TECH

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review: The Phone Samsung Should Have Made Years Ago

11/09/2014 14:35 BST | Updated 11/09/2014 14:59 BST

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha is Samsung's design-focused flagship that offers a new all-metal frame while still including the sort of specs you'd expect from the Galaxy S5.

Key Features:

  • 4.7-inch HD Super AMOLED display
  • Ultra-thin 6.7mm metal frame
  • 12MP Camera with HDR
  • Fingerprint Sensor
  • Heart-rate Sensor

The Pitch:

The Galaxy Alpha is more than just smart inside. It’s the first Samsung Galaxy smartphone with a high-quality metal frame and luxury look and feel.

samsung galaxy alpha

The Verdict:

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For anyone taking a wider view on the world of technology, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the Alpha's timely appearance is related to a certain Samsung competitor releasing their latest and greatest.

Well the simple fact is that even if the Alpha was timed to match the iPhone 6 it's still a phone in its own right, and a pretty impressive one at that.

Take the phone out of the box for the first time and you'll be immediately hit by two very clear impressions. The first is at how light and thin the phone is.

It's 6.7mm, which frankly, is ridiculous. And at 114g it's incredibly light as well. Both of these combined would normally invoke a feeling of concern over the phone's ability to survive day-to-day life.

samsung galaxy alpha

This leads us to the second impression, which is how sturdy it feels. Samsung has surrounded the Alpha in a metal frame which, along with the Note 4, marks the beginning of a new design for Samsung's smartphones. The frame makes the phone feel rock solid. Even with significant pressure it simply doesn't bend, which is a real testament to the way Samsung has put this phone together.

It feels decisively different to the S5, and it's hard not to be instantly smitten.

As a rule we've liked Samsung's designs in the past. But they have, in recent times, been objectively plasticky. It was the one thing that set them below the competition and with the Galaxy S5 it was getting to the stage where it felt like a bit of a cop out.

Samsung clearly took this to heart, because both the Alpha and the new Note 4 are without doubt the best-looking smartphones Samsung has ever made. Our handset was in 'Charcoal Black' and it looks stunning.

Everything feels well built, well put together. Even the home button has a stiff 'click' to it that Samsung's previous devices were lacking.

While some will be annoyed about the use of a plastic backplate, the blend between the metal and the plastic actually works really well.

samsung galaxy alpha

Turn the phone on and you'll be treated to the latest version of TouchWiz, Samsung's version of Android.

It's harmless enough and the latest version moves it ever closer to matching the design of the hardware. For now though it can still feel a bit confusing in terms of design language. Some icons adopt a new clean interface such as Voice Recorder or Music, while the Messages and Gallery app look out of place. It's frustrating but not the end of the world. It looks better on a smaller screen too, with less areas of block colour and weird UI elements compared to the Note 4 or S5.

The Alpha has been designed to as the phone that bridges the gap between the Galaxy S5 and the Galaxy S5 Mini so it features all the flagship features you'd expect such as a fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor, but doesn't take up all that space with a massive screen.

The Alpha comes with a 4.7-inch 1280x720 Super AMOLED display. No it's not Full-HD - but as many users are beginning to realise, that's not what's important.

samsung galaxy alpha

Full-HD screens are battery-intensive, and when compared to a 720p alternative that has been tuned they can even look worse, despite the higher pixel count.

Samsung's done a great job with the Alpha. The Super AMOLED panel zings when on high brightness and although there's some pixellation when you put apps into folders the overall experience is good.

To power the phone there's a huge Octa Core processor consisting of a quad-Core 1.8GHz processor and another quad-core 1.3GHz processor. To help with multi-tasking there's 2GB of RAM.

Now this is where things start to a little fuzzy. The Alpha manages to feel both quick and slow. At times it'll feel as quick as any flagship phone but start loading up the apps and you'll notice the tiniest hint of lag.

There's another side effect of all that power as well which is battery life. The Alpha's battery life is OK, with the phone only once needing to be charged before we got home from work. That said, it almost certainly wouldn't be able to survive a day at work and then an evening out which is ultimately when you need it the most.

Features like Power Saving are handy but they're essentially just features which shut down parts of the phone and lower the screen brightness. It's not ideal but better than not having a phone.

The camera is a 13MP HDR affair on the back and a 2.1MP camera on the front. Both take great photos while the rear-facing focuses quickly and accurately. It's hard to say whether it'll be able to take on Apple's new camera tech but for now it's certainly as good as the S5.

Finally there's the fingerprint scanner. Sadly it's still not as intuitive as Apple's Touch ID offering with the Alpha requiring straight downward swipes. This can be frustrating, and the reality is you might not use it all that much.

The Alpha feels late. It feels like the phone that Samsung should have made a year ago instead of the S5. When you start using it it feels like the phone Samsung did make a year ago, it just doesn't feel quick enough, or smooth enough.

But for all that, it also feels good. It really is a stunning phone. It's just that in person the Alpha just falls short of being the true iPhone-killer that it could have been. Bring on the Beta.