Introduction

Utilitarian Samsung has finally put on their premium hat to produce a device with more refined looks and manageable size to match the upcoming iPhone 6. An Android super mini and an iPhone 6 competitor, the Alpha puts aluminum back in Samsung's design mix and is optimized for portability rather than massive screen size.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha official images

The Galaxy Alpha we are reviewing is based on the company's latest Exynos chipset, tailored to its needs, rather than using the ubiquitous Snapdragon. There's been talk of a Snapdragon-powered version but so far the details are vague.

The screen size hits right where the new iPhone and the Xperia Z1 Compact successor are supposedly aiming at - a more manageable 4.7-inch diagonal.

The Alpha comes with a unique camera with a 12MP 16:9 sensor and 2160p video capture.

Many things about the Galaxy Alpha make us wish it starts a new trend in Samsung design but the practical, mass-market genes of the company are still plainly visible in the Alpha's design.

Key features

  • Metal frame, 6.7mm slim, 115g of weight
  • LTE connectivity (Cat. 6, 300Mbps downlink)
  • 4.7" 1280 x 720 Super AMOLED display with 312 ppi pixel density
  • Android OS v4.4 KitKat with TouchWiz UI
  • Octa-core processor (1.3 GHz Cortex-A7 + 1.8GHz Cortex-A15), Exynos 5 Octa 5430 chipset, Mali-T628MP6 GPU, 2GB of RAM
  • Optional quad-core processor (2.5GHz Krait 400), Snapdragon 801 chipset, Adreno 330 GPU, 2GB of RAM for a yet to be confirmed regional version
  • Cortex-A5 based Seiren audio co-processor (Exynos model only)
  • 12MP camera with LED flash, 2.1MP front-facing camera, 2160p video recording
  • 32GB of built-in storage
  • Fingerprint scanner with PayPal payments support and private mode access
  • Heart-rate monitor
  • Motion and gesture control, Air view
  • 1,860mAh battery

Main disadvantages

  • Low battery capacity
  • Still plenty of plastic in the design
  • Non-expandable storage
  • No TV-Out option (no MHL or SlimPort)
  • Not water resistant (like the S5 mini or Z1 Compact)

The small battery capacity is the biggest practical issue with the Galaxy Alpha though the Exynos 5430 mobile chipset is the first built on a 20nm process (Snapdragons are at 28nm). That and the Cortex-A7 cores should be quite a power-efficient setup.

Another thing is the plastic back panel is at odds with the overall styling, it's the plastic of midrange devices. Still, the Alpha is the thinnest Galaxy smartphone Samsung has made and it's a featherweight, too. At 115g, it weighs as much as an iPhone 5s and is almost a full millimeter thinner to boot. It's only the lack of water-resistance that can possibly backfire.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha in the office • staring down the iPhone 5s

The metal edge on the sides does elevate the in-hand feel though. It's a popular design, the metal frame exposed on the sides with glass/plastic on the front and back. Apple, Sony and Nokia have all used it on their flagship devices.

We didn't expect Samsung to completely change its identity for the Galaxy Alpha but Galaxy S fans still have plenty to drool over. Fans of Android super minis will also see a glimmer of hope and maybe loosen their grip on the Xperia Z1 Compact. And even if you are the iPhone type, the following pages should still be of interest. You know, to check out what the competition has to offer - and this time, it's a lot of bang in a package small enough.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha 360-degree spin

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha measures 132.4 x 65.5 x 6.7 mm, compared to 142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm for the big Galaxy S5. It's lighter too, 115g vs. 145g.

Design and build quality

Samsung's shift in design has to be felt to be believed. No, really, on the outside the Samsung Galaxy Alpha is very similar to the Galaxy S5 mini. A keen eye will notice that the bezels above and below the screen are smaller, accommodating the bigger screen. The Alpha is also considerably thinner, if that's not obvious by first look.

Of course, the major upgrade to Samsung's design language here is the metal chassis. The sides of the _phone_ are exposed metal while the front and back are covered in glass and plastic, not unlike Apple's iPhone 4 / 4s and Sony's Xperias.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha compared to the outgoing iPhone model

The Galaxy Alpha will inevitably draw comparisons with the iPhone - the flat metal sides are segmented by thin lines of plastic and look so familiar. Samsung's design features flared corners which improve handling a bit by preventing your fingers from slipping off the rounded corner. They also remind us a bit of the Samsung Galaxy S5 Active.

The back of the _phone_ is plastic, with the dotted pattern of perforated leather similar to the Galaxy S5 though here the pattern is finer and not resembling leather so much.

While the plastic isn't the most premium material, the Samsung Galaxy Alpha impresses with a mere 6.7mm thickness. It's the slimmest Galaxy device to date though not the slimmest smartphone in general.

The feeling of compactness is helped by the weight of 115g, few 4.7" phones weigh this little. The Galaxy Alpha feels tiny compared to the current crop of 5" flagships.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Galaxy Alpha in the hand • the flared corners slightly improve the grip

The Galaxy Alpha also compares favorably against iPhone 5s, which measures 7.6mm thick and weighs 113g. The iPhone 6 is expected to be bigger and thinner than its predecessor but it remains to be seen if Apple can keep the weight down. And it's the upcoming iPhone that Samsung has in its sights, not the 5s.

We can only suppose that the magic behing this reduced weight is the reduced battery capacity, which in this case amounts to only 1,860mAh. Indeed, the battery is removable, but it's still a measly capacity.

The front is made of glass though Samsung has not revealed yet whether it's the usual Gorilla Glass or not. Under the glass is a plastic that matches the back in terms of color and the fine dotted pattern. The Galaxy Alpha will be available in Charcoal Black, Sleek Silver, Dazzling White, Frosted Gold and Scuba Blue.

The front of the device features an earpiece, the usual sensor array (proximity, ambient light and Air Gesture) and a notification LED. There's also a 2MP/1080p camera above the screen. Nothing has changed below the screen either, a hardware Home key is flanked by capacitive App switcher and Back keys.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

The traditional face of a Galaxy smartphone

The Home key houses a hidden fingerprint reader, which can be used to lock the phone and authorize transactions (it's PayPay-certified). It also enables Private mode, which gives you access to a secure part of the storage where you can keep sensitive data and photos.

The sensorama tour continues with a heart rate monitor on the back. It's placed next to the camera and is grouped with the LED flash in a small black segment amidst the colored plastic.

The camera itself protrudes slightly from the back of the phone, extending past the 6.7mm thickness. It has 12MP resolution and can record 2160p video, more on that later.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

12MP camera with LED flash • heart rate monitor

The back panel can be removed to expose the 1,860mAh battery. It's user-replaceable but is relatively small even for a phone this size. We guess sacrificing battery capacity is part of how Samsung got the Galaxy Alpha down to this thickness and weight. Ultra Power Saving Mode is available for when battery charge gets too close to 0% for comfort.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

A removable battery • nanoSIM card slot

Anyway, under the back cover you'll find a nanoSIM card slot but no microSD. The phone comes with 32GB of storage as default and that's all you're getting (there's no 64GB version announced yet).

The bottom of the phone features a microUSB 2.0 port, a microphone and the grill of the loudspeaker. Positioning the loudspeaker here means it won't get muffled regardless of how you put the phone down (face up or face down) but is bound to draw even more comparisons with the iPhone.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

A microUSB 2.0 port, loudspeaker grill and a microphone

Note that's because the Galaxy Alpha is not water resistant like its Galaxy S5 siblings.

