Cheaper price, but just as good?
Companies usually push their premier product hard, but that leaves other models slightly overlooked. The Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016), for example, is in the shadow of the Galaxy S7 and its massive marketing campaign.
Their price difference is not quite double as in Samsung’s portfolio, Samsung’s A-series is second only to the Galaxy S lineup, but it offers compelling alternatives at a competitive price.
Both phones deliver the trademark of a premium Samsung phone – an amazing Super AMOLED display. The two phones even have fairly similar designs (it’s entirely subjective which one looks better) and both are fully equipped for Samsung Pay.
The list goes on – cameras with OIS and bright apertures, large batteries in slim bodies, the bodies themselves are built with glass on a metal frame. The list goes on until it hits a snag, namely the processing power.
With only a Snapdragon 615 or Exynos 7580 (both with just 2GB of RAM and 16GB storage), the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) is just no match for the Galaxy S7 in terms of speed. Worse still, it caps the video recording to 1080p, we might have been more lenient if it supported 4K 2160p.
Obviously, something had to give – this isn’t Company A vs. Company B which sell the same specs at different prices because one runs on lower margins. Instead this is Samsung vs. Samsung, it’s a question of whether you truly need the full flagship experience or if its advantages will go unused.
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016)
Samsung Galaxy S7
7.3mm thick, 155g
7.9mm thick, 152g
|5.2″ Super AMOLED
|5.1″ Super AMOLED
|1.5GHz (octa) Snapdragon 615/
1.6GHz (octa) Exynos 7580
|2.15GHz (quad) Snapdragon 820/
2.3GHz (octa) Exynos 8890
Both phones are widely available both online and in brick and mortar stores. The holiday promotions have ended, but the Galaxy A5 (2017) is already official and the Galaxy S8 is months away so both phones are due for a drop in price.
It’s easy to tell the Samsung Galaxy S7 is the more upscale model. It has a better pair of in-ear headphones packed in a nice carrying case, and you get a microUSB to full-size USB adapter if you need to plug in accessories (to transfer data or just to charge them up).
Both phones come with a standard Samsung Fast charger and a USB cable.
Cheaper, but just as good? No, not really. You may not need the better headset or the USB adapter, but when it comes to value-for-money, the more you get, the better.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 has a smooth body with rounded corners and glass on the front and back. The glass gently curves into the metal frame. While looks are subjective, the S7 has the better ergonomics as A5’s flat front and back don’t sit as well in hand.
The Galaxy A5 (2016) weighs practically the same as the S7, but is slightly thinner – 7.3mm vs. 7.9mm – if that’s something you care about. And don’t worry about the battery, the difference is tiny (2,900mAh and 3,000mAh respectively).
Both phones apparently come from the same mold, however, with their exposed metal frame, Gorilla Glass 4 on the front and back, the front adorned with a fingerprint-reading hardware Home button. Even the side buttons are positioned identically, so they are equally easy to reach on both devices.
Around back, the S7 has an additional sensor that the A5 lacks – a heart rate sensor – but more importantly, its camera is nearly flush with the back while the 13MP shooter of the A-series sticks out more prominently.
That’s one of the reasons why we don’t mind that the Galaxy S7 is a fraction of a millimeter thicker. Another reason is the IP68 rating, which gives it improved resistance to the elements – specifically it can survive underwater (1.5m deep or more, though you shouldn’t try and find the limit).
Both phones offer microSD slots and depending on the exact sub-model it can be a dedicated slot or it can trade places with SIM2. The Galaxy A5 (2016) only comes with 16GB of built-in storage so you’ll need a memory card, while you may be able to squeak by with S7’s 32GB. There’s a 64GB model too – games will appreciate the fast and roomy UFS 2.0 storage, multimedia files will not care.
Cheaper, but just as good? You know what, we think we can live with the design of the Galaxy A5 (2016). The smooth curves of the Galaxy S7 are more appealing to our eyes and hands, but not enough to pay extra just for that.
“Super AMOLED” has become synonymous with the screens of flagship Galaxy phones, and these two are no exception. They are virtually the same size – the A5 slightly bigger at 5.2″ vs. 5.1″ – and both displays are flat (the 2.5D beveled Gorilla Glass 4 above them is not).
You’ll notice that the S7 screen has QHD resolution against the 1080p of the A5. Super AMOLED does look better with some extra sharpness, but at this screen diagonal, the pixel density really only makes a difference in Virtual Reality (VR). And A5’s GPU is no good for VR anyway, so if that’s a consideration for you, you may as well order the S7 and a Gear VR now.
