The Samsung A series, first announced late 2014, has made an appearance at CES in Las Vegas before its UK debut and we were on hand to have a play.
Cased in metal, this is a new direction for Samsung and most likely the response to the negativity that surrounded the Samsung Galaxy S5 and its plastic shell compared to other flagship devices like the HTC One M8.
Sitting in the mid-tier, the A series is comprised of the A3, the A5, and the A7. Core specs and screen sizes vary between the devices with the A7 sitting at the top of the tree. However, Samsung is positioning all three beneath the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Alpha. In many ways they could be seen as the Alpha minis, although with an even more refined metal design.
Full metal jacket
The biggest take away here is that the A series models come with a metal unibody construction that has a considerably better design feel than any Samsung phone we've previously handled, even the recently launched Galaxy Note 4. The design is a mixture of hard and soft edges rather than completely rounded or curved ones.
The metal case wraps around the rear of the device with the glass front slipping into the design like a foot into a slipper.
It is the same approach as HTC has been pioneering for a number of years and does mean that the cover can't be removed and the battery isn't replaceable. Welcome to 2010 Samsung.
Ditching the replaceable battery does have its benefits though. The Galaxy A5 and A3 are Samsung's slimmest smartphones to date with the A3 just 6.7mm thick and the A5 6.9mm thick, and it carries a real premium feel that is cold to touch. While the battery isn't replaceable there is a hot swappable microSD card slot for storage expansion.
Like HTC's metal phones, the A series devices will come in a variety of colours, including Pearl White, Midnight Black, Platinum Silver, Soft Pink, Light Blue and Champagne Gold.
The front is an all-glass affair only broken by a single elongated home button and a speaker grill at the top. There are distractions of course: the Samsung logo, the front facing camera (5 megapixel), proximity and light sensors, and a faint crosshatch design that you'll notice if you look closely.
A series display
The A series comes in three different sizes. There is the 4.5-inch A3, the 5-inch A5, and the 5.5-inch A7. The specs for the most part are the same, however the screen resolutions do differ with the screen sizes.
All three use Super AMOLED, but the where the difference lies here is that the A3 is qHD while the A5 is HD. In reality that doesn't make a huge amount of difference. Both screens are vibrant, crisp, and clear with good viewing angles. Given the price these are expected to launch at in the UK - mid-tier rather than flagship - you are getting a good screen for the cash.
The Samsung A3 features a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, 1GB RAM, 16GB of storage, 4G, and the usual bevy of GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and NFC. There is a rather small 1,900mAh battery. On the camera front you get an 8-megapixel camera on the rear and a 5-megapixel camera on the front for selfies.
The Samsung A5 features the same 1.2GHz quad-core processor, but increases the RAM to 2GB and improves the rear-facing camera to 13-megapixel instead of 8-megapixels. You also get a bigger battery, a more rounded 2,300mAh. Storage remains the same.
In our play both seemed acceptable, but we weren't really able to do anything with them that would push performance to see how they coped. We suspect the A3 would start to struggle over time once it got filled with apps, but that's expected given the specs. If you aren't looking to run the latest games or video editing apps then you should be just fine in most cases.
Better than the SGS5 and SGN4?
Although the A series is being pitched beneath the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S5 it has the benefit of coming after both and therefore benefitting from lessons learnt along the way.
While the A series doesn't have Android 5.0 Lollipop (yet) it does feature the new wide selfie mode as found on the Note 4 that allows you to snap a panoramic-style front facing picture so you can get all those Hollywood celebrities in that happen to be standing near by.
In practice the mode works really well even though it is a small feature within the bigger picture. Other camera features include Palm Selfie, Animated GIF, Beauty Face Features, and Rear-cam Selfie.
If you like the TouchWiz interface you'll enjoy it immensely, if you don't, er, you should be able to diffuse that somewhat by simply replacing the launcher.
The thing to pay attention here is the new unibody design which is a first for Samsung and certainly a very welcomed one.
While some will claim it is too similar to HTC or the iPhone in design, what is clear is that this is likely to go down a lot better than the light, flimsy, plastic feel that we've been given time and time again by Samsung in the past.
So far Samsung has been cagey as to whether or not this design would extend to the flagship device, but we suspect this is a good way for the company to not only test the water, but also slowly hint at what is to come.
Apple, LG, Sony, and HTC have all shown that consumers like the marriage of metal and glass when it comes to top of the range smartphones, and it looks like Samsung have cottoned on to that with the A series.
The A series looks to have real potential in the mid-tier market, now all Samsung has to do is price it right.