The design (materials used as well) is probably the most discussed and criticized aspect of Samsung phones for quite some time now. Ever since the Galaxy S3, every design has been more of an update/refinement rather than a revolution as we had come to expect with every new flagship till then. While most manufacturers do recycle their design a lot especially Sony, one did not expect Samsung to do so at least not with their flagships and that right there was the first issue with the Galaxy S5 and why it failed to make an impact.
Samsung realized that they needed to change and the Galaxy Alpha was the first step towards that change. The Alpha sported a metal frame which was one of the essential aspects a potential iPhone competitor would have. Samsung took a similar approach with the new Galaxy Note 4 as well with the chamfered edges and the metal frame. Samsung then announced the Galaxy A and E series of smartphones. We will be taking a look at the Galaxy A7 in this review.
As with the design of the phone, Samsung also has decided to refresh its packaging with the A7. The device comes in a very lively blue colour box with the photo of the phone and the model branding. The box contents are:
- Samsung Galaxy A7
- Earphone with Mic (Different Eartips Included)
- Wall Charger
- microUSB Cable
- SIM Tray Ejector Pin
We have already posted the unboxing which you can watch the unboxing below in this video.
Design and Build Quality
As mentioned above, the major selling point for the Galaxy A7 is the design. It’s a refinement of the formula Samsung used for the Note 4 and Alpha. By slimming down the waistline and adding premium materials, Samsung has made the device more desirable and durable. The design is now unibody and does not feature a removable back cover. The A7 measures 6.3mm which is quite slim especially considering the features it packs. It feels quite good in the hands.
You would expect a large device such as the A7 to pack quite a bit of weight especially when there’s a lot of metal involved however the device is quite light at 141 grams. That does not mean the device feels any less premium. The build quality is solid and there are no creaks or flexes no matter how you hold or press the device. The device is a phablet if you take into consideration its screen size but thanks to its slim profile and light weight, it doesn’t feel like it is one.
On the front you have the 5.5” Full HD Super AMOLED display. Above the display you have the earpiece, proximity sensor, light sensor and finally the front facing camera on the extreme right, all of which are accompanied by the usual Samsung logo below. You will notice that there’s no mention of a notification light. That’s because contrary to most Samsung phones, this phone doesn’t have a notification light on the front.
Underneath the display you have the hardware home key with two capacitive buttons on each side that serve as the multi-tasking key and the back key. Unlike the Note 4, you don’t get a fingerprint sensor embedded within the home key but we were not really fans of the swiping method of fingerprint recognition. Thankfully Samsung has improved that with the S6. But despite that, with the premium price you pay for the A7, you would expect to have a fingerprint sensor especially considering the fact that the Alpha also had one.
The front bezels aren’t minimal as such but aren’t too big either. There is also a dotted pattern similar to the back of the Galaxy S5. You don’t have the raised edges near the four corners like on the Alpha and Note 4 which is a shame but I suppose you need differentiating factors and having that would’ve rendered it too similar to the two aforementioned. The chamfered edges on the front are quite nice a touch but it’s very prone to scratches. Within a few uses you will notice that there are many tiny scratches on the silver portions. Unlike the chamfered edges, we found that the Gorilla Glass 4 used on the display thankfully is quite resistant to scratches and also isn’t much of a fingerprint magnet.
The main thing you would notice at the back is that the back cover is no longer removable. While that means no more (easily) removable battery, you get a device that feels more solid and premium. The back cover has a sort of silky matte finish which provides quite a good grip and also prevents the device from grabbing too many fingerprints. It’s still made of plastic but it doesn’t flex or creak and that’s a really good thing. In fact, you could almost be fooled to thinking it’s aluminum or some other metal instead of plastic. It is also quite resilient to scratches. We used it without a cover during the whole review duration and we don’t see any scratches on the back. Since we are reviewing the Dual SIM version, there is also the DUOS branding on the back cover.
You have the camera at the top center with the single LED flash to its left and the loudspeaker to its right. The camera unit protrudes quite a bit from the body of the phone. But in our experience that does not cause the phone to wobble nor does it result in the lens getting scratched.
On the right side of the device, you have the lock/power key as per Samsung’s usual placement. It provides good feedback through satisfying clicks. Below it you have the SIM slot. The phone takes nano SIMs. In case you have the dual SIM variant, you can use the second SIM slot as an expansion slot for microSD card instead of a second SIM. While having a dedicated microSD card slot surely would’ve been better, it probably would’ve been quite a task considering the phones slim profile we are still glad we can use the slot either way rather than having a pure SIM slot with no expansion at all. Both the slots need pins to be ejected.
The left side of the phone has just the volume rocker key. It’s a single key but provides good feedback. The top is quite barren with just a microphone occupying the space of an otherwise empty place. The bottom is a bit more crowded thanks to the microUSB port in the center with a secondary microphone on the left and a 3.5mm audio jack on the right.
The phone is available in three colors – black, white and gold. We have personally used the black and white and have loved both. Gold is perhaps a bit more niche but still looks very attractive. There’s no doubt that the phone looks good especially with the silver accents to the keys, camera unit and the sides.