The top of the phone houses the second microphone and an exposed 3.5mm audio jack. What's missing is an IR blaster, which both the big Galaxy S5 and S5 mini have.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

3.5mm audio jack and secondary mic

The metal sides of the phone host one hardware control each - the Power button on the right and the Volume rocker on the left. Both are made of metal and are slightly too thin for our liking, it makes pressing the keys slightly more difficult.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

The thin metal buttons on each side of the Galaxy Alpha

Among the sensors packed inside the Samsung Galaxy Alpha is a Hall sensor, normally used to detect the opening and closing of covers. Samsung hasn't announced any dedicated Alpha covers yet but it would be interesting to see if they'll have a premium feel to them compared to regular S Covers. Note that there doesn't seem to be a barometer or humidity sensor on board.

Excellent display

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha uses a 4.7" Super AMOLED display with 720p resolution and 312ppi pixel density. That's a first for a Samsung phone - the Galaxy S III was a 4.8" 720p screen while the Galaxy S5 mini has a 4.5" 720p screen, both close but not the same.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

A 4.7" Super AMOLED screen with 720p resolution

Anyway, the latest generation of Super AMOLED boasts improved sunlight legibility and color accuracy along with reduced power usage. As usual viewing angles are stunning.

The 300ppi may not be cutting edge these days, but it's enough by our books. It's really hard to actually see any imperfections though if you look close enough you can spot the telltale signs of the PenTile matrix.

It's the diamond pattern arrangement that Samsung has been using for a couple of generations of Super AMOLED, which does look better than the regular PenTile arrangement.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

The Galaxy Alpha screen proved slightly brighter than the Galaxy S5 mini screen though not quite as bright as the big Galaxy S5. Outdoors in the summer sun, the brightness comes a bit short.

Black levels are perfect though resulting in an impressive contrast ratio.

The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact has amazing contrast too and it's a potential competitor to the Alpha (though the upcoming Z3 Compact is where the real battle will be).

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Samsung Galaxy Alpha 228 456
Samsung Galaxy S5 274 529
Samsung Galaxy S5 mini 226 432
Samsung I9190 Galaxy S4 mini 166 396
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact - - - 0.34 626 1819
LG G2 mini 0.12 91 752 0.52 398 748
HTC One mini 2 0.19 220 1141 0.42 501 1196
Apple iPhone 5s 0.14 163 1145 0.49 596 1219


Super AMOLEDs rely on their low reflectivity for good sunlight legibility so even with an average brightness (compared to LCDs) the Galaxy Alpha screen is among the best we've tested in our Sunlight legibility test. It's practically as good as the Galaxy S5 screen or the Apple iPhone 5s screen.

Aside from Android minis, the Alpha will also fight it out with the new iPhone, so this is an important comparison. Of course the iPhone 6 is the real target and we have no measurements of that but if the iPhone 5s is of any indication, it should offer great sunlight legibility as well.

Sunlight contrast ratio

  • Nokia 808 PureView
    4.698
  • Apple iPhone 5
    3.997
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3
    3.997
  • Samsung Galaxy K zoom
    3.675
  • Apple iPhone 5s
    3.565
  • Samsung Galaxy S5
    3.549
  • Alcatel Idol X+
    3.527
  • Apple iPhone 5c
    3.512
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    3.509
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Neo
    3.487
  • Motorola RAZR MAXX
    3.42
  • Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III
    3.419
  • Nokia Lumia 925
    3.402
  • Gionee Elife S5.5
    3.386
  • Samsung I9505 Galaxy S4
    3.352
  • Samsung Omnia W
    3.301
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    3.174
  • Samsung I9000 Galaxy S
    3.155
  • Samsung Ativ S
    3.129
  • Samsung I9190 Galaxy S4 mini
    3.127
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom
    3.118
  • Nokia N9
    3.069
  • Samsung Galaxy Note
    2.97
  • Samsung Galaxy Premier
    2.958
  • Sony Xperia Z1
    2.95
  • HTC One S
    2.901
  • Samsung I8730 Galaxy Express
    2.861
  • BlackBerry Q10
    2.856
  • Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II
    2.832
  • Samsung Galaxy S II Plus
    2.801
  • BlackBerry Z30
    2.79
  • Sony Xperia ZR
    2.672
  • Huawei Ascend P1
    2.655
  • Nokia Lumia 900
    2.562
  • HTC One Max
    2.537
  • Nokia Lumia 720
    2.512
  • HTC One
    2.504
  • Motorola Moto G
    2.477
  • Sony Xperia Z
    2.462
  • Xiaomi Mi 4
    2.424
  • Samsung Galaxy S III mini
    2.422
  • LG G Flex
    2.407
  • HTC One (M8)
    2.371
  • Motorola RAZR i
    2.366
  • Sony Xperia ZL
    2.352
  • Samsung Galaxy Note II
    2.307
  • Oppo Find 7a
    2.279
  • Alcatel One Touch Hero
    2.272
  • Apple iPhone 4S
    2.269
  • HTC Desire 600 dual sim
    2.262
  • Nokia Asha 311
    2.25
  • LG Nexus 5
    2.228
  • Nokia Lumia 820
    2.193
  • HTC One (E8)
    2.185
  • Nokia Lumia 920
    2.17
  • HTC One X
    2.158
  • Nokia N8
    2.144
  • Nokia Lumia 620
    2.142
  • Nokia 515
    2.134
  • HTC Desire 500
    2.129
  • Sony Xperia acro S
    2.119
  • Nokia Lumia 1020
    2.103
  • Oppo Find 5
    2.088
  • Sony Xperia SL
    2.078
  • Nokia Lumia 630
    2.056
  • BlackBerry Z10
    2.051
  • Samsung I9295 Galaxy S4 Active
    2.022
  • Apple iPhone 4
    2.016
  • HTC One mini
    2.003
  • Xiaomi Mi 3
    2.001
  • Huawei Ascend P7
    1.992
  • LG G2
    1.976
  • Oppo R819
    1.957
  • Sony Ericsson Xperia ray
    1.955
  • Sony Xperia Z2
    1.944
  • Nokia Lumia 1320
    1.941
  • HTC One mini 2
    1.94
  • Samsung Galaxy Camera
    1.938
  • Sony Xperia J
    1.932
  • Acer CloudMobile S500
    1.931
  • LG Nexus 4
    1.926
  • LG G Pro 2
    1.922
  • Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3
    1.913
  • Nokia Asha 308
    1.911
  • Sony Xperia T
    1.894
  • HTC Desire X
    1.878
  • HTC Windows phone 8X
    1.873
  • HTC Butterfly
    1.873
  • HTC Butterfly S
    1.867
  • Huawei Ascend P6
    1.865
  • Huawei Ascend Mate
    1.845
  • LG G2 mini
    1.838
  • LG G3
    1.82
  • Nokia Lumia 1520
    1.813
  • HTC Desire 616 dual sim
    1.797
  • Sony Xperia V
    1.792
  • HTC Desire 816
    1.783
  • Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
    1.772
  • HTC Desire 700 dual sim
    1.769
  • Sony Xperia U
    1.758
  • Meizu MX3
    1.754
  • LG Optimus G
    1.753
  • Sony Xperia T2 Ultra
    1.74
  • Sony Xperia SP
    1.733
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    1.691
  • Oppo Find 7
    1.691
  • HTC One V
    1.685
  • BlackBerry Q5
    1.682
  • LG Optimus Vu
    1.68
  • LG Optimus GJ
    1.666
  • LG Optimus 3D Max
    1.658
  • HTC Desire V
    1.646
  • Samsung Galaxy Xcover 2
    1.632
  • Samsung Galaxy Ace 3
    1.622
  • Jolla Jolla
    1.605
  • Sony Xperia Z Ultra
    1.578
  • Sony Xperia go
    1.577
  • Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 I8160
    1.566
  • Samsung Galaxy Core
    1.563
  • LG Optimus G Pro
    1.552
  • Motorola Moto E
    1.545
  • LG Optimus 3D
    1.542
  • Nokia Asha 302
    1.537
  • BlackBerry Curve 9320
    1.488
  • Sony Xperia M
    1.473
  • Oppo N1
    1.47
  • Meizu MX 4-core
    1.462
  • Nokia Lumia 610
    1.432
  • Samsung Galaxy S Duos
    1.4
  • Samsung Galaxy Grand Neo
    1.393
  • Sony Xperia M2
    1.393
  • Samsung Galaxy Grand 2
    1.38
  • Sony Xperia E1
    1.372
  • Nokia Lumia 625
    1.371
  • Gigabyte GSmart G1355
    1.361
  • Sony Xperia L
    1.351
  • Samsung Galaxy Mega 5.8
    1.35
  • Sony Xperia miro
    1.324
  • Samsung I9082 Galaxy Grand
    1.321
  • Samsung I8530 Galaxy Beam
    1.315
  • HTC Desire C
    1.3
  • Nokia X
    1.291
  • Sony Xperia C
    1.283
  • Nokia Asha 503
    1.281
  • Nokia Asha 501
    1.27
  • LG Optimus L7
    1.269
  • Nokia Lumia 510
    1.268
  • Samsung Galaxy Fame
    1.245
  • LG Optimus L9
    1.227
  • Meizu MX
    1.221
  • Samsung Galaxy Young
    1.22
  • Sony Xperia E
    1.215
  • Nokia XL
    1.204
  • Sony Xperia E dual
    1.203
  • Samsung Galaxy Pocket
    1.18
  • Nokia Asha 305
    1.178
  • Nokia Asha 306
    1.175
  • Sony Xperia neo L
    1.169
  • Sony Xperia tipo
    1.166
  • Nokia Lumia 520
    1.161
  • Samsung S6802 Galaxy Ace Duos
    1.148
  • Samsung Galaxy mini 2
    1.114

