Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) In-Depth Review: The Mid-Ranger That Does Everything
- Smoother, cleaner, brand new Grace UX
- Premium build quality, design, and feel
- Long-lasting, large battery
- 16-Megapixel front and back cameras
- Dedicated MicroSD slot up to 256GB
- 5.7-inch Full HD Super AMOLED
- USB Type-C fast charge
- IP68 dust and water resistant
- Samsung Pay
- Near-premium pricing for mid-range device
- Non-removable battery
- Slightly thicker than competitors
- Odd speaker placement (side of body)
- USB Type-C not yet mainstream
- Odd colour choices to some
- Large screen may be slightly unwieldy
- Lack of haptic feedback
Samsung has been at the forefront of mobile technology thus far; in terms of both sales and the sort of technology you though can be put into a mobile device. As the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer the pressure is always on them to make sure that their replacement model is better than the last. Not only that they have to keep making improvements, they have to keep proving that they make the best of hardware in each of their own categories. Of course, they have always exceeded their expectations every year with every new introduction. This year, they kick-off with their brand new Samsung Galaxy A series 2017.
The Samsung Galaxy A series has recently been updated for the year 2017. Built to replace the 2016 version of the A Series, Samsung has pulled plenty of stops to make this device as formidable as possible. The result; one of the best valued devices (on paper) to come out under the South Korean factory roof. Despite all the changes that Samsung has promised and claimed to have done on the Galaxy A series, the design recipe has been almost entirely similar. The Samsung mid-ranger still packs dual glass panes on the front and back of the device with aluminium framing bracing the sides of the hardware. The only telling difference between the 2017 and 2016 version of the device is the curved glass back on the 2017.
The Samsung Galaxy A7 of 2017 is the range topper at this point of time. Replacing the Galaxy A7 of 2016 it does away with plenty of high-end features of 2016 like water resistance. Samsung also claims that this device will be a sizeable improvement over the previous versions. In the sense of size, the Galaxy A7 for the year of 2017 has gained some real estate in display size to 5.7-inch. Obviously as well the larger display contracts a slightly heftier bodywork. Despite the changes in size though Samsung claims that it feels no bigger than the older model.
So here we are, the Samsung Galaxy A7, 2017 edition. The newest addition to the already crowded stable of Samsung, the latest entry to the very busy, very popular, and ever growing mid-range market. Every other person seems to be moving towards that direction somehow due to the lower asking price and the sort of value the mid-range devices now offer. Gone are the days of cheap looking plastic devices that works just as well as they look. Of course with better features come higher asking prices too. But prices of high-end devices has steadily gone up from year to year, so why not for the mid-range device?
Back to the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) though, is it any good? Is it worth that kind of asking price? Let us find out.
The design recipe, as said earlier has remain almost entirely unchanged for the 2017 model of the Samsung Galaxy A7. You still get the super shiny glass front and back of the device. The front glass still is a Gorilla Glass 4 to ensure that it does not just shatter when you drop it. You still get the iconic home button as well, though this time it is a fingerprint sensor as well. It is a proper button though, none of that ‘haptic-touch-button’ sort of thing happening here. That iconic home button is also flanked by the back and recent apps button. Very Samsung then, it even looks almost similar to the old Galaxy A7 if not because it is just slightly bigger.
The back of the device though is an entirely different story. Well, when I say entirely different, it just means that the design at the back has changed a little. Samsung, in a step to ensure you do not mix up your 2017 and 2016 devices, has added their iconic Galaxy Note 5-esque curve at the back of the Galaxy A7 (2017). The camera placement is similar to the older device so there is no other drama happening there. So other than that dual-curve at either edges, the design has remained similar. You still get high quality glass at the back like the old one.
The aluminium sides on the Samsung Galaxy A7 2017 edition is also very reminiscent of the Galaxy A7 2016 edition. Though you get thinner sides on the 2017 model due to the curved glass back. Your volume button is still on the left side of the device, the power button on the other side. One addition to the side of the device is probably its speaker grilles way above the power button. Another addition is the tray for a SIM card on the left side of the device away from the volume rockers. The top of the device remains as clean as before with the antenna outlet strips and the SIM and MicroSD tray. The bottom of the device loses the speaker grilles to the side of the device. But you still get a 3.5mm headphone jack, with a charging port (USB Type-C this time), more antenna strips, and a tiny hole housing the other mic.
