Flagship features in an affordable package

Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)

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Operating system Android 6.0.1 with Grace UX 

Processor Samsung’s Exynos 7880 octa-core 1.9 GHz Cortex-A53

Display 5.7-inch 1,920 x 1,080 pixels Super AMOLED (386ppi)

Camera 16-megapixel, f/1.9

Weight 186g

Price $648

Samsung’s Galaxy A series debuted in 2015 as a line of mid-range smartphones, but since then, the line between it and Samsung’s flagship S series has blurred.

This year’s A series smartphones are closer than ever to flagship level, with a stunning metal and glass design that looks and feel just as premium as Samsung’s flagship phones. In fact, the thin bezels, metal frame and curved glass back make the A7 look very similar to Samsung’s Galaxy S7. And just like the S7, the A7 is IP68 dust and water resistant, meaning it can survive underwater for 30 minutes at depths of up to 1.5m.

The new A7 has a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display at 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution (386ppi). As with all of Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays, colors on the A7 are vivid and life-like, and the contrast is excellent, with deep blacks. A new addition to the A series display is always-on functionality. This feature works exactly like it does on the S7, showing the date, time, and battery percentage when the display is in standby mode. It’s also capable of displaying notifications, which you can double tap to view full screen.

Below the display there’s a physical home button that doubles as a fingerprint sensor. On either side of the home button are backlit navigation keys. Samsung has actually improved the fingerprint sensor since the S7. On the S7, you had to click the Home button once to wake the screen up, and then keep your finger on the button to authenticate your fingerprint. For the A7, you just place your finger on the button and the phone wakes up and unlocks at the same time. It’s more convenient and saves a bit of time.

Another improvement on the S7’s design is the speaker placement. On the S7 it was on the bottom edge, but on the A7 you’ll find it on the right side above the power button. The new speaker position may seem strange, but once you turn the phone into landscape orientation you’ll see that it makes perfect sense. In this orientation, you can either position the speaker to fire down or up depending on your preference and there’s no risk of covering it up with your hand.

My Reading Room

The power button is on the right side, and the two volume buttons are on the left side. We like this layout and find it to be the most ergonomic position to easily reach every button. Below the volume buttons is the first nano-SIM card tray, while on top there’s another slot with a second nano-SIM tray and a dedicated microSD card slot that accepts cards up to 256GB in capacity, so you don’t have to pick between dual SIM and expandable storage functionality. On the bottom of the phone is a USB-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Samsung has upgraded the rear camera on the A7 to a 16-megapixel, f/1.9 shooter. Unfortunately, the camera’s features are a bit sparse, lacking both phase detection auto-focus and optical image stabilization. Video recording was also underwhelming, with no 4K video recording and Full HD recording limited to just 30 FPS. The front camera is also 16-megapixels with an f/1.9 aperture.

The camera isn’t bad, but it often takes a few attempts to get a good shot. The auto-focus can be a bit off at times, and a lack of optical image stabilization makes some shots unusable. In low-light conditions, these problems are exacerbated, and the auto-focus can take forever to lock on. When you do get a good shot, image quality is good with accurate color reproduction and decent contrast. Details in the middle of the frame are sharp, but there is some softness towards the edges.

The A7 runs on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, but unlike its predecessors, it doesn’t run on TouchWiz. Instead, it uses Samsung’s new Grace UX, which made a short- lived debut on the Galaxy Note7 last year. The new UI is simpler and cleaner, with more intuitive navigation and fewer gimmicks. Grace UX also uses softer colors and smaller rounded icons making it easier on the eyes.

The A7 is powered by Samsung’s Exynos 7880 processor and 3GB RAM. In our benchmark tests, we found this processor to be roughly equal to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 652 processor, making it sufficient for most day-to-day tasks, but struggling on processor and graphics intensive games.

The Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) has nearly everything you want from a smartphone: a gorgeous metal and glass build, useful features like an always-on display and an IP68 dust and water resistant build, expandable storage and a long battery life. The only areas where it’s lacking are benchmark performance and the rear camera.

To be fair, it doesn’t make sense for Samsung to make the A7 more powerful than it needs to be because then there would be no reason to buy a more expensive S series flagship phone. It’s also worth noting that while high benchmark scores looks great on paper, for most day-to-day tasks, you don’t need actually need such a powerful processor.

Pictures Samsung