Colors are beautifully rendered on the Samsung Galaxy Alpha's screen but everybody have their own preferences when it comes to color saturation. The Screen mode option lets you pick between more saturated or more accurate options for the saturation.

There's a slider in the notification area to adjust the screen brightness. If you enable auto brightness that slider biases the automatic setting towards brighter or darker. You can enable an automatic screen tone adjustment, which promises to improve battery life by adjusting screen settings to the image it's displaying.

Another option is Smart stay, which prevents the display from locking while you're looking at it. This way you can keep the screen timeout at a short setting (say, 30 seconds) without the annoyance of having to manually keep the screen on while reading a longer article.

If you're wondering what's with all the battery saving tips, it's because the battery capacity of the Galaxy Alpha is lower than we're used to on a 4.5+ inch phone. The battery tests will reveal if those tips were necessary or not.

Battery life

The 1,860mAh battery capacity blinked like a warning beacon on the Samsung Galaxy Alpha spec page but we're glad the phone makes the best out of it. We've only tested the version with an Exynos 5430 chipset so far so keep in mind that the Snapdragon 801 version might have a somewhat different endurance.

The 52 hours endurance rating is on par with what an iPhone 5s achieves, though the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact has a noticeably lead on both. It remains to be seen what the iPhone 6 and Xperia Z3 Compact, the true Galaxy Alpha rivals, will be like.

With the Alpha, talk time is solid but the tests that involve the full processing power and display staying on are somewhat unimpressive.

Adding the standby battery performance allowed us to come up with an endurance rating of 52h - that should be good enough for a day of heavy usage, two if you don't push it as hard.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Connectivity

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha comes loaded with wireless connectivity features. It starts with LTE Cat. 6 (up to 300Mpbs down, 50Mbps up) to match what the latest Snapdragon 805 can offer. Regular 2G and 3G connectivity is of course supported, too.

Local connectivity is no slower, the phone packs a MIMO (2x2) antenna setup for dual-channel connectivity. That's different from dual-band (which the Alpha also has), it means that it can use 80MHz of the Wi-Fi spectrum instead of the usual 40MHz for enhanced speed. Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac standards are supported as are Wi-Fi Direct and Miracast screen mirroring.

The Galaxy Alpha has the Download booster features - for native apps it can download simultaneously from Wi-Fi and from LTE to combine their speeds. Unless you're connected to a really slow Wi-Fi network we don't see much use in it though.

Additional local connectivity includes Bluetooth 4.0 LE and ANT+, both of which are low-power and can be used to connect with wireless sports accessories (to be used with the S Health app or third-party apps). NFC rounds off the wireless connectivity section.

The Galaxy Alpha relies on a standard microUSB 2.0 port for charging and wired data connectivity. USB 3.0 ports are rare and require a fairly large adapter. The port is USB OTG-enabled meaning you can attach USB accessories to it (e.g. a thumb drive). What we miss here is wired TV out either via MHL or SlimPort.

Latest TouchWiz on KitKat

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha runs on the latest available Android 4.4.4 KitKat enhanced with the TouchWiz UI that also powers the Galaxy S5.

The lockscreen can be secured with a fingerprint - the Galaxy Alpha can be set to recognize up to three individual fingerprints. You can scan the finger from a different angle to improve the accuracy of the reader. If it still fails reading the finger for some reason (e.g. wet fingers), the phone will ask for a password so you'll never get locked out.

The new lockscreen wallpaper is interactive and as you move the phone in your hand it shifts colors around.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

The lockscreen

The homescreen features the My Magazine that displays both news articles and social networking updates. This is powered by Flipboard and you can enjoy your reads in a clean interface and send links to your friends or post social updates straight from the app.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

My Magazine keeps you up to date with news and social networking updates

There are regular homescreens too, with shortcuts, widgets and folders. If you want just those, My Magazine can be disabled completely.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

The regular homescreens

The notification area is filled to the brim with features. The toggles work as usual and below them are two buttons (S Finder and Quick connect). Below that is the brightness slider, which can be hidden to save space, but you're stuck with the two buttons.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Notification area

There's a new feature called Recommended apps, which adds relevant shortcuts when an accessory is plugged, like the headphones. You're free to edit the list of 5 shortcuts or disable the feature completely.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Recommended apps

In the app drawer, icons are presented as a customizable or alphabetized grid. You can also view only the ones you've downloaded yourself or just hide the ones you don't need. You can also disable some of the pre-installed apps so they won't take any RAM.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

The app drawer

The Galaxy Alpha has an App Switcher button that calls up a custom switcher UI. As usual, you can go into the task manager for more advanced controls or just hit the Close all button.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

The app switcher and task manager

The Galaxy Alpha comes with the Multi-window multitasking feature, which allows you to run two apps side by side. Unlike previous iterations of the feature, you can't resize the two windows (even though the Help tries to teach you how).

