(Pocket-lint) - As the hype around annual flagship smartphone launches dies down, the market has settled into a groove where many mid-range phones provide enough performance to satisfy most users. With that in mind, smartphone makers are turning to new ideas to attract customers, such as the Samsung Galaxy A7's triple-lens rear camera.
Manufacturers are gradually adding more lenses to provide more functionality, while keeping a thin design. The Huawei Mate 20 Pro uses a triple Leica camera setup to cover two focal lengths, while Nokia is rumoured to be pushing things further with a five-sensor setup in the near future. In Samsung's case, the extra lenses capture background blur detail and offer a wider angle for getting more people in shot.
That's not all Samsung is offering in the A7 though. Face recognition, a 6-inch AMOLED screen, a button-free front design and a 3.5mm headphone jack gives buyers a number of reasons to take a look at this handset - especially as it doesn't have a sky-high price tag.
Best Samsung Galaxy A7 (2018) deals
- Front and rear glass, plastic frame
- Side-mounted fingerprint sensor
- 160 x 77 x 7.5mm; 168g
- 3.5mm headphone jack
Our review A7, as you can see in our pictures, is a striking blue. The glass back gives a finish reminiscent of the iPhone XS or LG G7, which paired with the blue finish helps it to stand out. Accident-prone users will want to pair this with a case, though, as that glass can smash upon impact. Unfortunately, unlike its A7 predecessor, Samsung makes no promises about water resistance.
The Galaxy A7 bucks the current trend and includes a 3.5mm headphone jack. This is a welcome addition as it means no fiddling around with dongles to plug in your headphones. We still think it's disappointing that so many manufacturers have ditched the connection.
One minor irritation is Samsung's decision to use Micro-USB over the increasingly popular USB-C standard. Although the former can be found in many places (usually older phones), the latter is the new norm. Even weirder is that the last-gen A7 used USB-C, so Samsung has inexplicably taken a step backwards and made this year's model less future-proof as a result.
Internally, the A7 has two nano-SIM card slots that make it ideal for business users or frequent travellers. There's also a microSD slot, capable of boosting the 64GB of internal storage by up to an extra 512GB.
- 6-inch AMOLED display
- 1080 x 2220 (FHD+) resolution
- 18.5:9 aspect ratio
The A7 has a 6-inch display, which on paper makes it sound unwieldy compared to the 5.2-inch screen on the 2017 version of the A5. But when held side-by-side, you'd be hard-pressed to feel much of a difference.
The Full HD+ resolution results in an aspect ratio of 18.5:9, compared to the A5 with its Full HD resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio. The result in the A7 is a phone that's just over five millimetres wider, but one that offers a much larger amount of screen real-estate.
The screen itself is gorgeous. Samsung has made a name for itself with its stunning AMOLED panels, and it's easy to see why. Colours pop with incredible vibrancy, particularly with the default background that demonstrates a dazzling abstract swirl.
The A7 packs an always-on display setting too, which shows a limited amount of information like the time and notification status. The feature is entirely optional, though, and its impact on battery life is surprisingly low should you leave it on.
Performance and battery life
- 2.2GHz, 1.6GHz octa-core processor (Exynos 7885), 4GB RAM, 64GB storage, microSD card slot
- 3300mAh battery, Micro-USB recharging (no fast-charge)
Samsung bundled the A7 with its own Exynos 7885 processor, resulting in a silky smooth experience with little hesitation. Apps load fast enough, switching is seamless, and even games like Asphalt 9 run with impressive visual clarity.
Face detection is nice and fast, even on the more secure setting that's meant to slow down operation, although at times authentication will fail if the face isn't squarely positioned in front of the phone.
For those who don't want to look at their phone to unlock, Samsung has included a fingerprint scanner in the side power switch. The scanner can also enable finger sensor gestures, where swiping on the sensor opens and closes the notification panel, a feature that's surprisingly responsive and useful for one-handed operation.
The A7 comes with a 3,300mAh battery, enough juice to last the day. Unfortunately, the device lacks features like Qi wireless charging and fast-charge, meaning users that get caught short will have fewer ways to get charged up again.
- Triple rear cameras: Wide-angle, ultra-wide, depth sensor for blurred backgrounds
- Tech info: 24MP, f/1.7, 27mm; 8MP, f/2.4, 18mm; 5MP, f/2.2, depth sensor
- Front-facing selfie camera: 24MP, f/2.0, 26mm equiv. wide-angle
The triple-lens camera is a key selling point of this device (the A9 has four though!) and it makes for some unique creative options. Colours are vibrant, scenes are well-lit, and the option to use the other two cameras to blur the background and shoot a wider-angle scene are welcome additions. It doesn't match the results from the latest flagships, particularly in terms of close-up detail that can leave something to be desired, but for a mid-range device, it's satisfactory work.
