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Samsung Galaxy Alpha: A beautiful metal experiment with the wrong price

By PY Ho - 20 Jan 2015
Launch SRP: S$948

Benchmark Performance, Imaging and Conclusion

Benchmark Performance

Worldwide, there are two variants of the Galaxy Alpha: the Exynos and the Qualcomm powered versions. For Singapore, the Galaxy Alpha is powered by the Exynos 5 Octa 5430, consisting of a quad-core 1.8GHz Cortex A15 and a quad-core 1.3GHz Cortex A7 units. It must be noted that the “Octa” naming in this processor design does not truly mean using 8 cores simultaneously; the speedier set of 4 cores are used for heavyweight tasks, while the latter set of 4 slower cores are used to tackle lighter workloads. Samsung claims that such a configuration delivers performance when required, while still catering for battery efficiency. Coupled with a rather lean 1,860mAh battery, can it deliver the balance required to hold up against other challengers, especially the iPhone 6? Let’s find out in our assessment right after the specs table of all the devices we’ll be comparing against.

Competitive smartphones compared
  Samsung Galaxy Alpha Apple iPhone 6 Sony Xperia Z3 Compact HTC One (M8) Samsung Galaxy S5 ASUS PadFone S
  Samsung Galaxy Alpha Apple iPhone 6 Sony Xperia Z3 Compact HTC One (M8) Samsung Galaxy S5 ASUS PadFone S
Launch SRP
  • From S$948
  • From S$988
  • From S$798
  • From S$998
  • From S$1068
  • From S$449
Operating system
  • Android 4.4.4 KitKat
  • iOS 8
  • Android 4.4.4 KitKat
  • Android 4.4 KitKat with HTC Sense 6
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Android 4.4.2 KitKat
Processor
  • Exynos 5 Octa (Quad 1.8GHz + Quad 1.3GHz)
  • Apple A8 64-bit dual-core 1.4GHz with M8 motion coprocessor
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.5GHz
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.5GHz
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.5GHz
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.3GHz
Built-in Memory
  • 2GB RAM
  • 1GB RAM
  • 2GB RAM
  • 2GB RAM
  • 2GB RAM
  • 2GB RAM
Display
  • 4.7-inch / 1,280 x 720 pixels / Super AMOLED
  • 4.7-inch Retina HD / 1,334 x 750 pixels / IPS
  • 4.6-inch / 1,280 x 720 pixels / IPS LCD
  • 5-inch / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels / Super LCD 3
  • 5.1-inch / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels / Super AMOLED
  • 5-inch / 1920 x 1080 pixels / Full-HD Super IPS+, 441ppi / Corning Gorilla Glass
Camera
  • Rear: 12-megapixel
  • Front: 2.1-megapixel
  • Rear: 8-megapixel iSight camera with autofocus and dual warm/cool LED flashes
  • Front: 2.2-megapixels FaceTime HD camera
  • Rear: 20.7-megapixel with pulsed LED
  • Front: 2.2-megapixel
  • Rear: Duo Camera (Primary 4-megapixel UltraPixel with BSI sensor, pixel size 2um, sensor size 1/3-inch, f/2.0 aperture, 28mm wide angle lens and HTC ImageChip 2; Secondary camera for capturing depth information)
  • Front: 5-megapixel with BSI sensor, F2.0 aperture, wide angle lens and HDR
  • Rear: 16MP f/2.2, 0.3 second autofocus, LED flash
  • Front: 2.0MP
  • 13-megapixel / autofocus / Sony BSI sensor / F2.0 aperture / 5-element lens / LED flash
  • Secondary: 2-megapixel
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, MIMO (2x2), Bluetooth 4.0 BLE / ANT+, NFC
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n) (802.11n: 2.4 and 5 GHz), 4G LTE, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS & GLONASS, Lightning connector, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
  • Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX enabled, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5GHz), NFC, DLNA, Micro-USB 2.0,
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, MIMO, GPS/GLONASS, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, NFC, IR LED, micro-USB 2.0 (MHL 2.0), 3.5mm headphone jack
  • WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, NFC
Storage Type
  • 32GB internal storage
  • 16 / 64 / 128GB internal storage
  • 16GB internal storage
  • microSD support up to 128GB
  • 16GB internal storage
  • microSD support up to 128GB
  • 16GB/32GB internal storage
  • microSD support up to 128GB
  • 16GB
  • microSD support up to 64GB
Battery
  • 1,860mAh
  • 1,810mAh
  • 2,600mAh
  • 2,600mAh
  • 2,800mAh
  • 2,300mAh
Dimensions
  • 132.4 x 65.5 x 6.7 mm
  • 138.1 x 67 x 6.9mm
  • 127 x 64.9 x 8.6mm
  • 146.36 x 70.6 x 9.35mm
  • 142.0 x 72.5 x 8.1mm
  • 143.4 x 72.5 x 10 mm
Weight
  • 115g
  • 129g
  • 129g
  • 160g
  • 145g
  • 150g

 

Quadrant

Quadrant evaluates a device's CPU, memory, I/O and 3D graphics performance. The Galaxy Alpha fared better than the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, and trails very closely to other major flagship devices.

