Samsung's middle-child has a few seriously attractive attributes, but it still feels like a watered-down flagship that costs nearly as much.
- Killer battery life
- Lovely Full-HD display
- Decent camera
- Fingerprint scanner less accurate than expected
- Design is elegant, but dull
- Quite expensive
Outright Cost: $749
What is it?
Talk about middle child syndrome. The Samsung A5 and A7 are sort of like Galaxy S7 handsets, with most of what makes the Galaxy S range great, and a price tag that pushes the boundaries of what we consider 'mid-range'.
The problem with Samsung's approach here is that it becomes hard to define who this phone is best for. If you buy your phones outright, you will save a couple of hundred dollars on the A series phones, with the A5 retailing for about $700, and the A7 for about $750 at launch.
On plans, the difference in price is far less noticeable. While you can save a few bucks each month, we do wonder whether you'd be better to spend the extra and buy Samsung's best phone instead.
What's good about it?
Let's begin with the best bits first. Every phone manufacturer promises better battery life with each new release, but very few deliver, especially for anyone who uses their phones a fair bit. I tend to have the screen on for between 3 to 4-hours each day, so I typically get a single day's use from a smartphone.
During my time with the Galaxy A7 battery life has been outstanding. Using this phone the same way I use any other phone everyday, I consistently saw a full two-days of battery between charges. And by full two days, I mean go to sleep on the second night and wake up on the third day with enough charge to get to a power supply (if barely).
It's hard to say why the Galaxy A7 succeeds at this where so many other Samsung's fall short. It is probably a combination of the lower resolution screen (compared with a Galaxy S7 or Note 5) and the generous 3600mAh battery inside. But we're also hoping it has something to do with unseen power optimisation in Samsung's software and that it is something which will carry over to the upcoming Galaxy S8, and beyond.
Despite being a Full-HD (1080x1920 pixels) resolution screen, and not qHD (2560x1440 pixels) like Samsung's flagships, we think the A7 has a great display. It is a genuine argument against the excess pixel density of the more expensive models. The screen is sharp, and the colours are vibrant. You can use the phone outdoors in bright sunlight, though we did find that we squinted a fair bit to read emails.
Also, the 16-megapixel rear-facing camera is pretty good, too. We don't like these photos as much as we like the shots we get from the more expensive Samsung phones -- our shots lean too heavily towards a red tint -- but it is a fine camera in all other ways. The camera is fast and easy to use, as you'd expect, and accessing photo-modes and filters is a swipe away. We love that you can double-tap the Home button to launch the camera in a flash, something we've seen in Samsung's software in a number of recent models.
Other noteworthy good bits include:
- MicroSD card support
- Water resistant design
- 3.5mm headphone socket next to USB-C charging port
- Reasonably loud side-facing speaker
What's not so good?
Generally, the design of the A7 is pretty boring. It looks and feels like a cross between the Galaxy S6 and the infamous Galaxy Note 7, but somehow lacks the charm of both models. It's a perfectly serviceable design, and sort of elegant, but certainly not attention-grabbing.
Perhaps the biggest drawback, though, is the price. In New Zealand the MSRP is $749. This is several hundred dollars more than we expect a mid-range phone to cost, and it has us wondering, "who does Samsung think this is for?" After all, if you're going to spend a bunch of money on a Samsung phone, especially if you are going to buy it with a phone plan, why not just get the Galaxy S7 (or wait for the newer model)?
Like most recent Samsung phones, the A7 has a mechanical home button on the front, under the screen, which doubles as a fingerprint scanner. And, for some reason, this scanner just doesn't seem to work as well as many of the others we've tested lately. Casually touching the button with one of your assigned fingers often fails to register and unlock the phone. It takes a deliberate press with the flat surface of your finger to work first time. This isn't a huge problem, but it is annoying when the scanner fails several times in a row. On a phone you've paid $750 for.
Another nit-pick is the way our review unit struggles with keeping the screen off during phone calls. Like the fingerprint scanner, this isn't something we'd expect to have a problem with, but it is something that happens every phone call. It's resulted in several calls ending earlier with a press from my ear, and many others where I've gone several layers down into the system having controlled the phone with my face.
This isn't to say that we don't think it is worth $750; it is well built, but it does compete with much cheaper models from the likes of Huawei, Oppo and Motorola, to name a few.
Who's it for?
It seems like the audience for the A7 is quite specific. You're Samsung brand loyal, considering an outright phone purchase, but don't want to spend more for a new Galaxy S7. Or, you have a set budget but don't like the look of similarly priced Huawei, Sony or HTC handsets.
To be fair, the battery life is great, so you may just be someone who depends exceptional battery performance, while not sacrificing any other major part of the smartphone experience.
What else can you buy?
Huawei Mate 9
Huawei's phablet is as big as it is beautiful. You'll get a larger 5.9-inch display, dual-camera lenses, big 64GB storage and similarly great battery life.
Apple iPhone 7 Plus
If you're reading a Samsung smartphone review, you might not be too keen on Apple's large-screen iPhone, but the option is always there. The iPhone 7 Plus has a similar dual-camera design as the Huawei Mate 9, and is also water resistant.
Samsung Galaxy S7 (or S8, if you're patient)
Go on, treat yourself. If you're considering an $800 Samsung smartphone, why not go the whole hog and get Samsung's best? Feature-wise, the A7 has most of the same elements, but the S7 just seems to work a little better, especially in the photography department.