Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) review — It’s time to get wet

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Samsung is never going to stop flooding the market with smartphones at every price range. Starting from the top, we have the Galaxy S series, then the A series and finally the J series. The A series has been around for quite some time, with the first Samsung Galaxy A7 in 2015, and probably the forefather of the A series, the Samsung Galaxy Alpha, in 2014. Well, enough about the past, today we have here the latest Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) which was just recently launched here in January. It brings an IP68 rating, glass sandwich design, octa-core processor, 3GB of RAM and 16MP cameras on both ends of the device. Well, that’s just the general specifications, let’s get down to our full review of the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017).

Unboxing

We got a sealed unit of the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) so we are gonna have to slice the seal open (yay!). The first thing that I noted when I received the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) was how small the packaging was.

Upon opening the package, I was greeted by the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) itself, with some warranty stickers on top. The Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) is protected by thick plastic protectors on its front and back, which needs to be removed.

Under the device are the accessories. Despite the small package, Samsung has included pretty much everything, except a case. You get the usual documentation including a start up guide in Chinese. Fun fact: literally translated, it means Fast Enter Door Point South. Whatever that means. You also get a Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging charger, a USB Type-C cable, earphones and even a microUSB-to-Type-C adapter. Nifty.

The Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging charger can deliver up to 16.83W, just short of the 18W that most fast charging technologies can supply. I really like the microUSB-to-Type-C adapter, as it allows me to use my iCable i10 Power Series microUSB cable, or any third-party microUSB cable for that matter, with the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017). This will greatly benefit users who already have a collection of microUSB cables from their previous devices.

Ooh lala~

Appearance

The front of the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) reminds me of my old Galaxy Note 2. Speaking of which, Samsung has been using the same straight edge with rounded corners design for ages, even resulting in the Korean company being sued by Apple for apparently copying their design. Previous iterations of the Galaxy A7 had less rounded corners, which I do prefer, actually.

The rear of the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) is made of curved glass, or what Samsung calls 3D Glass. Samsung has used a similar glass-back design in the Galaxy Note 5, and more recently, the Galaxy S7. It looks pretty good, but the view here can look a little bare without any other embellishments here aside from the primary camera and its single LED flash which sit flushly with the glass. The Gold variant we have here collects fingerprints like a boss too, but the color prevents them from being noticed.

Moving over to the sides, we find the loudspeaker and the power button on the right, and the volume controls and primary SIM tray on the left. I use the phrase volume control here because they are two separate buttons here instead of the rocker we find on most devices. I was quite surprised to see the loudspeaker grille here as they are usually located on the lower edge or the back of most device.

The top features the secondary SIM tray which shares its home with the microSD. The secondary microphone also sits at the top. The 3.5mm jack, primary microphone and USB Type-C port are over on the bottom edge.

Overall, the design of the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) is good, if a tad unimaginative, as it features designs that Samsung has already used for previous devices. The combination does result in a smartphone that looks pretty enough to be a flagship device though.

Specifications

CPU: Exynos 7880 Octa (8 x A53 @ 1.9 GHz), Mali-T830MP3 @ 950 MHz
RAM 3GB LPDDR4
Display: 5.7″, FHD (1080p) SuperAMOLED display
Storage: 32GB internal (expandable with microSD up to 256GB)
Camera: 16MP f/1.9, single LED flash
16MP f/1.9
OS: Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with Grace UX
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4+5 GHz)
Bluetooth 4.2
SIM: nanoSIM (dual SIM support)
Battery: 3600 mAh (non-removable)

Performance

The Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) features the Exynos 7880 Octa SoC, which packs eight A53 cores running at 1.9 GHz and a Mali-T830MP3 GPU. Manufactured on Samsung’s 14nm FinFET process, the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) should prove to be pretty power efficient as well. Samsung has proven their mettle with their line of Exynos processors which have been competitive against Qualcomm’s Snapdragon series of SoCs. The Exynos 7880 Octa here looks comparable on paper with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625, which is also manufactured on the 14nm FinFET process, so let’s take a look at how it fares in our usual benchmark suite.

Starting off with the most popular benchmarking app on the Play Store, the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) makes a so-so showing here. It trails the devices with the Snapdragon 625, but places itself a fair bit away from the lower end Snapdragon 430. It does not shine in the CPU section of the Antutu benchmark, which gives us a rough idea of what to expect from the benchmarks that follow.

