Review: Samsung Galaxy Alpha

Samsung Galaxy Alpha (13)

Samsung’s list of smartphones has been getting bigger and bigger for the past few years. Every device tries to bring something new to the market, but most are simply a range of devices with different budgets in mind. The Galaxy Alpha was announced not to long ago, and rumoured long before then. Samsung finally made a phone with some metal. The Galaxy Alpha isn’t on the top with regards to spec lists, but it doesn’t disappoint either. A lot of focus with the device will stem from its design and as we mentioned, it features a metal frame with smoothed and slightly curved edges. Samsung also continue to include a removable back cover and removable battery.

We shall not continue with the intro any longer and begin by taking a look at the some of the main features (full specs below) and then take a closer look at the device itself before really getting this review moving on. So let’s check out the Samsung Galaxy Alpha.

  • Android 4.4.4 KitKat with TouchWiz
  • Display: 4.7″ 720p SuperAMOLED touchscreen, 312ppi pixel density
  • Chipset: Octa-core Exynos 5 Octa 5430 chipset, including a quad-core 1.8 GHz Cortex-A15 & quad-core 1.3 GHz Cortex-A7, Mali-T628 MP6 GPU
  • Memory: 32GB storage, no microSD card slot
  • Rear Camera: 12MP auto-focus camera, 31mm focal length, f/2.2; LED flash
    21600p@30fps, 1080p@30fps, 1080p@60fps, 720p@120fps
  • Front Camera: 2.1MP front-facing camera
  • Networking: Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi hotspot, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, standard microUSB 2.0 port, GPS/GLONASS receiver, 3.5mm audio jack
  • Modem: GSM/GPRS/EDGE/UMTS/HSPA/LTE
  • Battery: 1,860mAh Li-Ion removable battery
  • Other features: Fingerprint sensor and heart rate sensor
  • Dimensions: 132.4 x 65.5 x 6.7 mm, 115 g

 

Network LTE Cat.6 (300/50Mbps)
Display 4.7” HD Super AMOLED (1280 x 720)
AP Octa Core (Quad 1.8GHz + Quad 1.3GHz) or Quad Core 2.5GHz
OS Android 4.4.4 (KitKat)
Camera 12MP (rear) + 2.1MP (front)
Camera Features Beauty Face, Dual Camera, HDR (High Dynamic Range),Panorama, Selective Focus, Shot & More, Virtual Tour
Video UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) @30fpsVideo Codec : H.263, H.264(AVC), MPEG4, VC-1,Sorenson Spark, MP43, WMV7, WMV8, VP8Video Format : MP4, M4V, 3GP, 3G2, WMV, ASF, AVI, FLV,MKV, WEBM
Audio Audio Codec : MP3, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+,WMA, Vorbis, FLACAudio Format : MP3, M4A, 3GA, AAC, OGG, OGA, WAV, WMA,AMR, AWB, FLAC, MID, MIDI, XMF, MXMF,IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA
Additional Features Ultra Power Saving ModeDownload BoosterQuick ConnectPrivate Mode
Google Mobile Service Chrome, Drive, Photos, Gmail, Google, Google+, Google Settings, Hangouts, Maps, Play Books, Play Games, Play Newsstand, Play Movie & TV, Play Music, Play Store, Voice Search, YouTube
Connectivity WiFi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac HT80, MIMO(2×2)Bluetooth®: 4.0 BLE / ANT+USB: USB 2.0NFC
Sensor Accelerometer, Gyro Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, Hall Sensor, Light Sensor, Proximity Sensor ,Gesture Sensor, Fingerprint Sensor, HR Sensor
Memory* RAM : 2GB Internal Memory : 32GB No micro SD Slot
Dimension 132.4 x 65.5 x 6.7 mm, 114g
Battery 1,860 mAh

The specs are pretty solid. The only downside we can see straight off the bat is the rather shocking lack of a MicroSD slot. Something we never expected Samsung to remove from a device. Even more so considering it still has a removable back cover and battery. It just begs the questions. How hard would it have been to add a microSD slot. At least Samsung include 32GB of storage in the device and not a measly 16GB. It’s still a let down to not see an expansion option available.