The Scene Optimiser aims to identify the scene from one of 19 choices and adjust settings accordingly, much like the Artificial Intelligence systems of other flagships. Its results will come down to a matter of preference: the Food preset smooths out the rougher highlights, reducing the harsh glare from overhead spotlights to make the meal more appealing, while the People preset gives better definition to features.
The Optimiser comes bundled alongside an ever-increasing array of options like Professional mode for full manual control, Live Focus for DSLR-like background blurring, and Beauty to smooth out skin. It's all a bit much, and means there's a bit of a learning curve to get the most out of all the bundled additions.
The third lens offers a wide-angle lens (120 degrees, or 18mm equivalent). It's a great bonus in situations where space is limited, and enables a wider degree of creativity in shots. Distortion at the edges is a given at these sorts of angles, but the A7 tries to automatically correct images in the Gallery view after. The wide angle reduces the need to use the panoramic mode, which in devices like the iPhone 8 Plus can produce mixed results if the scene changes mid-shot. This ultra-wide lens doesn't match the main camera's quality, an effect that became all the more apparent at night (when river waves captured by the main lens transformed into smudges on the wider lens).
Unfortunately, Samsung falls down on the video recording front. The A7 only supports 1080p footage at 30 frames per second. That's fine for casual shots on the go, but enthusiasts may miss buttery-smooth 60 frames per second footage, and with the increasing popularity of 4K televisions, it's a shame that Samsung doesn't offer yet more. However, the device does support 2224 x 1080 video recording, resulting in rather odd-shaped footage that fits the A7's screen almost perfectly - this mode also has the unfortunate side effect of disabling video stabilisation.
Samsung also offers Slow-Motion for capturing action shots with solid results. A December 2018 software update enabled Super Slow Motion, which captures short videos of around eight seconds at 720p resolution, but its extreme zoom and low quality make it a last resort.
- Android 8.0 (Oreo) with Samsung software re-skin
On the software front, Samsung still offers a mix of own-brand features mixed with Google's Android offerings: Google Chrome sits alongside Samsung's internet browser; Samsung Pass tries to manage passwords in a similar fashion to Android; and Samsung continues to push the Bixby assistant with mixed results.
The main Bixby screen, accessed with a leftwards swipe from the device unlock screen, gives a rundown of events similar to an iPhone's widgets screen. Some of these are useful, like the news and weather sections that provide a fast rundown of the day ahead, while others are less successful, like the Giphy widget that chose to display a dancing sun animation with no explanation.
Bixby Vision is an impressive glimpse of how augmented reality can make a phone more useful though. It has the ability to scan seven different sources by default, including wine labels and images, with the option to download more later. Point the software at a mug, for example, and it will offer to search the internet for keywords like 'cup' or 'tea'.
It's neat, but does flag up false positives on occasion, like a red tin of sardines that came back as 'cola'. It's also unlikely to change your device workflow in a big way as it's unclear why a user would choose to scan a wine bottle with Bixby over simply typing the name into Google. It's hard to fault Samsung for trying, though, and using it is one of those fun moments that makes you feel like you're living in the future.
The Galaxy A7 offers a number of welcome features in a well-designed package that's befitting of the mid-range.
It's unlikely that the A7's camera setup will become the flagship standard, but it does demonstrate why more options are better. It's great to be able to capture more of a scene at a moment's notice, it's fun being able to ratchet up the background blur and tone it down on-the-go, and while it's a far cry from a true photographer's bag, it does enable users to get a bit more creative in their shots.
The A7 almost seems like a phone aimed at selling itself to as many people as possible, with the promise that you can still use your headphones and all your old Micro-USB charger cables (it's still irksome that Samsung has gone backwards in time to make the current A7 not USB-C, though).
Overall, the Galaxy A7 ticks all the boxes that many people care about. It feels fast, it takes nice pictures, and the display looks great. It even has some cool futuristic features like Bixby Vision. With that in mind, it's hard to describe the A7 as anything but a solid phone with a fairly attractive price - although there are Chinese makers pushing higher-end devices for not much more money.
A premium design, high-quality display and good price make the Nokia 7.1 a strong contender. Android One means it comes without any of the bloat or extras that come with other smartphones.
With the OnePlus 6T now in shops, the former flagship has seen a significant price reduction. It's a serious beast, but still comes in at a tad higher price point.