|+ Great design||- Higher resolution screen would have been nice|
|+ Fast performance||- Storage not expandable|
|+ Ideal size||- Software too busy|
Verdict: The Galaxy Alpha feels like the phone Samsung should have created when it brought out the Galaxy S5 six months ago. It looks fantastic, has impressive ergonomics and performance, and is a very desirable piece of kit. It also feels better to hold than the iPhone 6, which is just way too slippery.
For some time now, we have been able to predict just how Samsung handsets would be – nice screens, plenty under the hood, impressive cameras, but falling at the last hurdle with a less-than-quality finish.
But Samsung is aiming to put this right with the Galaxy Alpha, which looks like the decent phone it really is. This looks like a handset that is worth its £500 price tag (SIM-free). And it also looks like a serious rival to the Sony Xperia Z3, the HTC One (M8) and the iPhone 6.
The design and feel of this handset is what it is all about. That is really what Samsung is pushing it on as well – watch any TV ad or look at any poster on the street and you’ll be wowed by its slim profile and the chamfered metal edges.
This is a handset that says it is as stylish as your handbag, jewellery and clothes – and that is just as important as the way it quickly fires up and the smooth way it runs games.
Compared with the iPhone 6, the Alpha is both narrower and shorter, which makes it comfy to hold in one hand. The squared-off edges can dig in a tad, but they do make it easer to hold than the curved edges of the latest iPhone.
This is a phone that really calls out to be picked up and admired. During our review period we constantly wanted to pick it up and enjoy its squared off edges, and delight in how light and thin it is. The only problem is that those edges do tend to suffer from scratches and chips – a problem shared by Apple’s latest iPhone.
The display measures 4.7ins – that’s the same as the latest iPhone – although the resolution is lower at 720x1280, and likewise the PPI comes in at 312, compared with 326 on Apple’s device. It may seem like a very small difference, but if you put the two screens next to each other, you can see that text on the Alpha is more rough and jagged.
Also apparent is the fact that the screen has a cold feel to it, with whites having a blue-green tinge. The iPhone has a warmer screen that means white is closer to a real white. Also, Apple’s screen is brighter and has better viewing angles. However, on a positive note, the screen is really close to the glass, which makes the whole experience more immersive.
It’s not that the Alpha has a bad display, it’s just that we thought Samsung might invest more in a better screen for a flagship phone.
Under the hood sits an Exynos 5 Octa chip; this eight-core processor comprises a 1.8GHz quad-core chip teamed with a 1.3GHz quad-core processor. Alongside all this is 2GB of RAM.
Apps fire up quickly, and intensive games such as the 3D Real Racing 3 run smoothly.
Samsung has laid its Touch Wiz user interface (UI) over the top of Android 4.4.2 KitKat. The UI was updated in April and offers a tidier, flatter version. We still find that there are too many variations and options though – you can look at the Settings menu in three different ways, and choose from 26 controls on the quick settings drag-down panel.
Samsung has included the S Health fitness app, which makes full use of the handset’s rear-mounted heart rate monitor and other sensors to keep track of all your running, jogging, walking and so on. You can increase this further by teaming the phone with a device from the Samsung Gear range of smartwatches.
A fingerprint scanner is also incorporated into the Home button. Just swipe your thumb over and you can unlock the device with no need for a password or PIN. While it works, it’s not very reliable or responsive. The scanner on both this and the iPhone 6 fail to work if your fingers are wet, but Apple’s system is far more reliable, while the Alpha often didn’t manage to recognise my fingerprint.
Battery life is vital and Samsung has had to make a compromise with the battery because of the Alpha’s slim shape. It sports a 1,860mAh capacity battery – far smaller than that on the Galaxy S5 (2,800mAh), or even the S5 Mini. The result is that you’ll only get a day of light use out of a full charge, and don’t expect to go into a second day at all.
Happily there’s a choice of two power-saving options – ultra power saving mode reckons it can make a half-full battery last 5.6 days – it does this by switching the display to black and white and restricting use to phone calls and texts.
Generally, image quality was impressive, although tough lighting conditions did challenge the Alpha. It struggled with indoor snaps that featured a bright window behind, for example.
The Alpha feels like the phone Samsung should have created when it brought out the Galaxy S5 six months ago. It looks fantastic, has impressive ergonomics and performance, and is a very desirable piece of kit. It also feels better to hold than the iPhone 6, which is just way too slippery.
You’ll pay about £4 a month more for the Alpha than the Galaxy S5 on contract – and we think it’s worth it for the neater size and the desirable design. It’s not the perfect device, and we do wonder how it will stand up against the Galaxy S6. It might be better looking, but we fear it might always be in second place behind the Galaxy S.
However, for the moment, the Galaxy Alpha is the best phone Samsung has created so far. Samsung has long played second fiddle to the likes of HTC and Apple, but now we think it is aiming for a starring role, where it proves that a big display is not the be-all and end-all of a great smartphone.< Back
Dimensions : 132.4 x 65.5 x 6.7mm
Weight: 115 grams
Screen size: 4.7” Super AMOLED (720 x 1280)
Screen Resolution: 720 x 1280 display resolution
Pixels Per Inch (PPI) : 312
Processor: 1.8GHz Quad core and 1.3GHz Quad core application processor
RAM: 2 GB
On-board Memory: 32GB
Camera: 12MP (rear) 2160p@30fps, 1080p@60fps (2.1 megapixel front-facing)
Operating system: Android 4.4.4
Ultrafast / 3G / 4G LTE: Yes/ Yes/ Yes
Bluetooth / NFC : Yes/ Yes
Battery capacity: 1860mAh
Colours: Charcoal Black, Sleek Silver, Dazzling White, Frosted Gold, Scuba Blue
Launch Date: Out Now
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