The included processor is the Exynos 5 Octa-Core 5430. This is a slight step up from the Galaxy S5 Exynos version. This includes a Quad-Core Cortex-A15 clocked at 1.8GHZ and a Quad-Core Cortex-A7 clocked at 1.3GHz. We also have the Mali-T626 MP6 GPU and 2GB of RAM inside the device.

The camera is a 12MP that includes HDR and 4K support. The camera UI and features all stem from the Galaxy S5, but we’ll detail it all throughout our review. Now let’s take a look at the device itself.

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha

Samsung Galaxy Alpha (2) Samsung Galaxy Alpha (1)

Samsung Galaxy Alpha (12)

Samsung Galaxy Alpha (8) Samsung Galaxy Alpha (7)

As we can see Samsung have included a full on metal frame. This includes a smooth and slight curve around the edges. The metal design is extremely solid and makes the device feel really well built. We never had a problem with plastic devices. That being said, the Galaxy Alpha really does bleed a beautiful design throughout. Samsung have finally made a step in the right direction. #the bottom of the device contains the capacitive recent apps and back buttons and then we have the physical home button.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha (4)

Samsung Galaxy Alpha (3) Samsung Galaxy Alpha (5)

Samsung Galaxy Alpha (6)

The metal frame wraps around the entire device and has slight bumps around each corner. We can also see the seamless plasitc that is embedded for the antennas for the device. The layout of the power button, volume rocker and microphones are all the same compared to other Samsung devices.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha (9) Samsung Galaxy Alpha (10)

Samsung Galaxy Alpha (11)

Lastly we have the camera on the back, along with the LED flash and heartbeat sensor. The removable back cover reveals the included 1,820mAh battery and nano sim slot. Again we sadly report the lack of a MicroSD card slot.

TouchWiz

The Alpha includes the same TouchWiz that we saw on the Galaxy S5. This includes dual window and tool box multi-tasking features. Below are some screenshots taking through the UI.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha TouchWiz UI (1) Samsung Galaxy Alpha TouchWiz UI (2) Samsung Galaxy Alpha TouchWiz UI (3) Samsung Galaxy Alpha TouchWiz UI (5)

Again, the UI is identical to the S5 will no visible changes (bar the wallpaper).

Samsung Galaxy Alpha TouchWiz UI (6) Samsung Galaxy Alpha TouchWiz UI (4) Samsung Galaxy Alpha TouchWiz UI (8) Samsung Galaxy Alpha TouchWiz UI (9)

Here we can see the full drop down short cut menu, which can be accessed by dragging two fingers down or by the expansion button in the right corner. We also have the new settings layout, dual window in action and then the notification short cut customization settings.

Fingerprint scanner

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Fingerprint (4) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Fingerprint (3) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Fingerprint (2) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Fingerprint (1)

The fingerprint scanner is built directly into the home button and users swipe their finger down to submit their fingerprint. Samsung have gone a step further than simply adding it for unlocking purposes and users can use it to log into their Samsung account and even Paypal as well. Users can log into and confirm payments by swiping their fingers. This is pretty handy for those that use Paypal a lot, but most will find it only a small inconvenience to enter their email and password. Samsung have now updated their fingerprint functions beyond just paypal and Samsung. Users can now use it for web sign-ins.

Like on the Galaxy S5, unlocking the device is a bit of a hit and miss. Having to near perfectly swipe your finger dampens the benefit of having it over a simple pattern code, which is much more consistent overall. Although, if users are simply aiming to keep their devices more secure, than the fingerprint scanner is pretty solid for doing to so. Going a step further and using it for web log-ins will further its uses and that small inconvenience we talked about earlier becomes a bigger one. This makes the fingerprint scanner more useful, and not just a gimmicky feature.

Heart rate sensor

The heart rate monitor is extremely straight forward and support is built directly into the S-Health app. Users simply hold their finger against the sensor on the back of the device for a few seconds, while the app is active and they will get their reported heart rate. Some will find it a fairly great advantage, and having a dedicated heart rate sensor for accuracy can be an advantage for those that will make good use of it.

