I’ve been using my Samsung Note 3 for close to 2 years now. And I have been using Samsung phones since the Samsung Jet. Other than Apple products, it’s hard to get phones with screens and cameras as good as Samsung’s.
So logically, when I’m in the market for a new phone early this year, you’d think that I will get either the S6 or the Note 5. Well, no, I didn’t. Samsung flagships are more expensive nowadays; while upgraded in many areas, current flagship lacks external storage (which I use), and current mid range are blurring the lines of flagship phones to the point that some disadvantages are simply castrated version of the OS, instead of lacking hardware.
So, while I was in the market since end of last year, Samsung refreshed its A series. The series have been about mid range phone, with premium body, and it continues the tradition.
Samsung A5 (2016)
I opted for an A5 (2016) since it’s not as large as its sibling the A7, yet have the same bell and whistle except RAM (2gb vs 3gb), screen size (5.2in screen vs 5.5in screen) and battery.
While bigger screen is always better, I literally have a hole in my jeans thanks to the combination of expanding thigh size and the large Note 3.
The A5 comes with an Exynos processor, 2gb RAM, a 5.2in Super Amoled screen, 13mp rear camera with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), 5mp front facing camera, SD card support, fingerprint sensor, Samsung Pay support, and runs Lollipop 5.1.1 out of the box.
You can read the full specifications here.
So how does the A5 2016, a mid ranger, compare to the Note 3, a flagship from a couple generations back?
Look and feel.
The Note 3 was the last all plastic flagship from Samsung. So it’s not really fair to compare to the metal and glass A5. The A5 looks sexy as heck. I chose the black color unit, since that one reflected light the best, and the metal side is gunmetal.
However, handling the Note 3 feels safer, thanks to the pleather backing and the rigded sides. The A5 feels expensive and fragile, and even with a Gorilla Glass 4 on both sides, I don’t think it’s as durable as the Note 3.
Having said that, holding the phone in the hands feels wonderful. The coldness of the glass and metal, the way light reflects from the 2.5D edges of the screen feels better than the S6, or even iPhone 6S.
Speaking of the screen, while it’s just a Full HD screen, the colors pops out. Even with the darker theme that I chose, the screen just scream “look at me!”. It may not have the 2k resolution of current flagships (or 4k for the Sony Z5), to my eyes, this is already an upgrade.
Both devices feels as fast, and sometimes, as slow. I’m still pinpointing the cause of the slowness, but there’s a high probability that the 2gb RAM is not adequate enough to keep everything running in the background or optimized by the App Optimizer.
I haven’t really compared side by side the photos from both camera, but using it, the A5 camera feels light weight. it’s nowhere as fast as say, S6 or Note 5. The camera does take time to launch or switch between the front and back, but the shutter is almost instantaneous.
With the new camera approach Samsung only provides a handful of modes, including a “Pro” mode, that allows for manual adjustment for white balance, ISO and brightness. I do wish for a shutter control though, for that long exposure shot. Not all mode are available though, some modes like Selective Focus and Virtual Shot is missing.
The A5 has OIS included, whereas the Note 3 uses digital imagr stabilization to compensate. I haven’t gotten around to test this as much as I had on the Note 3, but time will tell.
Bells and whistle
This is where a mid ranger falters to and old flagship: there are stuff they kept for the best and the more expensive of the lineup. Samsung seems to have forgo the IR blaster from the Note 5, so the A5 followed suit. Also gone are the removable battery, but truth be told; the only use I have of a removable battery is to force restart. But hey, the A5 has a transformable SD-Card-or-SIM-Card tray!
More importantly, the Note 3 has an S-Pen, which since the note 2, have been improving to the point that it took me a while (and a broken digitizer) to get used to not having a stylus.
But the A5 is no slouch. Double tap to launch the camera is added. Not to mention the fingerprint scanner (they did however reduce the number of fingerprint you can add to only 3). The front facing camera now has a 5mp sensor and can take a wide selfie (by stitching 3 shots). and last but not least, the theme store is added here. I did not realize i want this (since I use 3rd party launcher for my personalization needs), but it’s nice to be able to change the feel of the whole phone including the menus, notification panel and even lockscreen to my taste.
