Samsung is ready with refreshed Galaxy A handsets for the year 2016, but neither the absence of Marshmallow nor an iffy OS performance of the new Galaxy A5 can be ignored, says Himanshu Juneja
When Samsung announced its Galaxy A series, it was meant to answer the critics who have traditionally complained about Samsung's refusal to bring more premium looking products. The cheers subsided soon, since the pricing went terribly wrong.
Samsung is ready with refreshed Galaxy A handsets for the year 2016, and it will be interesting to see how the current generation phones fare. More importantly, has Samsung cracked the pricing conundrum? Will the price tag of Rs 28,500 hit the sweet spot?
Let us take a closer look...
One look at the handset by the uninitiated, and they can be forgiven to mistake the all new Galaxy A5 for Samsung's Galaxy S6. This is true even while holding the phone. Samsung has clearly decided to take care of the scathing comments from its detractors vis-a-vis the plastic built quality. And the obvious choice was the glass and metal combination.
The phone weighs a decent 155 grams, while measuring 144.8 x 71 x 7.3 mm dimension wise. The glass sheets on the front and back have been rendered in Gorilla Glass 4 and have been imparted a non-slippery finish. This doesn't stop the phone from sliding off the surfaces though.
The chamfered edges along with shaped corners assist in establishing a good grip. The metallic sides have been made sloping to mask the thickness, and the strategy works. As for the buttons, the right edge carries the primary micro SIM card slot and the power key.
The secondary SIM card's tray is located on the top edge. The left edge sports the volume keys, and the bottom edge carries the microUSB 2.0 port, the loudspeaker, and the 3.5 mm jack.
Overall, it is a superbly crafted handset. The missing LED notification light is the sore thumb sticking out, but apart from that, the users will feel carrying a premium device around.
With teh Galaxy A5, Samsung has played safe with the display here. The 5.2-inch screen has been supplied 1080 x 1920p full HD resolution, and the pixel density clocks 420 ppi, which is no pushover by any means.
The very familiar AMOLED screen variety makes its appearance as well, and as a result the display looks convincing. Make no mistake, this one here is not class leading, but it also is not something which will disappoint.
Outdoor readability is pretty good, and the screen has a greenish hue to its display. The users get to select from the colour profile section to suit their taste and needs.
The 2.5 D curved glass has the Gorilla glass 4 protection. The sharpness is not an issue here, as the text comes out to crisp and sharp.
A quick glance at the hardware supplied under the hood, and one gets the feeling that the emphasis is majorly on the construction quality.
While the Galaxy A5 coming with Octacore Exynos 7580 chipset, the Cortex A53 CPU clocked at 1.6 GHz is not exactly powerful, and the Adreno 405 does not feel quite right either. This is a weak configuration for the asking price.
There is 2GB of RAM supplied, along with 16 GB of onboard storage memory. The users can of course increase this by anther 128 GB via micro SD card.
A 4G device, the Galaxy A5 (2016) comes with the usual set of connectivity options like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, AGPS and GLONASS. The choice between second SIM or MicroSD card is a cruel one, but some users may feel elated at the option than be having none at all.
It was strange to see Samsung not opting for the Type C connector for the refreshed A5. The presence of USB on the go and the FM radio gives the handset a required boost.
Samsung has earned accolades for getting a leaner Touchwiz. The Samsung A5 (2016) gets the same treatment while running on the Android Lollipop (5.1). There are a good number of useful apps included, like Excel, Powerpoint, OneNote, Skype, and the good old Word. S Health also makes its appearance here.
Smart Manager provides a good handle to essential services like RAM, Storage, Device Security and the Smart Switch allows migration from your old phone to the new shiny handset. KNOX is definitely a good feature, which promises to protect the phone against malwares.
Running apps in the split screen mode is a great advantage, and expect more and more apps to follow suit. The user experience is zippy, unless one delves deeper.
Make no mistake, the OS is smooth and lag free, but it seems Samsung somehow missed a thorough testing of the system, or deliberately tried to shoot itself in the foot. There are a good number of concerning issues which have slipped through.
The fingerprint scanner proved to be a really bad experience as not only does it misfires on many occasions, it also is slow to get going upon successfully recognising the finger print. Now, Samsung Pay feature is good, but what use is the fingerprint recognition if the user has to even resort to unlocking the
handset by entering the good old passcode only?
Similarly, the theming options will bring a smile to the users, but activating the supplied theme wreaked havoc on the user interface, marring it with lags and stuttering all over. A revert back to stock theme and a reboot solved the issues and got the phone back to its workable state.
The price tag notwithstanding, no mobile phone should be hampered with such problems, especially right out of the box. These issues have to be looked into by Samsung, besides, a Marshmallow treat won't hurt anybody.
As mentioned earlier, the performance is usually good, unless the user goes about tinkering with the interface more than required. And this is a cardinal sin especially in the world of Android. The camera performance is a saving grace, but the burst mode spoils the mood again.
The heavy duty HD games will not turn out in their full glory, as the Adreno 405 is a just about mid range. The handset does not get alarmingly hot, and that is a good sign thankfully, but running too many apps will cause lags. The speaker is loud, but lacks fidelity at higher volumes.
It is definitely a capable phone, but badly marred by software glitches. Thankfully, majority of these issues can be brought under control, and Samsung will have to rush in with a software update on an ASAP basis to make the prospective buyer feel confident for this phone.
The phone comes with a 13 MP rear camera, and a 5 MP camera at the front. The presence of Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) is one of the main strengths, but despite that, the results are pretty good overall, and not great.
The images captured by the rear camera carry good amount of details and look vividly laid out, but the slight presence of noise and more natural tone of the colours make their presence felt as well. The latter effect is subjective.
Despite the OIS being onboard, poor implementation means that blurry images are very much a reality. This is downright criminal from Samsung. Low light photographs showed more obvious presence of grains, but the pictures thankfully were not horrible for usage.
The double click of the home button fires up the camera, which is convenient. The stock camera app has been kept simple, but lacks a full fledged pro mode. Users only gets to tweak the ISO, Exposure and the White balance. The burst mode made the proceeding sluggish and this glitch should have been looked into. Thankfully, the videos can be paused while recording, giving a good option to the users.
Talking about the videos, the results are again satisfactory and not as crisp as one would have expected, considering the pricing. Also, the omissions of video capturing in 4K resolution is another disappointment.
The front facing camera produces satisfactory results for social media consumption worthy captures.
Samsung did well to include a behemoth of a battery pack in here, and as the battery is sealed in, the 2900 mAh capacity reading makes one feel confident.
The real life performance is not something to raise the eyebrows either, as the battery lasted through a day easily. This was for heavy usage pattern, which translated to a day and a half worth of backup for the moderate usage patterns.
The missing wireless charging stuck out like a sore thumb. The fast charging has been included thankfully, and allows users to fully charge the handset in just about an hour and a half.
Samsung has clear designs to fill the gap created after the retirement of its Galaxy S6 handset with its Galaxy A phones. But it will have to supply some confidence boosting measures in the form of software updates, on the double.
The absence of Marshmallow is not something which can be ignored, nor does the iffy OS performance. The missing notification light and badly implemented OIS definitely take away the sheen from Samsung, leave alone the handset.
Still, the impressive battery performance, the crisp display, and finely crafted body will attract buyers who are drawn towards trustworthy brands. Unless Samsung brings in swift price cuts or makes the Samsung Galaxy S6 vanish, the A5 (2016) will face stiff in house competition.