For regular usage, both screens deliver similar image quality – that is to say an amazing image quality. The rich colors, deep blacks and overall punchiness of an AMOLED screen is Samsung’s forte.
For those thinking “ugh, AMOLED colors”, the Basic display mode delivers the best color accuracy in the business. Surprisingly, the Galaxy A5 (2016) comes out ahead with a lower average deltaE, 1.3 vs. 1.7, though that’s nitpicking. We tend to prefer the less accurate, but punchier Adaptive mode, but accuracy is there if you need it.
|Display test||100% brightness|
|Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2||Contrast ratio|
|Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016)||0.00||421||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) max auto||0.00||601||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S7||0.00||391||∞|
|Samsung Galaxy S7 max auto||0.00||563||∞|
The A5 screen holds its own regarding brightness too – it’s brighter that the S7 screen in both manual and auto modes. However, despite this, it does slightly worse in sunlight legibility. In the dark, the Super AMOLED screens can deliver as little as 2 nits so they won’t blind you.
Sunlight contrast ratio
The Samsung Galaxy S7 has a hidden ace though – its Always On Display (AOD) is great at delivering notifications and is surprisingly useful even for simple things like checking the time and date.
We’re quite impressed by the caliber of the screen that the Galaxy A5 (2016) delivers, though there’s a big “but” coming. Its PWM-driven, which means you may notice a flicker, which becomes more apparent as the brightness goes down. Most people are not sensitive to this and may not even notice it (the backlighting on many desktop monitors runs this way too), but if you tend to notice screen flicker, then the A5 may not be for you.
Cheaper, but just as good? We’re divided. If we put aside VR (which is niche) and the Always On screen (which we think is awesome), the Galaxy A5 (2016) screen can rub shoulders with flagships. The screen flicker is a potential deal-breaker though, if possible get some hands-on time in a brick and mortar store before you commit to purchasing.
While the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) starts with a small disadvantage – 100mAh less in battery capacity – it turns out that one of the flagship features on the Galaxy S7 has a much more meaningful impact.
The Always On Display feature surely takes its toll on the Endurance rating. Again, we think it’s a great feature that brings a lot of value. If you don’t use it, this would bring the S7 to near-A5 levels of battery Endurance. We’re sure that most people will still pick AOD even if it means more frequent charging. Also, note that AOD automatically turns off when you have the phone in your pocket or purse or when it’s pitch dark, so it won’t be that bad on your battery life as our test suggets as it assumes the feature is on 24h per day.
The Galaxy A5 (2016) gets a 90 hour Endurance rating – a huge improvement over the S7 with AOD and a small but decent bump over the S7 without AOD. This is all due to the more efficient standby of the A5, the results from the individual tests are essentially equal to those of the S7.
Both phones support Fast charging and come with the needed wall charger for it on most markets. For the Galaxy S7, Samsung quotes 0% to 100% charging in 90 minutes but gives no similar numbers for the A5.
The Galaxy S7 also has wireless charging (supporting both Qi and PMA standards), and this mode can top up the battery quite quickly too (not as fast as wired charging, but faster than standard wireless charging).
Cheaper, but just as good? For the most part, yes, you might say even better. Even if you disable AOD on the S7, you can expect the A5 to last slightly longer. We think wireless charging is a convenience, but not a necessity.
Both Galaxys run TouchWiz-based software and while the Galaxy S7 has a slight lead in the Android 7.0 Nougat race, the Galaxy A5 (2016) is hot on its heels (Samsung has confirmed the update is coming to the whole A 2016 series).
S Finder is available, though Google’s improved search functionality in Now is slowly replacing the need for it (when it came out, it was superior to Google’s solution at the time, though). Quick connect is available if you have many wireless multimedia devices at home – from Bluetooth speakers to smart TVs. These two buttons should get an update in Nougat.
Or you can hide them to leave more room in the notification area. Samsung prefers the feature-heavy style with a row of quick toggles, brightness control and these two buttons, all available with a single swipe.
With a fingerprint reader you get the same security features on the A5 that you do on the S7 – this ranges from the lockscreen through locking files to payments with the Samsung Pay service. As the company expands to new countries and adds more banks, you may soon leave your contactless credit/debit card at home.
Fingerprint setup on the A5 (2016) – same as on the S7
KNOX is active on both devices, found in the Device Security tab of the Smart Manager. That’s an app that also lets you monitor battery and memory usage, which can be of great help if you need to troubleshoot the phone.
Smart manager app – pictured here on the A5 (2016) but more or less the same on the S7
Both the Galaxy A5 (2016) and S7 offer split-screen multitasking, which works well enough for some apps, but others are too cramped on the relatively small screens. Split-screen is a phablet’s game.