PCMark’s Work 2.0 benchmark prefers devices with more fast cores. The Exynos 7880 Octa brings eight cores clocked at 1.9 GHz to the table, but the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) fails to give itself a sizeable lead ahead of the ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser which packs the Snapdragon 430. Despite being on paper similar to the Snapdragon 625, it doesn’t do nearly as well here.

The trend continues with it trailing the Snapdragon 625 devices in the single-core test, and ekes out a victory over the OPPO R9s in the multi-core test. The Exynos 7880 Octa should give the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) pretty good performance in apps that can make use of multi-core processing, but unoptimized apps will suffer from the mediocre single-core performance.

Our staple graphics benchmark, 3DMark, sees the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) finally being on top of the Snapdragon 625 devices, and by quite a large margin as well in the Sling Shot Extreme (ES 3.1) benchmark. This seems to point towards Samsung optimizing the Exynos 7880 Octa for the newer OpenGL ES 3.1, which should translate to better performance in Vulkan too. It makes a good showing here, and only loses out by a slight bit in the Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark.

Worth noting is that throughout the benchmarks, the device didn’t even get warm, which is very nice. Even if you do manage to get it to heat up, you can always dip in water for some real water-cooling 😉

In exchange for the lesser performance scores above, the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) delivers a lot of battery. I managed to get more than a full day away from the plug with 5 hours of screen on time. This was with me using WiFi for most of the time, and a mobile data connection for a few hours here and there in between. Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram and Messenger are checked really frequently within this duration, with some surfing here and there too. I believe this is a great trade off, losing a little performance for more battery life.

User Experience

Right off the bat, the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) scores points for true dual SIM functionality. I only consider devices that can accept two SIM cards and a microSD card (if it supports expandable memory) to offer a real dual SIM feature. The funny thing is that the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) features two separate SIM trays for the two nanoSIMs it accepts, but this is probably due to space constraints more than anything.

Holding the device, it feels quite hefty in the hand. It gives the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) a solid feel as I find phones that are too light to not really convince me of their build quality. It feels rather secure in my grasp, thanks to the curved rear glass panel, ergonomically curving to fit into my palm. The thickness also helped here, being just thick enough for me to get a good hold of it. The device is also rather cool, even after the series of benchmarks we ran in the performance section of this review. A comfortable shape and also cool temperatures make it a very nice device to hold on to.

If, you decide that you want to give the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) a bath, feel free to do so as it is also rated IP68 for dust and water resistance, just like the Galaxy S7, which means that you can use it pretty much anywhere without any problem. There is an issue if you want to use it underwater, as the screen will fail to respond to taps. This is a common issue with capacitive touch displays though. Wipe it dry and it will be as good as new.

Well, at least they are backlit.

It is Samsung’s tradition to have a physical home button which doubles as a fingerprint scanner. It is flanked by the back key on the right and multitasking key on the left. I deplore this arrangement, but longtime Samsung fans will be right at home using the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017). The fingerprint scanner works pretty well, once you get the hang of it. It can take some time getting used to the smallish fingerprint scanner. When it works, it is actually quite fast and accurate. Also worth noting is that the button here is still a physical tactile key, not those newfangled solid-state ones.

Speaking of haptic feedback, the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) surprisingly lacks it. The capacitive keys and built-in keyboard do not feature haptic feedback. It feels jarring at first, tapping on the capacitive keys and not feeling a vibration, but actually I got used to it after some time. Still, I do not see why Samsung did not include the option to enable haptic feedback for the capacitive keys and built-in keyboard. You can use a third-party keyboard app and enable haptic feedback there, but the navigation keys can not have the feedback added to them via third-party software. Not without modifying some system files, at least.

Samsung has come a long way from the despised TouchWiz to the immensely improved Grace UX. This new user interface looks a lot cleaner, doing away with all the childishness of TouchWiz’s old UI. I offer credit where it’s due, and the Samsung team deserves a pat on the back for maturing TouchWiz into Grace UX. The abundance of animation gives the device a very smooth user experience, but can make the device feel less snappy than it can be. Nothing that you can’t fix by going into Developer options and reducing the animation scales though.

The Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) comes with a whole suite of built-in apps with a very consistent theme for the UIs. They generally follow the Material Design guidelines, which gives them a modern and clean look similar to the rest of the UI on the device. But there are absolutely redundant apps like the Internet and Email apps which have their functions served by Google’s Chrome and Gmail, respectively. I don’t see why do you even need two apps that serve the very same function, of which neither can be deleted from the device.