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

The new tray for Multi Window apps

If a pair of apps works well together (e.g. the browser and the email client) you can create a shortcut that launches both. Note that only select apps work with Multi-window but more can be found in the Play Store.

There are no floating apps here, but there's something called Toolbox - a floating icon that shows a list of shortcuts once tapped. This is a quick way to get to some of the most commonly used apps.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Toolbox is a floating drawer of favorite shortcuts

Safety, power saving, simplicity

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha features Private mode. It secures photos, voice recordings, music and other files with your fingerprint (any of the three prints set up, with the password as a failsafe). Those files are only accessible when Private mode is enabled and completely hidden from apps otherwise.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Enabling Private mode and moving photos to a secure location

Note that this is completely separate from the lockscreen - you can have the insecure Swipe to unlock screen and still keep your files safe with Private mode. You can also chose less secure options like a Pattern lock or PIN to use instead of a fingerprint.

The fingerprint scanner has been certified by PayPal and can be used by apps to secure transactions, unlike the iPhone's sensor, which cannot be accessed by third-party apps. You can also verify your Samsung account and sign into websites using the fingerprint reader.

Samsung offers two Power saving modes on its recent smartphones. Those are particularly welcome on the Galaxy Alpha and its small battery. The first can restrict chipset performance and background data and even turn the screen greyscale for extra power saving.

If you really need to make those last few percent battery charge last, you go to Ultra power saving mode. This one cuts off all advanced functions and even changes the homescreen to a simple one with big shortcuts (only 6 of them too).

This one also works with the Safety assistance feature. In case of an emergency, the phone will alert you to Geo News (e.g. extreme weather, earthquakes) and you get easy access to the primary contacts. Hitting the Power key three times fast can send out a message to your emergency contacts.

The Ultra power saving mode is enabled to make the battery last as long as possible but with a different set of shortcuts - flashlight, emergency alarm and sharing your location get top spots on the homescreen.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

The two power-saving modes • Emergency mode

Finally, the TouchWiz feature tally is completed by the Easy mode, which shows only a handful of large shortcuts on the screen. The step counter is also visible on the homescreen, so this mode is perhaps meant for when you're out on a run and aiming for tiny icons is too hard.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Easy mode simplifies the user interface

The Galaxy Alpha also has the Smart screen features - Smart stay prevents the screen from locking while you're looking at it, Smart pause stops video playback when you look away. Smart scroll lets you scroll through pages just by tilting your head or by glancing up or down. Air View is also available, it shows additional info when you hover your finger over a calendar entry or a folder in the gallery.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Motions gestures and Air View are available

Motion gestures are available too. Direct call dials the currently selected contact when you put the phone up to your ear, while smart alert will vibrate the phone when you pick it up if there are missed events.

S Voice and Google Now

The Galaxy Alpha features both Google Now and Samsung's S Voice.

Google Now integrates with your Google account and can access your daily routine, internet searches, email, etc. and give you information relevant to your interests and daily needs.

It provides traffic information to your work or home, knows the scores of sports teams you follow and gives you the weather forecast for your location. It's great for at-a-glance info, but can handle voice input as well.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Google Now

Google Now also has its own dedicated homescreen widget.

S Voice is meant for just voice commands. It can be used to dictate text, play music, open an app, change a setting, make a memo (including voice memo), add a reminder, schedule an event, set an alarm or timer, check the weather, do a search on the internet, look for local listings (e.g. nearby restaurants) and even get an answer to a question.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

S Voice

Performance

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha comes with either a Exynos 5 Octa chipset or a Snapdragon 801. It's the first to get the Exynos 5 Octa 5430 and it's the one we're testing. If we get hold of the S801 version we'll add that into the charts too.

The chipset features a big.LITTLE processor with four Cortex-A15 cores and four Cortex-A7 cores clocked at 1.8GHz and 1.3GHz respectively. All eight can run simultaneously so we can expect great multi-core performance.

The chipset also packs a hexa-core Mali-T628 MP6 GPU, the latest currently available Mali design. Processor and RAM share 2GB of RAM.

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha comes with Android 4.4.4 KitKat out of the box. Note that Samsung disables the ART runtime in its TouchWiz software, that's the faster optional runtime that debuted with KitKat and will be made default in Android L. An increasing number of apps is becoming compatible with ART.

With technical specifications out of the way, let's pit the Galaxy Alpha against flagships and high-profile minis. Of the minis only the Xperia Z1 Compact has a chance of competing here, the others are powered by mid-range Snapdragon 400 chipsets.

We start off with the Basemark suite of cheat detection software. We're pleased to report that Samsung hasn't gone back to benchmark shenanigans. The Basemark tests are good for comparing performance, too.

Basemark OS II leans on the CPU and puts the Galaxy Alpha within spitting distance of the LG G3. The breakdown shows great single-core performance and unmatched multi-core performance (all 8 cores working at once does make a difference).

Basemark OS II

Higher is better is better

  • Oppo Find 7
    1212
  • Galaxy S5 (Snapdragon 801)
    1082
  • Sony Xperia Z2
    1080
  • LG G3
    945
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    915
  • HTC One mini 2
    517
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    419

Basemark OS II (single-core)

Higher is better is better

  • Oppo Find 7
    2606
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    2579
  • Galaxy S5 (Snapdragon 801)
    2415
  • Sony Xperia Z2
    2253
  • LG G3
    1787
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    1353
  • HTC One mini 2
    1304

Basemark OS II (multi-core)

Higher is better is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    15096
  • Oppo Find 7
    10391
  • Galaxy S5 (Snapdragon 801)
    10063
  • Sony Xperia Z2
    10044
  • LG G3
    8337
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    5283
  • HTC One mini 2
    5182

The multi-core score from Geekbench 3 confirms the finding that the Alpha tops Snapdragon 801-based phones in multi-core performance.

GeekBench 3

Higher is better is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    3214
  • Oppo Find 7
    3178
  • Galaxy S5 (Snapdragon 801)
    3011
  • Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
    2968
  • Sony Xperia Z2
    2856
  • LG G3
    2687
  • HTC One mini 2
    1526
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    1123
  • LG G2 mini
    1123

The total Basemark OS score is a bit low, considering the CPU scores. AnTuTu 4 shows a lot more love for the Galaxy Alpha and places it second behind the Oppo Find 7 but ahead of the Galaxy S5 and other flagships.

AnTuTu 4

Higher is better is better

  • Oppo Find 7
    38484
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    38119
  • Galaxy S5 (Snapdragon 801)
    36018
  • Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
    34527
  • Sony Xperia Z2
    33182
  • LG G3
    30482
  • HTC One mini 2
    17883
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    17753
  • LG G2 mini
    17362

We've seen the hexa-core Mali-T628 perform in the Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Tab S but when it comes to phones it easily tops the Adreno 320 and Adreno 330 devices in GFX Benchmark, both on-screen and off-screen.

For the on-screen tests do keep in mind that the Galaxy Alpha is rendering at only 720p - the LG G3 is working with four times the number of pixels and even the 1080p phones have to push more than twice the pixels the Alpha does.

