Samsung Galaxy Alpha in-depth review - Phone design done right

 Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review - Phone design done right

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,10/6/2014 3:49:09 PM


out of 10



out of 5

Look and feel


out of 5

Ease of use


out of 5



out of 5

Battery life


Attractive design | Speedy performance | The perfect size and weight


Screen resolution could be higher | No expandable storage | Software still feels cluttered

For too long reviews of Samsung phones have all been boringly predictable. Great on the inside, good screens, good cameras, but always let down by a cheap look and finish

With the Galaxy Alpha, Samsung aims to right this wrong and create a phone which looks as good as it performs; a phone with a touch and feel which reflect it’s £500 SIM-free price tag - and one which poses a genuine threat to the iPhone 6, Sony Xperia Z3 and HTC One (M8).

Samsung Galaxy Alpha: Look and Feel

The Galaxy Alpha is all about the look and feel. This is a phone which Samsung is selling almost exclusively on the way it looks; TV adverts and posters all over London show off the phone’s chamfered metal edges and slim profile. Samsung is making an obvious statement: How the Galaxy Alpha matches your clothes, handbag and jewelry is equally as important as how smoothly it plays games and how quickly it boots up.

It’s a bold move, but one which is badly needed in the face of hardware from Apple, HTC, Sony and even less-premium manufacturers like Huawei. At 6.7mm and 115g the Alpha is beautifully thin and light; by no coincidence it compares very closely to the 7.6mm and 112g iPhone 5s, only the Samsung has a 4.6-inch screen, the same as the iPhone 6.

Read More - iPhone 6 Review

The Alpha is shorter and slightly narrower than the latest iPhone, making it a more comfortable phone to hold and use in one hand, and although the squared metal edges dig into my hand, they provide a more tactile and secure hold than the smooth and slippery curved sides of the iPhone 6.

Although sporting a glass front and aluminium sides, the Galaxy Alpha retains a dimpled, plastic back similar to the Galaxy S5 and upcoming Note 4; the rear has a slightly rubberised feel to it - which is more comfortable than metal - and is removeable, granting access to the battery and SIM card slot. Sadly there’s no microSD card slot to expand on the Alpha’s 32GB of internal storage.

For me the sign of a well designed smartphone is one which I want to pick up and inspect, just for the sake of it. The Galaxy Alpha does this; I constantly want to hold the phone, admire it’s metal edges and be impressed by how slim and light it is.

The only downside is how the polished, chamfered edges of the metal frame pick up chips and scratches very easily, but this is a problem identically shared by the iPhone 5s.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha: Screen

The Alpha’s 4.7-inch screen is exactly the same size as that of the iPhone 6 - not by coincidence, we suspect - but has a slightly lower resolution of 720 x 1280 compared to the Apple’s 750 x 1334; this means pixel density is 312 per inch on the Alpha and 326 on the iPhone. Although this difference sounds tiny, sit the phones next to each other and text on the Samsung is slightly more jagged and rough around the edges compared to the iPhone 6.

Much more noticeable is the Galaxy Alpha’s tendency to display everything with a blue/green tint; loading a predominantly white web page on both phones shows a stark difference - the Samsung is blue/green and the iPhone is a warmer shade and closer to white. The iPhone is also brighter when cranked up to 100%, and has wider viewing angles; tilt the Alpha and the blue/green tint intensifies.

In more positive news, the display panel itself is incredibly close to the glass, making for a more immersive experience and matching the iPhone 6.

This isn’t a bad screen par se, it just doesn’t live up to the high benchmark set by the phone’s design and feel; for a flagship handset we wish Samsung had invested in a better display.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha: Software and Performance

The Galaxy Alpha is powered by Samsung’s Exynos 5 Octa processor, which is an eight-core chip made up of a 1.8GHz quad-core chip for the heavy lifting alongside a 1.3GHz quad-core chip for performing less intensive tasks. This all sits alongside 2GB of RAM.

