After years of pumping out plastic phones in its Galaxy S range, Samsung has made a metal handset.
But don’t get too excited. The Galaxy Alpha isn’t carved from a single piece of aluminium like the iPhone 6 or HTC One (M8). The back is still plastic. It just has a metal frame.
Still, considering it charges about the same for its phones as Apple and HTC do for their flagships, it’s progress.
But does it put enough distance between it and other Samsung smartphones? Let’s take a look.
Don't want to read all the way through our comprehensive text review? Head to the foot of the page where you'll find our bite-size Samsung Galaxy Alpha hands-on video.
First impressions and design
The metal edge certainly makes the handset feel a lot more premium.
The sides are straight rather than curved, and are distinctly iPhone 5S-esque. Also like the 5S, it has curved corners.
At 4.7 inches, it’s relatively small by today’s standards. It’s also very slim and light – just 6.7mm fat, and 115g, which is slightly slimmer and only very slightly heavier than the 5S.
Considering the screen is almost an inch bigger than the 5S’s, that’s very impressive.
Indeed, the first time we picked it up, we thought the battery wasn’t in. Rest assured, it’s not going to put a dint in your pocket.
You can take the back off to swap the battery and slot in a SIM card. It still feels a bit flimsy when off, though its smooth faux-leather texture is a lot nicer than the back on the S5.
If you’ve used a Samsung Galaxy phone before, you know what to expect.
The Galaxy Alpha runs Samsung’s Touchwiz UI over the top of Android 4.4.4 KitKat.
We’re not fans of Touchwiz. It looks a bit amateurish, especially next to iOS 8 or stock Android.
The icons are blocky and look like they were designed in Microsoft Paint.
It’s inconsistent too, as some sub-menus – like Settings, for example – feature circular icons that look much cleaner.
It’s better than it was, though. Samsung has learned its lesson with the Galaxy S4 and hasn’t pre-loaded the handset with too much bloatware.
Though you do get some extras, like S Voice, S Health (which uses the fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor), and S Planner.
So what of the handset itself? What does it bring to the party?
The 4.7-inch screen is decent but a little unremarkable. It has a resolution of 1,280x720 pixels, giving it a pixel per inch count of 312ppi.
That’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s not quite up there with the best of them.
It’s impressive under the bonnet. It has an Exynos 5430 octa-core chip that’s made up of a quad-core 1.8GHz Cortex A15 and a 1.3GHz Cortex A7 core.
Four of its cores are used for hard work like gaming, while the other four help use the power more efficiently.
And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also 2GB of RAM to help things run smoothly. So while it may be small for a modern Android handset, it’s certainly not underpowered.
On the imaging side, it’s only slightly less impressive than the Galaxy S5, on paper anyway.
The 12-megapixel camera is a little lower specced than the 16-megapixel snapper## on the S5, though the front-facers are pretty much on an even keel (2.1-megapixels on the Alpha to 2-megapixels on the S5).
Both record video in 4K, too.
It also borrows some other tricks from the Galaxy S5, such as Download Booster – which helps you download files quicker – NFC, Air View, and the aforementioned fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor.
With all this power under the bonnet, we’re happy to report no real issues usability-wise.
Games run without a snag, as do videos and apps. Moving around the menus is a doddle – you fly through as fast as your finger can swipe.
The screen is not quite as impressive as the S5’s (the smaller size has something to do with this), but it’s perfectly fine.
And if you don’t place it next to a larger, brighter display, it looks even better.
There is one issue though. With automatic brightness selected, the screen stays dimmer than rival handsets’.
Everything is still sharp and readable, just not as bright as we’d like.
On an overcast day, the screen seemed to match the gloomy clouds overhead. Yet set to full brightness, it really pops.
There’s no microSD card slot either, so you’re stuck with the 32GB storage.
And you need a nano SIM, rather than a micro SIM as on other Android handsets, which seems a bit odd.
The camera is very good indeed, and gives you shots that are barely discernible from those taken with the S5.
Colours are vivid, and using the HDR mode, you can shine a light on even the most dimly-lit parts of a picture.
Unlike the S5, the Galaxy Alpha isn’t waterproof, so you’ll have to mind you don’t drop it in the drink.
As is pretty standard nowadays, the battery lasted a full day of fairly intense use.
While it’s small, the Galaxy Alpha certainly isn’t cheap.
At £550 SIM free, it’s about as pricey as the Galaxy S5, so you’ll really have to weigh up how much you want that metal frame.
In many ways, the Galaxy Alpha is a triumph. It’s small yet powerful, with a great camera, and much better build quality than the S and Galaxy Note ranges.
But the screen could be better, it’s a shame you lose the waterproofing, and it certainly isn’t cheap.
We suspect Samsung is testing out the design to gauge reaction before implementing it on the Galaxy S6. It would be a welcome departure for Samsung’s flagship range.
- 4.7" Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen
- 12-megapixel rear camera
- Android 4.4 KitKat
- Quad-core 1.8 GHz Cortex-A15 processor
- 4G Cat4
- 2.1-megapixel front-facing camera
Thanks to EE for providing the Galaxy Alpha for review.