What is the Samsung Galaxy Ace 3?

The Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 is a 4-inch mid-range Android smartphone that all of a sudden feels very insignificant next to the Motorola Moto G. Priced at £200 SIM-free, the Ace 3 is more expensive than the Moto G and has a less impressive specs list with exception of its 4G support, one of the few missing features on the Moto G. If you want a 4G _phone_ but don't want to spend big, the Ace 3 is an affordable option. That aside, there's very few reasons to spend more to get a lot less.

Watch our Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 video review:


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Samsung Galaxy Ace 3: Design

The Ace 3 apes the design of the Samsung Galaxy S4, S4 Mini and so many other handsets in the Galaxy family with a familiar white glossy plastic body, silver metal band and thin bezel down the sides of the display is in place once again.

The home button is flanked by capacitive buttons below the screen with the chrome speaker up top alongside the microphone and sensors. You can whip the plastic back off by squeezing a fingernail in the groove alongside the headphone jack, where you’ll find room for the removable battery, Micro SIM and Micro SD card slot. Around the back you’ll find the small speaker, main camera and LED flash.



The Ace 3 weighs 120g so it’s lighter than the Moto G (143g), but heavier than the Galaxy S4 Mini (107g). At 9mm thick, it’s slimmer than the Moto handset and matches the S4 Mini in the slenderness department. Despite the slippery feel of the removable plastic back cover, the Ace 3 is comfortable to hold in one hand and slips easily into a jeans pocket. 

The cheap, plastic body feels a little more acceptable for a _phone_ at this price but there’s definitely a feeling that the Samsung Galaxy phone look is in desperate need of a refresh and even handsets like the HTC Desire 500 prove you can make a good-looking cheap phone.

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Samsung Galaxy Ace 3: Screen

The Ace 3 has a 480 x 800 resolution screen squeezing in 233 pixels per inch (ppi), which is the same as the similarly priced HTC Desire 500. But both are eclipsed by Moto G hand its 1,280 x 720 pixel resolution, and it definitely falls short of the impressive image sharpness and clarity levels the Moto G offers.

Icons and text look particularly fuzzy around the edges, but it is a vibrant screen and viewing angles are good. Typically, this is another Samsung Galaxy phone that offers great colours and contrast making it a good place to watch movies. Maximum screen brightness would make it easier to use outdoors if the display wasn't so reflective. 

We expected better from the screen in terms of responsiveness. It’s fine when you are swiping through homescreens and trying to launch apps, but a simple copy and paste is often a frustrating task. Ultimately, this is a screen that's not going to blow you away.

Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 – Software

The Galaxy Ace 3 runs on Android 4.2.2 with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI overlaid on top, so it’s not the latest version of Google's mobile operating system and we don’t expect it to get bumped up to Android 4.4 KitKat any time soon. What you do get is a clean and a relatively user-friendly approach to Android, even if sometimes Samsung's changes feel a little overcomplicated compared to stock Android.

Frustratingly the Ace 3 doesn’t adopt all of the best Android Jelly Bean features, either. You do get the standard five homescreens and access to Google Play, but there's no app folders and launching Google Now is not as simple as swiping up from the bottom of the screen as on the Nexus 5, for example.

Galaxy Ace 3 UI 5


Samsung includes some of its own unique features to help less tech savvy owners get to grips with the handset. The most notable addition is the Easy Mode home screen that strips back the UI including the camera UI using just three homescreens, much bigger icons and shifting third-party applications into the app drawer.

If you love apps, the simplified homescreen is not going to be for you, but it's  very easy to switch back to the standard look and be just the thing for someone who doesn't need all the features Android offers.


Galaxy Ace 3 UI 2

Samsung Galaxy Ace 3: Apps

It wouldn’t, of course, be a Samsung phone if the Ace 3 didn’t have its fair share of additional software to eat into the 8GB internal storage that’s actually around 5GB when you see what’s required to run the phone. You do get 50GB of free Dropbox cloud storage, however, and unlike the Moto G there's a Micro SD card slot for expanding the built-in memory.

Native applications on board include S Planner, ChatON, Game Hub, Reader Hub, S Voice, S Translator and Samsung’s own app store. They all vary in terms of usefulness but you are likely to ignore or ditch a lot of them for better alternatives found in the Google Play store. Thankfully, Google’s own apps are pre-installed including Gmail, Play Newsstand and Play Movies & TV to redress the bloatware balance.

Galaxy Ace 3 UI 3

A screenshot of Real Racing 3 running on the Ace 3

Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 - Performance

The Ace 3 runs on a 1.2GHz dual-core CPU with 1GB RAM, which falls in line with most similarly priced phones aside -- the Moto G being the exception. For basic tasks like navigating homescreens and running basic apps it’s more than suitable, but when performing tasks that demand more power like running multiple apps at once or playing more graphically demanding games you begin to see it struggle.

