Disappointing yet sexy.
That's how I'm describing this "new" Samsung phone. As a disclaimer, having this phone will not increase the owner's sex appeal so I wouldn't make any rush decisions. But the bottom line for the Samsung Galaxy Alpha is that this is the biggest tease on the market... it truly is the alpha male in the smartphone arena making it that Grey dude in that Fifty Shades of something-or-other. [and yes, I would say if the Blackberry Z10 and HTC One shacked up, the Galaxy Alpha would pop out]
As much as carbon fibre is stronger than steel, there is something beyond the scientific properties of a substance that communicate strength and confidence. A big grievance that I've had with Samsung's smartphones is the cheap plastic materials used. In a marketplace where Apple has produced great strides in the manufacturing process of aluminum/aluminium, there doesn't appear to be any reasonable explanation for any lagging from Samsung. Even though this Galaxy Alpha metal is limited to the aluminum frame, it's feels far more polished and precise than what the iPhone 5S has. I only had 5min with the iPhone 6 but the brushed finish doesn't have the flare of a reflective, glossy polish.
The frame and the front glass meet with a degree of accuracy on par with Apple's products. It's impressive how the transition from the two materials is rather transparent making it feel as one. Again more sex-language to insert here: two become one. Furthermore, the Galaxy Alpha feels rock solid - nice and hard and substantial in your hand. The weight distribution is typical Samsung but because of the materials, there's a sense of intention or deliberateness to the assembled product. Well done, South Koreans!
The big tease ends with the let-down: the rear plastic cover. It's flimsy and the extreme antithesis to the metal frame. Understandably, this is the compromise you make for a removable battery (yet oddly no expandable MicroSD slot - see the complaints list below). I think Samsung should have gone all the way with this phone and stick out from the galaxy of Galaxy's and wrap the whole thing up in aluminum or something other than plastic. Flimsy and sexy don't go together for some reason.
Because I'm the resident Apple guy, I had to do some research to get the specs but as you should know by now, technical specs are rubbish in my opinion... and the public is well aware of the futile battle processor speed and core count is. The critical question to answer at the end of any spec sheet is this: does it work? And we have become like the spoiled child that wants it all even though we only really use less than a third of it's capability. My final note about this hardware stuff is that the software is where the rubber hits the road. Just like the relationship between driver and automobile or photographer and camera, power/capability is only as good as what controls it.
The Samsung Galaxy Alpha has a Snapdragon 801 SoC quadcore processor running at 2.5GHz and 2GB of RAM. It is the opinion of this reviewer that it really isnít relevant because there isnít anything you can do about it. Maybe one day processor swaps will be commonplace but I donít see that being a viable business model. What really is important is available storage. There is 32GB of internal storage and no MicroSD expansion slot like that Galaxy S5 has.
As an Apple guy, I donít have any grounds to complain about this considering I was able to thoroughly enjoy the Nexus 4 with 8GB of memory. But the rest of you iPhone haters should be outraged and take to social media to express your disappointment at this oversight. When I heard that you could stick a 128GB card in the Galaxy S5, I was comprehensively impressed. Why did Samsung omit expandable memory from the Alpha? Itís another tease. Want another thing to complain about? Display.
At 4.7Ē, the Super AMOLED display on the Alpha is gorgeous. The colours are accurate and backlighting is fantastic. Outdoor performance is right on par with the 5S. However, the resolution is 1280x720 Ė thatís right, not 1080. Granted, the iPhone 6 isnít 1080p either but it is indeed possible to fit that many pixels in a 4.7Ē phone: HTC One. Now that is a great phone with the whole metal thing going on tooÖ I just couldnít describe it sexy like the Alpha. Itís just seriously annoying that Samsung of all companies missed the mark with this resolution battle. Whoever was picking the parts for this phone must have grabbed the wrong bucket because Iím certain Samsung already has the worldís first 4.7Ē display with 4k resolution.
The final thing I will say about hardware is the battery. In the Alpha, itís rated at 1860mAh which Samsung claims will provide up to 9hrs of talk time. Who cares? My real world experience was equal to my 5S which means I get about 12hrs of battery life considering the poor cell signal in my office cubicle and a decent volume of emails/messages I get daily. So the battery is adequate but has the clear advantage of being replaceable.
One side note that got me thinkingÖ if itís possible to easily remove the battery from the phone, is there a Ďdarkí market out there for stolen batteries? But I guess itís also easy to steal your simcard or microSD card. HmmmÖ
To sum up the hard stuff in the Galaxy Alpha, my opinion is that Samsung couldíve (no, shouldíve) done better. Put the best, most powerful and efficient processor in it. Throw in a wicked battery and that magic 4k display. And Samsung could price it accordingly and there would still be a preorder list for the preorders. Unfortunately, there isnít much hope for the innards.
