Samsung's mid-range warrior has what it takes to succeed, but pricing remains a sore point.
The Galaxy A7 2016 has features normally reserved for Samsung's flagships, such as a fingerprint scanner, Super AMOLED display, and a great 13MP camera. A fast octa-core Exynos processor combined with 3GB of RAM makes the phone breeze through everyday tasks, and a 3300mAh battery gives you a day's worth of usage even if you're a heavy user. You're not going to find all the bells and whistles that make their way onto 2015's Galaxy S6, but the Galaxy A7 is a compelling alternative if you're looking for flagship-level hardware without a heavy price tag.
- Excellent Super AMOLED display
- Premium metal-and-glass design
- Great camera
- Long-lasting battery life
- Occasional UI quirks
- No Marshmallow yet
- Glass back isn't durable
About this review
I (Harish Jonnalagadda) used the Galaxy A7 for over three weeks in Hyderabad, Barcelona and New York. In India, the phone was used on Airtel's 4G network, and I switched to Vodafone in Spain and T-Mobile in the U.S. An LG Watch Urbane was paired to the phone for the duration of the review.
Galaxy A7 2016 Specs
5.5-inch Full HD Super AMOLED display, 401 ppi
Octa-core 1.6GHz Cortex A53 CPU, Mali-T720 MP2 GPU (Exynos 7580)
16GB internal memory, microSD slot (up to 128GB)
3GB LPDDR3 RAM
13MP f/1.9 camera with LED flash, 5MP front camera
LTE Cat. 6, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, dual-SIM
3300 mAh battery with Fast Adaptive Charge
Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
151.5 x 74.1 x 7.3mm
Black, White, Gold
All the right curves
Galaxy A7 2016 Design
The first thing you notice about the Galaxy A7 2016 is how similar it is to the Galaxy S6. With the phone sharing a lot of design cues from the Galaxy S6, it looks every bit as premium as Samsung's 2015 flagship offering. There's 2.5D Gorilla Glass 4 at the front and back, and the chamfered metal sides combined with the rounded edges make the phone comfortable to hold and use.
Navigation buttons are where you'd expect in a Samsung phone (which means that they still aren't in the right place), and the home button at the front now houses a fingerprint sensor. The sensor is just as fast as the one on the Galaxy S6, and you can double tap the home button in quick succession to launch the camera when the device is locked.
While the glass back adds elegance to the phone, it doesn't do anything to its rigidity. The phone took several tumbles without any issues, with the metal frame absorbing the impact. But if the phone were to fall directly on its glass, you're going to get a cracked screen. If you're anywhere as clumsy as me, you're better off using the phone with a case.
The variant of the Galaxy A7 sold in India offers dual-SIM connectivity. The SIM card tray on the right houses the primary nano SIM and the microSD card, and there's another SIM tray at the top that can accommodate the secondary SIM card. The 3.5mm audio jack, as well as the microUSB charging port and the speaker grille are all located at the bottom. The speaker delivers sound that's loud and clear, but there's only so much you can expect from a single speaker.
The similarities with the Galaxy S6 extend to the camera bump as well, with the Galaxy A7's sensor also protruding from the body. Overall, Samsung has done an outstanding job when it comes to the design of the Galaxy A7, but you have to be wary of the glass back.
No QHD, but close
Galaxy A7 2016 Display
The Galaxy A7 comes with a 5.5-inch Full HD (that's 1080p) Super AMOLED display with 401 pixels per inch. Samsung has been producing stunning displays of late, and the same holds true for the screen on the Galaxy A7. It may not be a higher-resolution Quad HD display, but it offers excellent color contrast. With a maximum brightness of 536 nits in Auto, you can view the display outdoors without any issues. In Adaptive display mode, the color range and saturation are automatically adjusted, giving you punchy colors and inky blacks. Bezels along the sides of the display are slim, which gives you an edge-to-edge viewing experience when consuming media, or reading text.
One-handed mode has made its way across from the Galaxy Note 5, which shrinks the screen size to about 75 percent of the original, making it easier to access the entire contents of the screen. There are arrow keys that let you move the position of the screen to the left or right, and a button at the top that lets you switch back to full-screen mode. You can enable one-handed mode by pressing the home button thrice in quick succession.
As the device features a 5.5-inch screen, you get Multi-Window mode, which lets you use two apps at the same time. Not all apps support the split-screen view, but all of Samsung's stock apps as well as the more popular apps work just fine.
Galaxy A7 2016 Hardware
The Galaxy A7 is being offered in two variants: an international model that is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 SoC, and a version that runs the Exynos 7580 SoC. The version sold in India features the Exynos 7580. Unlike the Galaxy S6's Exynos 7420, which was built on a 14nm Low Power Early (LPE) FinFET process, the Exynos 7580 is produced on the standard 28nm node. It offers eight Cortex A53 cores (ARMv8-A) clocked at 1.6GHz and an ARM Mali-T720 MP2 GPU.