The S Health app is one of the best health-tracking apps we’ve used. It offers accurate step counting as well as other activities (running and cycling) and calorie tracking. On the Samsung Galaxy S7, the app gets extra mileage thanks to the heart rate and blood-oxygen sensor, which give a more complete picture of your exercises (but using the phone for this isn’t as convenient as a smart sports tracker).
The S7 also has the Game Launcher, which can tune the chipset for either performance or battery life. It allows you to adjust resolution and frame rate depending on what you need. It also locks the capacitive keys and mutes notifications so your gaming sessions go uninterrupted. The Launcher also has a social aspect to it – you can record your gaming (even include footage from the selfie camera), perfect for up and coming streamers.
Cheaper, but just as good? Yes! You get essentially the same features with the Galaxy A5 (2016) as you do with the S7 (subject to having the appropriate hardware). Even the Android 7.0 Nougat update will arrive relatively quick.
This is going to be short as the deck is stacked against the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) – it uses the old Snapdragon 615 chipset or the Exynos 7580 Octa, which is only slightly faster. We only got to test the Snapdragon version of the A5, but the conclusion is quite clear.
Had this been a Snapdragon 650 or even a 625, the A5 may have had a fighting chance, but as things stand, it’s miles behind in every benchmark. Having half the amount of RAM – just 2GB – doesn’t help its cause either.
Well, let’s get this over with. The eight Cortex-A53 cores do their best but are no match for the flagship processor in the S7. We said the Exynos model is slightly faster because all eight A53 cores are clocked at 1.6GHz, while the Snapdragon chipset has four at 1.5GHz and four at 1.2GHz.
GeekBench 3 (multi-core)
Higher is better
Graphics performance tells a similar tale – even if a game runs at the full QHD resolution of the Samsung Galaxy S7, it will run at up to 5 times the frame rate. And you can reduce the screen resolution from the Game Launcher for particularly heavy games (though at the moment you’ll do this for the battery savings more than for the frame rate – such heavy games aren’t around yet).
GFX 3.0 Manhattan (1080p offscreen)
Higher is better
- Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016)5.7
GFX 3.0 Manhattan (onscreen)
Higher is better
- Samsung Galaxy S727
- Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016)5.7
Higher is better
- Samsung Galaxy S732345
- Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016)4947
Finally, AnTuTu 6 paints the overall picture – in terms of synthetic benchmarks, the Samsung Galaxy S7 wipes the floor with the A5.
Higher is better
- Samsung Galaxy S7132084
- Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016)35689
Still, for daily tasks the Galaxy A5 (2016) interface is fluid but this starts to degrade as you launch demanding apps or browse heavy websites. The Galaxy S7 will keep flying for the next few years – if you’re not the type to upgrade phones often, this is a major point.
Cheaper, but just as good? No, as we knew from the get-go, the Galaxy A5 (2016) is not a phone you buy for its gaming performance.
Samsung is not much for stereo speakers, at least it put a decently powerful one in the Galaxy S7 – it scored a Good mark. The Galaxy A5 (2016) meanwhile posted decidedly lower scores for a Below average mark.
|Speakerphone test||Voice, dB||Pink noise/ Music, dB||Ringing phone, dB||Overall score|
|Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016)||65.8||66.0||66.5||Below Average|
|Samsung Galaxy S7||69.5||69.3||71.1||Good|
If you prefer to use headphones for music, the Galaxy S7 is still the better choice – stereo crosstalk and distortion remain lower and volume high, while the A5 took a larger hit in all three ratings. Both phones offer Samsung’s excellent Adapt Sound and capable equalizer, but the S7 also adds UHQ upscaler (though we have our doubts about the non-placebo benefits of that).
|Test||Frequency response||Noise level||Dynamic range||THD||IMD + Noise||Stereo crosstalk|
|Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016)||+0.02, -0.07||-94.3||92.2||0.0065||0.010||-95.0|
|Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) (headphones)||+0.42, -0.01||-93.4||87.1||0.029||0.254||-53.0|
|Samsung Galaxy S7||+0.01, -0.04||-92.5||92.6||0.0027||0.0078||-92.7|
|Samsung Galaxy S7 (headphones)||+0.05, -0.05||-91.9||92.1||0.0044||0.063||-82.4|
Galaxy A5 (2016) vs. Galaxy S7 frequency response
The Galaxy A5 (2016) has something the S7 does not – FM radio! It can record broadcasts, but for some reason we couldn’t get RDS (which displays station info).
