Samsung Galaxy A3 2016 full review

The Galaxy A3 is the entry model in Samsung’s mid-range A series, which comprises the Galaxy A3, A5 and A7. Samsung has given the Galaxy A3 a lot of love and attention in its 2016 update - but has it done enough? We review the Samsung Galaxy A3 2016. Updated with our video review. Also see: Samsung Galaxy 5 6 (2016) review and 2015 Samsung Galaxy A3 review

Also see: Best Phone Deals

Update January 2017: The Galaxy A3 2016 has now been upgraded for 2017 - read our Galaxy A3 (2017) review

Earlier this week we reviewed Samsung’s Galaxy A5 for 2016, and noted that Samsung had applied the new metal-and-glass design it gave its flagship S-series in 2015. The £50 price difference between the Galaxy A5 and Galaxy S6 makes it difficult to recommend the much-improved but still less feature-packed A5 over the S6, but the Samsung Galaxy A3 comes in £100 cheaper than that year-old handset. Is that enough to make it worthy of consideration as a cheaper Samsung phone? 

Our Galaxy A3 2016 was supplied by Mobile Fun, which charges £269 for the black, white or gold European models (in case you’re buying outside Europe note that these have a regional lock). That’s £30 more expensive than last year’s A3, but Samsung has made many upgrades to justify the price. For starters, while the previous A3 was more than twice the price of Motorola’s Moto E it offered similar performance; the 2016 model is closer to the mid-range- rather than budget competition, and even beats the new Galaxy A5 on framerates (which is due to its lower-resolution screen). Also see: Best phones 2016

Samsung has also improved the display, which is now larger and higher in resolution, and bumped up the rear camera spec to 13Mp. There’s still no fingerprint scanner, but the battery capacity has increased, the speaker has been moved from the back to the bottom, and microSD support has been nudged from 64- to 128GB. 

The Galaxy A3 is still too expensive for what you get, though. At £269 its closest competitors today are the £279 Motorola Moto X Play and £299 Google Nexus 5X. As its price drops (Samsung phones tend to rapidly drop in price) we will begin to see the Galaxy A3 compete with the now year-old £230 (RRP) Sony Xperia M4 Aqua and £199 OnePlus X. All four are nicely designed phones that are faster and come with full-HD screens. 

The Galaxy A3 2016 is sold SIM-free by Mobile Fun; check out our best SIM-only deals to get the best overall price. Also see: Samsung Galaxy A-series 2016 UK release date, price, features and specification.

Samsung Galaxy A3 2016

New Samsung Galaxy A3 2016 review: Build and design 

The design is perhaps the key selling point of the 2016 Samsung Galaxy A3. In 2015 we marvelled at how Samsung had finally got it right with the Galaxy S6’s build, and that it at last looked like the premium phone the company sold it as. In 2016 Samsung has brought the same mirror-finish glass front- and rear design to its mid-range A series, with the A3 identical to the larger Galaxy A5, which is itself remarkably similar in design to the Galaxy S6 - the corners are slightly squarer, the phone a tad taller and the rear camera protrudes less obviously, but the Galaxy A-series now has a premium design worthy of Samsung’s flagship family at a mid-range price. Also see: Best budget phones 2016

There’s a lot of glass on show here, which sadly can mean a lot of fingerprints, too. Samsung has taken steps to protect the new A3 from accidental damage with a layer of tough Gorilla Glass 4, plus a strong aluminium body. It feels sturdy and, more importantly, the new A3 is an awful lot easier on the eyes than the aluminium-bodied Galaxy A3 2015. 

Whereas phones usually get slimmer and lighter with each new generation, the new Galaxy A3 is thicker and heavier than its predecessor, measuring 7.3mm against its 6.9mm and weighing 132g against its 110g. There’s a very good reason for this, though: Samsung has also increased the battery capacity from 19,000mAh to 2,300mAh for longer runtime with the new more powerful hardware. And anyway, we prefer a slightly weightier, more substantial-feeling smartphone, since this prevents it feeling toy-like in the hand. All that glass and the pancake-flat rear does mean it can be a little slippery, however. 