All-in-all it sounds like a very similar looking device to the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016). Not many has changed, but then it does not look like the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) at all. Of course, up front you do not see much going on there. But you look at the device as a whole and the Galaxy A7 (2017) looks like an entirely different device. The curves at the back edges of the Galaxy A7 (2017) adds the drama that the 2016 model sorely lacks. The whole design of the device makes the device looks a lot more complete. The thinner aluminium strip that runs the length of the side of the device looks just right; it looks beautiful. The whole tapering of the aluminium frame to the glass panels feels smooth, it feels like (and looks like) they are made of a single piece of material, though you can feel two different materials (glass and aluminium, obviously). It feels smaller than it actually is thanks to the curves at the back; it is less unwieldy, more graceful. Thanks to that it feels like it belongs in your hands as the curve sits perfectly in your palms; it feels handy.
The curve is obviously a homage to the higher end Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and Galaxy Note 5 models. But you can hardly call the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge a blobfish can you? The Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) actually looks sharp; razor sharp, and very sleek in the right shade. It looks like it means business with the ‘high-end’ design cue.
Then there is the colour. The solid looking colour that seems to be directly etched on the glass rather than underneath it. The proper solid colour look that the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) has gotten over the 2016 model makes the device look so much sturdier that it actually is; not to say that the device is flimsy, it is very solid and rigid with no give whatsoever. It feels like a solid piece of very light brick. Of course some people may not like it and says that it looks plastic, so we concluded that it was hit or miss thing. There are also new colours that comes with the new Galaxy A7 (2017); the Blue Mist and the Peach Cloud. We had the Blue Mist. Boy does it look good (to us anyway).
The solid light blue hue to the device, admittedly does not get as much thumbs up as I would like to think (it was more 50:50). It is not the colour of choice for everyone. But to me, this is the colour I will go for. The blue is not ‘in-your-face’ blue, it does not punch you in the face for looking at it wrong. It is in fact a very soft blue that gives the device an extra flair. It makes the device looks a little sweeter, a little more inviting; a little more interesting than before. Of course the blue continues to the sides of the device and that completes the sweet look of the device, not candy sweet mind you (you cannot eat this device. That said; eat the device at your own risk).
The Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) is a testament to how far we have come in terms of mobile device technology. It ticks all the right boxes in the flagship sort of segment. It even has an IP68 water and dust resistant rating that was trickled down from the Samsung Galaxy S7. You get a high performing Octa-core processor at that paired with a fair amount of RAM at 3GB.
The camera is an upgraded module at 16-megapixel at both ends which means you will still get very clear selfies. To store all of that high-resolution shots you get 32GB which can be expanded via MicroSD. Viewing those shots from a 5.7-inch Full HD Super AMOLED displays such a pleasure.
Everything that this device fits points to ‘best value’. If you consider the asking price of MYR1,899, you might even consider it to be the best value for your money. In its range anyway.
|Processor||Samsung Exynos 7880 (8 Cores)
Octa-core 1.9 GHz
Expandable with MicroSD (Max. 256GB)
|Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)||Mali-T830Mp3|
|Display||Super AMOLED panel
5.7-inch (~386 ppi)
1080p Full HD (1,080 x 1,920 pixels)
|Operating System||Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with Grace UX|
|Battery||Non-removeable 3,600mAh Li-Ion (with Fast Charging)|
|Connectivity||Dual Band Wi-Fi IEEE802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.2 LE
USB Type-C 1.0
3.5mm Audio Jack
Video recording at 1080p (30fps)
Video recording at 1080p (30fps)
Fingerprint (front mounted)
|Additional||IP68 Dust and Water resistant rating
Corning Gorilla Glass 4
Dedicated MicroSD slot
Here is where it gets a little unfortunate, the brand new Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) is the first of Samsung’s devices to be void of the TouchWiz UI. The TouchWiz UI that you know and love from the Galaxy devices from before is well gone, it will be too with newer devices. In place of it instead is Samsung’s brand new Grace UX. But change is not necessarily a bad thing. For the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2107) it is a good thing.