 

3DMark 2013

Originally developed as a PC gaming benchmarking tool, 3DMark now supports multiple platforms including Android. The Ice Storm benchmark is designed for smartphones, mobile devices and ARM architecture computers.

For an in-depth understanding of 3DMark for Android, do head over to our article, "3DMark - Android Device GPU Performance Review." In a nutshell, it is an OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark test that uses fixed off-screen rendering to run two graphics tests designed to stress the GPU performance of your device and a physics test to stress its CPU performance. The benchmark consists of three test portfolios:- Standard (720p resolution rendering), Extreme (1080p resolution rendering with higher quality textures and post-processing effects) and Unlimited (disabled v-sync, display scaling and other OS factors that make it ideal for chipset comparison).

Since all the recent flagship smartphones max out the scores for the Standard and Extreme tests, we will only be looking at the scores for Ice Storm Unlimited. Despite the octa-core offering of the Galaxy Alpha, it cannot beat the scores of other flagship devices such as the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact and HTC One (M8).

 

Sunspider

SunSpider Javascript helps measure the browsing performance of a device when processing Javascript. It not only takes into consideration the underlying hardware performance, but also assesses how optimized a particular platform is at delivering a high-speed web browsing experience. Quite surprisingly, the Galaxy Alpha scores better than most other flagship devices, other than the iPhone and the Galaxy S5. Yet, the actual browsing experience across the devices are comparable. One possible reason is that on some phones, there is no native web browser; instead Chrome for Android was used for benchmarking, which was suspected to be the cause of poor Sunspider scores.

Real world experience

Despite the benchmarks, performance of the Galaxy Alpha is fairly good. One can run most 3D games in the market without issues. Usage of apps is smooth, with little to no lag while multitasking and it lives up the expectations of most Snapdragon 800-class products.


Battery life

Our standard battery test for mobile phones includes the following parameters:

  • Looping a 800 x 480-pixel video with screen brightness and volume at 100%
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
  • Constant data streaming through email and Twitter

The Galaxy Alpha lasted a good 7 hours and 42 min before running out of juice. This may seem just about average compared to other competing devices, but one must bear in mind that other than the iPhone 6, the Galaxy Alpha has the smallest battery capacity (1,860mAh). Taking this into account, the Galaxy Alpha is in fact very battery efficient. This can be attributed to its highly battery efficient Super AMOLED display, as well as a screen with lower resolution compared to most of the compared products.

With all these characteristics, combined with a small frame and very light weight, it’s not surprising that the Galaxy Alpha has the best portability index amongst all the compared devices.

Real World Battery Performance

Despite the good battery life results, the real world performance of the battery is modest. The battery typically runs out within a day’s use. This could probably be due to its Cat6 LTE connectivity; usage of LTE typically consumes much more battery life, regardless of the screen size or the battery capacity.

 

Camera Performance

The Galaxy Alpha comes with a 12-megapixel rear camera. Just like how the iPhone 6’s camera is without OIS (optical image stabilization), the Galaxy Alpha doesn’t feature it as well. Despite that, the photo quality of the Galaxy Alpha’s camera is still pretty good, taking rather crisp photos in daylight, cloudy days, and under indoor lighting conditions as well.

A landscape shot taken under cloudy weather with the Galaxy Alpha.

Petit France, taken with Galaxy Alpha.

HDR function works well on the Galaxy Alpha.

The performance of the camera suffers slightly in night shots. As noted in the photo below, there is slight chromatic aberration in the photo taken by the Galaxy Alpha compared to the Galaxy Note 4. You would also notice that the bright lighting is more accurately represented on the Galaxy Note 4 than the Alpha. Even so, overall, the Galaxy Alpha still held well in night shots.

Night shot taken with Galaxy Alpha.

Night shot taken with a Galaxy Note 4. Notice that the brighter areas/colors of the photo are rendered more naturally compared to the Galaxy Alpha.

