- Solid battery life
- Strong display for the price
- Decent cameras
- Old Android
Samsung Galaxy J5 Review: One of Samsung’s best budget mobiles, the Galaxy J5 is a fierce rival to the Motorola Moto G and a solid smartphone for just £150 SIM-free. Here’s what we think after using the Galaxy J5 as our full-time phone.
After the massive launch of its latest flagship phones, the Galaxy S7 and the Galaxy S7 Edge, Samsung has sneaked out a fair few cheaper mobiles with little to no fanfare. And that’s a damned shame, because they’ve all been very impressive. The 2016 remakes of the Galaxy A3 and Galaxy A5 are brilliant mid-rangers packing suprisingly premium features, while the Galaxy J5 is down at the budget end of the price scale.
You can bag the Galaxy J5 on the cheap from most UK networks, but is it a satisfying little blower? Here’s our full Galaxy J5 review.
Samsung Galaxy J5 Review: Design
Samsung hasn’t gone wild and crazy when it comes to the Galaxy J5’s design. Like the Galaxy A Range, this phone looks the spit of Samsung’s 2015 flagship phone, the Galaxy S6, with those distinctive curves and the physical home button planted directly beneath the screen. The only real difference is the matt plastic backing of the J5, which at least is less prone to smudging than the S6’s glass rear.
Look a little closer and you’ll notice that the J5’s back actually comes right off, revealing a removable battery and the card slots inside. That’s rare for Samsung’s mobile, which usually come fused into one solid piece. It’s also great news if you’re always on the move and prefer replacing your mobile’s battery to lugging around a separate battery pack.
At just 5-inches, which is positively diminutive compared to a lot of modern smartphones, the Galaxy J5 is quite easy to operate with just one hand. Stretching your thumb to the top of the screen to drag down the notifications bar is no real problem, while the curved edges and back make it a comfortable fit to your palm.
You don’t get the water resistance of the Moto G, but the Galaxy J5 does feel quite solid and will happily survive a drop onto a carpeted floor from a distance. We reckon it’d be sturdy enough to handle the odd concrete interaction too, although we didn’t test this with our (only) review model.
Check out our Galaxy J5 unboxing and hands-on review for a closer look
Samsung Galaxy J5 Review: Screen and media
If you’re used to Samsung’s more vibrant panels, found on handsets like the Galaxy S7 and A5, then the Galaxy J5’s Super AMOLED screen might seem rather subdued in comparison. However, although colours don’t explode off the display in quite the same manner, this is still a solidly built panel that competes with the very best budget screens out there.
At 5-inches in size, the J5’s screen is spacious enough for comfortable typing, web browsing and the rest, while viewing angles are reassuringly wide. The 720p HD resolution ensures that your photos, movies and everything else look sharp and pretty too.
In fact, this is one of the best budget displays we’ve seen in recent times, easily going toe-to-toe with the Moto G’s excellent 720p panel.
Samsung Galaxy J5 Review: Features and OS
Android Lollipop (5.1.1) is the OS of Samsung’s choosing, which means you miss out on some of the latest Android Marshmallow features (such as total control over your app permissions). Still, the good news is that Samsung’s own TouchWiz overlay, which changes the look and feel of Android to make the Galaxy J5 stand out from rivals, is a lot more user friendly than it used to be.
There’s no Flipboard desktop on the J5, presumably to help keep performance smooth, while the colourful icons and smart notifications bar (complete with plenty of handy shortcuts) make for a satisfying experience. My only issue is the unnecessary duplication when it comes to apps. Samsung’s insistence on adding its own apps to the Galaxy phones means you have two web browsers, two email clients and so on, which clutter up the J5’s meagre storage and can’t be removed.
Thankfully the rather tiny 8GB of built-in storage can be quickly and easily expanded using a microSD memory card.
Samsung Galaxy J5 Review: Performance and battery life
The Galaxy J5 may pack a basic 1.2GHz quad-core processor, but Android and everything else runs with a satisfying smoothness. I didn’t see any serious stutters or crashes while using the handset, although the lack of support for 5GHz WiFi meant for the occasional slowdown while web browsing. Thankfully I had no trouble with 4G browsing and the latest fast-paced games play with a dependable frame rate.
Of course there’s no support for side-by-side multitasking on the J5, which is to be expected. But you can keep apps running in the background, with no negative impact on performance.
Samsung’s premium phones might not boast the best battery life, but its more affordable handsets are very impressive. The Galaxy J5 is no different, offering close to two full days of use on a single charge, even with regular use. And even if you want to stream video, you’ll get close to ten hours of playback before the J5 dies.
There’s no support for Samsung’s ‘Adaptive Fast Charging’, but the J5 still charges quite quickly once you hook it up to the mains.
Samsung Galaxy J5 Review: Cameras
When it comes to budget snappers, the Moto G is still our favourite, boasting a highly dependable 13-megapixel camera that produces stunning results in almost any environment. However, the Samsung Galaxy J5 comes damn close with its own 13-meg lens.
I took hundreds of photos over the days I was using the J5 and the majority were pleasingly sharp and detail packed when viewed back on a big screen. Colours are realistically reproduced (rather than the vibrant hues you get from the Galaxy S7) and active subjects are usually well handled; even hyper, thrashing children and crazy cats.
It’s not an infallible budget snapper by any means. Shots taken indoors can look a little ‘fuzzy’, lacking the crisp detail that you get from outdoor snaps. In low light you inevitably get a lot of grain, but thankfully there’s an LED flash to compensate. And if you’re shooting in bright light, you can expect white outfits and buildings (and bald heads) to appear oversaturated. However, for a budget camera we’re still very happy with the results.
We’re also happy with the Full HD movies we took on the Galaxy J5. The lens snaps into focus reasonably quickly and handles changes in lighting well, while sucking up plenty of detail.
Finally, the 5-megapixel selfie camera does an admirable job when you’re out and about and even comes fitted with an LED flash of its own, something that’s rarely found on mobiles. It certainly does the job when you’re in a pub or some other moody environment, to avoid grainy, ugly snaps.
Samsung Galaxy J5 Review: Verdict
At this price, the Galaxy J5 is a very strong rival for the Moto G and other cut-price handsets. It’s a solid all-rounder, offering dependable performance and excellent battery life as well as some brilliant camera tech. We prefer the vanilla Android Marshmallow experience of the Moto G, but Sammy fans will love what the Galaxy J5 has to offer.
Big thanks to MobileFun for sending in our Galaxy J5 review sample.