With its incredible battery life and beautiful Super AMOLED display, the Galaxy J5 is Samsung’s best budget phone yet
Well, that’s a bit embarrassing. The Galaxy J5, one of Samsung’s brand-new budget handsets for 2016, has just beaten Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S7 in our battery life test. Only by two minutes, mind, but it just goes to show that you don’t necessarily need to fork out hundreds of pounds to get a smartphone with plenty of stamina.
With the screen brightness set to our standard measurement of 170cd/m2, the J5 lasted an incredible 17h 50m in our continuous video playback test, just edging out the S7 to be the longest-lasting smartphone I’ve ever tested. That’s amazing for a smartphone that only costs pounds 160 SIM-free or pounds13.50-per-month contract, and it blows other budget smartphones like the 3rd Gen Moto G right out of the water.
Of course, Galaxy S7 owners needn’t be too worried, as the J5 makes compromises in other areas, such as performance and overall build quality, in order to help keep the price as low as possible. Its plastic frame, for example, doesn’t protect against water damage, and its glossy finish can’t help but look and feel a little tacky after the beautifully sculpted metal frames on Samsung’s mid-range A series. Still, when the latest version of the A5 is almost double the price of the J5, a plastic chassis is fairly forgivable.
The most important thing is that it feels well-made, and the J5 delivers on this in spades. Its matt cover is rather plain compared to the grooved finish on the 3rd Gen Moto G, but both phones feel like they could survive the odd knock. The J5’s slim dimensions also make it very easy to hold, and its curved sides don’t feel like they’re about to fly out of your hand.
Where the J5 leaps ahead of the Moto G is its 5in, 1280×720 Super AMOLED display. This is the cheapest Samsung phone I’ve ever seen to come with one of its Super AMOLED panels, and it makes other budget LCD-based displays look positively insipid by comparison. The screen on the Moto G, for instance, is pretty good, but it can’t match the sheer vibrancy of the J5’s display. With its 100% sRGB colour gamut coverage, perfect 0.00cd/m2 blacks and ultra-high contrast ratio, images on the J5 look absolutely stunning, and I’ve yet to see an LCD-based screen at this kind of price that can best it.
Of course, the one downside of AMOLED screens is that they’re nowhere near as bright as LCD. However, the J5’s peak brightness of 357.72cd/m2 is still pretty respectable, and should be more than enough for most lighting conditions. Only in bright sunshine will you need to have it on max.
Admittedly, it’s not the fastest handset around, as its quad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor and 1.5GB of RAM put its day-to-day performance on par with almost every other budget smartphone. In Geekbench 3, the J5 scored 459 in the single core test and 1,343 in the multicore test, putting it just behind the Moto G on our budget leaderboard.
That said, Samsung’s Android 5.1.1-based TouchWiz interface still feels relatively smooth and responsive, and apps don’t take an age to open either. The Moto G proved quicker at loading games, but web browsing was more or less a level playing field, as evidenced by the J5’s Peacekeeper score of 634, which is only around 100 points short of the Moto G. Scrolling was a little jerky in places, and browsing could be rather stop-start when pages were still loading, but otherwise surfing the web was pretty hassle free.
The J5 isn’t really capable of playing the latest games, as it only managed 113 frames (or 1.8fps) in the offscreen Manhattan 3.0 test in GFX Bench GL. This is to be expected on a budget smartphone, so Hearthstone fanatics should probably look elsewhere. However, I was able to play simple games such as Threes! absolutely fine, so you should still be able to get your Candy Crush fix on the J5 without too much trouble.
Like a lot of budget smartphones these days, the J5 comes equipped with a 13-megapixel rear camera. More pixels doesn’t necessarily mean better quality photos, though, as I found the J5 could be quite temperamental depending on the lighting conditions.
In bright, late afternoon sunshine, for instance, the J5 struggled to expose the sky correctly, often blowing out its whites to create large halos of light around anything else in the frame. Detail levels were reasonably good, but the resulting photos weren’t very satisfactory. Bewilderingly, there’s also no HDR mode on hand to try and correct the problem either.
Cloudy weather wasn’t much better, with colours appearing very dark and drab despite its high level of detail. However, point the camera at a well-lit object when the sun’s behind you and pictures look great. Some areas were still a little overexposed in our test shots, but colours were bright and accurate and there’s plenty of sharp, crisp detail on show.
^ This shot was taken in the afternoon, when the sun was spilling in from the side, and the sensor’s exposure levels simply couldn’t cope
^ Take photos with the sun behind you, though, and pictures look fantastic, showing rich, vibrant colours and lots of detail
Indoor photography was less successful, as even tapping the screen to focus resulted in rather soft, blurry shots in low lighting conditions. The flash does help, but you’ll want to make sure your subjects are as well-lit as possible to get the best results.
^ Indoors, the J5 struggled to focus, producing pretty soft images that were lacking in crispness and definition
The camera on the Galaxy J5 is really the phone’s only issue, though, as the rest of it is great value. Its excellent screen and amazing battery life far exceed anything else in this price range, and it’s certainly got enough speed to get you through most of your daily smartphone tasks.
The only other slight downside is that it’s unlikely to receive an upgrade to Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which is something new 3rd Gen Moto G owners can download right now without delay. Even the Galaxy S6 has only just got Android 6.0 and Samsung has traditionally always dragged its feet bringing software updates to its lower-end smartphones, so you might want to consider the Moto G if you want all the latest Android features.
Still, if this doesn’t bother you, then the Samsung Galaxy J5 is a fine choice. The Moto G is still the phone to beat in my eyes, with Android 6.0, a better camera and more stylish design. However, the J5’s amazing screen and battery life will make it the better pick for many, especially if you’re switching from another Samsung handset. It wins a Recommended award.