Last year, we were amazed at Samsung’s positioning with the Galaxy A5 (2016). He had everything to please, even if he was a little expensive. His successor, who takes over the basics and positioning, also forgets that the market has evolved, making this replacement less incisive than in 2016.
A year ago, we were charmed by the Galaxy A5 (2016). For the first time in a long time, a Samsung smartphone amazed us with its ambition: premium chassis with glass and metal, Full HD screen, relatively nervous chipset, photo sensor with optical stabilizer, NFC and LoopPay sensors for mobile payment, fingerprint reader, battery verging on 3000 mAh… Rarely will a mid-range smartphone have reached such a level of equipment at Samsung, giving the Galaxy A5 (2016) the best value for money of the brand.
Samsung stays the course
A year later, we were looking forward to the Galaxy A5 (2017). How did the brand manage the renewal of a product that was clearly very successful? The answer is “medium”. Let’s take a closer look at the complete technical data sheet of the phone before our first remarks.
- dimensions: 146.1 x 71.4 x 7.9 mm
- weight: 157 grams
- IP68 waterproof chassis
- screen to size ratio : 71,5 %
- 5.2-inch Super AMOLED Full HD display (424 pixels per inch resolution), Corning Gorilla Glass 4 mineral glass protection
- Samsung Exynos 7880 chipset with eight Cortex-A53 cores clocked up to 1.9 GHz
- GPU ARM Mali-T830 MP3 GPU
- 3 GB RAM
- 32GB of internal storage (expandable via microSDXC to an additional 256GB on a dedicated port)
- 3000 mAh battery (not removable)
- compatible LTE category 6, WiFi ac dual band, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS (Glonass), NFC, FM radio, Samsung Pay (LoopPay), ANT+, ANT+, etc.
- USB 2.0 type-C port
- front panel fingerprint reader
- 16-megapixel sensor with LED flash, f/1.9 aperture lens and conventional autofocus
- 16-megapixel webcam with f/1.9 aperture lens
- Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with Touchwiz (planned update to Nougat)
As you can see in this datasheet, Samsung is keeping what its predecessor had, which is rather good news. The platform has also been upgraded with a new chipset, more RAM and more storage. The chassis is sealed. But, despite a webcam whose definition has been doubled, the photographic part is clearly set back with the disappearance of the optical stabilizer. And this despite a tariff increase of 429 euros (recommended retail price excluding subsidies and promotion). So we’re a little disappointed.
Inspired by Galaxy S7
However, improvements are visible in this smartphone compared to its predecessor. The phone’s chassis adopts thinner lines, especially on the rear part with a slight curvature reminiscent of the Galaxy S7. The resemblance between the two phones is not fortuitous: both phones have ergonomic features in common: a fingerprint reader on the front, a waterproof cellar (IP68 certification) and a display that is practically the same size (5.1 inches for the S7, 5.2 inches for the A5). The materials are also the same: Gorilla Glass 4 mineral glass on the faces and metal on the inside and on the edges.
Surprisingly, the dimensions of the A5 (2017) are slightly larger than the A5 (2016): thicker, higher and wider, while the size of the Full HD screen is strictly identical. As a result, the ratio between the screen size and the phone’s surface area drops slightly (-1 point), but still remains above 70%. What’s that due to? In our opinion, the difference is mainly due to the Galaxy S7’s design adaptation and the domed rear hull. But that’s just a guess.
The positioning of the various technical elements is slightly different from the Galaxy A5 (2016). The main change is to be found on the right-hand side: the mono speaker is positioned above the power button. In fact, it is almost never positioned under a finger, unlike a positioning on the lower edge or the back of the mobile. It’s not as ergonomic as the front panel (like a Moto X Style, Xperia XZ or Idol 4S), but it’s a good alternative. As a result of this move, the SIM drawer has been moved to the opposite side, on the left, under the volume control keys.
