For years we've been waiting for Samsung to get serious about premium materials and build quality, and last month we got the company's response — a smaller, metal-framed smartphone called the Galaxy Alpha. The Alpha goes on sale later this month, but ahead of the European launch it's making a rare public appearance at IFA 2014 in Berlin.
Read on for our first impressions of the first metal-framed Galaxy.
The first thing we noticed about the Galaxy Alpha was how light it feels for a metal-clad smartphone — a characteristic it shares with its big brother, the recently announced Galaxy Note 4. Like the Note 4, the Galaxy Alpha's corners are slightly raised, giving it a slightly more industrial appearance than the other handset it's often compared to, Apple's iPhone 5s. In this case, though, it's not aluminum through and through. The band may be metal, but the body remains plastic, which probably has something to do with the Alpha seeming lighter than you'd expect.
From most angles it has the appearance of a premium smartphone, however the transition from glass to plastic around the back can be jarring. The back of the Alpha is covered with a relatively flimsy polycarbonate battery door, and though the in-hand feel is an improvement on the GS5, the presence of plastic on an ostensibly premium handset is a detractor.
The front of the Galaxy Alpha houses a 4.7-inch 720p display — good looking panel, though one that's some distance from the cutting edge of pixel density. As we'd expect from a modern SuperAMOLED screen, colors on the Alpha's screen are bright and vibrant, however look close enough and you'll be able to see individual pixels, partly due to the PenTile subpixel pattern being used.
On the inside, the units on show in Berlin were running Samsung Exynos 5430 processors — octa-core chips with four cores running at 1.9 and four at 1.3GHz, paired with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. And you'll need to make the most of that internal flash, as there's no microSD slot included. The Exynos 5430 chips used in the Alpha utilize the latest 20nm manufacturing process, which should improve power efficiency — a good thing given the relatively small (though fully removable) 1680mAh battery.
Over on the software side, the Alpha runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat and Samsung's latest TouchWiz experience, which is functionally the same as what you'll find on a Galaxy S5. Samsung's maze of settings, options and apps have made the transition to the smaller, metallic device. Staple apps like S Health, S Voice and Samsung's TouchWiz launcher with My Magazine reader make for a familiar user experience, for better or worse. You'll get a new selection of wallpapers and some tweaked home screen widgets, but the look and feel isn't radically different from Samsung's mainstream flagship.
Ultimately, the Galaxy Alpha is still a rounded rectangle with plastic on the back and TouchWiz on the front, and Samsung's design changes are evolutionary, not revolutionary. But it's a step in the right direction, and we'll be watching with interest to see how the company's design language advances in the coming months.