The Grace UX is a far cry from TouchWiz UX of old. It looks much cleaner and much leaner on the interface. It feels smoother too thanks to its lower load on the RAM than before. You still get a touch of the old UI like the immovable/irremovable app drawer icon on the bottom right of the screen. The app drawer menu remains entirely the same too. The graphics on the icons have changed a little, though having sort of the same design cue. They look much softer than before and a lot less cartoony.
The major changes is most noticeable when you pull down the notification bar. It looks much more simplified now with very clean frameless icons for the quick access buttons. You still have to pull down another time in the notification screen to access even more easy access things like flight mode, power saving and what not. Then there is the settings menu. Where in the old settings menu everything is in a long whole long list that is segregated into different sections for the TouchWiz UX, the Grace UX does away with a single list that generally categorises everything. Though it might sound like their making it more complicating now, it really is not. It looks a lot more organised and much more simplified in the new layout than before. The Grace UX’s settings menu is a lot more intuitive as well if you ask me. It is a lot less graphical, plenty more informative with a lot less noise. There is even a deice maintenance menu to keep your device’s health in check.
The current Galaxy A7 (2017) fits a similar 3GB + 32GB storage option to the 2016 version. However the Galaxy A7 (2017) feels very smooth and snappy all the time. The Grace UX does buttery smooth a lot better than the TouchWiz UX on the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) too. As mentioned, the Grace UX is somehow less taxing than the TouchWiz UX on the processor and RAM of the device. That lightness and simplicity in the UI helps plenty with how smooth the device can run on lower end devices. Despite very heavy influences from the TouchWiz UX of old as well, we do think that the Grace UX has much better aesthetics comparatively while being more intuitive and simple.
Always On Display
Of course, another feature trickling down from a flagship is the Always On Display. First seen in the fabulous Samsung Galaxy S7 and the Galaxy S7 Edge, the Always On Display is a pleasure to have. So much of a pleasure that I sorely miss the feature now that I do not have it. The Always On Display is customisable to your needs and always moves around on your display to prevent an image burn or dead pixel. It also adjusts to the lighting conditions when you want to view it so you can see the time, see whether there are notifications for you or not, or how much battery is left on your device (again, all can be customised to your liking). In normal conditions though the Always On Display is kept to a minimum brightness setting accordingly to conserve battery.
There is a reason to the whole UI overhaul on the new Galaxy A7 (2017) though. That is, of course the introduction of Samsung Pay. The Grace UX, though not entirely, is designed plenty around the Samsung Pay mechanism. Everything is done to make it easier to launch Samsung Pay and whatever services it offers. To launch the app one only needs to swipe the screen up when the device is on. Use your fingerprint as an authorisation, and voila you have paid for your cup to tea, or coffee, or whatever it is that you drink. Of course application does not end at tea or coffee houses.
Benchmark says that this device is a performer. The scores do suggest flagship sort of performance, well; flagships of yesteryear. In some of the benchmarks you can see the Samsung Galaxy A7 2017 outscoring the Samsung Galaxy S6.
We also always stress that benchmarks do not reflect the practical use of the device and is only a small info-chart that is indicative of a device’s performance. Benchmarks should be treated with a pinch of salt and does not always reflect its performance in real-time and real life usage. For the case of the Samsung Galaxy A7 2017 though, the benchmark is just a glimpse of what the device can do. In some cases, we do think that it works better than the flagships of yesteryear. It does seem also like there are plenty of things they fixed from the flagships of 2016 which makes for an interesting case for 2017’s flagships from Samsung.
The new Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) comes with plenty of bells and whistles that came down from Samsung’s flagship of 2016, the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. The most prominent upgrade is the IP68 water and dust resistant that was so popular with the 2016 flagship. Even the design was an inspiration from the curve back from the Galaxy S7 Edge. Not to forget the ‘first time ever’ Super AMOLED display. All that should mean that this device should perform like a flagship.
It does have the sort of screen you can expect from most flagships these days though, save for Samsung themselves. It is also sports USB Type-C, the sort of port that you can only find mostly on flagships. It offers fast charging too, something that the previous year model did not have. Above all of that, the device is powered by Samsung’s latest Grace UX on top of the Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow which is upgradeable to Android 7.1 Nougat later.