The hardware combined with 3GB of RAM means that the Galaxy A7 handles almost everything you throw at it without any issues. Only when you play the most visually-intensive games do you start noticing the occasional frame-rate issues, and that's mostly to do with the Mali-T720 MP2.
Things are not as great on the storage front, as you can quickly run through the 11GB of available storage within a few days if you're a heavy user. There's no 32GB variant available, but you can extend storage with the microSD slot, which takes in cards up to 128GB.
You get LTE Category 6 connectivity with FDD LTE bands 1 (2100MHz), 3 (1800MHz ), 5 (850MHz ), 7 (2600MHz ), 8 (900MHz ), and 20 (800MHz), and TDD LTE band 40 (2300MHz) on-board. There's also Bluetooth 4.1 and dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, but no Wi-Fi ac. While Samsung Pay is not yet officially available in the country, the phone does offer NFC and MST for when the service makes its debut.
A note on connectivity: The Galaxy A7 sold in India is meant for use in the subcontinent. Taking it outside the country leads to a lot of strange behavior. That fact became very clear to me as I used the phone with a T-Mobile SIM, which led to crashes and reboots every 10 minutes. The situation was such that every time I tried to place a call, the phone would reboot. Resetting the device did not fix the issue, but as soon as I returned to India, everything started functioning normally. As the phone does not have the requisite LTE bands for international carriers, you're better off looking for other devices if you're want to use the Galaxy A7 primarily outside India.
Who wants 4K anyway?
Galaxy A7 2016 Camera
The Galaxy A7 comes with a 13MP camera, with this year's model featuring optical image stabilization. With an f/1.9 lens and fast autofocus, you get detailed images with accurate color reproduction in daylight conditions. There's a noticeable amount of noise with images taken during low-light conditions, but the overall camera quality is decent considering the device's price point. There's no auto-HDR, so you have to manually toggle HDR if you want more dynamic range.
The interface itself lacks features that you'd find on the Galaxy S6, such as the ability to stream live to YouTube. The Pro mode is also not as feature-rich as the one you'd find on Samsung's flagships. You have the option of choosing white balance, ISO, and exposure, and that's it. There is also a battery indicator within the camera interface that lets you quickly view the battery life left.
The most noticeable omission when it comes to the camera is the lack of 4K video recording, which is available on devices that retail for half the cost of the A7. You can shoot Full HD videos at 30fps, and that's about as exciting as video recording gets on the device.
The envy of the Galaxy S6
Galaxy A7 2016 Battery life
The Galaxy A7 wins out over Samsung's flagship series when it comes to battery life. With a 3300 mAh battery powering a Full HD display, you can easily get a day's worth of battery life with heavy usage, which can be extended to two days by using the on-board power-saving features. There's Smart Manager, which monitors apps and prevents them from draining battery life in the background, and you also get Power saving mode and Ultra power saving mode. Both modes extend the battery life by throttling the CPU, reducing screen brightness, switching off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and data when the phone is locked, and even turning the screen to grayscale mode.
The phone also offers fast charging, and Samsung's Adaptive Fast Charger is included in the box. As the Galaxy A7 is targeting the mid-range segment, there's no wireless charging, but you're not missing out on much there.
Where's my Marshmallow?
Galaxy A7 2016 Software
If you've used a Samsung device before, you're going to be familiar with the software on offer with the Galaxy A7. You get squarish icons, a notification shade with configurable quick toggles, Microsoft's office suite, S Health, and Samsung's Galaxy Apps. While Microsoft's apps are bundled, you'll have to head to Samsung's app store to download and install each app before you can use them.
With the phone targeted at emerging markets where cellular connectivity isn't the most reliable, Samsung is partnering with Opera to bundle its Max data-saving feature into the Galaxy A7. With Ultra Data Saver enabled, you can consume up to 40 percent less data. The feature works as advertised, and is efficient at saving data when browsing social networking and video sharing websites. Samsung isn't the first one to integrate Max into its devices, as Xiaomi also offers the same feature in MIUI 7.
There's also a theme store, through which you can customize the look and feel of the user interface. There are a few themes that are exclusive to the A series, too.
The biggest issue when it comes to the software is the availability of Marshmallow. Or, rather, the lack thereof. The phone comes with Android 5.1.1 out of the box, and as of now there's no mention as to when the Marshmallow update will be available, only that it is in the works.
Should you buy it? Not at its current price
Samsung has successfully managed to offer a device that's almost as good as the Galaxy S6. However, the manufacturer is not doing itself any favors with the pricing of the handset.
The Galaxy A7 is currently retailing in the country for ₹32,000, just ₹1,000 less than the current price of the Galaxy S6. Furthermore, the base model of the Galaxy S6 offers 32GB storage, a QHD screen, and a camera that's far better at low-light shots. For the Galaxy A7 to fulfill its role as the affordable alternative to the Galaxy S6, it needs to be priced at ₹25,000. To be fair, the Galaxy A7 is a relatively new phone, and its price is bound to come down within a month or so, by which time it will be a much better recommendation.