The 2017 Galaxy A5 is the third phone Samsung has produced with exactly this name. It first appeared at the very end of 2014, and Samsung has updated and tweaked the style for each new model.
Each year the phone has classed-up its act a little, leading to this 2017 version, which you could easily mistake for a top-end phone. Dig deep enough into the hardware and you’ll find a few parts that would make the Samsung Galaxy A5 a swindle if it cost as much as the Galaxy S7, though.
But they’re not the sort of things most people will notice every day. If you’re not obsessed with having the latest and greatest tech in your phone, you’ll probably love the Samsung Galaxy A5. And saving a few hundred dollars or pounds in the bargain is an attractive sweetener.
It’s also arguably a more successful phone than HTC’s attempt at the same idea, the pretty-but-flawed HTC U Play.
The main group that might be put off is the bargain hunter crowd. The OnePlus 3T is a more powerful phone, and has a lot more storage too, but is only $40/£30 (around AU$50) extra.
Motorola’s Moto G4 Plus is also a much better deal in the “tech per dollar” stakes. As usual, Samsung charges what it can for the Galaxy A5, rather than trying to squeeze in as much as possible.
Not everyone quibbles about every pound/dollar as much as we do, though, and for the most part the Samsung Galaxy A5 is a joy to use. The screen’s great, the battery life commendable, the size of the little guy accessible, and while the power on tap isn’t all that impressive, there’s enough to stop the phone seeming underpowered.
Samsung Galaxy A5 2017 price and release date
- Cheaper than a Galaxy S7, but not cheap
- Similar price to a OnePlus 3T
- At the top-end of “mid-range”
The Samsung Galaxy A5 shows you quite how expensive “mid-range” phones can be nowadays. It costs $399 in the US, £369 in the UK and AU$649 in Australia.
That’s a chunk more expensive than the 2016 version of the Galaxy A5, but the phone comes with a few important feature upgrades too, like water resistance.
The 2017 Galaxy A5 launched in January 2017, a year after the 2016 Galaxy A5 appeared. Much like the Galaxy S series, the mid-range A phones have started to appear annually, and more reliably than the average train.
Meet in the mid-range
- Megapixel-packed cameras
- Octa-core Samsung CPU
- 32GB of storage with microSD expansion
Just look at the spec list of the Samsung Galaxy A5 and it may seem to have more features than last year’s Samsung flagship, the Galaxy S7.
It has more megapixels, with 16 squeezed into both the front and rear cameras, and a new-style USB-C socket. It’s also a classic example of why it pays to know a little more about the tech behind the figures, though.
For example, the Samsung Galaxy A5 has a distinctly mid-range chipset, the Samsung Exynos 7880. It’s reasonably close in power to the Snapdragon 617 used in phones like the Moto G4 Plus, even though the A5 is twice the price.
Similarly, its rear camera is worse than that of the many 12MP models around today, and also worse than some of the very best 13MP ones. Much cheaper phones use similar-quality hardware.
Where the Galaxy A5 excels is in making this conventional hardware work well. For example, the camera is very quick, with the same almost lag-free experience as seen in Samsung’s most expensive phones. And that performance is combined with a typically high-quality Full HD Super AMOLED display.
Tech obsessives can do better, but those who simply want a ‘nice’ phone that seems like a fairly high-end piece of hardware will appreciate the A5’s style.
The Galaxy A5 also has a comfortable 32GB of storage, and a microSD card slot to let you add to it (with cards of up to 256GB).
Design and display
- Classy-but-plain metal and glass build
- AMOLED screen but not as sharp as the S7’s
Like the 2016 version of the Samsung Galaxy A5, this phone is made of metal and glass. The front and back are glass, the sides aluminum with a color-matched finish.
Its glass is Gorilla Glass 4 rather than Gorilla Glass 5. It’s very tough, but where version five is designed to handle drops from shoulder height, version four is tested at 1 meter, or roughly waist height.
We’re using the black version, but Samsung also makes the Galaxy A5 in gold, light blue and pink. As the entire phone ends up one shade, there’s a certain plain simplicity to the handset that makes it less striking than the S7 family. However, it feels just as well-made. It’s also just as thin, at 7.9mm thick.
Samsung describes the design as “uniform all round”, and that’s on the money. The rear glass curves into the metal sides for a smoother feel too.
Like the iPhone 7 or Galaxy S7, the Samsung Galaxy A5 is of a size just about anyone should be able to get on with. It’s not a pocket-stretcher like most 5.5-inch phones, and the soft keys aren’t tricky to reach.
If you’re not switching from another Samsung phone, you may find the position of the soft keys takes some getting used to, though. The Samsung Galaxy A5 has separate light-up soft keys below the screen, but they’re flipped around: ‘back’ on the right, ‘recent apps’ on the left. This placement makes sense given that most people are right-handed and most use the back button more, but does take a day or two to feel right.