Call Quality and Connectivity
The network affair on the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) is a fairly standard one. You do get the whole range of WiFi antennas, the latest Bluetooth 4.2 LE, and data assisted GPS. Of course it is 4G LTE capable while being able to step down to HSPA+, EDGE, 3G and 2G. Of course, it is not a satellite phone so you might not get signals if you decide to go into an unexplored jungle (despite its #liveunplanned2017 moniker, go into unexplored forests at your own risk).
This device is also now proper dual-SIM device, well at least the one that Malaysia gets anyway. The usual SIM tray on top holds one SIM card and a MicroSD card alongside it. If you wish to put a second SIM card, you would have to port it into the second tray found at the left side of the device way down from the volume rockers. This means that you do not need to sacrifice either a SIM slot or a MicroSD slot to have either one in your device. Be minded that you have to insert nano-SIMs into the device, anything bigger will not fit.
With dual mics that works together to cancel out noise the device works very well with calls with zero dropped calls. Of course the calls are made in areas with at least one bar of signal. The person at the other end of the line claimed that there were no distortion whatsoever in the phone call and it was crystal clear. To make it even clearer you would have to hop onto the VOLTE network that most major carriers do not carry at this time. We were told that the device was VOLTE ready. As the device tested was using Celcom’s network we did not have a chance to test out its claimed VOLTE capabilities.
Should you need to make your phone conversation with the loudspeakers as well, there is no need to worry too much. The speaker unit on the device is well more than enough for you to have a normal conversation over loudspeaker. You would have to be in a less noisy environment than a mall packed with people, but even then the conversation is still audible to you and the people at your small coffee table. If you are planning to use it in a conference room while standing at the other side of the room though, you might want to consider getting an external speaker for that. The speaker unit itself though is loud enough that you will not miss any phone calls if you are in the same room with the device.
The new Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) makes do with a 3GB of RAM (‘Make do’ is actually the wrong word for it, though I could not find better words – does away? No). I say make do, but the 3GB of RAM is plenty enough for the 2017 edition of the Samsung Galaxy A7. Multitasking is a breeze with the device. Of course there is Samsung’s RAM optimisation which might impact multitasking a little bit, but we never had a problem with it.
The Exynos 7880 octa-core processor clocked in at 1.9GHz across all eight cores worked flawlessly handling all sorts of things we could throw at it. At one point we were simply opening apps just to see whether how it would handle that sort of work. It barely broke a sweat; everything remained smooth even when I had to open another app (we lost count of how many apps were running at the time). I am also the sort of person that leaves a whole lot of tabs running on Google Chrome though. That even happened in this case when I had 16 tabs up and running at one time. Even then the device still performs like a champion.
We loaded up a bunch of games on the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017). There is my favourite Sky Force Reloaded, one Need For Speed: No Limits, Implosion, Ninjump, and N.O.V.A. 3. No Hearthstone this time. We did not play N.O.V.A. 3 either, I could not conjure up a reason why we did not. But other games in the list, we did.
The first of the games that we started with was Sky Force Reloaded (of course, I did mention it is my favourite right?). Loading the game up was easy with no lags at all. Starting up takes some time (slightly longer than usual) but not too long to annoy us at any given point. Playing the game too felt good. We did not encounter any severe heat issues with the device and that is a plus. There are however some occasions when the screen is littered with enemies that there are some noticeable dropped frame rates. It is not bad enough to disrupt gaming experience on the device though. On NInjump, it worked flawlessly with nothing to complain. Weirdly, playing Implosion and Need For Speed: No Limits was very pleasurable too. There were no noticeable dropped frame rates in either games. The stutters we encountered in Sky Force Reloaded then was a very occasional issue.
The battery that is embedded behind the curved glass back is a 3,600mAh Li-ion unit that was quoted to 59 hours of audio playback with Always On Display. Throughout our test we used the device to perform various tasks like text messaging on Whatsapp, take a few photos here and there, make several phone calls, some internet browsing, listen to music on public transports, made a few Grab bookings, went on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter occasionally (when we say occasionally, we have not included uploading of posts), some gaming, and of course there are the uploads to social media.
With a large battery, you would expect to be able to use the device up to two days before needing a charge, right? But at the same time smartphones nowadays consumer so much power that anything below 5,000mAh will only last a day, no? In our tests we could get the battery to last up to two days, even more if we use it as sparingly as possible; occasional phone calls, some Whatsapp text messaging, some photo taking sessions, very little Facebook. Mind you we still have our Always On Display turned on. You could turn off the Always-on Display feature to get a few more hours of battery life, but we like the Always-on Display so we left it on.
