September 2014 not only saw the debut of Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, but also its biggest rivals, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the Note Edge. While Samsung’s Note series of products are more appropriate to go up against the larger iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung had one other lesser known smartphone that was designed with two intents in mind – a showcase that Samsung can make premium designed phones and an iPhone 6 alternative (or at least it tried to fit those shoes).
This is the Samsung Galaxy Alpha.
This 4.7-inch smartphone (the iPhone 6 also ‘conveniently’ sports this same screen size) had long been rumored to be a premium Samsung Galaxy S5 with a metal body construction. While that expectation didn’t materialize, in time to combat to the iPhone 6 launch, Samsung had readied the metal bodied Galaxy Alpha in the retail channel. Unfortunately, it lacked the flagship features that the Galaxy S5 possessed. Despite this setback, can the S$948 Galaxy Alpha match up against the iPhone 6? That’s what we intend to find out in this review.
For those who follow the smartphone scene closely, you would recall that Samsung actually just released a new Galaxy A series of devices, but company says these are mid-range devices and doesn’t actually compete with the Alpha. Furthermore, the top of the range A7 variant won’t be available till later this quarter for us to compare against the Alpha. So with that said, let’s take a look a closer look at the Alpha’s proposition.
|Samsung Galaxy Alpha|
When we first had a close-up hands-on of the device last quarter, the aesthetics of the Galaxy Alpha was definitely a refreshing change from the usual polycarbonate body that is usually observed in most Samsung mobile devices. After all, the probable number one complaint for most people against Samsung phones has got to be its appearance of using 'cheap' plastic for its outer body.
The Galaxy Alpha however features an aluminum frame that surrounds the phone with chamfered edges, thus giving the phone a touch of class that’s quite unlike any other Samsung mobile device (apart from the Note 4). Its finish and appearance of the frame resembles the iPhone 5/5S, but its 6.7mm thickness matches that of an iPhone 6 (6.9mm).
Unforunately, the aluminum experimentation stops at the frame while the back of the phone is still has a polycarbonate cover. Compare this with Samsung’s previous experiment on metals - the Galaxy Tab 7.7, where the whole body is made of brushed aluminum. Samsung fans no doubt are let down by this design choice of what could have been their first all-metal smartphone. This could be due to Samsung’s consideration of balancing between weight and design considerations of the device.
Indeed, on hand, the phone feels very light. Even though the phone admittedly does feel very much like the iPhone 5S due to its choice of aluminum frame design, the Galaxy Alpha feels a tad lighter than the iPhone 5S, even if they are approximately of the same weight; this observation is likely due to the larger volume of Galaxy Alpha device (a 4.7-inch device vs. a 4-inch iPhone). Compared against the iPhone 6, the Galaxy Alpha is notably lighter, weighing at 115g against 129g.
Yet, despite its light weight, this author feels it’s actually easier to handle than the iPhone 6. This is because the iPhone 6 has curved edges all through its frame as opposed to Galaxy Alpha’s flat edge with chamfered bevels which provides a much firmer grip, especially if you’ve sweaty hands/palms. In a sense, it has the size of an iPhone 6, with the weight and feel of an iPhone 5S, but it falls short in class compared with either iPhones.
With a removable polycarbonate cover, Samsung continues to offer a removable battery, which can be seen as a positive point to easily remedy any battery related issues during the lifespan of the product. This has always been an advantage against Apple smartphones, but oddly, the Alpha doesn’t follow through with an expandable memory card option which has been another common expectation of Samsung devices. As such, one will have to make do with the phone’s internal 32GB storage, which, after taking into account system data, one will be left with about 25GB user storage space.
As outlined earlier, the Galaxy Alpha sports a 4.7-inch Super AMOLED screen, with a 1,280 x 720 pixels (720p) resolution. This yields a pixel density of 312 ppi, which is just below the threshold of what Apple defines a “retina-class” display for a smartphone; in this case, the resolution falls slightly short of what the new iPhone 6 boasts - a resolution of 1,334 x 750 pixels (326 ppi). In reality, there is little difference to discern the crispness of either display. Just as with previous experiences, the Super AMOLED display of the Galaxy Alpha does render more vibrant colors compared to the iPhone 6, though it can be argued that the iPhone 6 IPS display still renders colors more naturally compared to the Galaxy Alpha. Both have their merits and disadvantages that are subject to individual user’s preference and taste. At hand during this review, we had another phone with an IPS display for comparison from ASUS:-
The glass used on the Samsung Galaxy Alpha is one of the first few devices to boast using Corning’s Gorilla Glass 4 and as such, it should prove to be one of the hardier devices where screen protection is concerned.
Audio is delivered through a single speaker located at the bottom edge of the phone, to the right of the USB port. Coincidentally enough, the speaker on the iPhone 6 is also located in the same fashion. As such, while you don’t get stereo sound output, audio quality is just above average, but it can’t match top phones from Sony and HTC. Watching movies on the Galaxy Alpha is a good experience, but only if you use a pair of headphones instead of relying on the phone’s speaker.
The Galaxy Alpha runs on Android KitKat 4.4.4, with the latest iteration of TouchWiz running as the OS overlay. The TouchWiz on Galaxy Alpha is similar to the one used in Galaxy Note 4, so head over to its review for an overview of TouchWiz. Of course, all Note-specific features are only applicable to the Note 4, but all other aspects are present in the Galaxy Alpha’s UI.
Once seen as a novelty, the fingerprint scanner function can now be found in class-leading Samsung devices, starting with the Galaxy S5, then on the Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge. To that extent, it’s interesting that the Galaxy Alpha sports this feature, but it only further builds to its advantage to compete with the iPhone 6. As we’ve covered previously, unlike the iPhone’s fingerprint mechanism, the one on the Samsung devices is activated by swiping across the home button. The fingerprint unlock works fast, though at times it may take a few swipes before it detects the fingerprint accurately, particularly when your finger is moist or oily. In fact, compared to the Galaxy Note 4, the fingerprint detection actually seems a tad faster on the Galaxy Alpha. However, "fast" is a relative term here and the fastest and the most convenient fingerprint unlock method is still the implementation employed on Apple devices – it doesn’t get any easier than to just place your finger on the home button and it works regardless of your orientation of the device or your finger.