Another consequence is that the lower edge is now less provided: the 3.5mm jack port is now the only one to accompany the main microphone and the USB port, here of type-C. You will note that this is the first time Samsung uses this connector in the A series (we will also find it in the A3 (2017) obviously). Opposite, on the top edge, is the drawer for the memory card and the secondary microphone. The front panel is very common, with the screen and the mechanical button (with fingerprint reader) with two touch surfaces for navigation in Android. At the back, the photo sensor is accompanied by a flash. The latter is less protruding than in Galaxy A5 (2016).
The screen of the Galaxy A5 (2017) rests on a Super AMOLED Full HD panel. It is of very good workmanship, with beautiful visual and technical qualities. Wide viewing angle. Infinite contrast. Colorimetry mastered. Very good brightness (even better than the previous Galaxy A5). The display of this smartphone is almost as qualitative as the Galaxy S7’s (if we put aside the precision of the flagship’s QHD slab, of course). So there’s a real technological improvement here.
Waiting for the Nougat version of Touchwiz
Once the screen is turned on, the smartphone offers not the latest, but the penultimate version of Android : Marshmallow. At the time of writing, an update to Nougat is planned. And could even be followed by an upgrade to Android O in a year’s time. Above Android, we find Touchwiz, in a version very close to what the smartphones of 2016 offered: home screen with a few Samsung and Google applications, left screen dedicated to Upday, the partner application for the news feed, and right screen with the Galaxy Apps marketing widget, a few additional applications (including the Knox secure folder and the Microsoft Office suite).
Of course, you’ll find the different Touchwiz menus (an adaptation rather close to the Android experience wanted by Google): application drawer with search engine, notification and quick setup area, full setup screen with thematic separations between the different sections, etc. Even if the partnership between Samsung and Google in terms of music does not normally concern the Ax range terminals (2017), Touchwiz offers to listen to music only Google Play Music (which you can always replace by Samsung Music to download on Galaxy Apps or the Play Store). However, to view video files, the Samsung Video engine is still embedded in Galerie.
Overall, the Touchwiz overlay is not only getting closer year after year to the experience that Google wants, but it includes fewer and fewer applications other than those imposed by the Mountain View firm. Even the Samsung applications that were deemed non-mandatory have been revised downwards. Gear’s Watch and Accessory Manager, for example, is no longer pre-installed, because there’s still little chance that you’ll ever need it. So are kept Camera, Galaxy Apps (only thumbnail to Google), Gallery, Calendar, S Health, S Voice, Knox (Secure Folder), Samsung Notes, My Files, Internet and Email. At their side, the Google suite, the Microsoft suite and Facebook.
All the little software innovations Samsung offers to the Galaxy S7 are present, such as Game Launcher (to give a boost to video games and applications you identify as resource-hungry), Game Tools (to take screenshots or broadcast live feeds), maintenance and optimization tools, and Always On, which appeared last year. Thanks to AMOLED, Always On doesn’t put too much strain on the smartphone’s autonomy. But if you can do without it and the autonomy is very important to you, we still advise you to deactivate it manually (since it is activated by default).
Because one of the assets of the Galaxy A5 (2017) is its autonomy. With its 3000 mAh battery and economical mid-range configuration, the smartphone lasts well over a day’s use. And even more so if you disable certain power-hungry processes (like Always On) and enable all power-saving tools (like closing applications in the background). The Galaxy A5 (2017) therefore offers a good range, even better than the Galaxy A5 (2016), which already offered many hours of use without the need to recharge.
While the smartphone chipset is a business model, it is not the most powerful, even in the mid-range market. Of course, there is a world between the Galaxy A5 (2017) and the Galaxy A5 (2016): the Exynos 7880 brilliantly replaces the Exynos 7580, which offers more dynamism in the Cortex-A53 cores, but also more power in the graphics. Not forgetting the contribution of the third gigabyte of RAM. However, the platform used here is not comparable to a Snapdragon 65x, which equip models sold between 400 and 500 euros, sometimes even a little less (Alcatel’s Idol 4S at 350 euros, Xperia X and Xperia X Compact at 400 euros, etc.).
