The Samsung Galaxy A series debuted in 2015 as mid-range Android phones, but the lines between them and Samsung's flagship models are blurring with each iteration.
This year's Galaxy A7, the top model in the series, feels as premium as Samsung's best phones, with a metal frame, narrow bezel and a curved glass back.
It even has features that you'd find on the flagship Galaxy S series, such as water and dust resistance (IP68 rating), and the Always-On Display that shows the clock or calendar even when its Amoled screen is turned off.
In addition, the A7 improves on the S7 series in a few ways.
The first has to do with the way the phone unlocks. The A7's front physical home button doubles as a fingerprint sensor, like on the S7.
But to unlock the S7, you'd have to click on the Home button once to wake the screen up, then keep your finger on the button to authenticate your fingerprint.
For the A7, you place your finger on the button and the phone wakes up and unlocks at the same time.
The latter is more convenient and is also the way on many other phones.
Secondly, I felt that the A7's speaker placement is better than that in the S7 phones.
It is on the right side, above the power button, which is unusual. The S7 edge, for instance, has the speaker at the bottom.
But I have often covered the S7's speaker by accident while holding the phone in landscape orientation. This does not happen with the A7.
A new feature on the A7 is Secure Folder. This is a protected folder in the phone that can be used to store your private data and it is accessible if you have the password or fingerprint.
Now, you can pass your phone to your friend or family member without worrying that they will go snooping around your photos or e-mails.
It is also useful for those who share their phones, such as parents with their kids.
For instance, you can add an app inside the Secure Folder to create a second copy.
Your kid can then play with the copy outside the folder without affecting the version in the Secure Folder.
Despite having the build quality of a flagship model, the Galaxy A7 is powered by a mid-range processor.
Its Exynos 7880 chip may boast eight processing cores but, according to the Antutu benchmark, which tests the phone's graphics, RAM and CPU, the A7 is roughly half as fast as the Galaxy S7 edge.
To be fair, you probably won't be able to tell the difference while using the A7. In a side-by-side comparison, the S7 edge loaded apps a fraction quicker than the A7.
Screen transitions and animations felt smooth when I was using the phone, though this could be because of its Grace UX interface.
This interface, which made a short-lived debut last year on the now-cancelled Galaxy Note7, replaces the TouchWiz version on the Samsung Galaxy S7.
It looks cleaner. A search bar now shows up at the top of the screen when you open the app drawer. Icons appear to be slightly smaller.
This, coupled with the A7's 5.7-inch screen, means that there are five icons per row, compared with four on the 5.5-inch S7 edge.
However, I was a bit disappointed that the A7 does not come with last year's Android 7.0 Nougat, but instead runs on the previous version released in 2015.
Both the front and the rear cameras on the A7 sport 16-megapixel sensors with identical f1.9 aperture. Samsung is obviously catering to selfie-lovers here.
In my testing, the rear camera takes lively and bright photos, though they look slightly blurry when zoomed in.
Images also look overexposed at times, compared with the same shots with the S7's edge camera.
In spite of the fact that the A7's front camera has a much higher megapixel count than the S7 edge's (fivemegapixels), I prefer the latter's camera, because the skin tone looks more natural.
Like the S7 edge, the Galaxy A7 has a 3,600mAh non-removable battery. T
his battery can easily last you a normal work day - my review set showed the battery down to 49 per cent charge at night.
The battery probably could have made it to the next morning without further charging.
At $648, the A7 is more expensive than the Xiaomi Mi 5 ($619), which has a faster Snapdragon 820 chip.
The ZTE Axon 7 ($699) is another competitor with better specifications.
On the other hand, the A7 is waterproof and has some useful features like the Always-On Display and Secure Folder.
For those who prefer a smaller phone, check out the Galaxy A5 ($548), which has a 5.2-inch screen.
Except for its 3,000mAh battery, the A5 has the exact same specifications and hardware as the A7.
•Verdict: The Galaxy A7 is almost a flagship device. Its innards are decidedly mid-range and its camera is not quite top-notch. But most of the time, you probably won't be able to tell the difference between the A7 and S7 phones.
PROCESSOR: Exynos 7880 Octa-core (1.9GHz)
DISPLAY: 5.7-inch Super Amoled, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (386 ppi pixel density)
OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 6.0.1
MEMORY: 32GB, 3GB RAM
CAMERA: (Rear) 16MP, f1.9, (Front) 16MP, f1.9
BATTERY: 3,600mAh non-removable
BATTERY LIFE: 4/5
VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5
This article was first published on Feb 01, 2017.
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