There are quite a few gestures that you might want to check out,but the most interesting has to be the very nifty multitasking gesture. The Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) supports more than just the usual multiwindow mode, but also allows you to move your current app into a smaller window, or Pop-up view as Samsung calls it, by swiping diagonally from the upper corners. You can then multi task with another app running behind. When you are done, you can either close it, or minimize into something that looks like a Messenger chat head. You can have up to 5 of these little blobs on your screen at one time, or even 5 of these mini-windows running on your screen, with a sixth app running fullscreen in the background, which is about as good as multitasking gets on a smartphone. Mobile gamers would also be able to enjoy the Game Tools which offers several functions to optimize your gaming experience, among which is a screen recorder for you to record and share your gameplay videos with everyone.

Moving on, the camera on the back is a 16MP one with a f/1.9 aperture. However there is no information regarding the availability of phase detection autofocus or OIS, but the focusing seems characteristic of PDAF (albeit rather slow). I have no way of testing of OIS, but it seems to have no stabilization technology at work, as images can easily get blurry when the shutter speed drops. The single LED flash looks bigger than what most other smartphones pack but seems to provide just as much light as the dual LED setups found on the competition. The light looks warm, which should give a more natural look to shots taken with the flash on.

The user interface of the camera is pretty simple. You get shutter and video recording buttons on the left, with the rest of the options on the left. Samsung did not offer an auto-HDR mode on the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017), and it will take a swipe to the right, and a tap to activate HDR (Rich tone) mode. HDR is a specific mode that you must switch over to, and even in the mode, the viewfinder does not show you the results of HDR. The Pro mode on the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) is also decidedly limited, with no manual controls over the shutter speed or focus. Swiping over to the left gives you an array of filters to apply to your shot.

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The Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) has pretty good image quality. Despite rather sluggish autofocusing speed especially when going for close ups, the focusing is quite accurate. So you might have to take some extra time to line up your shots, but when you tap the shutter, the resulting image will look good. If you want to get faster focusing speeds, you can also download the Sports camera mode. In that mode, focusing is faster, but it loses the ability to meter the image according to the area you tapped on. You can check out the full images on our Flickr page here.

The display is quite faultless, as it is a fullHD (1080p) SuperAMOLED panel. Colors are vivid, but are no longer as insanely over-saturated as its predecessors. Sharpness is top notch too as 1080p offers a high enough pixel density on the 5.7″ display here. Brightness is high enough for decent sunlight legibility. You can also tune the white balance of the display in case you don’t like Samsung’s idea of whites.

As it packs a AMOLED display, the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) features the Always On Display, being able to even display a full month’s calendar. This feature will consume a little extra battery, but the benefits of having the time and notifications available at a glance outweighs any power it consumes. The notification icons can be double tapped to bring you to the app immediately, which I find quite convenient. It even has support for Spotify, showing you the title and artiste of the song that is playing.

The Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) even allows you to customize the background of your Always On Display to have a unique look, but only if you do not want to see the calendar when the screen is off. Selecting Image in the Content to show menu gives you a useless fullscreen pattern. I do not know why Samsung decided to include it, but hey, it’s there if you want it.

Despite the rather unusual location of the loudspeaker, the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) actually has a pretty decent sounding one. The sound signature can even be tuned, which is not something you see everyday. The waterproofing also didn’t seem to affect the loudness of it. Plugging in headphones to the 3.5mm jack unlocks every one of the audio effect available, while using Bluetooth headphones will mean you can’t take advantage of the UHQ upscaler feature. You can even tune the audio output to suit your hearing and headphones with the Adapt Sound feature, which is available for both Bluetooth and headphones. The Adapt Sound feature doesn’t save presets for several different headphones, which is a pity since it is pretty common for people to own multiple headsets nowadays.

Conclusion

The Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) is a pretty decent device. Sure, it could have come with better CPU performance, a quicker autofocusing system and also haptic feedback, but perhaps Samsung decided to give it better audio features, a great display, build quality, a strong battery life and also the IP68 rating. This does not mean I am giving Samsung a pass for not including haptic feedback though, as it literally costs nothing to integrate it into the software. If third party apps can use it, why can’t Samsung make use of it for the capacitive navigation keys? Aside from these shortcomings, I really appreciate Samsung giving the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) the latest Grace UX which immensely improves the user experience as well as the general look of the UI. If you want to bring your phone to a dip or two in the pool without splurging on a Galaxy S7, then the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) makes for a pretty good choice at RM1899. The Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) deserves our Silver Pokdeward.