Cheaper, but just as good? Alas, no. The Galaxy S7 does not have the best loudspeaker in the world, but it handles its primary duties well – namely, ringing for calls and hands-free talking. Plus, it offers flagship audio quality compared to an average one (also remember the better headset in the retail box).
Labels can be deceptive – the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) boasts a 13MP camera with OIS while the Galaxy S7 has a 12MP camera with OIS. You’d think they are fairly similar, but Samsung broke new ground for the flagship S7 camera.
The new sensor is geared toward low-light shooting with large pixels (1.4µm) behind a bright aperture (the widest yet at f/1.7). The Dual Pixel autofocus promises fast and accurate locks and it delivers – it works better than the Laser AF solutions other phones use.
The Galaxy A5 (2016) is no slouch, though. Its aperture is f/1.9, same as the Galaxy S6, and it does have Optical Image Stabilization, which is another way to improve low-light performance.
The camera interface is quite similar between the two phones, though the S7 has a more capable Pro mode. The A5 only lets you adjust ISO, Exposure compensation and White balance, while the S7 also gives you the more important controls – manual focus and shutter speed.
While the Samsung Galaxy S7 lost its crown as the best mobile camera, it still reigns supreme in the Galaxy lineup. Its photos are highly detailed (though at 100% magnification you’ll notice the heavy sharpening), colors are accurate and the dynamic range goes a long way.
The Galaxy A5 (2016) photos are slightly noisier but the bigger problem is that they don’t have as much detail as S7 shots. The dynamic range is quite good as are colors. Shot-to-shot time is okay at first, but if you take many photos in a quick succession the A5 camera will slow down.
The HDR mode on the Galaxy S7 produces natural looking images while salvaging detail from both highlights and shadows. A5’s HDR mode is more limited and doesn’t cut it in particularly difficult situations.
Cheaper, but just as good? No, but an argument can be made for “good enough.” We miss the speed and accuracy of the Dual Pixel AF and we enjoy the greater detail of S7 photos, but the A5 (2016) remains competitive.
This is where the Galaxy A5 (2016) camera falls behind – it tops out at 1080p/30fps video, meaning you don’t even get 1080p/60fps and (obviously) no 4K.
If we level the playing field by switching to 1080p/30fps, the image quality is actually fairly similar – the video is sharp, the colors are good. The S7 videos are slightly sharper and have better dynamic range. Its videos sound better too – it has high-quality mics that record 256Kbps audio.
It’s not all perfect, though, we noticed that the Galaxy S7 tends to focus hunt when shooting in 1080p/60fps (the focus is much more stable in 1080p/30fps).
Still, you’ll probably be shooting in 2160p mode, here’s the massive difference in resolved detail that makes.
Cheaper, but just as good? No, even if you never stray from the good ol’ 1080p/30fps, you’ll get better image quality with the Galaxy S7.
Both phones have 5MP cameras for selfies, with the Galaxy S7 again having the brighter aperture – f/1.7 vs. f/1.9 (here, the A5 again matches the previous flagship, the S6). Still, in broad daylight, the two cameras produce comparable shots – sharp, in focus and with good colors, but the dynamic range is not the best.
If you want to do a video selfie, the S7 can shoot QHD videos (that’s 1440p), while the A5 is capped at 1080p.
Cheaper, but just as good? Yep, photo quality is very close and while 1440p videos will look better on a 4K TV, the difference isn’t as huge as it was for the main camera.
We had hopes that the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) can be the phone for people who want a quality handset but are tired of the upgrade treadmill that brings a new flagship each year, always loaded with (allegedly) “must-have” features.
And to some extent we think that it does – it terms of design and screen quality it sticks very close to the more expensive Galaxy S7. When it comes to premium gadgets, we eat with our eyes and a good chassis and screen are the two things that stick out the most.
The A5 also offers great battery life – it can outlast many flagships, including the S7 and it’s quick to charge back up.
If we stick to the eating metaphor, then buying a flagship is equivalent to binging – you may not need wireless charging, but it looks good so why not. The Always On Display is one of those treats that may not be must-haves, but we’d be unwilling to skip over. Waterproofing is another perk that we like having, even if we instinctively keep our electronics away from water.
The chipset and camera are bigger arguments in favor of splurging for the Galaxy S7 – even if you are not into gaming, websites become heavier each year. And if you do game, the S7 can get you into VR with a headset that is often discounted (assuming you didn’t get it for free in some bundle).
In the end, the Galaxy A5 (2016) isn’t quite what we were looking for in our “Cheaper but just as good’ series. Yes, it’s a great buy at its price, but if you were looking for an alternative to the Galaxy S7 at a lower price, this one can’t stand its ground against the flagship model.