Camera UI

Samsung include a nice 12MP camera with HDR support and 4K video. Before we get to the photo and video samples, let’s take a look at the camera UI. It’s pretty much identical to the Galaxy S5, but none the less, we shall take a closer look at the UI.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Camera UI (1) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Camera UI (4)

The Camera UI is is pretty easy to navigate. Here we can see the few options on the left which include switching to the front facing camera, activating dual view, HDR on/off, and finally settings. The mode selection button on the right brings up all of the different modes available, with some more available to download. The modes avaialble include Auto, Beauty Face, Shot & More, Panorama, Virtual tour, and Dual Camera.  Other modes like Animated Photo, Surround shot, Sequence Shot, Sports shot, and Sound & shot

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Camera UI (2) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Camera UI (3)

The settings and control for both video and photos are all together in a grid menu and navigation is pretty straight forward with most settings availably quickly.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Camera UI (6) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Camera UI (5)

Lastly we can see the different video and photo resolutions available.

Photos

Now it’s time to take a look at some photos taken with the 12MP camera on the Samsung Galaxy Alpha. We took shots with HDR On and Off. On the left we have the non-HDR shots and then on the right we have the HDR photos.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos Non HDR (1) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos HDR (1)

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos Non HDR (2) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos HDR (2)

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos Non HDR (3) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos HDR (3)

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos Non HDR (4) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos HDR (4)

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos Non HDR (5) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos HDR (5)

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos Non HDR (6) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos HDR (6)

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos Non HDR (7) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos HDR (7)

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos Non HDR (8) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos HDR (8)

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos Non HDR (9) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos HDR (9)

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos Non HDR (10) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos HDR (10)

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos Non HDR (11) Samsung Galaxy Alpha Photos HDR (11)

We are seriously impressed with how well the HDR works. It doesn’t slow down our shots, which we have seen in the past with older Samsung devices. It ultimately gave us much more balanced images and then more detail because of that. The quality overall is extremely good and the 12MP will easily provide great looking photos, but more on that in our conclusion.

The images above are scaled down for the site, but below is a link to all of the above images in full, should you wish to check them out.

Full Size Images

Videos

Now it’s time to take a look at some videos taken with the Galaxy Alpha. The phone includes support for 4K, so we put together two videos below. The first video is with 1080p and it alternates between HDR being on and off. The second video is done solely with 4K.

1080p Video (Normal, HDR, and Video Stabilization)

4K Video

Benchmarks

Performance is an important factor when it comes to a nice smooth smartphone experience. We haven’t see a high end phone come with anything less than stellar performance, and based on the included hardware in the Galaxy Alpha, we’re expecting nothing less here. We ran the most popular benchmarks below and here are the results.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha 3D Mark ICU Samsung Galaxy Alpha Antutut 1 Samsung Galaxy Alpha Antutu 2 Samsung Galaxy Alpha Geekbench Samsung Galaxy Alpha Vellamo

3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited  17446
Antutu 5  49271
Geekbench 3 Single-Core  933
Geekbench 3 Multi-Core  3007
Vellamo Metal  1544
Vellamo Multicore  1739
Vellamo Browser (Chrome)  3518
Vellamo Browser (Internet Browser) (Stock Browser)  3003

Gameplay

The best way to check real world performance of a device is through gameplay. We put together a video with some gameplay done on the Galaxy Alpha. The games we played are Dead Trigger 2, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and finally Modern Combat 5.

Battery Life

The Galaxy Alpha includes a 1,820mAh battery. This is definitely on the low side, as we have been getting use to seeing 2200mAh+ batteries for a while now, but the smaller size we have with the Alpha, obviously dictates a smaller battery size. Below is our test setup for testing. Benching how long a battery will last is tricky, as it really depends on what exactly it is your doing. Like always, it instead of doing 1 thing over and over until the battery dies. We vary what is done throughout a typical day of medium to heavy usage.

Phone Calls 20-30 Minutes
Text message/Chat/Emails Throughout the day(checking) and 20-30 sent
Photos 10-20
Video recording 20-30 Minutes
Internet browsing Throughout the day(around 30-40 minutes total)
Gaming 30 Minutes
YouTube/Netflix 30-40 Minutes
Connectivity WiFi and 3G; mostly 3G
Screen Brightness 50-percent

Again, the aim of our test is to be more broad. Doing more or less of any one task can have a good or bad effect on the battery life. Sadly, we were unable to make it through a full day of usage. Our test length consists of 12 hours usage. We reached 5-percent around 8 hours in. Meaning a full day of medium to heavy usage without charging is sort of out of the question. However, we did turn on the ultra power saving and were able to continue with the 5-percent until the end of the day. This does entail loosing a lot of functions from the device, but a dead battery would be worse.