It is rumoured that Samsung pay is coming to the South East Asia this year, so when it does, the A series is already equiped.
On paper, the battery doesn’t sound like much. but I have it run for more than 24 hours with all radio switch on (WiFi, 4G, and Bluetooth), Whatsapp, 2 email accounts, Facebook, Greader (an RSS reader) and even about 30 minutes of GPS navigation. All this without turning on the Power Saving Mode. I could probably squeeze a couple hours more with the Ultra Power Saving Mode.
I’m glad i got the A5, although there are other options out there. Most obvious would be the S6, since the S7 is going to be launched real soon, and the price is dropping steadily. It’s still more expensive than the A5, but glaringly did not have an SD card slot and does not feel as nice in the hand.
Less obvious would be other flagships such as the Xiaomi Mi4 or the LG G4. but that’s another post, perhaps.
If the price is within your range, I would not hesitate to suggest this phone. It’s not the best, except for maybe its build quality, but from the look of things, this give a good sign for the S7.
But if you think a flagship is too much for you and you’re not really into phone from China, this, or the A7 can be a very compelling choice.
|Size (Main Display)||5.2″ (132.2mm)|
|Resolution (Main Display)||1920 x 1080 (FHD)|
|Technology (Main Display)||Super AMOLED|
|Color Depth (Main Display)||16M|
|S Pen Support||No|
|Video Recording Resolution||FHD (1920 x 1080)@30fps|
|Main Camera – Resolution||CMOS 13.0 MP|
|Front Camera – Resolution||CMOS 5.0 MP|
|Main Camera – Flash||Yes|
|Main Camera – Auto Focus||Yes|
|RAM Size (GB)||2 GB|
|ROM Size (GB)||16 GB|
|Available Memory (GB)||10.7 GB|
|External Memory Support||MicroSD (Up to 128GB)|
|SIM size||Nano-SIM (4FF)|
|Infra||2G GSM, 3G WCDMA, 4G LTE FDD, 4G LTE TDD|
|2G GSM||GSM850, GSM900, DCS1800, PCS1900|
|3G UMTS||B1(2100), B2(1900), B5(850), B8(900)|
|4G FDD LTE||B1(2100), B3(1800), B5(850), B7(2600), B8(900), B20(800)|
|4G TDD LTE||B40(2300)|
|USB Version||USB 2.0|
|Location Technology||GPS, Glonass|
|Wi-Fi||802.11 a/b/g/n 2.4+5GHz, HT40|
|Bluetooth Version||Bluetooth v4.1|
|Bluetooth Profiles||A2DP, AVRCP, DI, HFP, HID, HOGP, HSP, MAP, OPP, PAN, PBAP|
|PC Sync.||Smart Switch (PC version)|
|Color||GOLD / PINK GOLD / BLACK / WHITE|
|Form Factor||Touchscreen Bar|
|Sensors||Accelerometer, Fingerprint Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, Hall Sensor, Proximity Sensor, RGB Light Sensor|
|Dimension (HxWxD, mm)||144.8 x 71.0 x 7.3|
|Internet Usage Time(3G) (Hours)||Up to 14|
|Internet Usage Time(LTE) (Hours)||Up to 14|
|Internet Usage Time(Wi-Fi) (Hours)||Up to 16|
|Video Playback Time (Hours)||Up to 14|
|Standard Battery Capacity (mAh)||2900|
|Audio Playback Time (Hours)||Up to 75|
|Talk Time (3G WCDMA) (Hours)||Up to 16|
|Audio and Video|
|Video Playing Format||MP4, M4V, 3GP, 3G2, WMV, ASF, AVI, FLV, MKV, WEBM|
|Video Playing Resolution||FHD (1920 x 1080)@30fps|
|Audio Playing Format||MP3, M4A, 3GA, AAC, OGG, OGA, WAV, WMA, AMR, AWB, FLAC, MID, M|
|Services and Applications|
Source: Samsung Website