There are some other curiosities to the Samsung Galaxy A5 too. The SIM card and memory card slots are separate, one on the top, the other on the left side. You have to wonder whether Samsung could have crammed the two together, but does it matter? Not really.
The speaker placement is bizarre as well. There’s a main speaker at the top of the Samsung Galaxy A5’s right edge, when most phones have either front-facing drivers or one at the bottom. We’ve found you need to be a bit more careful about blocking the speaker if you’re just carrying the thing around listening to tunes or a podcast, but in other situations it actually works better than most.
It works for gaming because you won’t block it when holding the phone portrait, or on its side for those more involved two-hander titles.
The Samsung Galaxy A5’s fingerprint scanner is more conventional, similar to the Galaxy S7’s, it’s part of a clicky button below the screen.
This isn’t the fastest finger scanner going. It’s not instant, there’s a semi-quaver beat before it unlocks the phone, but we’ve only noticed this because we’ve used most of the fingerprint scanners out there. It is reliable, and doesn’t actually make you press the Home button to bring the Galaxy A5 out of standby.
The part that finishes off the Samsung Galaxy A5 hardware is water resistance. It’s certified to the IP68 standard, meaning you can submerge the phone in water of 1.5m depth for 30 minutes. Don’t get cocky and start dropping it in every body of water you come across, but you don’t have to worry about torrential rain or watching a bit of Netflix in the bath.
Given the choice we’d take the larger Galaxy S7 Edge as a media player, but the Samsung Galaxy A5’s top-quality screen is still a corker. It’s a 5.2-inch 1080p Super AMOLED display, using Samsung’s own panel tech.
Like other OLEDs, its black level and contrast are unbeatable, but a great LCD screen will generally get you purer-looking whites and slightly better sharpness. Thanks to a PenTile pixel structure, there’s the tiniest bit of fuzziness to the Samsung Galaxy A5’s display up-close, but it’s otherwise not light years away from the Galaxy S7’s screen.
As with that phone, you can choose from a bunch of color profiles that radically alter the screen’s personality. The standard Adaptive Display lets the OLED panel rip, with truly punchy oversaturated colors and cooler-skewed whites. It’s the equivalent of the mode you’ll see TVs use in high street shops.
Its AMOLED Cinema and AMOLED Photo mode calm those colors down while keeping a punchy look, and Basic brings tones all the way down to the sRGB color standard.
This may look undersaturated to many, or most, of you these days, but it’s like giving up on adding sugar to your coffee.
The neatest part of the Samsung Galaxy A5’s screen is its always-on display. When the phone is in standby, it shows the time, battery level, date and some little icons letting you know what sort of notifications you’ve received.
Alternatively, it can show the calendar, or one of a few specially-chosen images. You can also turn the feature off if you find it annoying.
As the Samsung Galaxy A5 uses an OLED screen, this seems to have very little impact on the battery. OLEDs have light-up pixels rather than a backlight, so displaying little bits of text doesn’t consume much power.
- Thanks to Carphone Warehouse for providing us with a Samsung Galaxy A5 for review
Interface and reliability
- Smooth, but not incredibly quick
- Customization over streamline looks
The Samsung Galaxy A5 runs Android 6.0.1 and has Samsung’s custom interface on top. Samsung hasn’t made sweeping changes to this since the version seen on 2016 phones, and opinions on whether it’s any good are likely to be mixed.
For example, this isn’t the quickest interface when running on the Samsung Galaxy A5’s level of hardware. It’s not laggy as such, but is not as quick as a vanilla Android phone with this grade of chipset, or something like the OnePlus 3T.
It’s as if the tempo of the phone itself is that bit slower. 100bpm rather than the OnePlus 3T’s 140bpm, something you see in the reactions of the fingerprint scanner too. It is smooth and consistent, though, meaning you only really notice the speed difference in direct comparison.
The look of the Samsung Galaxy A5’s interface is obviously very subjective, but most would agree Samsung’s is not the most beautiful around. It’s less simple and clean than basic Android 6.0 or 7.0, and in a few ways subscribes to the older ways of Android.
The Samsung Galaxy A5’s apps menu is laid out in pages rather than as a flowing scroll, and customization gets precedence over a singular, pristine look. For example, you can change the home screen grid to fit in more app icons, and themes let you skin the phone with a few taps.
There’s a themes app that lets you browse through them, but it doesn’t half try to put paid-for themes in front of your eyes. More so than other themes apps, certainly. Freebies do exist, though.
The Samsung Galaxy A5‘s interface also has a built-in news reader that takes up the home screen to the left of your initial one. It’s called Upday and lets you choose the themes/subjects you want included. Like the rest of the interface, it’s not beautiful.
However, it’s still a decent way to kill five minutes on the train. Or the toilet.
