This is a review of the Samsung Galaxy Alpha. I’ve got my hands on one for the last weeks or so and this post is a collection of my impressions gathered during this time.
The Alpha is the first modern Samsung smartphone with a metallic body and it’s at the same time more compact than most of the other heavyweight Android handsets of the moment, as it only packs a 4.7 inch screen. And that makes it a solid pick for those of you looking for a smaller phone that’s still solid built and fast, as you’ll find out a bit later. And also a very good option if you’re planning on switching from an iPhone to an Android handset.
But the Galaxy Alpha does make a few compromises here and there and that’s why it is not a true top-tier device in a miniaturized body, like the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact for example. But it is close.
Disclaimer: This is a pre-production version of the Samsung Galaxy Alpha and not the final retail unit. However, it’s a solid sample and I doubt much is going to change about it by the time it will get in stores, with the exception of some software tweaks. Check out the full test below for more details, I’ll let you know where I’ve encountered some abnormalities during my diggings.
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Video Review
Design and looks
From starters you should know that only the Alpha’s frame and edges are made from aluminum, while the back remains covered in polycarbonate. But that’s really not a problem for me. In fact, the plastic back with its smooth rubbery dimpled finishing does feel great to touch and does make the whole thing grippier than the all-metal handsets like the iPhone 5S or the HTC One M8. And that back-plate remains removable, hiding a replaceable battery beneath and the nano-SIM tray.
Besides that, I do like how the Alpha feels a lot stronger than most other Samsung Galaxy smartphones, as it no longer squeaks when grabbed firmly, like the Galaxy S4 or S5 did. There’s really nothing bad to say about the beveled sides and the upper and top parts of the phone get a thicker metallic frame, while the sides are thinner. That should make the corners tougher (and perhaps the phone won’t shutter as easily if you’ll drop it), while keeping the overall width of this device as low as possible.
Speaking of that, the Galaxy Alpha is mid-sized for an Android handset these days, and that makes it more comfortable to hold in hand and easier to cover with your thumb. This thing is also very thin and very light, about the same weight as the much smaller iPhone 5S, which is another aspect I came to appreciate about it and one of the main reasons why I consider the Alpha a proper “swtich” phone for those of you looking to jump camps.
Aesthetics aside, the Alpha inherits some of the S5’s features, like the fingerprint scanner embedded within the Home button, the round notification LED or the pulse reader placed on the back. It’s not waterproof though and it does not pack an USB 3.0 slot. The latter really isn’t a big deal, but the first might be for some of you.
Samsung put its speaker on the lower lip, next to the USB port, pretty much like Apple does it on the iPhone, and the sound coming out of it is really loud on this sample, but at the same time it’s quite easy to muffle the single grill when holding and using this phone, and that can get a bit annoying in time.
Still, what’s probably going to bother a fair number of potential buyers is the screen.
In Samsung’s tradition, there’s a Super AMOLED panel on the Alpha, with a Pentile matrix and solid picture quality, blacks, contrast, viewing angles, and even outdoor brightness. Whites are somewhat colder than on the Galaxy S5’s screen and the brightness somewhat poorer, but these are only visible when having the two devices side by side (BTW, I’ve compared the Alpha with the S5 in this post).
You still end up with skewed over-saturated colors, like on all AMOLEDs, but the real issue is the 1280 x 720 px resolution, which is just not good enough by today’s standards on a 4.7 inch display. The lower-res screen does beneficially impact the performance and battery life, as you’ll see later in this post, but at the same time pixels are visible when dealing with small-sized fonts and minor details, at least to me. But do not forget that I’m mostly used to higher density panels already. If you’re coming from an older phone, you’re probably going to be fine with the pixel-density on the Alpha.
Hardware and everyday performance
Speaking about that speed, the Alpha does deliver one of the smoothest daily-use experience I’ve encountered so far on a Galaxy, right there on par with the Note 3 and out-matching the S5.
This particular version reviewed here is motorized by a Samsung Exynos 5430 platform, paired with 2 GB of RAM, and the chip proves itself blazingly fast both in everyday use, but also in Benchmarks.
|Samsung Galaxy Alpha specs
|Screen||4.7 inch, 720 x 1280 px, Super AMOLED panel|
|Hardware||Samsung Exynos 5 Octa 5430 + Mali T628 MP6 graphics|
|Memory||2 GB RAM|
||4G/LTE, Wireless AC, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, NFC|
|Ports||microUSB 2.0, nano-SIM|
|Cameras||12 MPx main camera, 2.1 MPx front camera|
|Battery||1860 mAh, removable|
|OS||Android 4.4 KitKat|
|Size||132.4 x 65.5 x 6.7 mm (5.21 x 2.58 x 0.26 inches)|
|Weight||115 g (4.06 oz)|
|Others||metallic edges, side-mounted speaker, 4K video recording|
The Alpha does run a lighter version of Android 4.4.4 with TouchWiz on top, as it only comes with a handful of apps preisntalled. As you can see from the picture below, there’s more free RAM on this Alpha than on the S5, and that, combined with the fast hardware, really show up in practice.