The Ace 3 CPU produces a 736 multi-core score in the Geekbench 3 benchmark test, making it slower than the quad-core Snapdragon 200-powered HTC Desire 500 (834) and significantly worse off than the Motorola Moto G (1155) that runs on a quad-core Snapdragon 400 CPU. It compares better to other dual-core phones like the Xperia M (625) and LG L7 II (421), but clearly it lags behind the better phones in the price range.

In the 3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark gaming test it scores a 4,001 which is higher than the Desire 500 (3,100) and the LG L7 II (2.290). It by no means a more superior handset to play games on, but the bottom line is it will run games like Real Racing 3 and Dead Trigger 2 with some very minor framerate issues and graphics that lack the visual gloss usually seen on more expensive phones.

Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 - Camera

Like its predecessor the  Galaxy Ace 2, the Ace 3 includes a 5-megapixel main camera with LED flash and autofocus. Up front there’s a very basic 0.3-megapixel VGA front-facing camera to serve up grainy-looking selfies and which is an adequate place for video calling.

The camera UI has a good selection of automatic and manual features, but can't really match the comprehensive snapping modes on the S4. There's a selection of Smart modes to choose from including Best Photo, Panorama, Sound & Shot and Continuous Shot to take 3 pictures per second. For more manual control you can adjust metering, ISO sensitivity, white balance and exposure, though these options seem a bit much for a cheap phone with a limited camera like this.

Galaxy Ace 3 UI


Image results are on par with other 5-megapixel smarphone cameras like the Moto G and the Xperia where bright, well-lit conditions yield the best-looking photos.

Shots from afar produce colourful images, but there's still a noticeable amount of noise. Without optical image stabilization, and an autofocus that's slow to jump into action, images often come out blurry especially when you are trying to take action shots.


The Ace 3's 5-megapixel camera produces good colours but struggles to focus




When you need to get up close the Ace 3 actually musters up an impressive Macro performance and can capture good levels of detail, although you do have a wait on your hands for the autofocus to sharpen up.

Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 macro mode


In low light conditions, the LED flash does a respectable job brightening up shots, but the night shot below shows its struggles with bright light sources.



Galaxy Ace 3 UI 4


For close-up shots the Ace 3 does a good job and will be sufficient for Facebook pictures of a night out but other than that you'd be better off sticking to a standalone camera.

Samsung Galaxy Ace 3: Video quality

For filming, the main camera shoots 720p HD video at 30fps. There’s very little in the way of additional features to boost the quality of footage although you can shoot still images at the same time. Footage is reasonably detailed  although the slow response of the touch focus makes it difficult to get stable, good quality video.

Samsung Galaxy Ace 3: Battery Life

We didn't expect great things from the removable 1,800 mAh battery. Samsung claims you should get up to 10 hours of talk time, up to eight hours of video playback and up to eight hours using the internet on 3G or 4G, but this is a phone you are going to need to charge every day.

If you are only going to use for phone calls it will be fine but in general use over a day browsing and gaming, it is more of a struggle. On a full battery from 8am it doesn’t take long to for the battery to start draining.

You can manage around 7 hours on average and in more extreme testing, running the Ice Age movie downloaded to the Google Play video player with sound on and maximum brightness, it manages to get to around the 6.5-7 hour mark. The Xperia M with a 1,750 mAh battery manages a more impressive 9-9.5 hours in extreme testing and perhaps benefits from the Snapdragon S4 Plus processor and its ability to conserve battery even when running multiple apps at once.

In its favour the Ace 3's battery does power back up quickly from a critical battery level jumping from 15% on a 30-minute charge but it could have really done with some power saving options to help it to push on for a bit longer.


Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 - Call Quality and Speaker Quality

This is an area where the Ace 3 lacks in comparison to its larger more expensive compatriots. With the earpiece sat in the identical position as the bigger S4, calls come through loud but can sound muffled and distorted even with the HD voice support.

Taking calls in-built up, busy areas has an adverse effect on call clarity and makes it really difficult at times to hear the other person even on the loudest volume. There is an in-call equalizer to improve the calling environment, but won’t do much in the way of improving the good but not brilliant ability to do perform one of the basic features of a phone.

Things don’t get any better on the speaker front. The small grilled speaker at the back of the Ace 3 is strangely positioned alongside the camera lens. It's loud at maximum volume but it’s largely a tinny sound experience for music and watching video. The Xperia M offers a far more rounded experience for a cheap phone.

Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Ace 3?

If you really want a 4G phone but don’t want to spend big, then the Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 should be up for consideration. But for value for money, the Motorola Moto G is the best option out there. It does lack the Micro SD card slot and 4G support, but it comprehensively outperforms the Ace 3 in all other departments including the 720p HD screen and faster processor.

In the same price range, the Sony Xperia M (£180) offers a similar performance but has the better battery life and speakers. The HTC Desire 500 (£200) is one of the best looking mid-range handsets available, but if you want the best, the Moto G should really be your only option.

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 is a cheap 4G phone, but it's that’s no match for the new king of the cheap smartphone, the Motorola Moto G.

Next, read our round-up of the best cheap mobile phones