Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) review: A great all-rounder for under £300
Samsung Galaxy A5 review: Performance
Performance is where so many mid-priced and budget smartphones come unstuck, so I was interested to see how the A5 would fare on this front. On paper, it looks so-so. The Samsung Galaxy A5 has a 1.6GHz Samsung Exynos 7580 processor running the show – the same as in the Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo, and it’s backed by a mere 2GB of RAM.
Is it quick? Not particularly. It lags a long way behind the OnePlus 3, which is only £40 more expensive, and it’s only a touch faster than the Moto G4, which is £120 cheaper. It’s roughly equal to the Nexus 5X for CPU performance, but its slower GPU sees it fall behind for gaming.
That’s not to say it isn’t responsive. I didn’t experience any lag or slowdown in general use, but it’s important to think about how the phone might perform 12 or 18 months from now. Look a few OS updates down the line, and the OnePlus 3 will certainly be in a better place than the Samsung Galaxy A5 – what’s acceptable now may be borderline in a year or so.
In fact, it’s interesting to see that even the Moto G4 performs better than Samsung Galaxy A5 in graphics benchmarks. The difference isn’t huge, but it’s still there.
Battery life is another matter entirely, however. As has been the case with Samsung phones for some time now, the Samsung Galaxy A5 seems perfectly suited to the task of playing video from local storage. In our video-rundown test, it continued to play for a lengthy 15hrs 26mins. That’s not quite as long as the OnePlus 3, which lasted for 16hrs 56mins, but it is better than the Moto G4, which lasted 13hrs 39mins.
It’s impressive in real-world use, too. Anecdotally, I was able to get the Samsung Galaxy A5 to last from around 9am in the morning one day to around 9pm the following day. I wasn’t using the phone intensively during this period – I played a few games, downloaded a couple of apps and listened to some music – but nor was I trying to actively see how long the battery would last.
If you’re on the phone constantly and playing games all the time, you’ll obviously struggle to make it last that long, but in most circumstances, this is a phone that will comfortably last a full day’s use and more. It’s certainly well above average.
Samsung Galaxy A5 review: Camera quality
It’s a similar story with the rear camera. Most the specifications you’d expect from a £300 handset are all there, with 13 megapixels’ worth of resolution, a bright aperture of f/1.9, and optical image stabilisation.
The key feature it misses out on is hybrid autofocus: it has no focus pixels nor a “laser” sensor to make autofocus more reliable, something both the Nexus 5X and the OnePlus 3 benefit from.
The Galaxy A5 takes decent photographs in most conditions, but its reliance on contrast-detect focus means that you’ll see focus hunting back and forth a touch more than it does with rivals, and that means more frequent blurry photos.
Still, the quality is more than decent. A few shots captured in the dingy Alphr office proved that even in poor light, the camera is capable of capturing well-balanced colours, while outside images are packed with detail.
Video capture is limited to 1080p rather than 4K due to the limited power of the processor, but the stabilisation is reasonably effective at reducing shaky hands, and moving images look smooth and stable, whatever the conditions.[gallery:7][gallery:8][gallery:9]
I compared the Samsung Galaxy A5 directly with the OnePlus 3 since that was the phone I had immediately to hand, and close inspection revealed the OnePlus to have slightly superior detail capture, not due to its higher pixel count, but due to slightly less aggressive noise reduction and compression. You have to look pretty darned close to see that, though.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy A5 has a good camera, but it’s simply not as good as the OnePlus 3, nor the Nexus 6P or Nexus 5X which both share the same camera hardware.
Samsung Galaxy A5 review: Verdict
The Samsung Galaxy A5 is a tough smartphone to pigeonhole. On the one hand, it looks as good as any flagship phone, and battery life is stupendous; on the other, the hardware inside isn’t quite up to snuff, falling fractionally behind rivals such as the OnePlus 3, Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P for speed and camera quality.
Still, for £290 there aren’t any phones I can think of that offer the combination of stamina, gorgeous design and competent all-round performance of the Samsung Galaxy A5. If you’re buying SIM-free, the OnePlus 3 is the better bet in my view, while the Nexus 5X offers comparable performance and a slightly better camera for far less money (or for as long as the current half-price offers last). However, there’s very little wrong with the Samsung Galaxy A5.
Samsung Galaxy A5 specifications
Octa-core 1.6GHz Samsung Exynos 7580
1,920 x 1,080
Memory card slot (supplied)
145 x 71 x 7.3mm
Price SIM-free (inc VAT)