Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review


Samsung pursued with its polycarbonate design language for a very long time and was criticised for being rigid on its stance. However, the company has finally produced a device with refined looks and premium build.

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With Galaxy Alpha, Samsung will be competing against the likes of Apple iPhone 6 and with its size – the device will also take on the compact portfolio. Has the South Korean manufacturer found the right design and the hardware mix to attract the masses? Well, we take a deep look to find out if it’s worth shelling out a premium on the Galaxy Alpha.

Unboxing

Just like any other Samsung Galaxy retail package, the Alpha also comes in a box that is made up of post consumed recycled paper. First up inside the box is the smartphone itself and if you dig deeper you find the A/C adapter, microUSB cable, headsets, battery and some leaflets.

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So, you get all the basic accessories in the retail box that are required for your day-to-day usage. In case your requirement needs any more add-ons, you can definitely pick them from Samsung local stores.

Video Review

Design

Samsung has finally heard its consumers plea. The change in the design language is a welcome move and we hope the company only builds on it from now. From the outset, the Galaxy Alpha looks largely similar to that of the Galaxy S5 mini, but you will notice the difference the moment you hold the Alpha in your hand.

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The metal chassis is the design is a significant upgrade and is a step towards pleasing masses. Having said that the back still houses a plastic panel and there’s glass on the front. The design could have been a lot more attractive had Samsung used glass on both the front and the rear like the Apple iPhones or Sony Xperias.

The corners are flared and you will no longer have to worry about your phone slipping off from your hand. What’s more impressive is the thickness and the weight of the Alpha. At 6.7mm thick, the Alpha is the slimmest Galaxy device to date and there’s only few smartphone lighter than 115 grams.

The front is made up of glass and Samsung hasn’t revealed whether it uses Gorilla Glass or not. There’s an earpiece, front facing camera and the usual array of sensors along with a notification LED. Below the panel, it’s a common sight with a hardware home key, capacitive app switcher and back keys on its sides.

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The home key also houses a fingerprint scanner, which is hidden inside it. You can use the reader to unlock the phone and even authorize certified transactions. Furthermore, all recognized finger prints will enable private mode, giving you access to a secure storage area.

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On the right metal side is the location of the power button, while the volume rockers are seen on the left. We are pleased to report that both keys are made of metal and pressing them is a joy.

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The top of the smartphone houses the secondary microphone pinhole and a 3.5mm audio jack. The microUSB 2.0 port is found at the button along with the primary microphone and speaker grille. Samsung has scrapped the IR blaster, which was very useful especially for those with multiple remote controls at home. We like the position of the speakers as they never get covered irrespective of how you put your phone down.

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Moving on to the back, you see the 12 megapixel rear camera with LED flash and the heart rate monitor. As in most Galaxy smartphones, the camera on the Alpha also protrudes from the back. The rear panel is removable, which means you can access the battery and even replace it if required.

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Underneath the back cover you find the 1,860mAh battery and the nanoSIM card slot. Unfortunately, the smartphone does not support microSD memory expansion, which means that you will have to live with 32GB of on-board storage.

Display

Samsung Galaxy Alpha sports a 4.7-inch Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 720 x 1280 pixels that accounts to a pixel density of 312ppi. It’s a next generation Super AMOLED panel Samsung has used and Galaxy Alpha is the first smartphone to feature it.

The new panel comes with improved sunlight legibility and the color rendering is a lot more accurate. It is also said to reduce power usage. The viewing angles are great – in fact it’s impressive especially after considering what its competition has got to offer.

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The black levels are just great and hence the contrast ratio is impressive. Samsung’s software offers you to set the display to match your needs and you can choose between saturated and accurate options for saturation.

All in all the Galaxy Alpha screen is a lot better than the one of the Galaxy S5 mini and with better sunlight legibility and color rendering, the display can easily compete against the likes of Sony Xperia Z1 Compact and other mini variants.

However, the real target for Galaxy Alpha is the Apple iPhone 6. Samsung Galaxy Alpha can take on the iPhone 5s in the display department and can even match the iPhone 6 in some aspects, but overall it’s not as good as the one on the iPhone 6. We cannot really complain about it, but we are just net-picking.

User Interface

Samsung Galaxy Alpha runs on Android 4.4.4 KitKat and comes with a layer of TouchWiz UI. Thanks to the quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM, there’s no visible lag in the overall UI performance.

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As we mentioned earlier, the Galaxy Alpha comes with a fingerprint scanner and the phone can be secured using it. The device can recognize up to three different fingerprints. You can now scan the fingers in different angles and improve the accuracy of the reader. However, it is still not as reliable as the one on the iPhones and we hope it gets better with future software updates.

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There’s a multi-window feature available in the Galaxy Alpha for multi-tasking and using it one can run two applications side by side.

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Privacy in the modern day is getting a lot more priority than before and it isn’t any different with a Samsung product. The Galaxy Alpha comes with a Private mode on-board and it helps you secure photographs, voice recordings, music and even other files using your fingerprint. These files are hidden from the regular window and are visible only in the private mode.

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Samsung Galaxy Alpha comes out of the box with two different power saving modes, which are very handy as the devices features a small battery. The first mode has the ability to restrict the CPU performance and the background data and even greyscale the screen if required.