One of the best things about the new Galaxy A3 is its display. At 4.7in (up from 4.5in) it’s the perfect size for balancing a usable screen area for watching movies and playing games, and offering a comfortable fit in the hand. The screen bezels are very small, with a thin black line bordering the display, and the 2.5D curved glass at the front offers a smooth, seamless feel. Plus there’s the fact it’s a very decent screen.  Also see: Best Samsung phones 2016: What is the difference between Galaxy Note, Galaxy S, Galaxy A and Galaxy J?

Samsung’s SuperAMOLED screen tech is our favourite of all phone displays, with vibrant, slightly oversaturated colours and excellent contrast. Although the new Galaxy A3’s screen is ‘just’ HD (1280x720 pixels) in resolution, its relatively small screen size means it has a sharp pixel density of 312ppi - not exactly quad- or Ultra-HD, but bordering on Apple’s Retina Display quality. Viewing angles are decent, the display is plenty bright, and it will gobble up less battery power than the likes of IPS by omitting a backlight. 

One of the things for which we criticised the original A3 was its rear-mounted speaker, which was in danger of being muffled when the phone was placed down on a flat surface or held in the hand. And it looked weird, sitting to the right of the rear camera. Samsung still fits only a mono speaker, but it’s moved the positioning to the phone’s bottom edge, just to the right of the Micro-USB charging port and headphone jack. Also see: Best Android phones 2016

Samsung Galaxy A3 2016

New Samsung Galaxy A3 2016 review: Core hardware and performance 

In use the Samsung Galaxy A3 2016 feels reasonably fluid, although things will likely start to slow down as you increasingly eat through the storage by downloading apps, music and games and make use of the built-in camera and video camera. The A3 is sold with 16GB of internal storage, but having updated all the preinstalled apps (see Software) we had just 9.3GB spare for our files. As with its predecessor there’s a microSD slot, and it now accepts 128- rather than 64GB of additional storage, although you should note not all apps can be moved to SDAlso see: How to add storage to Android

In our experience apps could take a second or two to open on first launch, and more so when you try to open several at once, but performance is noticeably improved over the original A3. This is thanks to Samsung swapping out the 1.2GHz Snapdragon 410 for a 1.5GHz Exynos 7578 processor. This is a quad-core chip based on the Cortex-A53, and is paired with the Mali T720 GPU and 1.5GB of RAM. If you move up the range to the Galaxy A5 you’ll get an octa-core A53 chip, but it’s not as necessary here with the lower-resolution, smaller screen. 

We ran the Samsung Galaxy A3 2016 through our usual benchmarks and found general processing performance in excess of budget phones such as the Motorola Moto E it was previously in league with, but lower than similarly priced phones such as the Motorola Moto X Play, Sony Xperia M4 Aqua and OnePlus X. In comparison to its sibling, the Galaxy A5, it performed better on graphics (thanks to the lower-resolution screen), but fell behind on general performance. 

Samsung Galaxy A3 2016

Nevertheless, when compared to its predecessor the all-new Galaxy A3 gave a greatly improved showing in our benchmarks. In Geekbench 3 we recorded 2156 points multi-core against 1220 for the older A3. We also ran AnTuTu on the new phone, where it scored 35,269 points, only a little behind the 37,906 of the Galaxy A5. 

In our GFXBench graphics tests the new Galaxy A3 managed 20fps in T-Rex and 8fps in Manhattan, whereas the older model was capable of just 13- and 6fps respectively. Here the Galaxy A3 also beat the Galaxy A5, which scored 14- and 5fps respectively. This will be fine for watching video and playing casual games. 

We use the JetStream JavaScript test to measure web browsing performance and, again, the A3 came close to the A5 with 22.766 against 23.146 (a higher score is better in this test). You can compare the Galaxy A3’s performance to all the phones we’ve recently tested in our article What’s the fastest phone 2016? 

