A 5.2-inch Super AMOLED display, 14nm Exynos chipset, a body made out of a glass/metal combo, IP68 certification, 16MP f/1.9 cameras front and back - it sure sounds like Samsung's next flagship. Only it's not the flagship we're talking about, but the Galaxy A5 (2017) premium mid-ranger.
Of course, we are guilty of hand-picking that selection of specs to prove a point, and there are other fields in that spec sheet that would give away the A5's lower position in the Galaxy universe. Display resolution is one (1080p), and the chipset is another (Exynos 7880). Even though it's made on a cutting-edge 14nm fabrication process, it's still only mainstream Cortex-A53 cores inside and not hard-hitting Mongooses or Kryos. And then the cameras lack OIS and 4K video recording, even if they both offer higher resolution than the Galaxy S7.
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) at a glance:
- Body: Aluminum frame, Gorilla Glass 4 display protection
- Screen: 5.2" 1080p Super AMOLED screen (424ppi); Always On Display
- OS: Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow; Samsung Grace UX; Nougat update in the works
- Chipset: Exynos 7880, 14nm process
- Memory: 3GB of RAM; 32GB storage, dedicated microSD slot for expansion
- Camera: Primary 16MP, f/1.9, 27mm; Secondary 16MP, f/1.9
- Video: 1080p
- Connectivity: nano SIM (dual SIM version available); LTE (Cat. 6); Wi-Fi ac; Bluetooth 4.2; FM Radio; USB Type-C; 3.5mm jack
- Battery: 3,000mAh
- Misc: Fingerprint reader, IP68 certification for dust and water resistance, Samsung Pay
Somewhat expensive - the Galaxy S6 can be had for less, the S7 is slightly pricier, but will certainly dip in a couple of months when the S8 comes out.
Android is still Marshmallow, though an update is coming.
No 4K video recording at a price point, where you can find plenty of phones that support it.
It's not exactly what you call a bargain, the A5 (2017), unfortunately. Its price tag makes a pretty solid case for the Galaxy S6, and why not even the S7 when the time is right? It's also not looking good that Samsung is putting out a new premium product with good ol' Marshmallow, and no shiny fresh Grace UX can make up for that.
None of that means we don't like the premise of a premium full-featured (or thereabout) smartphone positioned a notch below the flagships - quite the opposite. We'll be looking into just how much the A5 (2017) deserves its place in the world on the following pages, starting (not unusually) with a hardware overview.
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) 360-degree spin
The Galaxy A5 (2017) measures 146.1 x 71.4 x 7.9 mm which is standard for a 5.2-inch phone - most other devices with the same diagonal are within a millimeter in each direction.
As for weight, the A5 (2017) is on the heavy side of average. Its 157g aren't really an issue, but the similarly sized Huawei P9, for example, tips the scales at just 144g. The brand new HTC U Play is even a notch lighter at 143g, though admittedly it is severely battery-deprived (2,500mAh).
If there's one area where the Galaxy A5 (2017) can stand up to flagship-grade scrutiny it's build and looks. To a non-discerning eye the A5 can easily pass for an S7 - the aluminum frame, the dual-glass sandwich, the shapes and proportions - it's all top-shelf material.
There's the home button with a fingerprint sensor embedded - a staple of Samsung smartphone design. It may very well be destined for retirement with the S8, but for now, it's here to stay. The fingerprint reader works just as on the Galaxy S7, which is another way of saying - it's good but it's not the fastest one around.
What's been missing on the A-series for a while now and hasn't made an appearance on the A5 (2017) either is a notification LED. That one seems to be a flagship-only feature as of late. The top bezel of the midranger does contain all the other usual stuff though - earpiece, proximity/ambient light sensors, and selfie camera.
More importantly, and unlike any previous non-flagship or non-rugged phone, the A-series for this year have IP68 certification for dust and water resistance.
We do tend to compare the A5 (2017) to both the existing S7 and the projected S8 and while the S7 is so last year with its 3.5mm jack, the S8 may be one of the trendsetters to lose it. So there - the A5 (2017) is on par with the current top model in this respect, and possibly better than the upcoming one.
The A5 (2017)'s wired interface is in fact more up-to-date than the current flagship S7. The Type-C USB port only made it on a Samsung phone with the Note7, but we all know how that ended. Other than a somewhat obscure C9 Pro, the A-series remain the only Samsung handsets with a Type-C port. Beat that, S7.
One odd design decision sees the loudspeaker placed on the right side of the phone, right above the power button. For ringtones that's as good as any other position and in a way it's better for video viewing when holding the display in landscape orientation than the prevalent bottom placement. There are no stereo speakers, but there aren't any on Samsung flagships either. Not yet, at least.
As with a few other previous A-series models, the A5 (2017) has a couple of card slots. The one on the side accommodates one nanoSIM, while the slot on top takes a microSD card. The latter can also fit an additional nanoSIM card on dual SIM versions of the A5 (2017) and in this case the microSD slot remains available - it's a dedicated solution and not a hybrid one and we can't stress enough just how much we prefer it this way.
On the back, the S-series have been having all sorts of sensors, but not the A's - it's the bare minimum here with just the camera module and the LED flash.
Your palms will undoubtedly appreciate the curves on the back, which make the A5 a joy to handle. Some people tend to complain that glass is slippery, but we've had more issues in this respect with satin-finished aluminum on some phones, so it's probably down to the individual's skin properties. What's not debatable is that on glass backs smudges reign.
Remember the Note7? The Galaxy flagship phablet (that wasn't meant to be) introduced a redesigned Samsung user interface called Grace UX. The Note7 being absent, the 2017 A-series are the only phones to come with the updated Android overlay out of the box, but it is also being seeded as we speak with the Nougat update for the S7 and S7 edge. Mind you, in the A5 (2017)'s case it's on top of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, though a bump to Android 7 is in the works.