The display is a 5.5 inch 1080p Super AMOLED panel which translates to around 401ppi. As expected from Super AMOLED displays the screen is capable of producing contrasty and punchy colors. That however can be resolved by choosing a different display mode in the settings if you are looking for something more natural. The display has a very high brightness and also the extremely low brightness that we’ve seen on higher end Samsung devices recently. The display is nearly as bright as the one on the Note 4 and while the A7 only has 1080p as opposed to the QHD display on the Note 4, we found no issues with sharpness. Whatever content we viewed on the screen was crisp and clear.
The viewing angles are very good and you can see the content even at very obtuse angles. Sunlight legibility is really good too and the light sensor does a good job at adjusting the brightness well depending on the environment you’re in whether it’s indoors or outdoors. You can even increase or decrease the brightness in the auto mode if you feel the auto mode by itself isn’t doing a good enough job. You can also choose to enable extra sensitivity for use with gloves.
It isn’t a very big device despite packing a 5.5” display. It isn’t as compact as the LG G3 for example but it is reasonably sized for a phone with such a screen size. That being said, people with smaller hands may still find using the device to, majorly be a two hand experience. But Samsung have included several features that allows easy one-handed usage which we shall explain later on in the review. The display doesn’t have a 2.5D feel and the chamfered edges are slightly raised from the screen level so it doesn’t feel as good to swipe as a Note 4 for example.
Software and Performance
The Galaxy A7 comes pre-loaded with Android KitKat 4.4.4 with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI layer on top of course. The UI itself is very similar to what we’ve come to expect from Samsung and is extremely similar to its other Galaxy siblings. The drop down notification bar has quick toggles that are customizable, brightness slider and the notification area.
Beung a phablet, Samsung have included an option for users to facilitate one-handed usage. You can shrink the whole interface to a smaller size so as to use it with one hand. Once the interface has been shrunk, you can further move it around to the left or right, up or down and adjust the size more or less.
Or you can choose to minimize certain aspects of apps such as the dialer and even switch the positions. You can also have side key panel on-screen which basically gives you the hardware keys on-screen. Quite a neat feature to have and you can move it around to any part of the screen to your comfort.
Powered by a Snapdragon 615 or Exynos 5430 Octa core processor and having 2GB of RAM the phone performs quite well. The phone has 1.85GB of RAM available to use out of which the user gets around 1.2GB at his/her disposal. Overall the phone performed quite well and never really hung up on us and didn’t have any random reboots. It did get a bit slow once or twice but that’s only when you’ve many memory intensive applications open. Otherwise the phone takes up anything you throw at it without any hiccups. The slight lag when you press the home key is there like on most other Samsung phones but I guess it’s a sacrifice you will have to make and something you probably are already accustomed to. For the entire list of benchmarks, you can check out our post here.
It scored 15298 points in the Quadrant Benchmark.
AnTuTu Benchmark 4
It scored 29590 points in the AnTuTu Benchmark 4 and grabbed the second spot.
Vellamo 2.0 HTML5
It managed to score 1665 points in the Vellamo 2 HTML5 browser benchmark.
There’s 16GB of storage on board and there’s no variant with a larger internal memory capacity. However you can use a microSD cards of upto 64GB in the second SIM slot to expand it further.
Due to the date of the release of the phone, one could argue that the device should’ve come pre-loaded with Lollipop and it would’ve been great if it did. But that would mean that it would have gotten Lollipop ahead of the Note 4 and S5 and perhaps that’s the reason why Samsung decided to delay it for the A7. But nevertheless, we expect Samsung to roll out an update pretty soon for the device and it should bring quite a few improvements to the table.
Calls, Connectivity and Messaging
The Dual SIM version of the A7 which we reviewed accepts nano SIM cards. It supports dual standby and also supports LTE on both the Exynos and Snapdragon variants. The setup is well-integrated and TouchWiz allows you to use both the cards simultaneously with ease. You can choose to assign a particular sim for data and one for calling or a different mixture of settings. It’s very flexible and quite easy to get a hold of and set it up yourself. Also note that some models only support 2G on the second SIM slot.
The signal reception is really good and we didn’t have any issues of drop in signal regardless of the way we held the device. The call quality through the earpiece is really good and loudness is more than sufficient. The same goes for the loudspeaker as well. In case you want extra volume, there’s a booster mode than you can enable to make the audio even more audible for example in noisy environments. Speaking of noisy environments, the noise cancellation works really well and your speech is well audible to the other party.
Messaging is a breeze on the big screen be it landscape or portrait thanks to the large screen estate. Samsungs keyboard makes it better too with its personalized dictionary that has the ability to update words based on your usage and also recommends words based on the frequency of use. This helps save quite a lot of time considering that it basically learns to speak like you do yourself. In case you aren’t satisfied with Samsungs keyboard, you can of course choose to install your own keyboard which will also be able to make use of the large screen estate.
Connectivity options are plenty on the A7 which is equipped with a microUSB 2.0 port, NFC, GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Dual band Wi-Fi is supported along with the latest N standard apart from the usual a/b/g standards. NFC is apparently available only on the LTE capable models so if it is of importance to you, please do check whether the model you have in mind supports NFC before making the purchase.