Our final benchmark is the Geekbench 3 battery test, in which the Galaxy A3’s 2,300mAh battery gave a shorter (but still excellent) runtime of 7 hours 24 minutes than the 2,900mAh A5’s 11 hours 46 minutes, but it scored higher with 4709 points against its 4446. You’ll easily get a full working day from this phone - two at a push - but, unlike the A5, the A3 doesn’t support Samsung’s Adaptive Fast Charging tech. Neither is there any wireless charging tech, and the battery is non-removable. Also see: Best power banks 2016.

In terms of connectivity and extras the new Galaxy A3 supports only the basics, but pleasingly with the inclusion of NFC which will soon be used for mobile payments in the UK. There’s single-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS and GLONASS and 4G LTE. Unlike the A5, no fingerprint scanner is built into the home button, so it’s unsurprising to find that neither does it have the heart-rate scanner found in the Galaxy S6 and S7. (A dual-SIM variant of the Galaxy A3 2016 will also be available outside the UK.)

New Samsung Galaxy A3 2016 review: Camera review

The new Galaxy A3 is fitted with exactly the same camera setup as the Galaxy A5, but without the optical image stabilisation, which means you’ll need to ensure you hold the phone steady to avoid blurring a shot. Also see: Best phone camera 2016

The A3 has a 13Mp, f/1.9 rear camera with LED flash, and 5Mp, f/1.9 camera at the front. By default the main camera shoots 9.6Mp pictures in 16:9 mode, while 13Mp images are captured at 4:3. Both cameras are capable of 1080p video at 30fps.

At this price the photo quality is acceptable, with realistic colours and reasonably sharp detail. You can check out a couple of our test shots of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel below, first with Auto settings and secondly in HDR mode.

The camera app has various shooting modes including Pro, Panorama, Continuous Shot, HDR and Night, with an option to download more. There are also real-time effects and, in selfie mode, a Wide Selfie option.

Samsung Galaxy A3 2016

Samsung Galaxy A3 2016

New Samsung Galaxy A3 2016 review: Software

Out of the box the A3 runs Android 5.1.1 Lollipop (the latest version is Marshmallow) with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI overlaid. The main customisations you’ll see here are found in the drop-down notification bar, with rounded quick-access shortcut icons (you can customise which five are shown here). Unlike models higher up the range there’s no Quick connect or S Finder shortcut to be found here.

Swipe in from the left of the home screen and up pops Briefing, a Flipboard-style news aggregator. This can be switched off in the home screen settings if it’s not for you.

Something that can’t be switched off are the great many apps preinstalled by Samsung, which not include Google’s apps but also Samsung’s own apps (including its own app store) and Microsoft Office apps. You’ll get 100GB free OneDrive storage space with the A3, but just 9.3GB of its 16GB internal memory is available thanks to all the preinstalled bloat.

Samsung Galaxy A3 2016

To be fair to the Galaxy A3 there is definitely less here when compared to older versions of TouchWiz, or even that found in the Galaxy A5 and S6. For example, there’s no built-in Themes store.

Phones higher up the range also support more software extras, such as the Multi-Window View and Pop-up Window modes found in the Galaxy S6 and S7, nor Smart Stay, Smart mute, Palm swipe to capture and so on. With the A3 you just get an optional easy mode, which places your most commonly used apps, settings and contacts on the home screen to avoid you needing to delve into menus, and Smart mute, which vibrates to notify you of a missed call or notification when you pick up the phone.

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2016.

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Samsung Galaxy A3 2016: Specs

  • Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
  • 1.5GHz Exynos 7578 (Cortex-A53) 64-bit quad-core processor
  • Mali T720 GPU
  • 1.5GB RAM
  • 16GB storage
  • microSD up to 128GB
  • 4.7in HD (1280x720, 312ppi)) SuperAMOLED display with Gorilla Glass 4
  • 13Mp, f/1.9 rear camera with LED flash, captures 1080 video
  • 5Mp, f/1.9 front camera
  • 4G LTE
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • NFC
  • Micro-USB
  • 2300mAh non-removable lithium-ion battery
  • 134.5x65.2x7.3mm
  • 132g