Samsung Galaxy J5 review: A great budget handset in its day, but hold out for the 2017 refresh

£160
Price when reviewed

When I first reviewed the Samsung Galaxy J5, I said it was a genuine Moto G challenger, and it was. The trouble is that we’ve had a whole new generation of Moto Gs, and as you would expect, that’s clouded the picture somewhat – although if you do go down the Moto G route, be sure not to buy the G5, which is in many ways a step backwards.

Now there’s something even more tempting in the same price bracket: the Huawei P9 Lite. Going for £190, it’s a very attractive handset indeed, with a better screen and stronger all-round performance than the Samsung Galaxy J5 – even if its battery and camera are both weaker. That’s one of the strongest alternatives we’ve seen, and definitely worth considering. If battery is all important, then the Lenovo P2 is worth considering too: it lasts for nearly 29 hours, for £200 SIM free.

Still, new Moto Gs and an impressive budget entries from Huawei and Lenovo doesn’t make the Samsung Galaxy J5 automatically a worse handset than it was a year ago, and it’s still a dependable smart little handset – especially if you get a good deal on it. The J5 is available on the cheap via Amazon (and Amazon US). 

Now is not the time though. The Samsung Galaxy J5 2017 refresh will be with us later this month (July 2017) and promises to improve on the previous version in every conceivable way. Even if it’s not as great as it should be (the Moto G5 took that step back, after all) it should ensure that last year’s version becomes even more competitive. Hold off a little longer, and we’ll be back with a full review soon to help you make your decision.

The original review continues below

Two products, separated by just a single letter: one is Samsung’s 2014 flagship, which still holds up pretty well today, and the other is the Samsung Galaxy J5 which is Samsung’s latest budget smartphone. True, you’d struggle to slip up and type the wrong one by accident, but it’s probably not too big a stretch to imagine someone buying one by accident, thinking the S5 Neo had been sold at a surprising discount.

What’s amazing is that anyone making that mistake wouldn’t be appalled by their accidental purchase, because the Samsung Galaxy J5 is a superb smartphone. That’s not always been true of Samsung’s previous efforts in this section of the market, but in this case, Samsung has got it just right.

Samsung Galaxy J5: Design

At a glance, the Galaxy J5 looks quite a lot like the Galaxy S5, right down to the button placement and the ovoid home button. From the front, the only really obvious difference is the presence of a front-facing flash.Samsung Galaxy J5 front bottom half

Flipping things over makes the differences a touch more obvious. There’s no heart-rate monitor, and the weird texturing on the plastic is gone, replaced with a smooth, shiny back that actually manages to look really nice, even in these days of all-metal frames. It also means that you can easily remove the battery and expand the memory, should you wish.

In all, it’s a very nice looking phone that can stand up pretty proudly alongside handsets twice its price. It does that strange thing, common to many Samsung devices, of switching over the ‘back’ and ‘menu’ buttons compared to almost every other Android phone, but even that makes sense for right-handers like me, given you use the ‘back’ button significantly more often than you need to access the menu.

Samsung Galaxy J5: Screen

The differences become a bit more obvious when you turn on the handset, as the J5’s 5in screen is 1,280×720 resolution with a pixel density of 294 pixels per inch. That’s quite low for a 5in screen, but the overall quality of the display is impressive enough for it not to be too big a problem. The Galaxy J5’s screen is AMOLED, and in our tests proved to be an incredible contender for the price.Samsung Galaxy J5 at an angle

First of all, in terms of brightness, it reached a very respectable 357.72cd/m2 with 1:1 contrast, thanks to being AMOLED. It covers 100% of the sRGB gamut, which puts it well ahead of its budget rivals – including our reigning cheap champion, the third generation Moto G, which only manages 85.4%.

In fact, put the J5 alongside any other phone in that price range, and the screen crushes them all. Here’s a handy chart of its similarly priced rivals:

Samsung Galaxy J5HTC Desire 530Honor 4XMoto GWileyfox Swift
Brightness357.72cd/m2319cd/m2581cd/m2339cd/m2552cd/m2
sRGB gamut100%87.6%79.6%85.4%79.2%
Contrast1:11,029:11,240:11,061:1961:1

That brightness may look off-putting, but it’s a quirk of AMOLED technology that it doesn’t need to be as bright. This display is pretty incredible for the price, despite its resolution.

Samsung Galaxy J5 specifications

ProcessorQuad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410
RAM1.5GB
Screen size5in
Screen resolution1,280 x 720
Screen typeSuper AMOLED
Front camera5MP
Rear camera13MP
FlashSingle LED
Storage (free)8GB (4.6GB)
Memory card slotmicroSD
Wi-Fi802.11n
BluetoothBluetooth 4.1
NFCYes
Wireless data3G, 4G
Size72 x 7.9 x 142mm
Weight146g
Operating systemAndroid 5.1.1
Battery size2,600mAh

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