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Samsung Galaxy J5 review: Brilliance on a budget

Alphr logo Alphr 31-03-2016 Alan Martin

Samsung Galaxy J5 review: Brilliance on a budget

Samsung Galaxy J5 review: Brilliance on a budget
© Alphr

Two products, separated by a single letter: one is Samsung’s 2014 flagship, which still holds up pretty well today, and the other is the Samsung Galaxy J5 which is Samsung’s latest budget smartphone. True, you’d struggle to slip up and type the wrong one by accident, but it’s probably not too big a stretch to imagine someone buying one by accident, thinking the S5 Neo had been sold at a surprising discount.

What’s amazing is that anyone making that mistake wouldn’t be appalled by their accidental purchase, because the Samsung Galaxy J5 is a superb smartphone. That’s not always been true of Samsung’s previous efforts in this section of the market, but in this case, Samsung has got it just right.

Samsung Galaxy J5: Design

At a glance, the Galaxy J5 looks quite a lot like the Galaxy S5, right down to the button placement and the ovoid home button. From the front, the only really obvious difference is the presence of a front-facing flash.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

Flipping things over makes the differences a touch more obvious. There’s no heart-rate monitor, and the weird texturing on the plastic is gone, replaced with a smooth, shiny back which actually manages to look really nice, even in these days of all-metal frames. It also means that you can easily remove the battery and expand the memory, should you wish.

In all, it’s a very nice looking phone that can stand up pretty proudly alongside handsets twice its price. It does that strange thing, common to many Samsung devices, of switching over the ‘back’ and ‘menu’ buttons compared to almost every other Android phone, but even that makes sense for right-handers like me, given you use the ‘back’ button significantly more often than you need to access the menu.

Samsung Galaxy J5: Screen

The differences become a bit more obvious when you turn on the handset, as the J5’s 5in screen is 1280x720 resolution with a pixel density of 294 pixels per inch. That’s quite low for a five-inch screen, but the overall quality of the display is impressive enough for it not to be too big a problem. The Galaxy J5’s screen is AMOLED, and in our tests proved to be an incredible contender for the price.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

First of all, in terms of brightness, it reached a very respectable 357.72cd/m2 with 1:1 contrast, thanks to being AMOLED. It covers 100% of the sRGB gamut, which puts it well ahead of its budget rivals – including our reigning cheap champion, the third generation Moto G, which only manages 85.4%.

In fact, put the J5 alongside any other phone in that price range, and the screen crushes them all. Here’s a handy chart of its similarly priced rivals:

Samsung Galaxy J5

HTC Desire 530

Honor 4X

Moto G

Wileyfox Swift

Brightness

357.72cd/m2

319cd/m2

581cd/m2

339cd/m2

552cd/m2

sRGB gamut

100%

87.6%

79.6%

85.4%

79.2%

Contrast

1:1

1,029:1

1,240:1

1,061:1

961:1

That brightness may look off-putting, but it’s a quirk of AMOLED technology that it doesn’t need to be as bright. This display is pretty incredible for the price, despite its resolution.

Samsung Galaxy J5: Performance

We’ve been burned before by attractive phones with decent screens that completely fall apart in performance (hello HTC Desire 530), but the Samsung Galaxy J5 keeps things solid in terms of processing power, too. Packing an ARM quad-core 1.2GHz Cortex A53 processor and 1.5GB RAM, the handset is a pleasant surprise in day-to-day usage.

The phone is a smooth performer, transitioning between screens and apps without fuss. True, you’d expect that from a brand new handset, but I’ve used some budget phones that have failed this test. Still, it’s important to dig deeper, which is where our benchmarks come into play.

While unmistakably a cheap phone, the Samsung Galaxy J5 holds up very well against its rivals, with scores of 459 and 1,343 in Geekbench 3’s single and multi-core tests. In GFX Bench, it manages 3.9fps on the Manhattan benchmark, which is obviously unplayable, but that particular test is designed to push mobile chipsets hard (for comparison, the newly released Galaxy S7 managed 27fps).

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

So let’s look at the previous chart again to see how the J5 compares against fairer competition:

Samsung Galaxy J5

HTC Desire 530

Honor 4X

Moto G 3rd generation

Wileyfox Swift

Geekbench 3 single-core

459

300

547

532

471

Geekbench 3 multi-core

1,343

989

1,580

1,598

1,288

GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan, onscreen

3.9fps

4fps

Would not run

3.7fps

4.1fps

GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan, offscreen

1.8fps

1.7fps

Would not run

1.7fps

1.8fps

So not the best, but there’s not too much in these numbers, taken as a whole.

Samsung Galaxy J5: Battery

The battery is where things really get interesting. The second generation Moto E was the reigning cheap battery champion by some margin, offering a really impressive 13.5 hours of battery life in our testing, but the Samsung Galaxy S5 knocked that figure out of the park.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

Brace yourself. In our standard battery testing at 170cd/m2, the Samsung Galaxy J5 managed a whopping 17 hours and 50 minutes. To put that into perspective, that’s actually two minutes longer than Samsung’s new flagship, the Galaxy S7. Combine that with the fact you can replace the battery yourself, and you’ve got a handset that can really go the distance.

Samsung Galaxy J5: Camera

It had to fall down somewhere, and if there’s one weak spot in the Samsung Galaxy J5’s armour, it comes in the form of its camera. On paper, the camera’s 13-megapixel resolution camera with its f/1.9 autofocus should provide good shots, and it does… sometimes.

The problem seems to be with how the J5 copes with lighting. Too much, and the images end up overexposed with halos of white light obscuring the detail. Too little, and the images suddenly become dark and lose much of their detail. Get the environment exactly right, and the pictures can look fantastic, with plenty of detail and vibrant colours, but you’re very much a hostage to circumstance. Bizarrely, there is no HDR setting to try and fix the issue.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

The front-facing 5MP selfie camera fares a little better within its smaller remit, especially as it benefits from an LED flash, but it’s no substitute for a solid snapper on the back.

Samsung Galaxy J5: Verdict

It’s a shame to end on the slight downer of the camera because it’s the only area where the Samsung Galaxy J5 puts a foot wrong as far as I’m concerned. Usually, when I’ve reviewed a budget handset, I’m extremely eager to get back to my own phone, but in this instance, I’ll actually be a little sad to see the back of the J5. It’s smooth, stylish, and performs nicely with a bright screen and an incredible battery life. On one such day when I barely used the phone, it lost just 3% of its life from sitting in standby.

So on its own merits, I’d actually say that personally – and I can’t quite believe I’m writing this – I’d rather own this than Alphr’s budget favourite, the Motorola Moto G. Would you? Well, the Moto G3 is slightly faster, with a weaker screen and battery, but while both phones started out at a £160 RRP, you can now get the Moto G for less than £140 if you shop around.

At this point in the market, £20 is a not insubstantial 12.5% discount, so that could well sway you if you’re on a very tight budget. You won’t be unhappy with either phone, but the real headline here is that Samsung has released a budget phone that has blown me away. I wasn’t expecting great things when I opened the box, but at this price point, Samsung has really delivered. Your move, Lenovo (née Motorola).

Samsung Galaxy J5 review: Brilliance on a budget© Alphr Samsung Galaxy J5 review: Brilliance on a budget


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