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Samsung Galaxy Alpha review: a glimpse of something new

With Samsung finally bringing some metal class to its smartphones, there's certainly a lot to get excited about. Here's our Samsung Galaxy Alpha review!

Published onOctober 15, 2014

When it comes to the Samsung Galaxy Alpha, it’s not about what the phone offers, but rather what it represents – a glimpe of something new from Samsung.

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha has generated a lot of buzz ever since rumors about it first began to surface. What makes the Galaxy Alpha special is Samsung’s experiment in using a metal body, a departure from its old all-plastic approach. In a lot of ways, this device is as a precursor to the Galaxy Note 4, which also boasts a metal frame, though the Galaxy Alpha is no slouch either.

Today, we’ll be taking a closer look at Samsung’s first smartphone with metallic design elements, in this Samsung Galaxy Alpha review!

Samsung Galaxy Alpha-10

Obviously, the aluminum frame is what makes the Galaxy Alpha stand out from the slew of mid-rangers that Samsung already offers. In fact, if it weren’t for the shiny metal band, the Alpha probably wouldn’t have got much attention at all. Granted, it’s not a full metal body design, but the frame’s beautiful chamfered edges and solid build make a world of difference to the look and feel of the device.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha-41

The premium look translates to the way the device handles as well, with the Alpha feeling very solid in the hand. Its flat sides, thin bezels, and compact form factor also contribute to the great handling experience. This phone is very easy to hold and use with one hand, which is certainly a refreshing change from the hand gymnastics that’s often required with the current crop of high-end Android smartphones.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha-39

The plastic back cover of the Galaxy Alpha is actually quite thin, but that’s not something that is noticeable until you take it off. The dimpled design on the back is similar to that of the Galaxy S5, but is far more subtle. The soft touch material gives the phone more grip, so you won’t have to worry about it slipping from your hand like it happens with many metallic phones. Surprisingly, even though the back cover is removable, housing the replaceable battery, the Galaxy Alpha doesn’t offer microSD expansion, which can be disappointing for some.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha-17

Apart from the metal frame, the rest of the design language is actually quite similar to other Samsung smartphones. The power button is on the right side, with the volume rocker found on the left. The signature tactile home button is up front, flanked by the back and recent apps capacitive keys. The physical home button also comes with the integrated fingerprint scanner, a hardware addition that was first introduced with the Galaxy S5. Up top is the headset jack, and the bottom is where you’ll find the microUSB port and a single speaker.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha-43

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha comes with a 4.7-inch Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 1280 x 720, resulting in a pixel density of 312 ppi. Everything we love about Super AMOLED displays is also found here, with vibrant, vivid colors with a lot of contrast, and great viewing angles and brightness. Samsung has always been at the forefront of display tech, and the Galaxy Alpha is no exception, so you’ll have a great time doing anything on this display.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha-33

There are two variants of the Galaxy Alpha available, depending on on your location. This particular review unit, that is available from AT&T, packs a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, clocked at 2.5 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 330 GPU and 2 GB of RAM. The other variant features a Samsung Exynos 5 Octa processor, along with the Mali-T628 GPU and the same amount of RAM. With high-end specifications like this, the performance is as smooth and snappy as you’d expect. Everything from opening and closing applications, multitasking, and gaming, was handled smoothly. Not to so say that there weren’t instances of stutter and lag, but they were rare and far between.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha-4

As mentioned, there is no expandable storage available, but you get 32 GB of in-built storage, which should be enough for most users. The device comes with the usual array of connectivity options, including 4G LTE support, and additional hardware includes the fingerprint scanner that is integrated into the home button, adding an extra layer of security, and the heart rate monitor, that is found right next to the rear camera. The speaker that is placed at the bottom does perform admirably, and gets quite loud. The placement is somewhat unfortunate though, making it quite easy to cover up, especially if you’re playing games in the landscape orientation.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Battery Screenshot-1

Unfortunately, battery life is one aspect that leaves to be desired. With a relatively small 1,860 mAh, power users will likely have a difficult time getting through a full day with this device. With more moderate use, that includes texting, checking social networks, browsing the web, and limited gaming, you might be able to squeeze enough juice out of the battery, but the overall battery life is quite disappointing.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha-6

The Galaxy Alpha features a 12 MP rear shooter with a LED flash. It may not be the high-end sensor that Samsung uses with its flagship devices, but it’s still respectable in terms of performance. The camera app, as always, is packed with a ton of features, starting from the typical, like exposure settings and white balance, to features like dual shot, beauty face, and various other shooting modes. The camera is also capable of 4K video recording with 1080p at 60 fps, as well as slow motion video capture at 720p.

The picture quality is actually very good, with images looking colorful, vibrant, and sharp. It does a great job with handling exposure, and while dynamic range isn’t the greatest, HDR certainly helps in bringing out a lot more detail. As expected, photos lose a lot of quality in low light situations, looking very grainy and noisy, and lacking detail. For the most part though, this is still a very solid smartphone camera.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha-45

When it comes to the software, the Galaxy Alpha runs Android 4.4.4 Kitkat with the TouchWiz UI on top, and in terms of features, pretty much everything you’ll find on the Galaxy S5 make its way here. Smart Stay, Smart Pause, Multiwindow for some true multitasking, and Tool Box, that creates a floating bubble for quick access to your favorite apps, are all available here. My Magazine is still one swipe away from the main home screen, but the experience hasn’t changed over previous iterations.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha-44

The Settings menu and Quick Settings dropdown both feature an updated design with a circular motif, but remain convoluted and difficult to navigate. The S Health app also makes a return, and takes advantage of the heart rate monitor to keep track of your activities. Basically, in terms of features and software experience, the Alpha is identical to what you’d get with the Samsung Galaxy S5. This being an AT&T model, some carrier-related bloatware is to be found, and can unfortunately not be uninstalled, but only disabled.

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha is available now on AT&T for $199 on a contract, with an unlocked version priced at around $700. This price point, whether on contract or not, is usually reserved for flagship devices, and it does make sense somewhat in this case, considering the Alpha’s high-end processing package and premium design elements.

And there you have it – a closer look at the Samsung Galaxy Alpha! At the end of the day, the Galaxy Alpha might just be another phone in Samsung’s vast product portfolio. But in this case, it’s not really about the phone itself, but about what it represents. The Galaxy Alpha might very well be the start of something new from Samsung. We’ve already seen the Galaxy Note 4 continue this upward trend in build quality and design, and things will only get better. This is something that many people have wanted to see from Samsung for a long time now, and it’s finally here.

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