There’s no two ways about it: the Galaxy Alpha is the best looking smartphone to come out of Samsung’s design department.
Laying the groundwork is the first steel chassis to be used in any Samsung smartphone. Throwing metal into the mix exponentially makes Samsung’s tired design language beautiful. The Alpha feels less assembled and more crafted. Light shimmers off the bevelled edging in a way formerly reserved for smartphones from Apple.
Complementing the premium feel of the Galaxy Alpha is a sweet spot in size. The smartphone’s 4.7in AMOLED screen puts it in contention with the iPhone 6, but the bigger screen of the Alpha sits in a body that is shorter and lighter.
The Alpha surprises with its commonplace 4.7in, 1280x720 display. Samsung has struck a balance between size and resolution as the AMOLED panel has 320 pixels in each inch. Contributing to the Alpha’s ripe resolution is Samsung’s hallmark wide viewing angles and exceptional colours.
Note: The Galaxy Alpha reviewed by Good Gear Guide is on loan from Unique Mobiles, which is currently stocking the smartphone for $735.
Content looks great on the Alpha’s screen, especially that captured with the smartphone’s rear camera. Photos are snapped at 12 megapixels, while videos are recorded in the nascent Ultra high definition standard (UHD). The quality is comparable to Apple’s iPhone 6, although those captured by the Alpha benefit from more detail.
The front camera deserves commendation. ‘Selfies’ are snapped at 2.1 megapixels, and more importantly, the front-cam has enough software smarts to ensure photos retain focus.
Beating inside the Alpha is an 8-core processor from Samsung. The Exynos 5 bundles two quad-core processors, one efficient at 1.3GHz and another potent at 1.8GHz, and it will switch between the two depending on the intensity of the task. There’s also 2GB of RAM, a 4G modem and 32GB of internal storage.
This hardware chugs through Android 4.4 KitKat, though it’s hampered by Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay. The software on the Alpha will appeal to people who enjoy tailoring minute settings to their liking. People who just want a smartphone to be, or are used to the simplicity of Apple devices, will find the software cluttered. There’s also the matter of the overlay being one of the least attractive on the market.
Heavily modifying Android means the Alpha delivers the kind of performance expected from a beta. Every now and then you will tap a button and be forced to wait a moment while the Alpha catches up. It happens when unlocking the smartphone or when opening an application from scratch.
Halting for the Alpha is the only chink in the smartphone’s armour as it handles most tasks with ease. And it handles them for the long haul.
The Alpha sits below the Galaxy S5 in Samsung’s range — and we’re struggling to figure out why. Samsung’s Galaxy S5 does have a larger and richer 5.2in display, but the screen of a smartphone begins to work against it beyond a certain size. Eventually wanting a bigger screen falls secondary to wanting longer battery life.
The metal-clad Alpha nails the Galaxy S5 when it comes to battery life. Good Gear Guide found the 1860 milliamperes-hour battery would endure for 26 hours. That’s nothing though, because turning on power saving mode boosted a single charge to 39 hours.
More give can be sourced from the battery with ‘ultra power saving mode', with the bare-boned mode milking 10 days of charge on standby.
Samsung smartphones come packed with features few will value. The Alpha continues the tradition of coming with a heart sensor and a finger scanner.
Swiping your finger over Samsung’s finger scanner reminds us of the ol’ party game “pin the tail on the donkey”. A multitude of impractical requirements have to be met for it to work each time, such as the smartphone being held perfectly upright or your thumb canvassing the home button in just the right way. Over time our frustrations outgrow our need for security and we always end up turning it off.
Samsung’s mid-range Galaxy Alpha makes the flagship S5 look like an antique. The introduction of metal helps the Alpha elicit an emotional response, which is something the S5 couldn’t. Going one further is the Alpha’s more relevant feature set.
Letting the Alpha down is a lack of support from Samsung Australia and Australian carriers. People wanting to buy the Alpha will have to buy the smartphone outright from retailers, although a lot more would rather sign up to an Alpha on a 24 month contract.
We reckon Samsung is mastering its use of metal in smartphones ahead of its next flagship. Adding metal to the flagship range should be cause for Samsung loyalists to buy the next Galaxy S, but fewer would care if they had a Galaxy Alpha to call their own.