However, the final retail units might not get the same light OS and might bundle more apps, which could have an impact on performance.
Anyway, there are still quite a few Samsung proprietary software features on this tested Alpha, including S Health, My Magazine, S Voice and Samsung Essentials, that’s going to give you quick access to all the other Samsung apps, if you want them. There is one thing to keep in mind here though: The Alpha is only available with 32 GB of onboard storage, with about 25 of those actually accessible for your own content, and there’s no way to expand that since there’s no microSD card-slot on this phone.
At the end of the day, this is a fast and reliable handset that can handle fine everything you might throw of it, from basic tasks, like taking and receiving calls or sending texts, to browsing, watching all sorts of videos and playing the latest games. You should know that the phone’s metallic frame and display get warm quite fast and that can be a bit annoying if you’re living in a hot environment.
Anyway, let’s move on and talk about the cameras. The Galaxy Alpha packs a new 12 Mpx main shooter that we haven’t seen on a Samsung smartphone before and borrows the camera interface and shooting modes from the Galaxy S5, and this leads to a really powerful combo, as the pics and videos coming out of this phone are definitely not bad.
It’s not exactly on par with the Galaxy S5 in poor light (as you can see from here, in the Cameras section), but in fair conditions, it’s actually pretty good. Check out the samples below and draw your own conclusions.
Last but not least, there’s the battery life matter. The Alpha only offers an 1820 mAh battery, which is really small when compared to what’s inside most other modern Android handsets.
But surprisingly, that’s actually capable of pushing the phone for up to 2 days of everyday use (unplug it in the morning at 9 am and it still gets enough juice at the end of the second night, at around 11 PM), which is really not bad. During all this time I’ve got a screen time of 4+hours, I had 2 email accounts syncing and the back and my Twitter account as well. I haven’t played any games, I just used it casually, for taking calls, occasional texting, browsing and checking those accounts mentioned before. However, I kept the phone of 4G networks, as I don’t have a 4G plan myself.
Even with 4 GB activated and more serious use, the Alpha is still going to get you through the day. So despite its small battery, it holds its charge bravely.
And yes, the Alpha trails the other top-tier Android handsets when it comes to battery life , but is still competitive. And you do get ways of getting more out of it, like using the included Power |Saving modes or even buying yourself an extra battery and switch them between when one dies.
So, to sum these up, I’m actually a fan of this Galaxy Alpha. It might be because it’s so lite and fast, or it might be because it feels like a slightly larger version of my iPhone 5S, I don’t know, but I just like it.
It’s not the Alpha Dog in Samsung’s pack and it’s not a no-compromise mid-sized handset like the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, but it’s overall a really good phone. There’s a fair chance you’ll like how it looks and feels in hand and I’m confident you’ll appreciate its lightweight, its speed and camera performance. Whether you can cope with the lower-resolution AMOLED panel or the smaller battery though, well, that’s in the end up to you. And perhaps up to how much this thing is going to cost.
In fact, I believe the price is going to make or break this one. If competitive, we might see quite a few of these around. Anyway, I’ll update this part once the final retail units gets in store and we know exactly how much one would have to pay for an Alpha.
The Xperia Z3 Compact mentioned above is the Alpha’s potential nemesis (check out this post for my in-depth comparison between these two), with a glass and metal waterproof body, IPS screen, 20.7 MPx camera and a larger battery. And then there’s also the similarly sized iPhone 6 (here’s how the Alpha looks next to the iPhone 6).
As for the other mid-sized Android devices like the Motorola Moto G, the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini or the HTC One Mini 2, well, those play in a lower league, but at the same time do sell for less, so they can be options worth having a look at if you’re on a budget, especially the Moto G.
Either way, there you have it, this has been my review of the Samsung Galaxy Alpha. Thanks for sticking by to the end and please let me know what YOU think about this phone, whether you like it or you don’t, whether you think it’s a good buy or not; the comments section below is open and I’m around to reply.