GFX 2.7 T-Rex (onscreen)

Higher is better is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    48.4
  • Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
    34
  • Sony Xperia Z2
    28.7
  • Galaxy S5 (Snapdragon 801)
    28.1
  • LG G3
    20.6
  • Oppo Find 7
    19.9
  • LG G2 mini
    14.9
  • HTC One mini 2
    11
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    9.3

GFX 3.0 Manhattan (onscreen)

Higher is better is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    25.3
  • Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
    17
  • Sony Xperia Z2
    12.2
  • Galaxy S5 (Snapdragon 801)
    11.7
  • LG G3
    7.4
  • Oppo Find 7
    6.7
  • HTC One mini 2
    3.8

GFX 2.7 T-Rex (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    31.3
  • Oppo Find 7
    28
  • Galaxy S5 (Snapdragon 801)
    27.8
  • LG G3
    27.6
  • Sony Xperia Z2
    27.2
  • Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
    22
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    6.7
  • LG G2 mini
    5.8
  • HTC One mini 2
    5.8

GFX 3.0 Manhattan (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    13.4
  • LG G3
    11.9
  • Galaxy S5 (Snapdragon 801)
    11.8
  • Sony Xperia Z2
    11.7
  • Oppo Find 7
    11.1
  • Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
    9
  • HTC One mini 2
    1.7

Moving on to web browsing, Samsung has once again created a highly-tuned JavaScript engine and the Galaxy Alpha tops the Snapdragon phones in Kraken 1.1.

Kraken 1.1

Lower is better is better

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    4911
  • Galaxy S5 (Snapdragon 801)
    6043
  • Oppo Find 7
    6363
  • Sony Xperia Z2
    7041
  • LG G3
    7610
  • HTC One mini 2
    15684
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    15885

The complete browsing experience as measured by BrowserMark 2.1 is a few notches below the top, which is surprising considering the resolution difference plays a role here, too. Note that we used the Samsung-modified stock browser for these tests and not Chrome.

BrowserMark 2.1

Higher is better is better

  • Oppo Find 7
    1452
  • Galaxy S5 (Snapdragon 801)
    1398
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
    1364
  • LG G3
    1254
  • Sony Xperia Z2
    1224
  • HTC One mini 2
    945
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 mini
    861

Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Alpha shows proper flagship performance, even chart-topping performance in certain tasks. The Exynos 5 Octa 5430 chipset finally brings Samsung's homebrewed solutions back to champion shape after falling behind Snapdragon 600/800 last year.

One thing we should note is that the chipset can run hot while doing tests (they all do) and the heat is easily transferred to the external metal frame. Metal is a lot more conductive than plastic, which means you feel the heat from the chipset a lot more while holding the device than you do with plastic bodies.

Telephony and phonebook

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha held onto signal well and we liked its sound quality and volume during calls. There's no noise reduction during calls, though, and background noise was audible but not too bad. The dialer is the familiar TouchWiz app and features all the basics - smart dial, quick dial and even a video call button.

The list of contacts is displayed alphabetically and there's an alphabet scroll and a search field. Your contacts automatically get synced with your Google account and your social networks.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Contacts

The dialer is part of a tabbed app that also houses the Logs. Those are very detailed and show not only calls, but messages too and you can filter by various types of events (missed call, received message, etc.). There's even a search feature if you need to look up calls from just one number or contact.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Dialer

The Galaxy Alpha features auto call rejection - it can reject all calls, or only calls from specific numbers, or all unknown numbers and so on.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Call rejection • Blocking mode

Blocking mode is even more restrictive - it blocks incoming calls and silences notifications and alarms. Only contacts on the priority list will be able to get a call or a message through. Blocking mode can be set to turn on and off automatically during a certain time period (e.g. at night).

We performed our loudspeaker test on the Samsung Galaxy Alpha and found it to be very good.

Speakerphone test Voice, dB Pink noise/ Music, dB Ringing phone, dB Overall score
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact 60.9 66.6 58.7 Below Average
Samsung Galaxy Alpha 66.6 61.7 75.7 Average
Apple iPhone 5s 68.7 66.3 69.2 Average
Samsung I9195 Galaxy S4 mini 66.3 64.8 75.1 Average
Samsung Galaxy S5 66.9 66.6 75.7 Good
HTC One mini 2 69.3 66.6 75.9 Good
Samsung Galaxy S5 mini 73.5 67.7 78.7 Very Good
Motorola Moto G 81.6 75.7 82.7 Excellent


You can find out more about our loudspeaker test here.

Messaging, email and text input

The Messages app has a row of shortcuts for the contacts you message most often and below that is the list of all conversation threads. Threads feels like a standard IM app and you can customize font size, the shape of the bubbles and the background. This app handles both SMS and MMS and features a wide variety of smilies.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Messages

The Messages app has some cool features too - you can delay dispatch by 3 seconds (or up to 30), so you can cancel a message before it goes out. You can also schedule messages to be sent automatically (say, congratulations for a birthday).

ChatON doesn't come preinstalled on the Samsung Galaxy Alpha.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Messages customization

The app also features spam protection - messages from specific numbers or containing specific phrases can be blocked. Safe mode will disable the feature that automatically makes links clickable and will scan them for potential threats.

The Galaxy Alpha comes with two familiar email applications out of the box - one for your Gmail and a generic app to use with any POP3/IMAP account.

The generic app handles multiple accounts from any email server and features a combined inbox. It has a spam filter and Delayed send options similar to those in the text message app. It has a Primary Senders inbox just like Gmail too.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Email

Gmail is smart about categorizing messages and grouping them - e.g. all promotions go in a folder, all social network messages in another and so on, keeping the Primary folder clean and containing only the important stuff. The Gmail app can handle multiple Gmail accounts, but doesn't offer a combined inbox.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Gmail

The Samsung keyboard offers a dedicated row of numbers, which is very handy. You can enter text by swipe-typing (like Swype and others), move the cursor or view all alternative symbols for a key (depending on whether you use non-dictionary words or special symbols a lot).

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Samsung keyboard

Floating keyboard isn't available here but we don't blame Samsung as the smaller screen really doesn't warrant its presence.

Capable gallery with cloud integration

The gallery on the Samsung Galaxy Alpha supports DLNA for viewing local files along with Facebook, Dropbox and Picasa integration. There's an option to sync online albums only over Wi-Fi to spare your data connection.

The gallery groups images by Time or by Album and you can filter them by Events or People. If you enable Face tag, the Gallery will automatically recognize faces and let you link them to your contact list. If that contact doesn't have a photo, the Gallery will offer to make one from that photo.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

The gallery • smart filters

Pinch zoom will change the size of the thumbnails and can also open and close individual photos. Batch operations are supported and that includes assigning photos to an event or person.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Pinch zoom controls the thumbnail size

The single photo view has several shortcuts for sharing, including over DLNA or Wi-Fi Direct. The Quick Connect button in the notification area will scan for all ways you can share something in the Gallery with nearby devices.

You can easily edit images right in the Gallery itself. The new Studio option is quite powerful and can do anything from basic editing and photo collages to creating and trimming videos. It also handles the post-processing of Shot & more photos.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Editing a photo

The Gallery also supports highly customizable slideshows.

Feature rich, user-friendly music player

The Exynos 5430 chipset that is at the heart of the Samsung Galaxy Alpha has a Seiren co-processor. It's a Cortex-A5 processor that's tasked exclusively with decoding audio, band equalization and sample rate conversions. The Snapdragon 801 version of the Galaxy Alpha lacks this additional core.

The TouchWiz music player on the Galaxy Alpha is jam-packed with features and supports a wide variety of file formats, including FLAC. Music is sorted by several categories and you can hide some categories you don't need. Folder view is available and so is scanning for DLNA servers (Quick Connect helps with this).

