After a first contact a few weeks ago, here is the complete test of the Galaxy A5 (2016). Ambitious, strategic, incredibly accessible for a Samsung mobile phone, the Galaxy A5 could even pass for a Galaxy S6 “lite”, that is to say.
The Galaxy A5 (2016) had already made a good impression on us when we took it in hand last January at their official French presentation. A good impression that we immediately found in this phone not only attractive, but also very well supplied for a price that remains reasonable: around 400 euros excluding subsidy.
An improved data sheet on all points
Of course, you will always find more powerful or bigger in second-tier brands such as Meizu, Asus or Archos. However, this Galaxy A5 and its mid-range platform surprise us, because Samsung hadn’t accustomed us to such a rich equipment for this price. Let’s take a look at the data sheet in detail:
- dimensions: 144.8 x 71 x 7.3 mm
- weight: 155 grams
- screen to size ratio : 72,5 %
- 5.2-inch 2.5D Super Amoled 1080p display (424 pixels per inch resolution)
- premium frame with Corning Gorilla Glass 4 reinforced glass on both sides
- Exynos 7580 chipset consisting of eight Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.6 GHz
- GPU ARM Mali-T720 MP2 GPU
- 2 GB RAM
- 16 GB internal storage (expandable via microSDHC)
- 2900 mAh battery (non-removable) compatible quick charge battery
- LTE Category 6 compatible, WiFi n, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, NFC, FM radio, ANT+, LTE Category 6 compatible, WiFi n, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, NFC, FM radio, ANT+.
- fingerprint reader
- Samsung Pay compatible (integrated LoopPay technology)
- 13-megapixel photo sensor with LED flash, optical stabilizer and f/1.9 aperture lens, Full HD video compatibility
- 5-megapixel webcam with f/1.9 aperture lens
- Android 5.1.1 Lollipop with Touchwiz interface
Just imagine: a Super Amoled Full HD panel, premium glass and metal chassis, a fingerprint reader, a microSD card reader (absent from the Galaxy S6), a 2900 mAh battery, an optical stabilizer for the camera, Samsung Pay compatibility (with LoopPay technology), all in a 400 euro mobile, it had never happened at Samsung. That is why the A5 (2016) is interesting. And that’s why we think it’s the phone to follow at the beginning of this year (maybe even more than the Galaxy S7). Because it is a qualitative and almost affordable product that the brand could sell by whole truck if it does not make a strategic mistake in the meantime…
A Galaxy S6 design… or almost
As we saw in our initial introduction, the Galaxy A5 (2016) is a smartphone with two features: it’s part of the A lineup and it builds on the lines of the Galaxy S6. So we have a product that looks like the Korean flagship of 2015 on a mid-range positioning. How does that work in practice? First of all, the motive is dressed in glass and metal. The glass covers both sides of the product, which are slightly curved (2.5D slabs). Note that the corners of the phone are still round, but shorter, giving the A5 (2016) a more rectangular shape than the S6.
At the front, we find the brand’s usual codes: the screen is surrounded, at the top, by the group and speakerphone markings and, at the bottom, by the “Home” button flanked on the left and right by two touch-sensitive areas for the Android navigation keys. The webcam is to the left of the speaker. In the back, the resemblance with the S6 is more obvious with this large, smooth surface where the brand logo is lost, the protruding photo block (but less than on the top-of-the-line model) and dual LED flash. No heart rate monitor, obviously. But is it worth it? No, not really.
Second point on the design after the faces: the slices. They are therefore covered with aluminium and are cut into four parts by means of dividers positioned in pairs on the upper and lower edges. This is where the difference between the S6 and the A range (2016) is most obvious. First of all, the aluminium is straight instead of curved (which contributes to the impression of a very rectangular mobile). Then, the central part of the slices is always hollowed out to reduce the protrusion of the physical touches, but the result is less refined.
A quality grip
But let’s not deny our pleasure. Once in hand, the Galaxy A5 (2016) remains a pleasant product to handle. Gorilla glass, which marks fingerprints very well (this does not only have advantages), glides very well (be careful if your hands are wet not to drop it) and responds very well to stress. The hardware keys (volumes on the left and standby on the right) are cleverly positioned. You will notice that the SIM drawer is strangely wide: the two slots (SIM and microSD) are positioned side by side, perpendicular to the phone, and not side by side in parallel. However, the purpose is the same.
Compared to the Galaxy A5 (2015), this new model features a 5.2-inch Super Amoled Full HD screen with a resolution of just over 430 pixels per inch. That is to say a concentration of pixels equivalent to some top-of-the-range products (notably Apple). We are obviously far from the 577 pixels per inch of the Galaxy S6, but this screen is of very good quality. Lots of brightness, contrast, rich colors. And the viewing angles are much better than on LCD, even IPS. Hard to top that. Or rather difficult to realize that Samsung is able to do better.
The latest version of Touchwiz, but not Android
Once the screen is on, we arrive on Touchwiz on an Android 5.1.1 base. This is the same version of Touchwiz as the one offered with the Korean brand’s second-half mobile phones, including the Galaxy S6 Edge+. The design thus becomes rounder (folder and application icons). The interface gains a more extensive management of themes (accessible via the settings menu). And some widgets have disappeared or have been moved for clarity. Note that Briefing (ex UX Magazine) is pre-installed and de facto activated on the Galaxy A5 (2016). It is, as always, accessible on the panel on the left side of the home screen.