The Samsung A7 is equipped with Samsungs familiar music player that’s capable of playing a wide range of music formats such as MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, eAAC and FLAC. The app gives you several methods of sorting your music including song names, artists, albums, folders etc. The Music square feature is also present that creates playlists based on the mood you choose. You can also adjust the audio to your liking and music needs through the equalizer which can further be enhanced using SoundAlive and Adapt sound. The phone allows you to set a smart volume in order to synchronize and match the volumes of different tracks.
The sound quality through the speakers is really good. It’s loud and quite clear, free from any distortion. It doesn’t have stereo speakers but makes up for it in terms of loudness. The audio quality through earphones is quite good as well but there’s a hint of crosstalk and slight distortion at higher volumes. But then again chances are that you won’t be using the phone at the highest volume all the time.
The video player is also just as capable and plays Mp4, MKV, AVI etc without any issues and as you guessed it watching videos is a wonderful experience on the screen thanks to the Super AMOLED display. Content that you playback is crisp and colourful albeit unnatural but still visually pleasing to your eyes.
The main camera on the A7 is a 13MP unit and the front facing camera is a 5MP unit. The 13MP rear facing camera has an LED flash and autofocus however does not have OIS. The photo quality is pretty decent. Photos in good lighting conditions come out quite well, you get a lot of detail and the processing does tend to apply a bit of over sharpening as well which leads to some noise creeping in but it’s not very bad. Low light is a mixed bag especially when shooting on auto mode. Sometimes you get decent photos and at other times you get quite noisy photos. Tweaking the settings yourself helps to save such issues to an extent. Colors are a bit saturated but we’re delighted to see that it’s not as over the top compared to the highly saturated colors that Samsung is known for. The dynamic range isn’t very impressive but the HDR (RichTone) mode helps to improve on that. Below are some camera samples from the Galaxy A7, do click on the images and thumbnails for the full resolution uncompressed photo.
The front camera is where Samsung have improved a lot with the A7. The 5MP unit is quite good at capturing the details and surprisingly does quite well even in low light conditions. While it’s not a “selfie” phone, you would be quite happy with the selfies that it can produce. Wide selfie feature is pretty neat too for those selfies involving a large number of people. It stitches 3 different photos quite like a panorama to get a big selfie. Theres some slight distortion that comes because of the stitching but it’s not too bad and that’s to be expected when trying to cover such a wide-angle. Here are the samples from the front camera below.
In terms of video the A7 doesn’t support the currently trending 4K resolution nor does it support QHD resolution. What it does support is good old-fashioned 1080p which is fine by our books as the sensor itself isn’t that capable and we probably wouldn’t have gotten the best of results with it. But whats really missing is the option for slow motion and smooth motion. The phone does not support that with 1080p or even at lower resolutions.
The 1080p video that the phone can capture however is quite good and even with the lack of OIS, the camera is still quite stable. Of course you can’t go running with it but for most instances, it does the job quite well. We will add the video sample soon.
The A7 comes with a 2600 mAH battery which is not much considering the size of the screen it’s powering. The main reason for that is the design. To maintain the slimness they had to go for a smaller battery. The S4 had a similar capacity and it only had a 5 inch display. We didn’t expect much from the battery life but the device scored a pretty good rating of 10 hours and 54 minutes on our battery test.
But to our surprise the device performs quite well especially considering the fact that it’s a Dual SIM device and its usage time lies in between the S5 and the Note 4. Screen was set to auto brightness, occasionally tweaking it a bit in case needed; data was always switched on for SIM 1, occasional WiFi and a second SIM as well. Using a single SIM would improve it definitely and we also hope that the battery life would increase with the update to Lollipop as it did in the case of its Samsung counterparts.
While the battery life itself is good, the battery isn’t removable nor easily accessible. So you won’t be able to carry around a spare battery and swap it in case you need more juice. You will have to make do with a portable battery charger till you have access to a wall socket.
The Galaxy A7 is something fresh from Samsung. Focus has been given to improve it’s design and build, two areas where they have been criticized for in the past. Overall the handset is something you would expect from a Note 4 Neo version if there was one. Sure it doesn’t have a stylus but it does have a beautiful large screen, good battery life and unlike the Neo’s in the past, there is no compromise on the design. There are a few drawbacks such as the lack of notification light, the lack of OIS and video recording options. It’s a midrange device in a premium body but it is a good performer for the price you pay and we would definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking for a phablet but doesn’t want all the features as a Note 4 and doesn’t want to spend as much. You still get a premium handset for a much cheaper price and will definitely get a few people to notice you.
- Fresh New Design
- Solid Build Quality
- Great Screen with Really Good Sunlight Legibility
- Good Audio Quality
- Loud and Clear Speaker
- Good Battery Life
- Good Quality Front Facing Camera
- No Notification Light
- Slightly Noisy Main Camera
- Non-Removable Battery (May not be an issue for everyone)
- Slightly priced on the higher side
Srivatsan contributed to this review