Music square is an alternative way to create a playlist - the phone scans your music library rating each track in terms of tempo (Exciting or Calm) and emotion (Passionate or Joyful). It can then load a playlist matching your chosen tempo and mood. The emotion axis in the graph can be switched to Age, which makes it easy to automatically create a playlist of classics or contemporary hits.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Browsing the music library • Samsung Music square • Now playing

Samsung has enabled several audio-enhancement features. The SoundAlive equalizer presets are cleverly organized into a square similar to the Music Square. The presets balance between Treble and Bass, Vocals and Instrumental. The advanced equalizer view gives you a proper seven band equalizer you can tune manually and enable additional effects like 3D, Bass and Clarity. Additional sound effects are also available.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

SoundAlive feature

The list of audio features doesn't end there. Smart volume will keep the sound level consistent across tracks, while Adapt sound automatically tests the performance of your headphones and tunes the equalizer based on that.

While listening to a song you can find music controls in the notification area and the lockscreen.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Music controls in the notification area and the lockscreen

Powerful video player needs better audio support

The video player on the Samsung Galaxy Alpha handles files from the local storage and DLNA-compatible devices. Once in a video, chapter preview lets you jump to a specific scene.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Browsing the video collection • watching a video

The video player is missing support for some decoders though. The main omissions are multi-channel audio decoders (AC3, DTS) and the DivX video decoder (XviD works just fine though). MP4 and MKV files with the h.264 and AVC codecs are supported all the way up to 2160p resolution.

The Exynos chipset has built-in h.265/HEVC hardware decoding though none of the h.265 video samples we had worked.

Even though audio decoding support is spotty, it's great to see the same SoundAlive audio-enhancing technology from the music player is available here, too. There are additional settings for playing the audio over Bluetooth (if you have wireless speakers), as well as the brightness and playback speed.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Additional settings

If subtitles are available, the video player will automatically find and load them. You can also manually load subtitles if the video and subtitle file names don't match.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Subtitle options

Excellent audio output

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha does a great job as far as the quality of its audio output is concerned. The smartphone did a perfect job in the first test (the one where it's connected to an active external amplifier) and got amazing scores top to bottom. It also showed above average volume levels for an all-round audiophile pleasing performance.

Plugging in a pair of headphones didn't do much harm either - outside of the limited spike in stereo crosstalk, the output didn’t deteriorate even a bit. Outside of the HTC One mini 2, there's no better performer than the Galaxy Alpha in this class and let's face it - the HTC smartphone is better than just about everything else on the market right now.

And here go the results so you can see for yourselves.

Test Frequency response Noise level Dynamic range THD IMD + Noise Stereo crosstalk
Samsung Galaxy Alpha +0.01, -0.04 -96.6 92.8 0.0058 0.0091 -97.1
Samsung Galaxy Alpha (headphones attached) +0.04, -0.01 -95.7 92.7 0.013 0.033 -65.6
Samsung Galaxy S5 +0.02, -0.08 -96.3 93.3 0.0017 0.0089 -95.2
Samsung Galaxy S5 (headphones attached) +0.01, -0.08 -96.3 93.3 0.0095 0.018 -61.9
Samsung Galaxy S5 mini +0.03, -0.04 -92.6 90.7 0.016 0.018 -94.0
Samsung Galaxy S5 mini (headphones attached) +0.23, -0.05 -86.7 86.2 0.052 0.167 -55.7
HTC One mini 2 +0.02, -0.09 -94.8 93.8 0.010 0.011 -93.5
HTC One mini 2 (headphones attached) +0.08, -0.03 -94.9 93.8 0.028 0.022 -90.1
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact +0.08, -0.02 -92.6 92.3 0.0052 0.012 -89.0
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact (headphones attached) +0.15, -0.05 -91.7 91.3 0.054 0.090 -43.7
Apple iPhone 5s +0.02, -0.05 -93.6 93.7 0.0013 0.0068 -90.3
Apple iPhone 5s (headphones attached) +0.12, -0.00 -93.4 93.3 0.0016 0.060 -76.1

Samsung Galaxy Alpha frequency response

Samsung Galaxy Alpha frequency response

You can learn more about the whole testing process here.

Camera

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha comes with a 12MP camera. Samsung hasn't had a 12MP shooter in its lineup for ages so the Alpha isn't just borrowing the camera of another Galaxy. The image sensor has 16:9 aspect ratio, meaning it shoots widescreen photos natively.

The interface has been lifted directly from the Galaxy S5. The right column holds the essential keys - still and video shutter keys, the Mode button and the gallery shortcut. The left column has the front/back camera toggle, selective focus, HDR and settings shortcut.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha camera interface

The middle two shortcuts are customizable, the top and bottom ones are not. The Mode button is the other place you can quickly access shooting modes, including Panorama, Shot & more, Virtual tour, Dual Camera and Beauty face.

Shot & more combines Best photo, Best face, Drama shot, Eraser and Panning shot. Dual Camera takes a photo with both front and back cameras simultaneously.

Virtual tour shot is similar to panoramas except you can move forward, turn left or right, move some more. Selective Focus takes two shots and processes them so you can photograph a close-up subject and blur the background or blur the object and keep the background in focus. The third option is everything in focus, here's how those options look.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Near focus • far focus • all in focus

You can download new camera modes from the Galaxy App store (like Surround shot, a spherical panorama mode).

The image quality of the photos is very impressive. Noise is kept low and the amount of fine detail is in abundance. Samsung's traditional oversharpening has been toned down but images are still sharp. Colors are slightly oversaturated by otherwise accurate.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha camera samples

The camera tends to underexpose shadows but you can enable HDR mode to help with high-contrast scenes. The mode brightens shadowy areas and to a lesser extent reigns in bright areas. The overall effect doesn't come on too strong.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

HDR off and on

The panorama mode creates images around 3,000px tall if you hold the phone vertically and around 1,700px if you hold it horizontally. In either case it will go the full 360° circle for very high resolution results. The stitching is very good, barring the usual issues with moving objects.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha panorama sample

Photo quality comparison

There aren't a lot of recent 12MP shooters but the camera on the Galaxy Alpha has a 16:9 sensor making it more suitable for showing off photos on widescreens. Note that we took 4:3 photos to make the comparison with other phones easier.

Photo Compare Tool
Photo Compare Tool
Photo Compare Tool

Samsung Galaxy Alpha

Video camera

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha joins the elite club of 2160p shooters. It can also capture 1080p video at both 30fps and 60fps and slow motion is available at 720p resolution. Note that the slowest option (8x) drops the framerate of the resulting video to 15fps, use 4x if you want to keep it at 30fps.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Options for the video camera on the Galaxy Alpha

For 2160p videos the Alpha camera records at 48Mbps bitrate, matching the Galaxy S5. Interestingly, audio recording is done at 256Kbps, double the bitrate the S5 uses and matching the venerable Nokia Lumia 1020.

Total bitrates go down from there - 28Mbps for 1080p @ 60fps and 17Mbps for 1080p @ 30fps. The audio bitrate remains unchanged.

An important thing to note is that switching to 2160p video mode puts an upper limit on video length - 4 minutes (instead of the usual 5) - and disables certain features like Dual Camera, HDR, video effects, taking photos during video capture and video effects.

The quality of 2160p videos is great with no noise and plenty of detail. Compression does tend to take away detail in places though. Colors are (again) oversaturated but there are no other noticeable issues. The quality of 1080p videos is identical though of course you only get a quarter of the pixels.

