Samsung finally embraced metal smartphones with the Galaxy Alpha, and has now started bringing the same level of durability and excellent build quality to a lower price bracket with the Galaxy A series. The Galaxy A3, the smallest and cheapest in the range, is particularly gorgeous.
So many competitors at this end of the price range are still swaddled in cheap plastic, making the full metal unibody of the A3 a revelation. It’s one of the lightest and slimmest phones Samsung’s ever made, and the shimmering, almost glitter-like finish adds an extra level of class. The straight edges aren’t quite as interesting to look at as the angular indentations you’ll find on the Alpha, but we much prefer the smooth finish on the rear panel to the Galaxy S6’s glass.
As with the Galaxy S6, the A3 isn’t completely flat, as its 8-megapixel camera protrudes out of the back. Still, its chamfered edges make it very comfortable to hold, and the small 4.5in display means you can easily reach every part of the screen when you’re using it single-handed.
It’s a shame the 4.5in screen only has a low 960×540 resolution, though, as this makes web browsing a little hard on the eyes, particularly when viewing desktop sites. There are plenty of jagged, pixellated app icons on the main home screen as well, and text occasionally wasn’t quite as sharp we would have liked.
Still, we had no complaints about the quality of its Super AMOLED display, as our colour calibrator returned a perfect sRGB colour gamut score of 100% and a perfect black level of 0.00cd/m2. Likewise, its contrast levels were off the charts, so images had excellent clarity.
^ The Galaxy A3 (right) is much smaller than the Galaxy A5 (left), but each phone has an excellent display
When you look at it side by side with the Galaxy S6, for example, you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart in terms of colour, so you can be absolutely sure you’re getting one of the best smartphone screens around for a fraction of the price. With a peak brightness of 357.04cd/m2, it’s not the brightest display we’ve ever seen, but AMOLED displays are usually dimmer than their LCD counterparts and it’s still perfectly usable outside whether it’s sunny or overcast.
The Galaxy A3 is powered by a quad-core, 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor paired with 1.5GB of RAM. This is more than capable of running Android 4.4, but it also means it’s no faster than more entry-level handsets such as Motorola’s £110 2nd Gen Moto E. Its Geekbench 3 scores of 474 and 1,418 in the single and multicore tests are almost exactly the same as the Moto E’s 470 and 1,397. The A3 also scored a similar figure in Futuremark’s Peacekeeper browser test, finishing with 670 compared to the Moto E’s 625.
As a result, opening apps and menu settings take roughly the same time to open on both phones. Web browsing is a touch faster on the A3, but there’s no denying this is still a little sluggish considering the A3 is twice as expensive SIM-free. It’s certainly not as quick as the £200 EE Harrier, which has a faster Snapdragon 615 chip. That being said, the A3 isn’t the only mid-range phone to get lumbered with a Snapdragon 410, as it shares the same chipset as HTC’s £210 Desire 620. In this sense, at least the A3 has design and screen quality on its side, as the Desire 620 pales by comparison on both fronts, even though both of them have similar performance.
Graphics performance was pretty slow, too, as it only produced 111 frames (or a stuttering 1.8fps) in the offscreen Manhatten test in our GFX Bench GL benchmark, which is one frame less than the Moto E. Admittedly, this is a very demanding test, as even the Galaxy S6 can only produce 1,429 frames (or 23fps). In practice, the A3 handled real games such as Blizzard’s Hearthstone with almost no trouble at all. Battle animations and speech bubbles were occasionally a little jerky and sometimes took a second to load, but it wasn’t enough to put us off playing.