Review: Samsung Galaxy Alpha
Ugh, Samsung. I love what you’ve accomplished, design-wise, with the Galaxy Alpha, but I hate the things I’m being asked to give up just so I can have the most attractive device you’ve released this year.
It’s classy, lightweight, has a great camera and performs wonderfully. But the Alpha has three glaring strikes against it: diminished battery life, the lack of microSD support and the asking price.
At first glance you might think the Alpha is an Apple device, with its slick and beveled edges, metal rim and bold appearance. It’s definitely unlike anything Samsung has released before (but is definitely like something Apple dropped in 2011 with the iPhone 4). Which is a compliment to Apple more than Samsung, though I hope Samsung sees the response this phone’s physical design receives and decides maybe incorporating a touch of metal into future releases isn’t such a bad idea.
I’ve always been the kind of guy to not really care too much about metal being used in phones I own, but the Alpha is nice and feels great in the hand. One-handed operation is a breeze thanks to the 4.7-inch display and quarter-inch, thin-as-thin-can-be profile.
Speaking of, the display is a Super AMOLED running at 720p but isn’t as sharp as I expected it to be, which left me a bit underwhelmed. It’s bright and colors are vibrant, but being spoiled by 1080p displays is what it is.
I know, I know: Most devices running at 1080p also have 5-inch-or-larger displays. But, if the HTC One M7 (last year’s model) can give us 1080p in a 4.7-inch display, so can the Alpha. Especially for the $613 off-contract ($199 on) asking price.
I’m not the biggest fan of Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface, so much so that, on my personal devices, I install different launchers and completely customize the UI to my liking. For most users, the UI is what it is: A means to an end. While TouchWiz has gotten better, there’s still a list of things Samsung can do to make it better.
Thankfully Samsung did change some things up, like giving us a dedicated S Finder button in the notifications menu. S Finder basically searches your entire phone (Chrome’s search history, contacts, messaging, local files; but not Gmail) for whatever you’re looking for. Type in a name and S Finder gives you results in quick fashion. S Finder is nothing special in and of itself, but kudos to Samsung for making it quickly accessible.
The Alpha’s 12-megapixel camera is up-to-par with the one found on the Galaxy S5 as far as features go (shooting modes, ease of use, etc.), and is a joy to use. It’s easy and quick, and the cleaned-up TouchWiz UI just adds to the enjoyment.
The Alpha’s camera also allows 4K video recording, which, to me, is unnecessary, but a nice feature to have. What’s better is the phone’s performance doesn’t suffer when 4K recording is in use.
Performance, as a whole, is fantastic. The Alpha is a fast and responsive device, and I didn’t encounter a single hiccup during my time spent with it. It packs a Snapdragon 801 chipset, a fingerprint scanner, some fitness monitors and 32GB worth of internal storage.
Despite my love for the device’s performance, I really do miss microSD support and the waterproof feature found on current Samsung devices. For $613, I’d like to think the Alpha would have what are now considered standard features.
Another disappointing thing about this device is its battery life. At 1,860mAh, the Alpha’s battery is quite small compared to its 2,800mAh counterpart in the Galaxy S5. Because of such, moderate-to-regular usage resulted in the device barely making it to the end of the day. With heavier use the device lasted considerably less than that.
Still, it’s to be expected because of the smaller battery. I mostly blame my disappointment on the fact that I’m so used to larger batteries and the juice they provide.
The Galaxy Alpha is a beautiful device. It’s got looks and brains, and I really like what Samsung’s done here. If you don’t mind missing a few features in exchange for a designer look and expensive price tag, then go for it. Otherwise, wait until Samsung dresses up one of their flagship devices, because I have a feeling it’ll happen sooner rather than later.