The continuous autofocus can get a little trigger happy at times so you can just tap on the part of the frame to lock the focus on it. An AF button appears to re-enable continuous autofocus.

Video quality comparison

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha is among the 2160p-capable flagships (something minis including the Xperia Z1 Compact and Galaxy S5 mini miss out on).

Video Compare Tool
Video Compare Tool
Video Compare Tool

Samsung Galaxy Alpha

And here it is in 1080p mode, which for now is more practical (especially if you don't have a 4K TV).

Video Compare Tool
Video Compare Tool
Video Compare Tool

Samsung Galaxy Alpha

Two browsers, same features

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha comes with both the stock Android browser (customized by Samsung) and Google's Chrome. Both support Multi-window, but only the stock browser supports Air View.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Browsing GSMArena.com on the Samsung Galaxy Alpha

Anyway, the interfaces of both browsers are very similar. Both show favorite web sites on their new tab page and can sync bookmarks and open tabs across devices (using Samsung and Google accounts respectively). The browsers handle multiple tabs (with Incognito mode), but in Chrome you can switch between tabs by horizontal swipes from the side, which is pretty handy.

Voice input is available if you don't feel like typing up a query.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Chrome is also available out of the box

Air view, Smart scroll and Smart stay all work in the Android browser, the first of which lets you simply hover your finger over a web element and it will act like mouse-hover, which is great for websites not optimized for mobile devices.

Note that Chrome has an option to reduce traffic by compressing web pages on Google's servers before they are sent to the device, similar to how Opera's Turbo mode (and Opera Mini) work.

Flash is no longer welcome as even the stock browser has dropped support for plug-ins.

Chrome also lacks a dedicated Reading mode as found on iOS, which increases font size, removews distracting elements and ads and automatically joins multi-page articles in one single piece.

Other apps

While it wasn't preinstalled, the Polaris Office 5 is available as a free download from Galaxy Apps. Google's own document editing suite is quite comprehensive, too, but it's always nice to have an alternative.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

The Polaris Office editor hands Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents

The My Files app organizes your files into categories - Images, Videos, Music, Documents, Downloaded apps, Recent files and even Dropbox files. The My Files app can do bulk operations and even send multiple files to another phone. Or you can ZIP multiple files to be sent easier.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

A desktop-like file manager

Samsung swapped the usual calendar with S Planner (as usual). It has a sleek UI and can pull calendar events and tasks from multiple accounts. You can download the Google Calendar to use instead but you'll lose the Air View gesture support.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

S Planner calendar

There's a Memo app for note taking, which syncs with your Samsung account so you can access notes from multiple devices. A calculator and voice recorder are available out of the box. Voice recordings can go into the secure Private mode storage.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Calculator app • memo taking app

The Alarm app is quite advanced too. Each alarm has its own tone, snooze and repeat settings. It also features Smart alarm, which rings quietly, slowly turning the volume up for a less stressful wakeup. The app also features a world clock, stopwatch and a timer.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

The Alarm clock

There's also Find my mobile out of the box, A Samsung alternative to Android Device Manager. It has remote controls so you can reset and lock the device if you lose it and check its location on a map. Once reset, you can prevent the phone from being reactivated. The phone can send out a message the moment a new SIM card is inserted.

There's also a built-in Backup function that keeps your phone logs, messages, wallpaper and several other settings backed up in the cloud.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Cloud backup • Find my mobile

S Health keeps step counter is always working in the background and can keep track of how many calories you've burned through other exercise too. The app can also keep track of what you eat and lets you set a weight loss goal.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

S Health tracks your exercise and heart rate

For more accurate measurements, the Galaxy Alpha also features a heart rate monitor. You can connect external exercise sensors via ANT+ or Bluetooth 4.0 LE to keep track of your heart rate, cadence and even weight.

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha has a GPS/GLONASS receiver. There's no barometer unlike recent Galaxy S phones but A-GPS can still speed up locks quite a bit, but requires Internet access. If rough positioning will do, Cell-ID and Wi-Fi positioning are on it. Wi-Fi positioning can work even if Wi-Fi is disabled or you can turn this off to save battery.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Google Maps with advanced routing options

Samsung's app store was recently renamed Galaxy Apps. It looks like an older version of Google Play, except here you'll find far fewer apps. The good news is Samsung uses this repository to distribute some exclusive titles and some promotional offers, available only to its customers. Also, you can use your fingerprint to simplify and secure access to Samsung Apps.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Galaxy Apps store

Final words

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha is a brilliant addition to the Galaxy line. Not quite an alpha dog but a starry-eyed pup, dreaming of leaving its own legacy. What if they dropped the "Galaxy" moniker and just called it "Samsung Alpha"?

A tempting thought. The plastic back, the hardware keys below the screen, and some of the TouchWiz bloatware are all weighing down the Galaxy Alpha and those are all Galaxy genes. Samsung missed an opportunity to one-up the iPhone 6 with water resistance and a large battery - one that Sony won't miss with the Xperia Z3 Compact.



We have to give credit where credit is due - after handling the Galaxy S5 and S5 mini, the Galaxy Alpha was a revelation. The metal frame puts it a notch above its siblings and Samsung did a great job with the homemade chipset, which is a solid alternative to Snapdragon 801.

Key test findings:

  • Good build quality but premium feel suffers from the plastic back
  • The screen is sharp enough and great outdoors
  • Battery life is better than expected given the small battery capacity
  • The speaker loudness is only average
  • TouchWiz UI is responsive and comes with lots of proprietary features (but nothing unseen before)
  • Audio output quality is great
  • Takes great photos and videos
  • Video player won't play clips with multi-channel audio (AC3, DTS) or DivX video

The TouchWiz UI is incredibly rich in features and some of those actually make a difference. Like Multi-window, Smart stay, Smart pause, Smart rotation and Smart scroll. Air View (recognizing a finger hovering over the screen), Air Browse (scrolling with waving in front of the screen), Direct Call (motion-activated calling) Smart Alert (motion-activated alert about missed events), and Blocking mode (Do Not Disturb profiles).

The music player comes with proprietary features such as Music square (filtering music by tempo or mood), Smart Volume (track volume normalization), and Adapt Sound (tuning sound output to your headphones). The security-related features include the Private mode info vault, Samsung KNOX (switch between Personal and Work mode).

Next up, there is the Ultra power saving mode, which limits the device functionality to conserve energy. Samsung ChatOn (instant messaging between ChatON users) and the special My magazine homescreen, powered by Flipboard, are all Samsung proprietary features as well.

Samsung Sidesync allows you to share content between a Samsung smartphone and PC or a Samsung tablet and smartphone, as well as remotely control the smartphone from the bigger device (including mouse and keyboard input).

Aside from all that, Samsung's proprietary camera features include Selective focus, Virtual tour shot, 360-degree panoramas, and Audio zoom (amplifying the sound of the subject that's zoomed in).

Below is the list of Galaxy Alpha competitors but keep in mind those are only the ones currently available and not Samsung's real target. The Apple iPhone 6 and the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact will be unveiled in less than a month and then the real competition will begin.

The Apple iPhone 5s is still in the running though and unless Apple pulls an iPhone 5c on it, it will continue to be even when the 6 is out. It's metal all the way around and the epitome of a compact super phone. Its small screen is getting cramped even for long-time Apple faithfuls. The 8MP camera is also showing its age.