Movies, music and gaming
- Good for games
- Fair speaker quality
- Expandable storage is a bonus
The Samsung Galaxy A5 is what we think of as a normal-size phone. Games and movies flourish on a slightly larger device, one with a 5.5-inch screen or above, but this still makes an excellent gaming and media phone.
First, the super-vivid screen makes games in particular look lively and rich. And while the phone’s CPU isn’t super-powered, the GPU seems capable of making high-end games run very well at 1080p.
It uses a three-core Mali-T830, which is higher powered than the dual-core Mali-T860 used in the HTC U Play or the Adreno 405 used by the Moto G4 Plus. The OnePlus 3T’s Adreno 530 still trashes it, but every part of that phone’s performance does.
GPU-straining games like Asphalt 8 run well at max graphics settings, which is the main thing.
The Samsung software also offers a special gaming overlay, called Game Tools. It’s a toolbar that pops-up when you tap a little widget that sticks on the screen (if you want it there, at least) and lets you take screenshots, lock the soft keys and record your gameplay.
Once upon a time Samsung phones also used to come with one of the best built-in media players, but these days it largely leaves this to Google’s apps and the various other options available from Google Play. Samsung’s own software stays in the background, on hand if you download any videos using the browser.
The phone has enough power to play any 1080p video, though, and having the option to add a microSD card of up to 256GB capacity offers the potential to turn the Samsung Galaxy A5 into a pretty mean media player.
It doesn’t have one of the best internal speakers around, though. There are two speaker drivers used for media, the call speaker and one on the right edge of the Samsung Galaxy A5.
Like the CPU, it’s a real middle-weight setup. The sound isn’t super-thin, very quiet or prone to distortion, but it’s not the loudest or fullest-sounding either. It’s fine, but that’s about it.
Benchmarks and performance
- Not the most powerful at the price
- Has a reasonable GPU
The Samsung Galaxy A5 has a fairly low-powered chipset given its price. It uses the Exynos 7880 CPU, comparable to the Snapdragon 617 but with a higher clock speed and a slightly more powerful graphics processor.
This setup works just fine with a 1080p screen phone, but is far from the most powerful CPU available for the money. The issue is that while the Exynos 7880 has eight cores, all of them are Cortex-A53s, the sort used in budget phones.
The OnePlus 3T and its true high-end Snapdragon 821 chipset are in a different league, but Samsung has managed to eke good performance out of these fairly humble building blocks. In Geekbench 4, for example, the Samsung Galaxy A5 scores 4,074 points, or 768 per core.
It’s one of the highest scores we’ve seen from an all Cortex-A53 phone, helped by its relatively high clock speed and a graphics chip more powerful than that of most comparable alternatives. It’s not even that far off the OnePlus 3T’s average multi-core score of 4,313.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. It’s still a mid-range CPU, matched with 3GB of slower DDR3 RAM and internal storage that doesn’t read/write anywhere near as quickly as that of the Samsung Galaxy S7 or OnePlus 3T – a phone with 6GB of RAM.
- Great battery life
- Fast charging
- Not harmed by always-on screen
The Samsung Galaxy A5 has a 3,000mAh battery, which is the same capacity as the Samsung Galaxy S7 even though this phone has a much lower-res screen. As we hoped on first firing-up the A5, the phone lasts for a good long while off a charge with normal use.
Listening to a couple of hours of streamed podcasts, a few bored blasts of internet browsing, shooting 50-odd photos and regular WhatsApping sees the battery only drain to 40-50% by bed time. Excellent.
For heavy users, the Motorola Moto Z Play still wins for stamina, and we wouldn’t rely on the Samsung Galaxy A5 to get a full two days’ use. But it will get close.
In our standard battery test – in which we play a looping video for 90 minutes, the Galaxy A5 2017 had dropped just 12% by the end. That’s a bigger drop than the 7% from the Moto Z Play, but it’s slightly less than the 14% lost from the OnePlus 3T, and a well above average result overall.
This isn’t just down to Samsung’s use of a chunky battery either, as Samsung’s Super AMOLED screens are known for their efficiency and the Exynos 7880 uses an up-to-date 14nm production process. This helps it consume less power for the same results.
All our testing has been with the always-on screen enabled too. You can read more about this in the display section, but it effectively turns the Samsung Galaxy A5 into a desk clock while not in use.
To finish off, the Samsung Galaxy A5 also comes with a fast charger. A normal higher-power charger outputs at 5 volts, 2 amps, but Samsung’s fast chargers ramp-up to 9V to almost fully charge the battery in an hour.
- Very high-res sensors, but mid-level quality
- No OIS
- Capable of super-detailed selfies
The Samsung Galaxy A5’s cameras have an excess of megapixels that looks great on the bullet-point description you’ll see next to the little guy in a phone shop, but the rear camera in particular lacks the tech needed to make this a rival for the best, including the Galaxy S7 or even Galaxy S6.
