The Galaxy J5 is back in a 2016 version. With a more careful design and some technical improvements to the program, we won’t have to wait for a revolution. If you’ve cracked in 2015, there’s no point in changing unless it’s to go somewhere else…
Pressure from Chinese players pushed Samsung Mobile to completely rethink its strategy in 2014, and that was a good thing. The new series launched since then have sometimes had some good surprises in store for us. Galaxy J5 was one of them. Not without flaws, it met most of the criteria of the average 2015 smartphone. Can we say the same for the 2016 version this year? Answer at the end of our test but let’s do it in order.
The Galaxy J5 (2016) arrived in France with an introductory price of €269, €70 more than its predecessor. The increase is therefore significant. Too bad, especially since it is mainly justified by the integration of metal on the lathe while the data sheet hardly moves:
- Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow + TouchWiz
- 5.2-inch Super AMOLED HD display
- Snapdragon 410 with quad-core Cortex-A53 CPU clocked at 1.2 GHz
- Adreno 306 GPU
- 2 GB RAM
- 16 GB internal memory (+ microSD)
- 4G (cat. 4) connectivity / Wi-Fi / NFC / Bluetooth / GPS
- 13-megapixel main camera with LED flash and f/1.9 aperture optics
- 5 megapixel front camera with LED flash
- battery 3100 mAh
- dimensions: 145.8 x 72.8 x 8.1 mm
- weight: 158 grams
Except for the battery and storage, changes are minimal or non-existent. It’s a bit light to justify the €70 increase but, as mentioned earlier, design is also a consideration. Let’s take a closer look.
One of the great new features of the Galaxy J5 (2016) is its metal frame, and it’s really nice to hold. The smartphone looks not only qualitative but also solid. An impression that we already knew at Samsung but only with the flagships and Galaxy A. So it’s good to see that the Korean is continuing his efforts in the other series even if it stops here with the materials. The overall design remains more or less the same. But why change a team that’s winning on the other side? You quickly find your bearings and the ergonomics are pretty good.
As always at Samsung, the screen is highlighted by a mechanical button whose turn is silver (like the frame on our black model but it is also valid for the gold version). Around it are two touch-sensitive keys to navigate in Android and, on the opposite side, the speaker surrounded by the sensors, webcam and flash. A glass covers the whole thing. Classic, as for the slices with the connectors at the bottom (jack and microUSB) and the power and volume knobs distributed between the left and right.
There’s not many more surprises on the back. The cover is domed and removable to provide access to the SIM/MicroSD slots and the battery, and the camera, still square and wedged between the speaker and its flash, protrudes slightly. The whole thing is well put together. We did not encounter any real discomfort in handling except perhaps with the volume controls a little too high for the index finger to fall naturally on it. It already needs to be long enough to cross the entire width of the smartphone…
So we come to our only real regret: size. Although the Galaxy J5 (2016) is still generally one-handed, Samsung would probably have been better off sticking to a 5-inch screen rather than going up to 5.2. The difference may seem negligible, but add relatively wide borders and you get a smartphone that’s still imposing. This is all the more unfortunate since the increase does not really benefit the poster…
The SUPER Amoled to the rescue of definition
Yes, it is. What the display gains on the surface, it loses in finesse since the definition has not moved. So we’re still on 720p. Good thing Samsung didn’t go too far… The loss, compared to the Galaxy J5 of 2015, is thus negligible or almost negligible and the screen remains comfortable in most situations, but one should always prefer pages optimized for surfing the internet. At least we get all the benefits of Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology, including vibrant colours, high contrast and high brightness. This makes up for the lack of finesse compared to 1080p smartphones available at the same price, although we would have appreciated a change in definition.
TouchWiz lighter, but still not enough…
The first real surprise of this Galaxy J5 (2016) comes from the OS. It comes with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, the latest version. This is not always the case with Samsung. Far from it, when it comes to mid- and entry-level devices. Of course, TouchWiz is installed with it. The skin is therefore modified, as well as the home screen and menus, but the new Google Doze features and individual permissions are not altered.
In use, the Samsung overlay is pleasant to use. News enthusiasts should appreciate the Briefing panel, an extension of the Flipboard news aggregator, added on the left side of the desktop. It provides direct access to the latest information with a personalized selection based on the areas of interest to be selected at startup. Access to the Notification Center quick settings is also simplified and the multitasking manager is enhanced with a button to close all applications at once.