But if you managed to bring the battery down to less than 15% in less time than it takes you to finish your day in the office, fret not. The Galaxy A7 (2017) is equipped with fast charging which allows you to fully charge your device in less than two hours. The only worry you would have then is to find a USB Type-C cable lying around in your office to plug your Galaxy A7 (2017) with.
USB Type-C is a genuine worry. It is in fact the new standard as they claimed, I agree with them too. But at the same time the technology is so new that the cables that are in the market is more expensive than the Micro USB solutions. Samsung did though of that too, so they included a Micro USB to USB Type-C adapter that you can bring around to convert your old Micro USB cable to charge your new Galaxy A7 (2017). But the adapter is as small as a vitamin tablet, and you are bound to lose it if you do not safe keep it.
Fast charging was the sort of thing that you could only get from flagship or high-end devices though. Seeing this sort of solution in a sub-2K device is quite something, we do think that every device could use fast-charging. Do take caution when fast charging devices though as it has a real potential of shortening your battery lifetime. Also be minded that fast charging will produce a certain amount of heat, the Galaxy A7 (2017) is no exception.
The Samsung Galaxy A7 2017 edition comes with an upsized 5.7-inch display over the 5.5-inch of the 2016 version. It still maintains the Full HD 1080p resolution from the 2016 version though which means you do get a slight dip in the Pixels-Per-Square-Inch (ppi) rating. The drop is so little though it is barely noticeable. In fact, if our eyes can only pick up to 300ppi you will not notice the difference. If anything you will appreciate the increase in display real estate. Especially if it is a Super AMOLED panel.
We have always given high praises to the Super AMOLED display from Samsung for that high-contrast, high-brightness feature it has. Blacks are much deeper on these displays than usual too which makes images look that much better. On the Galaxy A7 (2017) any videos or photos you can throw at it looks beautiful. The colours pop and is very vivid in any viewing angle. With brightness turned all the way up, you can even see it clearly under intense sunlight that Malaysia enjoys. Of course, in lower light conditions you may notice the slightly warmer yellowish hue that is commonly associated with Super AMOLED displays.
The new Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) sports two 16-megapixel cameras out the front and back of the device. Both have an aperture of f/1.9 to ensure good low light shooting performance, and both are able to shoot videos at Full HD 1080p resolution at 30fps. In theory, photos taken with this device should be sharp and clear with a lot of details. Low light photos also should be a breeze with the large aperture opening.
Of course with 16-megapixels and a good amount of light, photos are as good as ever if not better. Details on the photos are great and you still get plenty of depth due to the large aperture. Even selfies are great in good lighting. When it comes to low lighting, photos still come out great. But to get that sort of result you would need to have pretty steady hands or your shots will not turn out. There is no ‘run-and-gun’ for low light or bad lighting photography in this case. Taking photos in that case will require you to hold the phone steady for at least one or two seconds after you press the shutter.
Beauty is in the eyes of its beholder though, so check out the gallery of unedited photos from the Galaxy A7 (2017) to see the photos for yourself.
IP68 Dust and Water Resistance
Waterproofing is something that we do not see every day with smartphones. In fact we do not see IP anything for devices below flagship level these days. Even with flagships, plenty of manufacturers went to the direction of spill proofing rather than a whole waterproofing treatment.
If you have some know how with electronics, you would also know that dust is the enemy of all electronic boards and circuits. Electronic items hates dusts. So dust proofing is also a bonus in any electronic device’s books.
Imagine our surprise then when they announced that the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) comes with IP68 dust and water resistant rating. It is a mid-range device for goodness sakes. We do think that every other manufacturer should take note and start making IP67 or IP68 dust and water resistance standard on their devices regardless of the range. Of course we know the complication within the manufacturing parameters. But it is a feature that we all need.
IP68 does not mean that the device is full waterproof and dustproof though. However you will be relieved to know that the device can go underwater at a depth of 1.5m for a full 30 minutes before it goes kaput. Obviously you are not going to put the device in the water for that long, unless you are a snorkelling enthusiast. But even you cannot hold your breath for that long.