Samsung Galaxy A3 review

We’ve already reviewed the Galaxy A5 which turned out to be a nicely built mid-range Android phone, but too expensive given the mediocre components inside it. For those wanting a small-screen phone, the Galaxy A3 is ideal with a 4.5in display. Here's our full and in-depth Samsung Galaxy A3 review. See also: Best new phones coming in 2016.

*** This phone has now been upgraded for 2016 with the Samsung Galaxy A3 6 (2016) - read our Galaxy A3 6 review ***

Update April 2016: When we reviewed the Galaxy A3 in July 2015 we were impressed with it, but felt it was too expensive for the performance it offered. It's certainly no powerhouse, but if you're undemanding in terms of gaming, and just want a phone which will take good photos and run essential apps, then it's fine. The phone shipped with Android KitKat but was updated to Lollipop in 2015. It's expected to get another update to Marshmallow this year, but that's not guaranteed. Even though the price has dropped a bit, it's still more expensive than equivalent phones such as the 2nd gen Moto E, so it's hard to justify spending twice as much on the Galaxy A3.

If you're a little bit confused by the Galaxy A range it's probably because it's quite a new entry to the Galaxy brand. With S and Note being premium flagship models, the A range has design traits from Samsung's more expensive phones but uses lower specifications in order to achieve a more budget price tag.

Samsung Galaxy A3 review: Price and competition

When the A3 launched at the tail end of 2014, it had a list price of £239 but was available from retailers for around £190. Now, you can buy it SIM-free for around £160, or even £140 with certain offers. For example, Appliances Direct sells the A3 for £159.99 but you can get £20 if you sign up for a Which? trial for £1.

Much of the competition comes from Chinese phones at this price, for which you get significantly better performance and bigger, higher resolution screens,such as the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3.

But if you want to stick to phones you can easily buy in the UK and not worry about warranty the 3rd gen Moto G is £149 from Motorola and this is also waterproof. You can read our full Moto G review to find out more.

The other alternatives are phones from EE and Vodafone, which you'll find in our best budget phones chart. A particularly good choice, if you don't mind your phone being locked to Vodafone is the Smart Ultra 6 for £125.

However, if you particularly want a small-screen phone, the Motorola Moto E (2nd gen) has very similar specifications to the Galaxy A3 yet costs only £79 from John Lewis.

Samsung Galaxy A3 review: Design and build

As with the A5, the A3 has an aluminium unibody much like an iPhone. It looks stylish and is slim and lightweight at 6.9mm and just 110g.

There’s a physical home button, with touch-sensitive back and recent buttons either side of it. Micro USB and headphone sockets can be found on the bottom edge and iPhone-style trays hold a nano SIM and up to a 64GB microSD card on the right-hand side.

The sleep/wake button is above the trays, and the volume rocker is on the left. Mounted centrally on the back is a camera that’s flanked by an LED flash and – oddly – the main speaker. You get the same choice of four colours: white, black, gold and silver. Also see: Best Samsung phones 2016: What is the difference between Galaxy Note, Galaxy S, Galaxy A and Galaxy J?

The design and build is a lot better than you would normally expect to find although it's hardly bad on the phones we mentioned above. One of the main reasons to opt for the A3 over the A5 and rivals is it's easy to handle size.

It's worth noting that while many previous Samsung Galaxy phones have featured a removable rear cover and removable battery, the Galaxy A3 does not. Everything is sealed in but as mentioned there's still a microSD card slot.

Samsung Galaxy A3 review

Samsung Galaxy A3 review: Hardware

You might expect the A3 to have the same internals as the A5, but you’d be wrong. Yes, there’s the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 1.2Ghz quad-core processor with the Adreno 306 GPU but you get only 1.5GB of RAM instead of 2GB and only an 8Mp camera at the rear instead of 13Mp (see the camera section below for more details).

The front camera is the same at 5Mp, and there’s Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and NFC. There’s also 4G LTE support as well as 3G. The A3 is one of few phones with built-in ANT+ support which could be useful if you have any ANT+ fitness gadgets. Wi-Fi is single-band in the A3 so unlike the A5 it won't be able to connect to 802.11n routers on 5GHz. It's a non-issue for most people, though.

In terms of storage, the Galaxy A3 offers 16GB internally with around 11GB available to the user after the Android OS and apps. If you do run out of room, there's the microSD card slot to add more which is a feature Samsung has strangely taken away from the flagship S6 models.

As you might expect, the A3 doesn't have hardware fetures like a fingerprint scanner, heart rate monitor or IR blaster which are reserved for premium models like the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S7.