Apple iPhone 5s

Apple iPhone 5s

The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is held up as example to other compact Androids out there. It puts flagship guts in a petite body without dropping components on the floor in the process. Even a month away from being succeeded it still turns heads with its powerful chipset and high-resolution camera. The Galaxy Alpha could have used its IP58 water-resistance rating to bolster its position - it's odd that the mid-range Galaxy S5 mini has it but not the new flagship line.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

The Samsung Galaxy S5 mini has a slightly smaller screen than the Alpha (a 4.5" 720p Super AMOLED) though it's not noticeably more compact. It's all plastic and it's way behind in terms of processing power (it only has the four Cortex-A7 cores) and the camera department (8MP / 1080p). On the up side, it is water-resistant and comes in a dual-SIM version. It's more affordable than the Alpha too.

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini

The HTC One - not the One (M8) - is not as compact as the Alpha but for the extra size you get front-facing stereo speakers. The premium metal unibody envelops the sides and back and the 4.7" screen is much sharper (1080p). It runs Android 4.4 with Sense UI with an option for pure Google Play Edition software. It's powered by the now-outdated (but still reasonably fast) Snapdragon 600 and the camera has a third of the resolution, though it does offer OIS.

HTC One

HTC One

The HTC One mini 2 is another all-metal option with a slightly smaller screen (4.5" 720p), which maintains the stereo speakers but bumps up the camera to 13MP. It's no match in terms of processing power though with a quad-core Cortex-A7, it's really meant to compete with the Galaxy S5 mini and not the Alpha.

HTC One mini 2

HTC One mini 2

An alternative option is the ZTE Nubia Z5S mini. It has a 4.7" 720p IGZO screen and dimensions close to the Alpha. It's powered by Snapdragon 600 and has a 13MP / 1080p main camera, plus a 5MP selfie shooter. Be warned that it runs an outdated Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and the LTE connectivity is market dependent.

ZTE Nubia Z5S mini

ZTE Nubia Z5S mini

LG has a mini too but it was discredited due to its low screen resolution (qHD) and little in the way of premium feel.

We haven't seen the iPhone 6 and Xperia Z3 Compact and rumors aren't enough to tell whether the Samsung Galaxy Alpha has a shot at all. We do know that it fills a gaping hole in Samsung's lineup, a proper compact flagship, a hole many other makers still need to worry about.

With the familiar Galaxy branding (a blessing and a curse) the Alpha should sell reasonably well. It won't make everyone happy but seems capable of helping Samsung extend their reach, perhaps even dip into Apple territory.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha 360-degree spin

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha measures 132.4 x 65.5 x 6.7 mm, compared to 142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm for the big Galaxy S5. It's lighter too, 115g vs. 145g.

Design and build quality

Samsung's shift in design has to be felt to be believed. No, really, on the outside the Samsung Galaxy Alpha is very similar to the Galaxy S5 mini. A keen eye will notice that the bezels above and below the screen are smaller, accommodating the bigger screen. The Alpha is also considerably thinner, if that's not obvious by first look.

Of course, the major upgrade to Samsung's design language here is the metal chassis. The sides of the phone are exposed metal while the front and back are covered in glass and plastic, not unlike Apple's iPhone 4 / 4s and Sony's Xperias.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha compared to the outgoing iPhone model

The Galaxy Alpha will inevitably draw comparisons with the iPhone - the flat metal sides are segmented by thin lines of plastic and look so familiar. Samsung's design features flared corners which improve handling a bit by preventing your fingers from slipping off the rounded corner. They also remind us a bit of the Samsung Galaxy S5 Active.

The back of the phone is plastic, with the dotted pattern of perforated leather similar to the Galaxy S5 though here the pattern is finer and not resembling leather so much.

While the plastic isn't the most premium material, the Samsung Galaxy Alpha impresses with a mere 6.7mm thickness. It's the slimmest Galaxy device to date though not the slimmest smartphone in general.

The feeling of compactness is helped by the weight of 115g, few 4.7" phones weigh this little. The Galaxy Alpha feels tiny compared to the current crop of 5" flagships.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

Galaxy Alpha in the hand • the flared corners slightly improve the grip

The Galaxy Alpha also compares favorably against iPhone 5s, which measures 7.6mm thick and weighs 113g. The iPhone 6 is expected to be bigger and thinner than its predecessor but it remains to be seen if Apple can keep the weight down. And it's the upcoming iPhone that Samsung has in its sights, not the 5s.

We can only suppose that the magic behing this reduced weight is the reduced battery capacity, which in this case amounts to only 1,860mAh. Indeed, the battery is removable, but it's still a measly capacity.

The front is made of glass though Samsung has not revealed yet whether it's the usual Gorilla Glass or not. Under the glass is a plastic that matches the back in terms of color and the fine dotted pattern. The Galaxy Alpha will be available in Charcoal Black, Sleek Silver, Dazzling White, Frosted Gold and Scuba Blue.

The front of the device features an earpiece, the usual sensor array (proximity, ambient light and Air Gesture) and a notification LED. There's also a 2MP/1080p camera above the screen. Nothing has changed below the screen either, a hardware Home key is flanked by capacitive App switcher and Back keys.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

The traditional face of a Galaxy smartphone

The Home key houses a hidden fingerprint reader, which can be used to lock the phone and authorize transactions (it's PayPay-certified). It also enables Private mode, which gives you access to a secure part of the storage where you can keep sensitive data and photos.

The sensorama tour continues with a heart rate monitor on the back. It's placed next to the camera and is grouped with the LED flash in a small black segment amidst the colored plastic.

The camera itself protrudes slightly from the back of the phone, extending past the 6.7mm thickness. It has 12MP resolution and can record 2160p video, more on that later.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

12MP camera with LED flash • heart rate monitor

The back panel can be removed to expose the 1,860mAh battery. It's user-replaceable but is relatively small even for a phone this size. We guess sacrificing battery capacity is part of how Samsung got the Galaxy Alpha down to this thickness and weight. Ultra Power Saving Mode is available for when battery charge gets too close to 0% for comfort.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

A removable battery • nanoSIM card slot

Anyway, under the back cover you'll find a nanoSIM card slot but no microSD. The phone comes with 32GB of storage as default and that's all you're getting (there's no 64GB version announced yet).

The bottom of the phone features a microUSB 2.0 port, a microphone and the grill of the loudspeaker. Positioning the loudspeaker here means it won't get muffled regardless of how you put the phone down (face up or face down) but is bound to draw even more comparisons with the iPhone.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

A microUSB 2.0 port, loudspeaker grill and a microphone

Note that's because the Galaxy Alpha is not water resistant like its Galaxy S5 siblings.

The top of the phone houses the second microphone and an exposed 3.5mm audio jack. What's missing is an IR blaster, which both the big Galaxy S5 and S5 mini have.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

3.5mm audio jack and secondary mic

The metal sides of the phone host one hardware control each - the Power button on the right and the Volume rocker on the left. Both are made of metal and are slightly too thin for our liking, it makes pressing the keys slightly more difficult.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review
Samsung Galaxy Alpha Review

The thin metal buttons on each side of the Galaxy Alpha

Among the sensors packed inside the Samsung Galaxy Alpha is a Hall sensor, normally used to detect the opening and closing of covers. Samsung hasn't announced any dedicated Alpha covers yet but it would be interesting to see if they'll have a premium feel to them compared to regular S Covers. Note that there doesn't seem to be a barometer or humidity sensor on board.