- Premium metal design
- Beautiful screen
- Excellent battery life
- Feature light
- Lacklustre camera
Samsung Galaxy A3 Review: Samsung's A-series smartphones continue what the Galaxy Alpha started by bringing premium metalwork into a Samsung-centric world previously devoid of such luxurious materials. The Galaxy A3 is the baby of the bunch, so does it feel as good as it looks? Here's our full review.
Update: Samsung has juse released a new 2016 model of the Galaxy A3, so check out our full Samsung Galaxy A3 2016 review for more info.
Having spent years surrounded by disappointingly cheap feeling plastic Samsung mid-rangers, the A3 is a breath of fresh air. For the most modest of the company’s new mid-range stock it feels like a premium device from the moment you pick it up, thanks nearly exclusively to the precision milled aluminium frame skirting the phone’s edge.
Hardware controls like the home button, power and volume keys all feel great to handle too, providing satisfying tactile feedback, something we also picked up on with the Alpha – the poster child for Samsung’s new more premium design philosophy.
Old habits die hard though and there are also more established Samsung design elements apparent on the A3’s body; namely the chromed plastic earpiece and the particularly odd looking speaker grille, mounted up near the phone’s rear-camera.
The metal frame offers strength, rigidity and paired to a pearlescent white plastic back it keeps the phone lightweight too (at 110.3 grams). As the back plate is non-removable the battery is stuck fast, however the nanoSIM and microSD slot into to finely milled trays that pop out from the phone’s right side.
With the A3’s frame Samsung has also rectified the awkward headphone jack ‘bump’ that appeared on its first two metal-framed handsets: the Galaxy Alpha and Galaxy Note 4. Instead the user plugs cans in via a jack on the base of the phone next to an exposed microUSB port.
Screen: Small but effective
Resolution isn’t everything; it’s just as true of screens as it is of smartphone cameras. Being the smallest of the A Series means the A3 packs a compact and conservative 4.5-inch qHD Super AMOLED display. We’ve been spoilt by higher resolution displays, but with its respectable 244ppi, imagery looks lovely and sharp.
Viewing angles, colour reproduction, brightness and contrast make this one of the best qHD panels we’ve encountered and certainly one of the prettiest displays in the mid-range market. If you want a compact handset that ensures everything looks good, this is a strong contender.
OS: Keeping things tidy
Whilst we’re only just tasting 5.0 Lollipop on some of Samsung’s top-tier handsets, the A3 packs a version 4.4.4 KitKat that still feels perfectly fresh. Being Samsung it’s far from a stock Android experience, but the mid-range nature of this handset means that its more restrictive feature set is almost a benefit.
The Settings menu is still packed with options, but for those coming from older or beefier Sammys, the A3’s interface won’t feel overbearing. The UI itself also boasts a nice aesthetic; thin crisp fonts, slick transitions, plenty of widgets and a Flipboard experience baked right into the homescreen arrangement (you can hide it if you wish). The lock screen also adopts a nice animation when you trail your fingers across it, which helps up the premium factor. The devil is in the details, after all.
Samsung’s also scaled back how many of its apps take precedence over the stock offerings. You’ll still find S Planner in place of the default Google Calendar app and the company’s own browser and voice assistant sitting alongside Chrome and Google Now, despite being pretty much redundant, but aside from these notable extras it’s a lighter, snappier experience.
Performance: Testing its mettle
We’re glad to see that most of the cuts that had to be made to fit the mid-range mould took place on the software side, as the A3 still packs connectivity options like NFC and 4G LTE (cat 4), an auto brightness sensor and a quad-core brain. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 410 actually runs the show and despite only 1GB of RAM most apps, including games like Asphalt 8 ran like a dream.
Storage wise you’re given 16GB (about 12GB of which is available from the offset) of internal memory, but there’s also expandability by an additional 64GB if you have a microSD to hand. Power saving tools will help push longevity too, but one of the A3’s most impressive assets is its standard battery life. We managed to hit critical after an impressive eight hours of continuous video playback and general usage should see you through to up to two days at a time with LTE switched on.
Camera: Bag of tricks
Like the rest of the OS, the camera experience has been trimmed down, but it’s still a great all-round experience. You get a host of shooting modes including a night mode, an option for creating animated GIFs and HDR (which is slow to take) to name but three.
Image quality-wise, the rear 8-megapixel sensor does a good job picking up colour and handling high contrast environments (even without HDR on) however artificial and low lighting shots will suffer from poor detail, colour inaccuracy and noise in the darkest parts of your shots. Image stability also isn’t great and as has already been pointed out, the frugal hardware means specialist features like HDR require stationary subjects and time to compile the final shot.
As the A Series as a whole is aimed at social butterflies, the selfie chops the A3 pack will be undoubtedly welcome. There’s a dedicated option for taking selfies with the rear camera, and the front-facing 5-megapixel snapper can capture photos with varying levels of virtual makeup as well as using a gesture shutter (holding an open palm in the frame) similarly to what we’ve seen from LG’s recent smartphones.
You can also find Full HD video too, which is par for the course.
Verdict: A new kind of mid-ranger
The Galaxy Alpha got things started, but the A Series shows that Samsung is now well and truly into its stride. Bringing premium metal design work down to humble mid-rangers like the Samsung Galaxy A3 helps the company standout and should up their reputation for the target buyers.
The A3 itself is a joy to use, particularly if you want a handset that looks and feels premium, but doesn’t adhere to the giant Android phone trend of recent years. It offers a strong feature set, slick user experience, solid connectivity and impeccable battery life.
Its price (at around £230) and its camera aren’t perfect, but we’d still wholeheartedly recommend checking this handset out. It would seem things are changing at Samsung and if those changes continue to produce devices like the A3, we’re not going to stop them.
- qHD (540x960)
- 110.3 grams
- Android 4.4 KitKat
- 8-megapixel w/ single LED flash
- 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410
- 1GB RAM
- 16GB (12GB user accessible). Expandable via microSD up to 64GB
- NFC, Beauty mode, Flipboard integration