In the fall of 2014 Samsung stopped producing all-plastic smartphones and, like HTC and Sony, switched to the use of metal.
The road was paved by the Galaxy Alpha which in turn was followed by the Note 4 and soon after, the Galaxy A Series saw the light of day as real successors to the Alpha. From this series we have been able to challenge the Galaxy A5.
This unit has a 1.2 GHz quad-core processor, a 5.0 inch HD display, 13 megapixel camera and space for a microSD card. This doesn't make it a real high-end phone, but because of its metal chassis and its price, it is at the top of the mid-range segment. Possible competitors are the Honor 6 and the HTC One E8 although the latter is more difficult to obtain.
What's with the device?
In the bright blue box where the A5 comes in, we found an in-ear headset with rubber sleeves in different sizes and a USB cable with adapter for the socket. We also found some paperwork and a pricker to open the sleeves for the nanoSIM and microSD card. All accessories are in white, look neat and feel good quality.
The Samsung Galaxy A5 is part of Samsung's new Galaxy A series that stands out for its metal casing and premium looks. This results in thin phones with a metal frame and high-quality specifications. With 6.7 millimeters, the A5 is even the thinnest Galaxy phone Samsung has ever made. That includes the latest S6.
The A5 is from 2014 and is one generation ahead of the Galaxy S6. As a result, it has more similarities with the Note 4. On many points it is a kind of small Note 4. For example, the edges of the sides are tapered in the same way. Unfortunately the shine of this disappears a bit because it fades especially on the backside at the places where your fingers rest.
Furthermore, there are few striking things to be found about the appearance of the A5. At most, both the microUSB connector and the audio jack connector are on the bottom. Buttons can be found on both sides. Samsung also talks about a full metal body, but the back is really made of plastic. Although it is completely attached to the body. The back has a nice matte, metallic finish. The camera sticks out a little bit and next to it is not only the flash, but also the speaker.
The front is completely covered with a glass plate. Beneath the screen is the physical start key without fingerprint scanner. We can still understand Samsung's choice to use physical control buttons, but turning the multi-task and back button in comparison to standard Android is an obnoxious action. Especially since Samsung manages to place the buttons close to the bottom of the device, and for tapping the back button you have to wring your thumb as a right-handed person in a pretty tight bend.
Our test model was in Midnight Black. In practice this is more dark blue than black. The aircraft has a nice size and feels very solid but is sometimes a bit 'slippery' due to its slender figure and the materials used.
Despite its limited size, the battery of the A5 has a capacity of 2,300 mAh. With relative simplicity, it lasts 1.5 to 2 days on a single battery charge. We don't put any real strain on the device, but we use WhatsApp, e-mail and social media enough. If you increase the usage even further, you can be sure that a long day on one battery charge will not be a problem. We did not use the energy saving mode or extra energy saving mode. The latter is mainly meant to keep the device on for a long time if you don't have a charging point available.
The call application is one of the points where Samsung urgently needs to change something in its interface. It works properly, but that's all. The four tabs at the top are very dated. Especially since not all four of them fit completely on the screen.
The volume of the earpiece is on the soft side, even in the loudest position. This sometimes makes it difficult to understand the other person in noisy environments. We have received no complaints about our own audibility. By the way, the A5's vibrating mode makes quite a lot of noise.
The Samsung Galaxy A5 is equipped with a Super AMOLED display with a slightly lean resolution of 720 × 1280 pixels. This brings the pixel density to 294 per inch. As we are used to from AMOLED, the contrast reproduction is very good. Colors look deep and vibrant and the brightness of the screen is excellent. Even in direct sunlight, the screen is still easy to see. The only note we want to make is that letters and the transition between black and white areas can look a bit frayed due to the Pentile layout Samsung uses for subpixels.
Furthermore, the screen can dormant intelligently, staying on as long as you look at it, and automatically adjust the screen tone. This automatically adjusts the screen brightness based on what is shown to save energy. Then there's screen mode too. Here you can choose from four pre-programmed settings to display colour, saturation and sharpness. In 'customisable display' mode, the camera does this fully automatically so that images are displayed sharper, richer in colour and with larger viewing angles.
Unfortunately, the Galaxy A5 is not (yet) equipped with the latest version of Android and the corresponding update for Samsung's Touchwiz shell. The interface is therefore the same as on the Note 4 and lags behind the Galaxy S6. This means that it looks somewhat dated in some places.
Samsung has adjusted and arranged Android's settings menu. The different items have been split up a bit more and sorted not only by colour, but also by category. This does improve the clarity. Additionally, nine setting options can be pinned at the top of the screen. The categories can also be displayed as tabs.
At the front Touchwiz has a fairly regular locking screen from which the camera can be quickly started up. After unlocking, the user has up to five start screens at his disposal. Flipboard Briefing is enabled on the far left of these. For devices with bare Android this is the place for Google Now and at HTC we already found BlinkFeed here. It is especially similar to the latter. Although Flipboard Briefing is only for news articles and does not include social media updates. When you turn it off, you can continuously browse through the start screens. To open Google Now you have to press and hold the start button.