It’s good, but not truly great.
The only area in which it trips up is the usual: low light. This phone doesn’t have optical image stabilization, and the high megapixel count comes at the expense of the size of the pixels themselves.
As a result, photos in poor indoor lighting and at night start to break down a bit as the noise reduction algorithms go to work on images, chewing up both noise and fine detail. We also found it’s quite easy to take blurry shots if you’re not careful about keeping your hands still.
This is one way the rival HTC U Play beats the Galaxy A5, as it has OIS, making blurry exposures much less likely.
Regardless, we had much more fun using the Galaxy A5 camera than the HTC because it’s so much faster to shoot. There may be a little pause before the shutter fires as the camera fine-tunes its focus, but no obvious shutter lag or any head-banging delay as the phone processes a photo before letting you take another. This is what a camera phone should feel like.
If you like getting creative with your phone camera, there are better choices, though. The Galaxy A5’s manual mode is extremely stripped-back, with no control over shutter speed or focusing. As such, it’s hardly worth using.
In good lighting, the Samsung Galaxy A5’s photos are fairly good, but are susceptible to some issues that don’t affect the more adept Galaxy S7. For example, shadow areas can look a little murky unless you actively use the HDR mode. The dynamic range of the sensor just isn’t that great and there’s no clever Auto HDR mode, now very common.
There’s also some purple fringing to high-contrast objects, like tree branches against a blue sky, and while colors are generally well-saturated in good lighting, they’re at times slightly off. In a few of our shots we noticed a classic sign of a less-than-perfect camera setup: blue skies that end up looking a little greenish through the Samsung Galaxy A5’s eyes.
Right down at pixel level the Samsung Galaxy A5’s photos also look a little smoothed-out or processed, which is the software mitigating for the small sensor pixels here.
The Samsung Galaxy A5 2017 is either a near-perfect mid-range phone or a pretty expensive one depending on how obsessed you are with getting the most for your money.
Everything on the outside of the Samsung Galaxy A5 fits perfectly with the price. It’s well-made, all metal and glass without as much as a square inch of plastic to cheapen the feel.
It feels great in use too. While not the fastest phone around in the way the software moves, it’s not slow or laggy either. The camera also has the zippy feel we’ve come to expect from Samsung’s more expensive mobiles.
The only disappointments appear when you start to look deeper into the tech and realize quite how much more a phone like the OnePlus 3T gets you for a similar price.
While fun to use, and able to take some solid pics, the Samsung Galaxy A5’s camera doesn’t have the low-light flexibility of Samsung’s top-end phones, the OnePlus 3T or HTC U Play. And its CPU may not age as well as some at the price.
Who's this for?
The Samsung Galaxy A5 is for people who want a Samsung phone with the sort of gloss you get with a flagship, but don’t want to spend the sort of cash such a phone demands. That’s a lot of people.
Should you buy it?
If you’re happy to own an older phone, you might want to consider looking at one of last year’s top models instead of the Galaxy A5, such as the LG G5. These are occasionally available around the same price as this phone.
However, if you just want to head to the high street to buy a phone or the Galaxy A5 is one of your network’s upgrade options, it’s a great buy.
The Samsung Galaxy A5 2017 pushes the limits of what you'd expect from a mid-range phone in some ways, but it falls down in others, and the following three options are worthy alternatives.
It’s hard to compete with the OnePlus 3T on value, even if it is a lot more expensive than the older OnePlus 3. Its camera is more versatile than the A5’s, its CPU a lot more powerful.
The phone is also significantly larger, though, and the Galaxy A5 is better at making its battery last longer. If you want as much phone-per-dollar as possible, buy the OnePlus 3T. But some of you will find the smaller Galaxy A5 easier to live with.
- Read our full OnePlus 3T review
HTC U Play
Similar in style and specs to the Samsung Galaxy A5, the HTC U Play is a real arch-rival. It also has the camera optical image stabilization the A5 sorely lacks, and its design has more punch, with a greater curvature to the back and more eye-catching finishes.
However, the Galaxy A5 is the better phone in use. Its battery is bigger, its graphics chip is faster and the camera is significantly quicker. Samsung sails past potential problems that trip the HTC U Play up.
- Read our HTC U Play review
Here’s a tricky one. The Honor 8 is far more powerful than the Galaxy A5 and has a more interesting camera setup, with two lenses. It earns more tech points and also has a more striking multi-layer glassy finish.
The Samsung software is less contentious, though, and we find the battery of the A5 lasts longer. So while the Honor 8 is technically more impressive, the Samsung Galaxy A5 may be easier to live with day-to-day. Everyday likability is where the Samsung phone excels.
- Read our full Honor 8 review
First reviewed: February 2017
- Thanks to Carphone Warehouse for providing us with a Samsung Galaxy A5 for review