In detail, the Galaxy A5 (2017) reaches 57,000 points on AnTuTu, 1440 points on Basemark OS II, almost 26,000 points on Basemark X (with average quality on graphics) and 13,500 points on 3D Mark (Ice Storm Unlimited). We note that, overall, the Exynos 7880 is a chipset in the same range as the Snapdragon 625/626. This positions it against the Huawei Nova, the ZenFone 3, but also against the G5 Plus motorcycle, which will be sold around the world. Three hundred euros. Of course, the Galaxy A5 (2017) offers different (and sometimes more qualitative) features, thus justifying part of the price difference.
The Exynos 7880’s graphics scores are also very interesting, because they place the Galaxy A5 (2017) well above its true category, despite the fact that the chipset adopts a tri-core ARM Mali-T830, a rather modest GPU. His score equals or in some cases exceeds Qualcomm’s Adreno 506. And we wonder why. Perhaps the answer comes from Game Launcher, which offers more panache to games and some benchmarking tools.
Better in video than in game
An artificial mode that is not taken into account by the games when automatically adjusting the quality of the displayed graphics. This is what happens with Dead Trigger 2, which adopts the lowest quality, whereas the chipset is theoretically capable of better. By forcing the switch to the highest quality, the game continues to work properly, but loading times are longer and some slowdowns are felt. Unfortunately, there’s no miracle to be expected from an ARM GPU without multiplying the cores (as in Galaxy S7 which has twelve Mali-T880s).
In video, the situation is very different. Firstly because Full HD decoding is now a mastered exercise for all mid-range (and even entry-level) chipsets. Then because the Samsung are equipped with the very good Samsung Videos player included in Samsung Gallery. Finally, because the Galaxy A5 (2017) has a speaker on a side slice that provides powerful sound when the mobile is positioned horizontally (with the head pointing to the left). Not to mention the fact that the slab is Full HD and Super AMOLED. The Galaxy A5 (2017) is therefore a very good video player (better than a portable game console).
A little darker in photo
Let’s finally finish the picture. The Galaxy A5 (2017) features a 16-megapixel sensor without optical stabilizer, with conventional autofocus and an f/1.9 aperture lens. The whole thing is controlled by Samsung’s usual photographic application, with its various modes, including one reserved for experts and informed amateurs. As expected, the result is worse than the previous year. Of course, the shots remain very balanced (with always this slight overexposure in the sky) and detailed. Perhaps even more detailed than the previous year thanks to the increase in the number of pixels.
However, we find that the blurred areas are more sensitive and the brightness is missing. Overall, the photos are darker, the fault lies with a sensor size that does not change, but with a 23% increase in the number of pixels. Either a fall of the photosensitive surface. Remember that on the Galaxy S7, Samsung preferred to lower the number of megapixels to 12 (instead of 16 in the Galaxy S6), thus gaining in light. Of course, it is always possible to compensate by extending the break time. But without an optical stabilizer, the result is more than uncertain.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
A Galaxy A5 that moves slower than the competitors
In conclusion, the Galaxy A5 (2017) is a worthy successor to the Galaxy A5 (2016). He goes back to the basics. It improves certain strong points (such as autonomy, chassis, additional benefits). Clearly, that’s a very good motive. And it remains one of Samsung’s best value for money, despite a price increase that isn’t always justified (as many of the improvements are only evolutionary).
But we can’t help but be a little less charmed. First of all, because Samsung already did it to us last year. It’s hard to be surprised twice in a row by the same trick. Then the Galaxy A5 (2017) doesn’t really erase some of the weaknesses of its predecessor (the platform is a bit tight, so we might as well be clear). Worse, there’s even a new one: the removal of the optical stabilizer and the reduction of the pixel size of the photo sensor.
Finally, more generally, Samsung does not take into account the competition in its market. A more aggressive competition that is not ashamed of its Chinese origins, that plays the price card to excess and that, overall, offers the same services at a more attractive price. We are talking about Honor, OnePlus with its excellent OnePlus 3T or Alcatel. And the examples will surely multiply in the coming months.