Apps open quickly, intensive 3D games like Real Racing 3 are smooth and responsive, and the Alpha certainly has the power to match its looks.

Samsung updated its TouchWiz user interface for the Galaxy S5 back in April and it makes a return here with the Alpha. Sitting on top of Google’s Android 4.4.2 KitKat operating system, this latest version of TouchWiz is cleaner, flatter and less cluttered than previous incarnations. There are still too many options and variables - three different ways to view the Settings menu, for example, and 26 different controls on the drag-down quick settings panel.

Read More - Samsung Galaxy S5 Review

The all-singing, all-dancing S Health fitness tracking app makes a return, making use of the phone’s various sensors and rear-mounted heart rate monitor to keep a record of your walking, running, jogging and general health - a service which is further enhanced when paired with Samsung’s Gear smartwatch range.

Also borrowed from the S5 is a fingerprint scanner embedded into the Home button. Swipe your thumb over it to unlock the phone without entering a PIN or password. The system works, but isn’t as intuitive, responsive or reliable as Touch ID on the iPhone 6. Both fail when your fingers are wet, but I found the iPhone’s to unlock first time more often, where the Samsung sometimes struggled to recognise my print.

As for the all-important battery life, Samsung has had to make a compromise to make the Alpha as slim as it is. This means a 1,860mAh capacity battery which is much smaller than the Galaxy S5 (2,800mAh), and is even out-gunned by the S5 Mini’s 2,100mAh. What all this means is the Galaxy Alpha will still last a whole day of light to average use, but don’t expect to get a full second day out of it, as is often possible with the S5.

Read More - Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini Review

Thankfully, two power saving modes are at your disposal to eek every last percentage point from the battery. The most extreme, called Ultra power saving mode, claims to make 50% of charge last an incredible 5.6 days. However, this turns the screen to black and white and doesn’t let you do anything more than make phone calls and send text messages.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha: Camera

A 12-megapixel rear camera means a small downgrade from the Galaxy S5’s 16mp, while the front-shooter is the same 2.1mp. The camera software is very similar, with shooting modes including Beauty Face, Panorama, Virtual Tour, Dual Camera and more. There’s also a selective focus mode which recreates the shallow depth of field effect of an SLR camera. After taking a photo you can select either the foreground or background to be in focus, and providing there is a sizeable gap between each, the effect works very well.

Image quality generally is very good, although the Alpha struggled in hard lighting conditions, such as when taking a photo indoors with a bright window in the background; this is difficult to expose with any phone, but I felt the Alpha struggled more than most in this price range.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha: The Verdict

The Galaxy Alpha is what the Galaxy S5 should have been when it went on sale six months ago; a great-looking phone which blends aesthetics, performance and ergonomics into one desirable package. The Alpha looks fantastic and, if I’m being honest, feels better in my hand than the super-slippery iPhone 6.

Unlike many other reviewers, I don’t mind the plastic back; it’s texture is soft enough to provide a comfortable grip and, in the dark blue/grey of my review unit, looks much better than the shiny white, blue and gold of the Galaxy S5. Performance is perfectly acceptable, although let down a little by average battery life, no expandable storage and software which is sometimes confusing and cluttered.

Being newer, the Alpha costs around £4 per month more on contract than the Galaxy S5, so in terms of cost they’re about the same. The biggest draw for the Alpha is its more compact size and far superior design - and if you ask me, those extras are worth paying a premium for. But the Alpha isn’t perfect, and I worry how it will stack up against the Galaxy S6; will the Alpha become Samsung’s flagship range? Will it always play a second (but prettier) fiddle to the Galaxy S?

For now those questions are impossible to answer, but what I can say with certainty is that the Galaxy Alpha is the best Samsung phone yet. Where before Samsung couldn’t hold a candle to Apple and HTC, it now has an attractive flagship which proves, at last, that there’s much more to life than a great big screen.