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

Price when reviewed

Samsung Galaxy J5: Performance

We’ve been burned before by attractive phones with decent screens that completely fall apart in performance (hello HTC Desire 530), but the Samsung Galaxy J5 keeps things solid in terms of processing power, too. Packing an ARM quad-core 1.2GHz Cortex A53 processor and 1.5GB RAM, the handset is a pleasant surprise in day-to-day usage.

The phone is a smooth performer, transitioning between screens and apps without fuss. True, you’d expect that from a brand new handset, but I’ve used some budget phones that have failed this test. Still, it’s important to dig deeper, which is where our benchmarks come into play.

While unmistakably a cheap phone, the Samsung Galaxy J5 holds up very well against its rivals, with scores of 459 and 1,343 in Geekbench 3’s single and multi-core tests. In GFX Bench, it manages 3.9fps on the Manhattan benchmark, which is obviously unplayable, but that particular test is designed to push mobile chipsets hard (for comparison, the newly released Galaxy S7 managed 27fps).samsung_galaxy_j5_review_front

So let’s look at the previous chart again to see how the J5 compares against fairer competition:

Samsung Galaxy J5HTC Desire 530Honor 4XMoto G 3rd generationWileyfox Swift
Geekbench 3 single-core459300547532471
Geekbench 3 multi-core1,3439891,5801,5981,288
GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan, onscreen3.9fps4fpsWould not run3.7fps4.1fps
GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan, offscreen1.8fps1.7fpsWould not run1.7fps1.8fps

So not the best, but there’s not too much in these numbers, taken as a whole.

Samsung Galaxy J5: Battery

The battery is where things really get interesting. The second generation Moto E was the reigning cheap battery champion by some margin, offering a really impressive 13.5 hours of battery life in our testing, but the Samsung Galaxy S5 knocked that figure out of the park.Samsung Galaxy J5 camera

Brace yourself. In our standard battery testing at 170cd/m2, the Samsung Galaxy J5 managed a whopping 17 hours and 50 minutes. To put that into perspective, that’s actually two minutes longer than Samsung’s new flagship, the Galaxy S7. Combine that with the fact you can replace the battery yourself, and you’ve got a handset that can really go the distance.

Samsung Galaxy J5: Camera

It had to fall down somewhere, and if there’s one weak spot in the Samsung Galaxy J5’s armour, it comes in the form of its camera. On paper, the camera’s 13-megapixel resolution camera with its f/1.9 aperture should provide good shots, and it does… sometimes.

The problem seems to be with how the J5 copes with lighting. Too much, and the images end up overexposed with halos of white light obscuring the detail. Too little, and the images suddenly become dark and lose much of their detail. Get the environment exactly right, and the pictures can look fantastic, with plenty of detail and vibrant colours, but you’re very much a hostage to circumstance. Bizarrely, there is no HDR setting to try and fix the issue.Samsung Galaxy J5 rear and camera

The front-facing 5MP selfie camera fares a little better within its smaller remit, especially as it benefits from an LED flash, but it’s no substitute for a solid snapper on the back.

Samsung Galaxy J5: Verdict

It’s a shame to end on the slight downer of the camera because it’s the only area where the Samsung Galaxy J5 puts a foot wrong as far as I’m concerned. Usually, when I’ve reviewed a budget handset, I’m extremely eager to get back to my own phone, but in this instance, I’ll actually be a little sad to see the back of the J5. It’s smooth, stylish, and performs nicely with a bright screen and an incredible battery life. On one such day when I barely used the phone, it lost just 3% of its life from sitting in standby.

So on its own merits, I’d actually say that personally – and I can’t quite believe I’m writing this – I’d rather own this than Alphr’s budget favourite, the Motorola Moto G. Would you? Well, the Moto G3 is slightly faster, with a weaker screen and battery, but while both phones started out at a £160 RRP, you can now get the Moto G for less than £140 if you shop around.

At this point in the market, £20 is a not unsubstantial 12.5% discount, so that could well sway you if you’re on a very tight budget. You won’t be unhappy with either phone, but the real headline here is that Samsung has released a budget phone that has blown me away. I wasn’t expecting great things when I opened the box, but at this price point, Samsung has really delivered. Your move, Lenovo (née Motorola).

READ NEXT: The best smartphones of 2016 – these are our favourite handsets

Samsung Galaxy J5 specifications

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

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