Glass construction, water resistance, and latest Samsung UI arrive in new 4.7 and 5.2-inch handsets.

Samsung has unleashed the latest devices in its mid-priced A series on the UK, with the arrival of the 2017 variants of the Galaxy A3 and A5. As in previous years, Samsung has brought a smattering of high-end features to a more affordable price point through the pint-sized 4.7-inch A3, and the larger 5.2-inch A5.

Both phones share a similar glass and metal construction, much like Samsung's higher-end offerings, along with the IP68-rated water and dust resistance that comes as standard with the Galaxy S7. In fact, aside from a few differences in port and button placement, the A5 is the spitting image of its more expensive sibling. (In fact, it one-ups the GS7 in one small but notable area, shipping with a more up-to-date USB-C port.)

So the external hardware matches the quality we've come to expect from Samsung's flagships, with a subtle curve to the back panel, and clean joins between the glass and the metal. Other staple Galaxy S features like fingerprint security — which we weren't able to test yet — round off a familiar profile for both devices

Both phones' displays — 720p SuperAMOLED on the smaller A3, bumping up to 1080p on the larger A5 — are bright and vivid, delivering everything we've come to expect from AMOLED in a Samsung phone, with the exception of the extra pixel density you get from a flagship like the S7. And the internal hardware -— Samsung's homemade Exynos 7880 and 7870 chips — do a fine job of powering the Marshmallow-based software.

Category Galaxy A5 (2017) Galaxy A3 (2017)
Network LTE Cat 6 LTE Cat 6
Display 5.2-inch FHD 1080p 4.7-inch HD 720p
CPU 1.9GHz octa-core 1.6GHz octa-core
OS Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow ("Grace" UX) Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow ("Grace" UX)
Camera Rear : 16MP (F1.9), Front : 16MP (F1.9) Rear : 13MP (F1.9), Front : 8MP (F1.9)
Water resistance IP68 IP68
RAM 3GB 2GB
Storage 32GB + SD 16GB + SD
Dimensions 146.1 x 71.4 x 7.9mm 135.4 x 66.2 x 7.9mm
Battery 3,000mAh, Fast Charging
USB-C
2,350mAh
USB-C

Although you'll need to make do with an older version of Android than some others in this price category, Samsung has at least brought its latest user experience tweaks to these phones. That means you get the so-called "Grace UX" — the lighter, brighter UI that debuted in the ill-fated Note 7, before making its way to the GS7 in its recent Nougat update. So A3 and A5 buyers will get the latest features from Samsung, even though they'll need to wait a little longer for the latest Android platform update.

That means slick new Dialer, Messaging and Gallery apps, along with a re-tooled Settings menu, re-vamped quick settings and a slicker, brighter interface for just about every bundled application. And both phones also boast Samsung's useful Always-On Display feature, which lets you see the time, pending notifications and even calendar details without unlocking the device. The Galaxy A5 even boasts Samsung's multi-window feature -- although you'll miss out on native multi-window support, meaning fewer apps are supported compared to phones running Android 7.0.

The latest Samsung features, but on an old version of Android.

Galaxy A

Along with water resistance and premium construction, Samsung's singling out the A series' cameras as a major tentpole feature this time around. The A5 boasts a 16-megapixel sensor behind an f/1.9 lens on both the front and the back, so selfies should look every bit as good as photos taken with the rear camera. On the A3, you'll step down to 13 megapixels on the back, and eight around the front.

Home screen

In our limited time testing the camera of the A5, we came away impressed with what Samsung's been able to bring to the table. On paper, the A5's camera sits somewhere between the GS5 and GS6, and that means that in all but very dark conditions you're likely to get great results. Much of Samsung's camera UX has transferred over from the Galaxy S line, and the new A-series phones bring some unique tricks of their own to the table. There's a new "food" mode, which jacks up the saturation and adds a fake depth of focus effect to emphasize the colors of your grub. And an optional floating shutter button makes it easier to take selfies without unnecessary finger strain.

After just a short time with Samsung's new Galaxy A3 and A5 models, it's clear both handsets have a lot to offer. But there are a few major barriers to entry for enthusiasts. The first is Marshmallow. Other phones around the A5's £399 price point, such as the OnePlus 3T, ship with Nougat and significantly higher specs. At £299, the field is a little clearer for the Galaxy A3, however it's still challenged by the likes of the Honor 8, which will soon be getting an upgrade to Android 7.0.

But for buyers who prioritize features above having the latest and greatest software, the Galaxy A series has a lot to offer — and at a significantly lower price point than the manufacturer's higher-end handsets.

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