Samsung Galaxy J5 review (2017): A superb budget phone, but you should probably hang on for the 2018 version
The Samsung Galaxy J5 was, and is, a great phone for people who want the stylish looks of a Samsung flagship without spending an arm and a leg. Yes, performance might not be as good, but for less than half the price, it’s hard to be too critical.
Should you buy one in 2018 though? Although the price has come down since its original release date – you can now pick one up for around £180 – and performance still remains solid, there’s one fly in the ointment. As the name suggests, Samsung likes releasing new versions of the J5 series every year, and the previous two models have been released in June, meaning a new version is likely around the corner.
It’ll undoubtedly cost more that the 2017 model – probably around £250 if we were pushed to make a prediction – but it’ll likely be be a step forward when in terms of procssing power and include a better camera. The new version could also have a further impact on the price of its predecessor. In short, it’s worth holding on if you can. If you’re desperate for a new phone right now you should consider the new Moto G6, because, to be blunt, it’s the best phone we’ve ever seen under £250.
Nathan’s original review continues below
Samsung’s high-spec flagships, the Galaxy S8 and the Note 8, might have been grabbing the headlines of late, but the Galaxy J5, the Korean firm’s new and improved budget handset, is big news too, improving on everything that made its predecessor so great to begin with.
Like last year’s model of the same name, the updated Galaxy J5 looks akin to Samsung phones of yesteryear, right down to the button placement around the edges and the home button in the centre – which now also doubles up as a fingerprint reader.
Samsung Galaxy J5 review (2017): Design and display
However, Samsung has added some notable changes to its design, including the removal of the chunky camera bump from last year’s model. The rear camera now sits flush with the case, reducing the risk of unwanted scratches on the lens.
Another welcome feature is the J5’s all-metal unibody chassis, which makes it feel much more luxurious than the previous model’s plastic casing. And the phone’s newly rounded and chamfered edges help it fit more snug in the palm, giving you a flagship feel at a fraction of the price.
In terms of display, the 2017 model of the Galaxy J5 boasts a 1,280 x 720 resolution. While this is pretty low, even at this price, it’s still a great display. Thanks in the main to its Super AMOLED panel, it makes up in vibrancy for what it lacks in pixels, being an incredible-looking screen overall for the price.
And it goes pretty bright, too. Indeed, in auto-brightness mode, the Galaxy J5 tops out at 756cd/m2, which is bright enough to ensure readability in even the brightest of ambient light.
Samsung Galaxy J5 review (2017): Performance and battery life
Powered by a dual-core Exynos 7870 processor and just 2GB of RAM, I wasn’t expecting the world when it came to the Galaxy J5’s performance. But, surprisingly, it came up trumps. Phones at around this price tend to use mid-range CPUs, so performance can be a weak point. Nevertheless, the Galaxy J5 proved perfectly responsive and usable.
In the Geekbench 4 multi-core test, it scored 3,736, a 50% improvement over last year’s model. It didn’t perform too badly in single-core performance, either, scoring a total of 800. Check out just how well the Galaxy J5 fared against its competitors in the tables below.
In terms of real-world performance, the J5 is relatively nippy and can handle most actions thrown at it without lag, including most Android games. The low 10fps score in GFXBench’s Manhattan 3 test indicates that it won’t handle the most demanding 3D scenes, however, but everyday titles such as Crossy Road, Threes and even Sky Force Reloaded will play without issue.
Battery life, too, has improved over last year’s device. In our standard video-rundown battery test at 170cd/m2, 2017’s Galaxy J5 lasted an impressive 18hrs 26mins before needing a recharge; almost two hours longer than Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S8.
Samsung Galaxy J5 review (2017): Camera
We weren’t expecting much from the Galaxy J5’s camera, chiefly because most mid-range phones in this category don’t boast any impressive photo-taking kit. There’s also the fact that we were disappointed by 2016 J5 model’s camera, which had a tendency to overexpose.
On paper, this year’s model doesn’t look much better, featuring a similar 13-megapixel resolution with only a slight aperture bump to f/1.7. But this isn’t the case when it comes to real-world use, and we found some welcome improvements in the handset’s camera abilities.
Images are generally more clear and well defined, with much-improved colour reproduction alongside very little visible noise. Low-light situations were handled very well, too, with daylight shots offering more vibrancy and higher detail. It’s a much more versatile camera than you’d expect at this price point.
Samsung Galaxy J5 review (2017): Verdict
The updated Galaxy J5 is a solid performer. Battery life exceeded our expectations, the new design is favourable over its predecessor, and its camera is impressive for a handset of this calibre.
The only issue is that price hike. For £140, last year’s J5 felt like a real bargain, despite its limitations, while the new Galaxy J5 is a far more expensive £240. Still, it’s a stronger phone in almost every way and, at £240, remains a great deal, with handsets such as the Galaxy S8 or iPhone 7 coming in at around £550 to £600. And that price is likely to fall in the coming months as well.
That’s not to say there aren’t equally good options, though. In particular, this year’s J5 faces stiff competition from the likes of the Moto G5 Plus (£250), the Nokia 6 (£230) and the Lenovo P2 (£200). There’s also last year’s Galaxy J5 to contend with, which can still be found for under £170. Nevertheless, the Galaxy J5 is a truly brilliant smartphone for less than half the price of the popular flagships out there.