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You can also go a step further in saving power by enabling the ultra-power saving mode. This option will disable all the advanced functions and will offer only 6 basic shortcuts. According to Samsung, your phone can last up to 24 hours in this mode with 10% battery.

Performance

Samsung Galaxy Alpha that we have in our labs is powered by an Exynos 5 Octa chipset and there’s a Snapdragon 801 variant as well.

The Galaxy Alpha is one of the first smartphones to run on the Exynos 5 Octa 5430 silicon and features a big.LITTLE processor with four 1.8GHz Cortex A15 cores and four 1.3GHz Cortex A7 cores. The SoC has the ability to fire all the eight cores at once, so you can expect great multi-core performance. Furthermore, the CPU packs a hexa-core Mali T628 MP6 GPU and comes with 2GB of RAM.

We would like to bring it to your notice that Samsung disables the ART runtime in its home-backed TouchWiz UI and it will be made default in Android L update.

Hardware specifications apart, let’s stack the device against its competition to see how it performs.

The first test was the AnTuTu benchmarking that reveals the overall performance of the smartphone. With a score of 39,149, the Galaxy Alpha is above flagship devices such as the Galaxy S5, Oneplus One, Xiaomi Mi 4 and even Sony Xperia Z3.

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Second up was the Linpack test that measures the multi-threaded oriented benchmarking of a smartphone. With 416.461 points, the Galaxy Alpha found itself among the bunch of best smartphones in the market.

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We then had the Mali T628 GPU sweating it out in the GFX benchmarking. In the past we have seen the same GPU deliver results better than Adreno 320 and even Adreno 330. But, has Samsung managed to get the most out of it? Sure, with 48.4 points Galaxy Alpha claims the top spot in our chart.

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Last and the final test that we performance on the Samsung Galaxy Alpha was the Vellamo benchmarking, which determines the browsing performance of the smartphone.

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Camera

The rear camera on the Galaxy Alpha is a 12 megapixel unit. It’s a sensor that we haven’t seen in any Galaxy smartphone in the recent times. The image sensor has 16:9 aspect ratio – which means that it is capable of shooting widescreen photographs.

The camera interface is a direct lift from the company’s flagship device, the Galaxy S5. All the essential options like the still, video shutter keys, the mode button and the gallery shortcut can been seen on the right column, while the camera toggles, selective focus, HDR and settings button is located on the left.

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You can capture images in different shooting modes such as panorama, shot & more, virtual tour, dual camera and beauty face.

There’s one word to express the overall image quality – impressive. The noise levels are very low and the fine detail is excellent. The images are sharp and the colors are quite accurate, but at times they get slightly oversaturated.

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You can use the HRD mode in high-contrast scenes as the camera has the tendency to underexpose shadows. The usage of HDR option will help you brighten the shadows and we are glad to report that the image quality doesn’t get affected.

The 12 megapixel rear snapper is also capable of capturing 1080p videos at 30fps and 60fps. You can also shoot slow motion videos at 720p, but it drops the framerate at the slowest option.

The camera on the Galaxy Alpha can shoot videos at 2160p and it is recorded at 48Mbps bitrate, which is the essentially the same as the one on the Galaxy S5. The camera archives at 256Kbps, double the bitrate on the Galaxy S5 and on par with the Nokia Lumia 1020.

Battery

Our 24 hour charge rating for Samsung Galaxy Alpha is 8.3 hours. This means that the Galaxy Alpha can be used for about 8.3 hours straight before you need to find a power source to charge the battery. So, if you are a moderate consumer then the 1,860mAh battery will easily last an entire day.

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Check out our detailed battery life test story to know more about how the Galaxy Alpha performs in individual tests like call, 3G, Wi-Fi and Video playback.

Conclusion

Samsung Galaxy Alpha is a great and a much needed addition to the Galaxy line up. It is already available in the market for about INR 39,990.

The plastic back, TouchWiz bloatware and a small battery are the only things that we didn’t like on the Galaxy Alpha. A larger battery and may be with IP certification for water resistance, Samsung could have easily taken on the Apple iPhone 6 and the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact.

The new design language or the metal frame to be more precise is a welcome change. The Exynos processor offers a great performance and we already know what the Snapdragon 801 CPU is capable of.

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Samsung TouchWiz UI comes bundled with a lot of software tricks and some of them are very useful. One of them is the ultra-power saving mode that disables some of the features and conserves battery for a long time.

The 12 megapixel sensor on the back with features like selective focus, audio zoom, virtual tour shoot and even 360-degree panoramas does enough justice and offers great value.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha is a brilliant compact flagship smartphone with all round performance. And, for the first time, the South Koreans have a chance to rub its shoulders against Apple. With the familiar Galaxy tag, the Alpha is bound to win many hearts in the Indian market and across the globe.


Author: Sunil Jamboor Nagesh

He has been reporting tech and reviewing gadgets for quite some time now. SJN in the past has been a part of couple of globally reputed tech publications like GSMArena and AndriodAuthority. He bleeds tech and is always seen with a review unit in hand. Feel free to reach him on twitter - @SunilJamboor or on Google+.