Welcome, Briefing and Themes
On the application side, again, Samsung has made a lot of effort since all the pre-installed software fits on two panels in the application menu. You will find S Health, S Planner, Samsung Galerie, S Voice, Smart Manager, Galaxy Apps, Samsung Meteo and system tools on the first panel where Samsung has kept its dream place (the Play Store being the intruder). Note that the Galaxy A5 (2016) is natively compatible with Gear (which is not the case for the Galaxy A3 (2016 which will need to be updated for that) and Smart Connect is pre-installed.
Weather, Samsung Apps and Smart Manager
On the second one are Google’s and Microsoft’s, each partner having its own small dedicated folder. In the Google folder are stored about ten applications (Hangouts, Play Music, Play Movies, Search, Maps, YouTube, Chrome, Voice Search, Drive, Photos, Gmail). We are surprised to see that the Facebook applications (Messenger, WhatsApp and the Facebook client) have been removed: obviously, Samsung is looking to free up space on the 16GB of internal storage … Of course, we compared the space occupied by the system on the Galaxy S5 New and the Galaxy A5 (2016). And the result is very similar.
Performance limited by the graphics processor
Contrary to popular belief, the problem would not necessarily be the applications preinstalled by Samsung, but perhaps the interface itself which adds to the natural weight of Android that of a complete overlay. We were also surprised to experience some (very slight) slowdowns when navigating the menus, which hadn’t happened since the Galaxy S5. It has to be said that the platform of this A5 (2016) bears a striking resemblance to the brand’s former flagship, as the scores obtained on the benchmarks by the two mobiles (and the S5 New as well) are very similar.
On AnTuTu, the mobile and its Exynos 7580 achieve a score of 42406 points, placing it ahead of the MT6753 from MediaTek and the Snapdragon 615/616/617 that equip the vast majority of current mid-range mobiles. Of course, the arrival of the Helio P10 and the Snapdragon 650/652 will degrade this good impression. But, for now, the phone is meeting its commitment to mid-market positioning. On Basemark OS II, he scores 815 points. It’s a score below Qualcomm’s mid-range chipsets due to graphics performance, well below the Adreno.
This is confirmed with Geekbench and 3D Mark. With the first one, the A5 (2016) gets 690 points in mono-core and 3687 points in multi-core. With the second, he reaches 8019 points on Ice Storm Unlimited. 3DMark even refused to launch Slingshot ES 3.1 in Quad HD, the phone being “incompatible” (implying that it does not meet the minimum technical requirements). As always with Exynos architectures, the application cores are there, but the Mali GPU is missing…
In multimedia, it is saved by appearances
A weakness that is offset by other technical elements in its favour. First of all, the chipset is economical enough to last longer than a day in normal use. Then, the beautiful Super Amoled screen (whose energy consumption is optimized with the predominantly black interfaces), is perfect for watching a few movies. Especially since the A5 (2016) is equipped, as always at Samsung, with one of the best video players on the market: subtitles, management of encapsulated audio tracks, heterogeneous video formats, this player is almost as interesting as the one from Meizu and Archos. We are delighted to see that this strength has not diminished over the years at Samsung.
On the gambling side, the picture is almost similar. The loudspeaker opening is positioned properly so that it is not blocked by fingers. The screen provides excellent visual quality and Corning’s Gorilla 4 glass offers a good feel under the fingers. With the graphics positioned at their maximum level of detail, Dead Trigger 2 remained fluid during the games, but naturally suffered some slowdowns during loading. Fortunately, this is not a penalty. However, if you are a gamer, don’t ask too much of it, because of the GPU Mali, certainly the biggest flaw of this phone.
A very good mid-range camera
Let’s finally move on to photography. Here the smartphone has a 13 megapixel sensor and f/1.9 lens combination. The package comes with a conventional autofocus and optical stabilizer. Finally, to control the whole, we find the application we enjoyed with the Galaxy S5 New and all the mobiles with the latest versions of Touchwiz. The latter controls the various shooting parameters very well and offers some interesting options, especially for expert photographers (management of sensitivity, exposure compensation and white balance).
The result is just like the Galaxy range: very good for a mid-range smartphone. Despite a very capricious weather this week, the Galaxy A5 (2016) has taken some interesting shots, always very bright, balanced (despite a small overexposure on the sky) and above all very detailed. Thanks to the optical stabilizer, there is no blurring of the horizon, even in darker areas. Noise is slightly present (especially in the corners) and details fade quickly when zooming, a limitation of the 13 megapixel sensor. The comparison, on this point, is difficult when compared to the 16 megapixels of the Galaxy S6. Especially since the latter is just as bright.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016)
There has never been better value for money at Samsung!
From the first official information on this smartphone, our attention was caught. For Samsung had rarely shown such realism in its ambitions. While the Galaxy S5, the Galaxy Alpha, the entire Galaxy A range and even, to some extent, the Galaxy S6 and its variants, still suffer from a relatively frustrating defect, especially with regard to the prices charged by the brand and the iPhone, which is almost always impeccable, this Galaxy A5 (2016) is much smarter in its approach.
A good platform (despite a big flaw in the graphics processor). A very nice screen. Equipment worthy of the top of the range. Premium design. All this for a price that is less inconsistent than before, the Galaxy A5 (2016) could almost be considered a “lite” version of the Galaxy S6 from which it borrows some technical and aesthetic assets.
At 400 euros, it competes directly with the HTC One A9 (whose price has been reduced by 40% in three months to below 400 euros in open-market), the OnePlus X, the Sony Xperia M5 and the Meizu MX5. And if some of them are a little better off in terms of performance, it is clear that the lag is largely offset by value-added services such as the fingerprint reader, NFC, optical stabilizer, Samsung Pay (which will eventually arrive in France) and the Super Amoled slab. In short, Samsung is off to a strong start this year. It remains to be seen how the competition will react.