Conclusion

It’s full on conclusion time. The Samsung Galaxy Alpha on paper definetely impresses, but below is what we think about each aspect of the device. We also include some words on the overall aspect of the device.

Design

This is probably the most important factor of the Galaxy Alpha, as it’s ultimately why the new series exists. That’s not to say we can guarantee another iteration next year. Samsung are no doubt one of the most popular smartphone manufactures around, but throughout the years, none of their flagship devices have featured any form of metal design. That has finally changed. The device features a distinctive metal frame, but includes subtle chamfered edges. This completes the look very nicely.

Let’s not beat around the bush. This is definrely Samsung best design yet. They included a nice strong metallic frame, but kept the parts people loved. The removable back cover gives us access to the battery. Allowing those wishing to bring extra charged batteries along can do so without question (even more with the small battery included). While we have never had anything against plastic devices. It’s really hard not to appreciate a metal design, as it typically gives the impression of a premium device. That’s exactly what it does for the Galaxy Alpha and we love the look and feel of it.

Screen

While only a 720p display. The Galaxy Alpha still features a high enough ppi at 312. The display isn’t nearly on the same level that we saw with the Galaxy S5, or other device, but colours are nice and saturated and even more important, the brightness levels could go fairly high, making the device fairly easy to use in sunlight.

It’s not the best display on the market, but thankfully it’s not trying to be. Brightness, colours and details are good enough that we don’t feel were missing too much when it comes to display magic.

Camera

The 12MP included with the Alpha is definitely up there with the rest of them. The quality and detail is extremely impressive and even goes as far as to compare to the Galaxy S5’s 16MP shooter. All of the expected modes are present and HDR is again something we love using. Both 1080p and 4K recording look great. We wouldn’t bother with 4K recording much, since it’s still much of a newcomer. It also disables HDR video support. Which again, provided a great balance to every video.

The camera on the Samsung Galaxy Alpha didn’t disappoint and provides great performance and features. Doesn’t leave anything to be desired really.

Performance

The Exynos 5 Octa Core features the big.LITTLE architecture, which allows for 4 lower power cpus and 4 heavier cpu’s to play together. It has been doing the rounds for awhile now and the 5430 model included in the Galaxy Alpha had no issues with performance. It’s simply to say the Galaxy Alpha features stellar CPU/GPU performance and is definitely among all of the flagship devices currently available.

Overall

The main attraction of the Galaxy Alpha is of course the design. This is Samsung’s first foray into metal housing, and in most cases, a more premium look and feel. That’s pretty much the idea behind the Galaxy Alpha. It brings solid specs with excellent performance and a more than decent camera.

The size is an interesting factor here. Samsung’s Galaxy S series broke 5-inches with the S4, and even before then we had more than 4.7-inches. It’s easy to assume people are getting more and more comfortable with larger devices. That being said, we’re guessing the smaller size is to reach more general users and those not looking for a 5-inch+ device. The best part is that they will get a fantastic experience. Again, the design is the best we have seen from Samsung, the performance is on par with most flagship devices available now and the camera definitely won’t disappoint.

The negative side of things has to start with the poor performing battery life, however that is another reason why we see devices getting larger. Sadly the small size deems the battery smaller as well. This means we don’t have the best longevity. At least Samsung have a removable battery, allowing users to bring a spare. Simply put, if you want a phone that last’s all day with heavy usage, the Alpha is not it. That’s the price that is paid for small device nowadays.

That brings us to our last point. The lack of a MicroSD slot. It seems like Samsung did some forward thinking with regards to the design, but went backwards with storage expansion. It’s a shame that we don’t have any form of expansion. Those 4K videos could fill the storage pretty quick. Another reason whyy suggest sticking with 1080p for recording.

Overall the Samsung Galaxy Alpha will be a definite favourite. It ticks the right boxes for those looking for a stylish design, great performance, extensive features. It does have its drawbacks, but what smartphone doesn’t. The Alpha isn’t trying to appease everyone, but does a great job on factors its truly aimed at. This is why we gladly give the Galaxy Alpha a Gold award.

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Craig O'Sullivan
Craig O'Sullivan

Creator of Geektech.ie Passionate about Technology and always looking for that next cool gadget or app

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