The Rs 30,000 smartphone segment is an interesting one indeed. Popularly known as the budget-flagship segment, this price bracket sees phones that offer a compelling package of features that sets them apart from the run-of-the-mill smartphones in the market.
The Samsung Galaxy A5 falls in this very segment and brings with it a nice assortment of features that help it stand apart. But is that enough? Let's find out.
Build and design: 7.5/10
I quite like the build of this phone. It has a metal frame and is covered by 2.5D glass on the front and back. The back is a bit of a sore point because it's a fingerprint magnet, and also because it doesn't seem very scratch resistant. I say this because the review unit we received was heavily scratched on the back, which doesn't lend me much confidence in its ability to survive the hardships of day-to-day use.
Scratch-able back aside, the phone feels heavy and sturdy and the front glass was pristine.
Two volume buttons are present on the left side and the power button is on the right. At the bottom you will find the USB-C port and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. Strangely enough, the single speaker is present on the right side of the device, above the power button. It's an odd placement and we'll talk about that later in the performance section.
A home button with an in-built fingerprint sensor is at the bottom of the front face. Backlit capacitive buttons are present on either side of the home button.
I like the fact that the glass curves rather seamlessly into the frame, and I must admit, I like the phone's design. It's understated in black and looking at the phone, you know it's worth the asking price, at least in terms of build quality. It doesn't feel cheap and it's well-finished.
The actual hardware powering the phone is a bit underwhelming. You get an Exynos 7880 octa-core processor which is clocked at 1.9 GHz. This is backed by 3 GB of RAM. Internal storage is only 32 GB, but at least it can be expanded by up to 256 GB via a microSD card.
The problem here, of course, is that the similarly priced OnePlus 3T offers a Snapdragon 821, 6 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage at the same price.
The A5 offers a 5.2-inch Amoled display with a Full HD resolution (1920x1080). The front and rear cameras are 16 MP f/1.9 units.
You get the expected assortment of connectivity options including 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, etc. While you do get a USB-C port, it's a USB 2.0 port, so transfer speeds are limited. A 3,000 mAh battery provides the juice.
As mentioned earlier, these specs are underwhelming. However, the speciality of the A5 is the fact that it fully supports Samsung Pay – including MST – and that it's IP68 water and dust resistant.
These are some pretty handy features to have on a smartphone, especially at this price.
There's really not much to say about the display. It's a 5.2-inch Full HD Amoled display that's almost exactly like every other Amoled display that Samsung makes. Colours aren't that great, but they're not that bad either. Brightness is good, but it's best to adjust it manually.
Indoors, the display just seems too dull. I had to keep adjusting it manually for best effect. It's bright enough to use in bright sunlight, however.
The pixel density is over 400 so everything is quite sharp as well.
Since it's an Amoled display, Samsung supports an always-on mode, which is nice to have.
It's disappointing that Samsung didn't include Android 7.0 Nougat support for the phone. It comes with Android 6.0 and a great deal of Samsung customisation. As a Samsung veteran, you'll not find the customisations to be anything new.
You get the usual rounded squares for icons, a detailed control panel and a handful of customisation options.
All these are normal for Samsung. The feature that stands out is Samsung Pay integration.
Put simply, if you have an account with a supported bank, you can use Samsung Pay for any kind of card payment in the wild. This includes payments via magnetic strip- and NFC-based card readers.
The best part is that the Samsung Pay card is persistent on the home screen, lock screen and within some apps. It's always at the bottom of the screen with a little tab sticking out. Whenever you want to pay, you simply pop out your phone, swipe up from the bottom to pull up a card you want to use and then authenticate the transaction with your fingerprint.
Given that the phone has a few redeeming features, I'd assume that one of the primary reasons you'd pick up this phone is for Samsung Pay support. Since it's so well-integrated, you won't have any complaints with the feature.
There is an assortment of Samsung bloatware, but it's easy to ignore all of it.
Performance is where the Samsung Galaxy A5 falls far short of expectations.
The OnePlus 3T set very high expectations as far as performance figures are concerned in this price range and is easily 2-3 times as powerful as the A5.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the A5's performance was simply acceptable and nothing more. The phone stutters regularly, especially when using heavy apps, and the moments when everything felt smooth and functional were very few.
I expected a fluid experience, and didn't get one. The Exynos 7880 chipset that powers the phone isn't a very powerful one, but it should have been sufficient to make the device seem smooth. To add insult to injury, a Rs 12,000 Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 handily beat the A5 in a number of benchmarks, that's how bad the performance is.
The speaker is another sore point here. While the odd positioning of the speaker on the right side of the device is not such a big deal, the tinny audio it manages to churn it out is downright disappointing. I could barely make out the audio even in a quiet room. Samsung should have had the sense to use a more powerful speaker.
Samsung Pay worked perfectly. It was one of the few highlights of the phone. Payment was smooth and easy and there were never any hiccups in my experience.
The IP68 rating means that the phone is water and dust resistant. I tested the water resistance by leaving the phone under a running tap and also in a bucket of water. Other than a notification that there was water in the charing port, the phone ran exactly as it should have. There was no water damage at all.
Performance in games was alright. Games were playable and the phone didn't get too hot in use.
The 16 MP front and rear cameras on this phone are actually quite nice. They captured some very nice colours and detail in good lighting.
There are a number of manual camera settings in the camera app, but I found that the camera was good enough that I didn't really need to mess with the settings.
The selfie camera also managed to take detailed and sharp selfies – as sharp as can be expected from the puny sensor on a smartphone.
The camera response was also quite fast.
Low light performance wasn't too great, but at this price, few cameras can offer more, so I'm not complaining.
If you don't care that much, the A5's camera is not bad at all.
Battery life: 8.5/10
At almost 13 hours in our standardised testing, the battery life was quite impressive. Despite being a 3,000 mAh unit, Samsung's power management solution appears to be working wonders as far as battery life is concerned.
The phone routinely lasted me a full work day, which includes dozens of calls, hundreds of messages and emails and at least a couple of hours spent listening to music and browsing the web.
Battery life is impressive.
Verdict and price in India
I'm in two minds about the Samsung Galaxy A5. On the one hand, Samsung Pay and IP68 certification are really nice. On the other hand, the OnePlus 3T offers dramatically more performance for the same price.
Even when it comes to cameras, the Vivo V5 Plus offers a better selfie camera and the Huawei Honor 8 offers a better rear camera.
The A5 is not a bad phone, but it's not the best by any means. It's well-built, but not exceptionally so. It has a good camera, but it's definitely not the best option around. It's also limited to Android 6.0 for now.
In the end, I think this phone lives or dies by Samsung Pay. If you want Samsung Pay, this is the phone for you. If not, there are far better alternatives to be had.