At the top of the notification screen there is a bar with ten switches to turn WiFi and sound on or off, for example. You can scroll horizontally through this line and the visible shortcuts can be adjusted by pressing the icon in the upper right corner. Underneath is a slider for screen brightness and then two buttons that we can't get rid of for the 'S Finder' and 'Quick Connect' functions. Only after all this will you be able to make any notifications.
The Galaxy A5 does not have a super powerful processor and the response time is therefore not lightning fast. However, in daily use there are no hiccups in the interface or controls. The processor is a 64-bit version and with an update to Android 5.0 this could be a bit more profitable.
Since the phone book is integrated in the call application, the same points of criticism that we mentioned earlier apply here. Furthermore, the contact list works well. In principle, your Gmail contacts are in it by default after setting up your account. Contacts from other email addresses, Facebook or LinkedIn can also be synchronized. Different data of the same person can be merged and it is handy to check that only contacts with a phone number are displayed. You can quickly call or text a contact by swiping left or right respectively. You can also bring the device to your ear to call someone whose contact you have on the screen.
The message application shows a line at the top with adjustable priority contacts. There is also a spam filter and the possibility to send a message at a pre-planned time. Samsung's regular email app lags behind Gmail in terms of interface, but they are similar in functionality. In the regular email application, different email accounts can be set up, but nowadays the Gmail app can also work with Outlook and Yahoo. To our frustration, it was not possible to reduce the widget of the regular email app so you cannot use it to display two widgets for different inboxes on one start screen.
Samsung's keyboard is spacious with a separate rule for numbers. Still, there are a few things that are lacking in ease of use. Especially entering punctuation marks is a bit cumbersome. In addition, the dictionary sometimes has trouble keeping the correct input language for a word. Entering text by dragging and dropping over the keyboard is easy, but the automatic choice of words is not always in order.
The setup menu of the Galaxy A5 starts with a section for connections. Here you will find everything from WiFi and tethering to location and NFC. If you have WiFi on and you come within range of new networks then a list appears from which you can directly choose a desired network. The quick connect feature, which can be found on the notification screen, allows other nearby devices to automatically connect to your A5 via Bluetooth.
The A5 has two internet browsers; Chrome from Google and one from Samsung. In terms of functionality they don't avoid each other much, but Chrome looks a lot tighter. With both, favourites are immediately available, multiple tabs can be opened and bookmarks and tabs can be synchronized with other devices. We have a slight preference for Chrome. Partly because it is the same on all Android devices.
The A5 comes standard with the apps calculator, Dropbox, Flipboard, photos, Galaxy apps, gallery, voice search, Google, Google Drive, Google+, Hangouts, clock, my files, music, note, Play books/films/games/kiosk/music, radio, S planner, S voice, Samsung GO, voice recorder, studio, video and YouTube.
As far as we are concerned a complete and certainly not too full package. Only from Samsung GO we can't imagine that anyone is waiting for it. This is a news and media app with a slow and cumbersome interface. Fortunately, it can easily be removed. That goes for more applications, by the way.
At first glance, the camera's interface seems nice and clear and the most important buttons seem to be immediately available, but the more drastic adjustment of settings is sometimes a minor test.
On the right we find buttons for taking video, photo and to choose the shooting mode. Below that you can see the last shot which also serves as a shortcut to the gallery. On the left there are three shortcuts to different options. From top to bottom these are the change from the main camera to the front camera, flash and the other settings including picture size, stabilization, face recognition, ISO setting, timer and effects. Available shooting modes are automatic, face correction, photo & more, panorama, continuous shooting, HDR, night and animated GIF. In addition, sports shot and sound & shot can be downloaded.
To use all 13 megapixels of the camera you must first change the image ratio to 4:3. The same applies to the full 5.0 megapixel of the selfie camera. A selfie can be made by holding your palm facing the camera for 2 seconds. Using the wide selfie mode, even more people fit in the picture. Although it takes some practice to get a successful result with this panorama technique.
The Galaxy A5 takes beautiful and detailed photos in daylight, especially for a midrange device. Colours and contrast also look great, although the image can sometimes be a bit dark. When the ambient light decreases, this is mainly at the expense of the details in the image. The gallery can display photos sorted by time or album and it is possible to synchronize them with Dropbox.
At its launch, the Galaxy A5 was on the pricey side and did not quite meet its specifications. As a result, the aircraft was criticized. Meanwhile, the price is dropping towards the 300 euro mark and that's a lot more justifiable.
The price was probably due to the beautiful and luxurious jacket of the A5. The more midrange specifications are mainly reflected in the screen resolution. The processor is not a high-flyer either, but that is hardly noticeable in daily use. Moreover, it requires less of the battery than a stronger processor would do. Apart from its appearance and endurance, the camera and the display of the monitor are also positive for us. All in all, we find the Galaxy A5 mainly a beautiful and solid no nonsense Samsung. In these times of bigger, shinier and 'edgier' smartphones, that is not a bad option at all.