Samsung Galaxy A3 review: Screen

Not everyone wants a phone with a huge screen and the A3 offers a 4.5in qHD Super AMOLED display. To unpack the acronyms, this means it has a resolution of 960x540 pixels, which is a quarter of the number in a full HD screen (1920x1080).

Many phones have LCD displays, but Super AMOLED is completely different. Like other OLED displays, individual pixels emit light rather than there being a backlight which illuminates an entire LCD screen. This means contrast is better and AMOLED screens also have more vivid colours, in general.

So, given its price the A3 has a relatively low resolution but good-quality screen. Some will think it looks a little blocky or fuzzy if coming from a phone with a higher-resolution screen, but the 244ppi pixel density means it’s acceptable but nothing special and you can easily get 720p on budget phones.

Samsung Galaxy A3 review: Performance

Unsurprisingly, the A3 is more or less exactly as fast as the A5. In our tests it returned roughly the same scores and in general day-to-day used proved fast enough. The problem is that it’s not really good enough for the price: you can buy the 2nd gen Motorola Moto E for just £79 from John Lewis, which has the same processor, supports 4G and has basically the same screen size and resolution.

You can check out the benchmark results below with our handy chart in which we compare it to some other phones. Note that a lower number in SunSpider is better.

The battery is rated at 1900mAh which is quite a lot less capacity than the 2300mAh cell in the Galaxy A5. In general use though, we found the A3 would last a full day with no problems. There's the same Ultra Power Saving mode as the A5 which extends standby time for over a day even if you're down to 10 percent.

In our battery test, the A3 lasted just a couple of minutes shy of six hours. That's only quarter of an hour less than the Galaxy A5, despite the smaller battery. Overall, it's a decent result - the Xperia M4 Aqua lasted for four hours and 49 minutes.

Samsung Galaxy A3 review: cameras

One area where the Moto E 4G shows its budget nature is the plastic body. But the low-resolution cameras also let it down. In this respect the Galaxy A3 is much better. Photos have a decent amount of detail and are sharp. Don’t expect quality to rival the iPhone 6’s 8Mp camera, but snaps are respectable enough to share with family and online.

Samsung Galaxy A3 review

Bear in mind that both cameras default to a 16:9 aspect ratio which means they take lower resolution photos (6Mp rear, 3.7Mp front) unless you change the settings to use their native 4:3 aspect ratios.

Also, the front camera defaults to selfie mode which itself automatically retouches your face giving a strange plastic look. With this disabled, photos from the front camera are very good. Along with the handy options for automatically taking selfies when holding up your palm and a wide-selfie mode, the A3 is a good choice if you take a lot of photos of yourself.

Samsung Galaxy A3 review: software

Like the A5, the A3 runs Android Lollipop. An update to Marshmallow is apparently coming in 2016, though. Samsung’s TouchWiz interface masks most of Android anyway, so the upgrade won’t be as noticeable as on a phone running plain Android (which to all intents and purposes, the Moto E does). It’s still worth having Marshmallow, though, for its new features.

What we do like is that the phone doesn't come with a lot of pre-installed apps. There's Flipboard for the homescreen news feed panel, Dropbox and then a few Samsung ones like S Voice and Galaxy Apps.

Samsung Galaxy A3: Specs

  • Android 5 Lollipop
  • 4.5in Super AMOLED screen 960x540, 244ppi
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 410, 1.2GHz quad-core processor
  • Adreno 306 GPU
  • 1.5GB RAM
  • 16GB internal storage
  • microSD card slot (up to 64GB)
  • 13Mp rear camera with LED flash
  • 5Mp front camera
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n (single-band)
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • Non-removable 1900mAh battery
  • 130x66x6.9mm
  • 110g
  • Android 5 Lollipop
  • 4.5in Super AMOLED screen 960x540, 244ppi
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 410, 1.2GHz quad-core processor
  • Adreno 306 GPU
  • 1.5GB RAM
  • 16GB internal storage
  • microSD card slot (up to 64GB)
  • 13Mp rear camera with LED flash
  • 5Mp front camera
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n (single-band)
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • Non-removable 1900mAh battery
  • 130x66x6.9mm
  • 110g

OUR VERDICT

You can now buy the Galaxy A3 SIM-free for around £160 if you search around online, or free on contract. But it’s possible to get the similarly specified Moto E for half the price, so it’s hard to justify spending the extra on the A3 for its cameras or even Samsung’s software. If you do have £160 to spend, you can get a much more powerful phone such as the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3.

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