 

The performance of the camera suffers slightly in night shots. As noted in the photo below, there is slight chromatic aberration in the photo taken by the Galaxy Alpha compared to the Galaxy Note 4. You would also notice that the bright lighting is more accurately represented on the Galaxy Note 4 than the Alpha. Even so, overall, the Galaxy Alpha still held well in night shots. 

The back camera is also capable of recording videos up to 2160p resolution, which is a notch better than the iPhone 6 as it’s not able to record 4K videos without third party apps.

The front camera has a 2.1-megapixel CMOS sensor. Camera quality is basic; definitely not as selfie-worthy as the Note 4.
The camera software features of the Galaxy Alpha are very basic. While the Galaxy Note 4 has various functions such as rear-camera selfie and wide-angle selfie, and snapping a selfie using the heart rate sensor, it is rather disappointing that the Galaxy Alpha comes with none of these. Indeed, this is one way in which Samsung differentiates the Galaxy Alpha as an “experimental flagship” from the “premium flagship” that is the Galaxy Note 4.

 

Conclusion 

Samsung gave its smartphone portfolio a breath of fresh air with the Galaxy Alpha - the first phone from the company to sport a metallic frame. Alas, its positioning within the company's own series of devices has sidelined this product and offers little reason to consider it.

In this metal body experiment, Samsung has demonstrated with the Galaxy Alpha that it can achieve aesthetic beauty by forgoing the usual all-plastic build in favor a partial metal body construction. Even though it somewhat resembles a slimmer version of the iPhone 5S, what can we say? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and there’s nothing really wrong with the iPhone design to begin with. Appearances aside, the Galaxy Alpha delivers good performance and imaging quality in a lightweight body that’s of just the right size. The body frame of the Galaxy Alpha fits very snugly in the hand - neither too big like a phablet, nor too small such as the previous generation of iPhones. Combined the good performance and these favorable handling attributes and it’s why the Samsung Galaxy Alpha has the higher portability ratio to boast among its competitive field.

Yet, one but cannot feel disappointed that the specs of the Galaxy Alpha falls short of the usual Samsung flagship standard. At its price point of S$948, it’s squarely a priced like a flagship, but yet a Galaxy S5 or Note 4 are just about hundred dollars more and give you far more features, either in terms of screen size, screen quality, note taking features, even better camera functionality, health and fitness suite and more. It’s not that the Galaxy Alpha is bad, but it’s price positioning versus its other Galaxy counterparts doesn’t quite add up and consumers are likely to glaze over it for better products. Furthermore, some basic features that we expect in a Samsung phone are missing, such as a microSD card expansion slot. With the Galaxy Alpha, you’re confined to its internal 32GB of storage.

It seemed as though the Galaxy Alpha is just simply Samsung’s declaration to the naysayers that they are capable of making metal-body phones, other than the usual polycarbonate builds. Yet, since the Galaxy Alpha is not full metal unibody device and it can’t match up to the design efforts put in by competitive phones such as the Apple iPhone 6 and HTC One (M8), Samsung is far from making any definitive statements

Indeed, recent reports have indicated that the production line of the Galaxy Alpha might end, in favor of Samsung’s new strategic direction of launching mid-tier phones, beginning with the Galaxy A5 and A3, followed by the A7 later this quarter. Boasting a uni-body aluminum build, the new Galaxy A series may not have some of the upper tier features of the Alpha but instead trades that for better designed metal body phones at a better price point.The Galaxy Alpha is then an experimental prototype that has outlived its usefulness, but Samsung executives we spoke to mentioned the Alpha will still live on as a higher tier product for a while more.

At its current non-telco retail prices of sub S$700, it still has little value as opposed to Samsung’s Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8) (which also have a similar asking price). Then there’s the value-oriented ASUS PadFone S that offers even better specs than the Galaxy Alpha with a somewhat similar build, but with a cheaper, chunkier design as the major tradeoff. All in, there’s no short of alternative options to consider to the Galaxy Alpha - unless you’re a Samsung fan and will settle for nothing less than a 'premium' metal framed device.

7.5
  • Design 8.5
  • Features 7.5
  • User-Friendliness 8
  • Performance 8
  • Value 5
The Good
Great handling
Slim and light
Fingerprint scanner
Gorilla Glass 4 screen
Good overall performance
The Bad
Uninspired design
Plastic back cover spoils phone design
No expandable storage
Real-world battery life can be better
Very expensive; S5 and Note 4 are priced near it
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