This generation of A-series is the first to feature Always On Display (AOD). Three main views are available - Clock, Calendar and Image, with some customization available. Notifications from third-party apps show up (something that didn't work when the S7 launched, but was added later).
The Always On Display dims when ambient light is low and will shut off when the Galaxy A5 is in your pocket. This saves energy, but you can be more explicit about it and put AOD on a schedule (or it may just be that you don't like the extra light while you sleep).
The lockscreen can be secured with the fingerprint reader. It's not the fastest we've seen, but it's no slower than the readers that flagship Samsungs use.
The fingerprint reader can do more than that. Web sign-in remembers the passwords you use for sites and can automatically fill them in when you touch the fingerprint reader. You can also secure your Samsung account (more on that in a bit).
The Homescreen has the Briefing pane on the left (which you can disable) and supports themes and icon packs. More interestingly, it supports sort of a 3D Touch feature, not unlike the one found on the Google Pixel phones - you tap and hold on an app and a contextual menu appears. However, it offers just basic app handling actions and is not tied to the actual functionality of app.
The notification area should be quite familiar as well. A line of quick toggles is available above the notifications. Pulling the shade further down reveals all toggles, a brightness slider and a handy search field (Google prefers to put the search field on the homescreen instead).
We like the idea of the Block notifications button, it allows you to quickly mute notifications from pushy apps (games are often guilty of crying for attention when you haven't played them in a while). Still, we don't like the aesthetics of it.
The app switcher is the usual rolodex, but unlike the A3 here it offers split-screen multitasking (standard on Nougat, but this is Samsung's implementation in Marshmallow). The apps that can go in multi-window have an icon next to the X, and that's one way of doing it - the other is to hold the task switcher capacitive key.
The App drawer has a search field that looks through the apps you have installed, but also suggests apps from Galaxy Apps (you can search the Play Store if you prefer).
Being a somewhat larger phone than the A3, the A5 also gets a one-handed operation mode. It's part of the Advanced features menu where you can also enable other actions like double press on the Home button to launch the camera and screenshot capture with a palm swipe.
Secure folder creates a separate zone so sensitive files (photos, documents, etc.) and apps can be locked away from prying eyes. Once you enter the Secure folder, taking a photo with the camera or snapping a screenshot places the file in the Secure folder. To access those from the regular gallery, you'll first have to move them.
The reason you want to secure your Samsung account with your fingerprint is that you get 15GB of cloud storage for free. Everything from contacts to photos can be synced and you get to choose which files are synced over LTE and which are left for when Wi-Fi is available (contacts, calendar and notes don't use much data, but photos do).
Technology: GSM / HSPA / LTE
2G bands: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 - SIM 1 & SIM 2
3G bands: HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1700(AWS) / 1900 / 2100
4G bands: LTE band 1(2100), 2(1900), 3(1800), 4(1700/2100), 5(850), 7(2600), 8(900), 17(700), 20(800), 28(700), 38(2600), 40(2300), 41(2500)
Speed: HSPA 42.2/5.76 Mbps, LTE-A (2CA) Cat6 300/50 Mbps
Announced: 2017, January
Status: Available. Released 2017, January
Dimensions: 146.1 x 71.4 x 7.9 mm (5.75 x 2.81 x 0.31 in)
Weight: 157 g (5.54 oz)
SIM: Dual SIM (Nano-SIM, dual stand-by)
- Samsung Pay
- IP68 certified - dust/water proof over 1.5 meter and 30 minutes
Type: Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
Size: 5.2 inches, 74.5 cm2 (~71.5% screen-to-body ratio)
Resolution: 1080 x 1920 pixels, 16:9 ratio (~424 ppi density)
Protection: Corning Gorilla Glass 4
- Always-on display
OS: Android 6.0.1 (Marshmallow), upgradable to 7.0 (Nougat)
Chipset: Exynos 7880 Octa
CPU: Octa-core 1.9 GHz Cortex-A53
Card slot: microSD, up to 256 GB (dedicated slot)
Internal: 32 GB, 3 GB RAM
Primary: 16 MP, f/1.9, 27mm, autofocus, LED flash, check quality
Features: Geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, panorama, HDR
Video: 1080p@30fps, check quality
Secondary: 16 MP, f/1.9, 1080p
Alert types: Vibration; MP3, WAV ringtones
3.5mm jack: Yes
- Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
WLAN: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, WiFi Direct, hotspot
Bluetooth: 4.2, A2DP, EDR, LE
GPS: Yes, with A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS
Radio: FM radio
USB: 2.0, Type-C 1.0 reversible connector
Sensors: Fingerprint (front-mounted), accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer
Messaging: SMS(threaded view), MMS, Email, Push Mail, IM
- Fast battery charging
- ANT+ support
- MP4/WMV/H.265 player
- MP3/WAV/WMA/eAAC+/FLAC player
- Photo/video editor
- Document viewer
Non-removable Li-Ion 3000 mAh battery
Talk time: Up to 16 h (3G)
Music play: Up to 53 h
Colors: Black Sky, Gold Sand, Blue Mist
SAR EU: 0.52 W/kg (head) 1.39 W/kg (body)
Performance: Basemark OS II 2.0: 1417
Display: Contrast ratio: Infinite (nominal), 3.804 (sunlight)
Camera: Photo / Video
Loudspeaker: Voice 66dB / Noise 66dB / Ring 78dB
Audio quality: Noise -93.1dB / Crosstalk -90.2dB
Battery life: Endurance rating 95h