Samsung’s Galaxy S8 flagship is great and all, but setting aside £700 for a new smartphone is far from ideal. Yes, it might be the best Android phone to date but that’s an absurdly steep asking price for what is, essentially, a big black rectangle of glass and silicon. There are alternatives, though, and if you want the bling without the sting in the tail, Samsung’s A3 (2017) offers flagship-like design and features at a fraction of the price.
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Samsung Galaxy A3 review (2017): Tl;dr
Samsung’s Galaxy S8 might be the firm’s latest flagship, but this year’s Samsung Galaxy A3 proves you don’t have to pay top dollar for a first-rate Android handset. Launched just before MWC earlier in the year, it’s a 4.7in smartphone with an AMOLED 720p screen and looks that wouldn’t be out of place on something far more expensive. It’s an excellent option for those in search of a competent, compact phone that doesn’t break the bank.
Samsung Galaxy A3 review (2017): Price and competition
The Samsung Galaxy A3’s price is the key part of this phone’s appeal, though. At only £237 the A3 is a mid-price smartphone and it undercuts most recent flagships by a significant chunk.
However, the competition in this sector has been stiff this year and the A3 sits in a smartphone realm saturated with mid-range alternatives. The Lenovo P2 (£200), Honor 6X (£225), LG G5 (£280), the Huawei P9 Lite (£210) and Motorola Moto G5 Plus (£250) are all excellent choices at around the same price.
And that’s it – the majority of these mid-range options have been impressive thus far; especially the Lenovo P2 with its monstrous near 30-hour battery life. It’s hard to recommend much else, and it’ll be tricky for the Samsung Galaxy A3 to really stand out.
Samsung Galaxy A3 review (2017): Design and key features
For £237, however, you are getting a significant cosmetic upgrade over previous A3 offerings. For starters, this year’s A3 (and its pricier A5 brother) borrows that curved-edge glass front from its flagship siblings and it’s a pleasant thing to hold with its all-metal body and clean, 7.9mm-thin chamfered edges sitting comfortably in the palm. It’s a classy, compact and lightweight phone.
As with all of Samsung’s smartphones this year, the rear camera bump has been completely eliminated. It’s a small thing but the Samsung Galaxy A3 now rests completely flat when you pop it down on a desk or table, which means it doesn’t rock back and forth when you tap the screen. The phone also has the same IP68 certification for protection against dust and water as the Samsung Galaxy S8. At the price, that’s mighty impressive.
As for colours, Samsung offers four pretentiously named paint jobs: Blue Mist, Black Sky, Gold Sand and Peach Cloud. I was sent the former for review, but it looks a touch grubby and grey for my liking.
Samsung Galaxy A3 review (2017): Display
The A3 is a compact phone and that’s down to its 4.7in 720p, Super AMOLED display. Now, you might recoil at the mention of anything except Full HD these days – the Honor 6X has a Full HD display and costs less, after all – but don’t let that fool you. The Galaxy A3’s screen still presents a perfectly sharp picture and quality is among the best you’ll find at this price.
That’s thanks in the main to the use of Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology, so it should come as no surprise that the contrast ratio is effectively perfect and that sRGB colour gamut coverage sits at a perfect 100%. As a result, images look wonderfully punchy colours seem to leap out of the screen at you.
And brightness, as ever, is on point, too. With auto-brightness disabled the screen reaches a maximum of only 359cd/m2, which is usable in most environments, but not outdoors on the brightest days. If you want to able to read the screen when the sun is beaming down, you need to turn on auto-brightness, which sees the screen boosting up to 468cd/m2.
Samsung Galaxy A3 review (2017): Performance and battery life
This year’s Galaxy A3 is powered by an Octa-core Samsung Exynos 7870 chip clocked at 1.6GHz, an improvement on the 2016 A3’s 1.5GHz Exynos 7580, and this is accompanied by 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. Given the price, this is a pretty decent lineup.
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A score of 3,711 in the Geekbench 4 multi-core benchmark isn’t too shabby either, and neither is its single-core score of 734. In retrospect, last year’s A3 is considerably slower; you’ll see a decent 50% multi-core performance boost if you choose to upgrade to this year’s model. Take a look at the chart below, and you’ll see it outperforms its rivals, too.
Subjectively, performance is snappy as well. The phone dispatches UI animations with effortless ease, zooming and panning around Google Maps is slick, and it’s more than capable of a little gaming, too.
As for battery life, the A3’s stamina is similarly impressive. It’s not a patch on the Lenovo P2’s ridiculous longevity but its 2,350mAh battery still lasted 23hrs and 25mins in our video playback test. That’s just shy of a bronze medal in our battery life hierarchy, lagging 15mins behind the Moto Z Play. Sadly, there’s no fast-charging support via the A3’s USB-C port, so you’ll be waiting roughly 1hr 30mins for the phone to charge.
Samsung Galaxy A3 review (2017): Camera
The A3’s front-facing camera has seen a nudge from 5 megapixels to 8 megapixels in 2017, but its rear f/1.9 snapper remains unchanged. Still, its 13-megapixel camera proved to be a respectable performer during my stint with it, and it’s one of the better phone cameras you can pick up on the cheap.
It produced some truly lavish, detail-rich shots of Millwall Dock and its surrounding buildings on a clear, sunny morning. Reflections in the water were crisp and natural-looking, while some of the more difficult areas – intricate brickwork and trees – were captured with solidity and accuracy. Enabling HDR mode gave significant improvements to snaps, too, lifting the shadows on overcast buildings and capturing a touch more cloud detail.
The whole shooting experience is helped along by Samsung’s updated camera UI, which in particular makes things easier for one-handed selfie addicts. Similar to Huawei’s camera app, specific shooting modes and general settings can be toggled through with quick swipes across the screen, rather than having to dig through labyrinthine menus.
There’s also an adjustable on-screen shutter button and a new food filter that tinkers with colour saturation while applying a false depth-of-field effect to backgrounds. This works well enough and does help minimise Instagram editing, but as with most such built-in filters, it’s likely to be something you’ll forget about once you’ve used it a couple of times.
Samsung Galaxy A3 review (2017): Verdict
With the world’s gaze directed toward the Samsung Galaxy S8, this year’s A3 might have been in danger of falling by the wayside. But, while it may not be as eye-catching as its flagship alternative or as headline-grabbing, 2017’s A3 is a worthy contender for phone of the year.
It has a great screen, top battery life, an excellent camera and, most importantly, a very reasonable price indeed. The competition may be stiff, with Honor, Motorola and Lenovo already pushing out impressive, low-priced alternatives, but at £237, 2017’s Samsung Galaxy A3 comes highly recommended.