this in-depth Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) review!
While the design language of all the Galaxy A smartphones is borrowed heavily from the Galaxy S6, the Galaxy A5 (2016) is also the closest in terms of size, with it featuring a 5.2-inch display. The premium metal and glass unibody construction returns, and the device looks and feels very familiar, if only a touch more angular in its design when compared to its flagship counterpart.
The Galaxy A5 is thicker than the Galaxy S6, but not significantly so, and the extra thickness actually helps in making the camera protrusion on the back be a lot more flush with the body of the phone. With a hefty weight to it, the smartphone feels substantial in the hand, and the use of glass feels great, even though it does prove to be a fingerprint magnet. All the ports, buttons, and speaker are in their typical positions as well, as seen with the current crop of Samsung devices. As you might expect thanks to its relatively compact size, the Galaxy A5 also offers a great handling experience, with its thin bezels along the sides of the display allowing for comfortable one-handed use.
The idea behind the current Galaxy A series is to provide users with a premium design and build quality but at a lower cost when compared to their flagship counterparts, and that is exactly what you get here. If you loved the look of the Galaxy S6, you won’t find anything to complain about with the Galaxy A5 (2016).
The Galaxy A5 comes with a 5.2-inch Super AMOLED display with a 1080p resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 424 ppi. This display may not feature the Quad HD resolution seen with Samsung’s high-end smartphones, but the bump down is understandable given the more budget-friendly nature of the Galaxy A5. However, Samsung’s display prowess shines through once again regardless of the lower resolution, with the vibrant, saturated colors, deep, inky blacks, and great viewing angles and brightness all available here. Full HD proves to be more than enough in this case, and you can certainly look forward to a fantastic display experience when you pick up this phone.
Under the hood, the Galaxy A5 (2016) comes with an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor, clocked at 1.5 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 405 GPU and 2 GB of RAM, but depending on the market, there is also an iteration that is powered by the octa-core Exynos 7580 processor, and backed by the Mali-T720MP2 GPU. This particular review unit features the Qualcomm processing package, and given that this was the 2015 mid-range standard, the performance available is as expected.
Everyday tasks like opening, closing, and switching between apps remain smooth and fast enough to not disrupt the workflow. The performance is reliable throughout, with the only instances of stutter noticeable when moving to the TouchWiz Briefing screen, which is more of an issue with the software optimization rather than the fault of the processor. The device handles gaming very well also, and while some dropped frames may be seen on occasion, the overall experience remains pretty good. The benchmark scores of the Galaxy A5 aren’t going to amaze, but as far as real world performance is concerned, it is certainly reliable.
16 GB of on-board storage is the only option available here, which is why users will definitely appreciate the vaunted return of expandable storage with the Galaxy A series, via microSD card, for up to an additional 128 GB. With the single SIM versions of the device, the second slot on the SIM tray serves as the microSD card slot, but there are some iterations of the phone, once again depending on the market, which come with dual-SIM capabilities, leaving it up to the users to make the choice between dual-SIM features or expandable storage.
The single speaker unit is located on the right side at the bottom, and, as is the case with most bottom-mounted speakers, the placement isn’t great, with the sound directed away from you, and makes for a speaker that is also very easy to cover up when holding the phone in the landscape orientation. The audio quality on offer is quite decent however, but there are a slew of other mid-range smartphones out there that offer a better audio experience.
Also returning is a fingerprint scanner embedded into the tactile home button up front. The implementation is the same as seen with the Samsung flagships, and this scanner proves to be as reliable and accurate. It may not be as fast as the scanner found with devices like the Galaxy Note 5, but the difference isn’t significant enough to be an issue.
The Galaxy A5 comes with a large 2,900 mAh battery, and combined with the more energy efficient Full HD display, the device offers really good battery life. The screen on-time reaches the 4.5 hour mark on most days, and should provide most users with a full day of use comfortably. Even if you do run out of battery, the device comes with fast charging capabilities, to help you get up and running in a short amount of time.
The Galaxy A5 comes with a 13 MP rear camera with a f/1.9 aperture and optical image stabilization, but the camera quality doesn’t live up to the standards set by its flagship counterparts, which isn’t really that surprising. Images don’t look bad, with some extra sharpening happening in post processing that makes for better looking shots.
The big problem with this camera is its tendency to overexpose a lot, and HDR doesn’t do a lot with addressing this issue, only creating a brighter image instead. When this issue doesn’t show up however, the pictures do look good, with vibrant colors and a decent amount of detail. Another point of note is the fact that 4:3 is the aspect ratio you will be shooting in if you’re looking to take advantage of the full 13 MP. Image quality worsens significantly in low-light conditions, with pictures appearing dull, and with a lot of noise.
The front-facing 5 MP camera creates some very soft looking images, with not much sharpness to them. However, if you are as bright as the background, you will end up with a decent enough shot. That said, this is something that is difficult to do, and magnifies the overexposure issue seen with the rear camera. The cameras of the Galaxy A5 aren’t bad, and you can work to get a good shot, but there are better smartphone cameras out there that fall in this price range.
On the software side of things, the Galaxy A5 (2016) is running Android 5.1.1 Lollipop out of the box, which is very disappointing to see, given how long ago Android 6.0 Marshmallow was released. An official update to the latest version of Android is in the works, but even that might be out-dated soon enough, with the launch of Android N just around the corner.
With the older version of Android and TouchWiz on-board, the software experience remains identical to what was seen with Samsung smartphones in 2015. While things remain largely familiar aesthetically, Samsung has toned things down in terms of extra, often unnecessary, software features. Returning features include multi-window, which is nice to have, but might not be particularly useful on this relatively smaller display, and the Briefing screen, which does display all the articles and information in a nice way, but the lag is significant, making this difficult to use. The best part about this software package is the robust Theme engine, which allows you to cater the look and feel of the user interface to exactly how you may like it.
5.2-inch Super AMOLED display Full HD resolution, 424 ppi
The Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) isn’t officially offered in the US but the international model can be found for around $350, with the available color options being black and rose gold.
So there you have it for this closer look at the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016)! The Galaxy A5 is essentially the Galaxy S6 with mid-range specifications, and poorer camera, but does actually offer more than its flagship counterpart in other areas, such as improved battery life, and the return of expandable storage. The disappointing camera may be a let down for some, but if you loved the Galaxy S6 but wished that it was cheaper, significantly so in this case, the Galaxy A5 (2016) is the device for you.