Samsung also adds some shortcuts from the mechanical button under the screen. Two presses for the camera. Three to switch to the one-handed interface. Include an overwritten interface on a portion of the screen, for those who have trouble reaching the top of the 5.2-inch screen. This is part of the settings added by Samsung but there are others: different color profiles for the screen, themes, a Simplified mode for beginners, different power saving modes…
TouchWiz comes in a fairly complete version, even if Samsung has trimmed the applications that usually go with it. And he did the right thing. It’s bad enough the ones he kept aren’t necessarily useful. We’re thinking especially of Galaxy Apps, which comes with an extra widget on the desktop. Instead, we will use S Health to keep in shape with daily goals and S Planner which is a complete calendar well integrated with Google services. Also note that Microsoft Office Suite is preloaded with OneDrive, if there are users among you…
The Play Store is of course present, along with other Google applications, to complete the collection and you will have about 8 GB available internally for this. Half of the total space is therefore occupied by the system and pre-installed applications. That’s a lot. And there’s more bad news to come. The system clearly lacks responsiveness. Even simple actions, such as going backwards, require a little patience. Too bad, but not really surprising.
An aging chipset…
The Galaxy J5 (2016) is based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 410. It features a quad-core Cortex-A53-based CPU running at 1.2 GHz and an Adreno 306 GPU as on the 2015 model. Samsung has simply increased the RAM that goes with it. And again. Barely. Capacity increases from 1.5 to… 2 GB! So there’s no need to expect the best from the performance side of things. It’s a pity since that was the main point to be improved. So we have the same problems as last year.
The Galaxy J5 new formula is still bad to play. It will be necessary to privilege 2D titles or to be satisfied with environments with little 3D detail. It nevertheless catches up in audio and video playback thanks to relatively complete players, both in terms of options and supported codecs, and its beautiful Super AMOLED 720p display perfectly usable coupled with a low-powered speaker but restoring a clear and relatively rich sound. Of course, headphones are always the best solution for a more satisfying audio experience.
So the balance sheet is average and we haven’t even talked about benchmarks yet. We find the Galaxy J5 (2016) in the middle of a crowd of smartphones sold between 50 and 100 € cheaper with less than 30000 points on AnTuTu v.6, about 600 points on Basemark OS II and about 4500 points on 3Dmark. The only advantage of the Snapdragon 410 here and that it is not very greedy allows the 3100 mAh battery on board to offer almost 2 days of autonomy with a minimum of attention. We would have preferred a few hours less for better performance.
Still as effective as ever in photo
As a camera, the Galaxy J5 (2016) is doing well but that’s not really a surprise since it was already the case for the 2015 model, which is fully equipped. So we find similar results. The 13-megapixel main sensor coupled with the f/1.9 aperture optics delivers clean, detailed shots with vivid colours and generally well-controlled exposure, but it’s still in low light that it’s most impressive with clear, low noise shots. It’s not the best in the absolute, but it’s not far off in the category of smartphones under €300.
The 5 megapixel sensor on the front is a little more disappointing and often seems to deliver thinned or distorted faces when the dedicated setting is not activated but the shots remain clean. The flash will maintain a natural-looking image when the lighting conditions are poor.
On the photo application side, we finally find quite a few modes and even settings despite the Pro mode. No manual focus here, it only allows you to control exposure, ISO sensitivity, and white balance. We also regret that the general parameters have not been integrated directly into the interface. A somewhat disappointing application but in phase with the target that should not take too much time on the settings and, since the sensor does very well in automatic mode, it is not really a problem.
Too little improvement in one year
Samsung seems to have missed the boat with this 2016 edition of the Galaxy J5. Wanting to please too much by the design, he forgets the rest and in particular the main flaw of the first model: performance. Between the lack of reactivity of the interface and the 3D games running in slow motion, there’s not much left to enjoy the beautiful Super AMOLED screen and that’s a shame. Especially for a smartphone sold for more than €250. You really have to love metal and Samsung’s touch to turn to this Galaxy J5 (2016)…
Better to stick with the 2015 model, which offers practically the same benefits for almost €100 less now, except for the autonomy. By the way, let’s take this opportunity to remind you that it is/will be updated to Android marshmallow. Otherwise, the Honor 5C is an interesting alternative at 199 €.