Not so HARDware:
Iíll be upfront and honest with my dislike of Android. Iíve tried to like it and can see what it does well. I could imagine a pure, virgin version of KitKat is great but when itís customized by Samsung, it gets bulky like dragging other stuff behind you. There isnít any lagging but it behaves like a heavy OS. There have been some Samsung apps that Iíve appreciated like the S-Pen stuff in the Note series.
Because the OS is essentially the same as found in the Galaxy S5, you can refer to Steveís awesome in-depth review (http://www.howardforums.com/content.php/1701
) because Iíve got nothing more to add here. Without a doubt, the phone can make calls like a phone should. Emails and messages do what they need to do.
A couple things to take note of is the fingerprint scanner. You have to swipe your digit across the home button. This is disappointing as I find the iPhoneís solution much better. Admittedly, Iíve almost dropped the Alpha when swiping my thumb while holding the phone with one hand. Furthermore, I found that it is very picky with what angle you swipe down from. In the end, I turned it off because it was getting really annoying and I didnít want to drop this tester phone.
The other thing is the camera. Iím a big fan of Samsungís customized camera app and the actual results from the lens. Itís a 12MP CMOS sensor that does remarkably well with adequate available light. But like all phone cameras, it struggles in low light. I like the added functions like dual camera and surround shot. And selective focus is very quick to respond to user input. I believe the Galaxy S5 has a 16MP sensor but I donít see a difference in image quality. But keep in mind that there isn't any expandable memoryÖ fortunately, there are more solutions available like Dropbox, OneDrive and so on to mitigate memory anxiety.
My constant complaint with Samsung is the soft buttons for Ďmultitask' and Ďbackí Ė I canít stand these. They get in the way of almost everything. Like Iím trying to watch a video, pick up the phone and my thumb grazes the back button. It also happened frequently when taking photos the correct way (holding the phone in landscape orientation). As much as I can see their convenience value, itís just annoying and something that isnít specific to this Galaxy Alpha.
I havenít reviewed as many phones as the other veterans here but last year I noticed the change in audio quality in my iPhone 5S for cellular based calls. It was clearer and the frequency range was wider. While I realize this feature is dependent on your carrierís capabilities, it also needs the phoneís hardware/software to support it. This was the first Samsung phone that Iíve tested call quality with and it was about the same as the iPhone. What lagged behind was VOIP based calls Ė I found the audio to be rather thin and on the treble end of tone. Granted, I compared this using Skype on the Alpha and iPhone so it could very well be a limitation of the app and not necessarily the phone hardware.
As far as cellular reception goes, this particular test phone was connected to the Bell network and I had no complaints here. But when it comes to data over cellular, LTE signal strength was either full or weak with nothing in the middle. The Alpha does support Bands 1-5, 7, 17 and 29. Iím not an expert in this field but the best I could manage off Speedtest was around 40Mbps download and 26Mbps upload. Iím sure there are many factors interplaying here but Iíd at least like to share my real-world experience.
One final note on this whole phone functionality on the Galaxy Alpha is with a feature I tried called ďNoise ReductionĒ. Bottom line is that I didnít notice any difference with it on or off. Itís difficult to define what ďnoiseĒ is but I tried it with a fan in the background thinking that the software should be able to handle that type of constant hum but it didnít. Then I tried it with wind noise in the car with the windows slightly open. It just didnít do anything. But Iíd like to think that this should be on by default anyways as a phone function, and perhaps defined differently when using speakerphone or a headset. Itís a good idea but better if it actually did something material to audio quality rather than teasing the user into thinking it will be like those headphones people wear on airplanes.
How do I conclude this review in a manner that doesnít get me into too much trouble? Perhaps a story about my wife will be the compromise.
When my wife started to read the Fifty Shades of Grey series like almost every other woman on the planet, I had to go through the mental exercise of determining what it all means for me and my manhood: Was it the end or the beginning? Would I be compared to a fictional character or feel shame for not having Ďthisí or being Ďthatí? Now that the movie is coming out, Iíll have to decide whether I want that to be our date night activity. Thereís a lot at stake here and what I am absolutely certain of is managing expectations. I donít want to misrepresent myself by trying to be someone that Iím not. I donít want to mislead my wife into thinking that Iím interested in sharing this fictional novel experience with her.
My opinion about the Samsung Galaxy Alpha is centred around the idea of misrepresentation and titillation. Imagine being blindfolded and having this solid phone in your hands. Your mind takes off into assuming it is the best Galaxy smartphone yet. Even the name is misleading you to picture it as finally whipping the iPhone into submission and dominating the market.
The dream ends when the blindfold is removed and youíre left disappointed in a seemingly unfinished product. What the hell happened? Youíll have to wait for the sequel to get a wee bit closer to the real thing. I am left feeling disappointed with this phone yet unwittingly hopeful of what is yet to come from Samsung. I give the Samsung Galaxy Alpha 3 Christian Grey Howies out of 5.