Samsung, at its Southwest Asia Forum 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, announced details of its new Galaxy A5 and Galaxy A7 2016 edition smartphones for the Indian market. The handsets were first unveiled last year in China, though the company had not disclosed anything about the availability of the two refreshed models outside China at that time.
The Galaxy A series was first launched in late 2014, and now the South Korean giant claims that it has contributed to increase in its worldwide 4G market share, along with the J-series. According to Samsung, its share in 4G devices increased from 25.9 percent in December 2014 to 60.6 percent in December 2015. The company however declined to share exact numbers.
We spent some time with both the new Galaxy A5 and Galaxy A7 2016 edition smartphones at the launch event and here are our first impressions.
At the press briefing in Kuala Lumpur, Samsung stressed that the new generation Galaxy A5 and Galaxy A7 are designed using glass and metal. This was evident when we first held the devices in our hands. Both the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) and the Galaxy A7 (2016) take design cues from last year's flagship, the Galaxy S6. Both phones have metal frames that give them a durable feel, while the rear has an all-glass look. You can see the body colour through the glass.
Similar to the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 series, the rear panels of the Galaxy A5 (2016) and Galaxy A7 (2016) are very shiny, making it hard for us to photograph them without reflections. Despite the use of glass on the rear, we were confident of using both the devices without them slipping from our hands. The phones are comfortable to hold with one hand despite both having screens larger than 5 inches. The front panels on both are mainly dominated by their screens, with the Samsung logo embossed above. The speakers are housed on the bottom and they did sound louder than average, though not really exceptional.
The physical home button, which is a design touch found on the entire range of Samsung Galaxy devices, sits below the display on both phones, with the fingerprint reader embedded into its surface. Fingerprint recognition can be considered one of the biggest additions to the 2016 Galaxy A-series. Oddly, the units showcased at the launch event had their fingerprint scanners disabled for some reason. Samsung executives promised that the feature will be available in commercial units of both the Galaxy A5 (2016) and the Galaxy A7 (2016). On either side of the physical home button are the capacitive Recents and Back buttons which light up only when touched.
For the second-generation Galaxy A series, Samsung has used its in-house Exynos processors. The first-generation Galaxy A3, Galaxy A5, and Galaxy A7 used Qualcomm-based chipsets.
(Also see: Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) vs. Samsung Galaxy A7)
The Galaxy A5 (2016) is powered by an octa-core Exynos processor clocked at 1.6GHz clubbed with 2GB of RAM and has 16GB of inbuilt storage. The Galaxy A7 (2016) also packs an octa-core Exynos SoC clocked at 1.6GHz and 16GB of storage, but is equipped with 3GB of RAM. For displays, the Galaxy A5 (2016) features a smaller 5.2-inch full-HD (1080x1920-pixel) Super Amoled display while the Galaxy A7 (2016) sports a 5.5-inch full-HD Super Amoled display. Both phones have 13-megapixel rear cameras with LED flashes and optical image stabilisation (OIS), and 5-megapixel front-facing cameras. The rear cameras on both the handsets feature f/1.9 aperture lenses. Much like the first-generation Galaxy A-series, the new Galaxy A5 (2016) and Galaxy A7 (2016) support 4G LTE. Samsung said that the units support LTE Cat. 6 connectivity which allows up to 300Mbps downloads. Other connectivity options include Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.1, ANT+, 3G, GPRS/ EDGE, USB 2.0 and NFC connectivity options. Both phones come with dual-SIM support and Samsung has specified that the microSD card slot is separate from the second Nano-SIM slot, so you aren't forced to choose one or the other.
(Also see: Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) vs. Samsung Galaxy A5)
The Galaxy A5 (2016) is backed by a 2900mAh battery while the Galaxy A7 (2016) comes with a 3300mAh battery. Compared to the previous generation, both phones have improved battery capacities. To recall, the Galaxy A5 2015 edition included a 2300mAh battery and the Galaxy A7 came with a 2600mAh battery. Samsung has also added fast charging support to both phones. Ultra Power Saving Mode, which Samsung claims is loved by users in India, has also been added in the Galaxy A5 (2016) and Galaxy A7 (2016) phones.
The software on the Galaxy A5 (2016) and Galaxy A7 (2016) phones looked much the same as on the first-generation Galaxy A series with very minor tweaks and additions. Both phones run the company's custom UI on top of Android 5.1 Lollipop. Google and Microsoft apps, as also seen on other high-end Galaxy phones, are displayed prominently. We did not come across any major software changes in our limited time with the devices. Samsung said it has no current plans to release a Marshmallow update, when asked about possible timeframes for the new Galaxy A5 (2016) and Galaxy A7 (2016).
In the limited time spent with the handsets, we observed that they handled multitasking and Internet browsing pretty easily without any lags. We will reserve our verdict on Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) and Galaxy A7 (2016) performance until we get a chance to put them through paces for a detailed review.
In our brief tests of the cameras, we found that images taken with the Galaxy A7 (2016) in normal indoor lighting were vibrant with accurate colours. The images taken with the Galaxy A5 (2016) under the same conditions had minor noise at the edges. Low-light shots on both phones also looked good. The cameras protrude slightly from the bodies, like the ones on other high-end Galaxy smartphones.
The front cameras on both devices also managed to capture some decent selfies. We will have to wait till we can run these phones through our full review process to decide whether the cameras on the second-generation Galaxy A5 and A7 are better than those offered by the competition.
The Galaxy A5 (2016) and Galaxy A7 (2016) smartphones have been launched in India with price tags of Rs. 29,400 and Rs. 33,400 respectively. Both phones will go on sale starting February 15 and will be available in physical retail as well online through Snapdeal. To woo customers, Samsung also announced a bundled Airtel data plan which will give users up to 30GB of data free over six months.
At this price point, the biggest competitor to the Galaxy A5 (2016) is the OnePlus 2, which is currently retailing at Rs. 24,999. Motorola's Moto X Style, priced at Rs. 29,999, is also available at around the same price.
The Galaxy A7 (2016), on the other hand, will have to take on Samsung's 2015 flagship, the Galaxy S6, which is now retailing for Rs. 33,900 via the company's official India e-store.
Disclosure: Samsung sponsored the correspondent's travel and hotel for the event in Kuala Lumpur.