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Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) review

Interface and Functionality

Ouch, TouchWiz. Ouch, Android 5.1.

It hurts, Samsung. It really hurts to see a phone released with “2016” in its name come with no Android 6.0 Marshmallow on board.

Will the A7 (2016) ever get Android 6.0? Samsung is likely to tell you that it probably will, but given the company’s history with Android updates, just don’t wait for it or the wait will be excruciating. It might take half a year, it might take a year. Nobody seems to know and it’s a shame.

Don’t underestimate this: this is a big problem with all phones that don’t carry the Galaxy S or Galaxy Note moniker. Samsung seems to release them and totally forget about their existence the next day. Or put them on a backburner. They are second class citizens and they get treated as such.

Then, there is TouchWiz. Sure, it has improved. Sure, it has become leaner, BUT it’s still cumbersome. It seems to run smoothly for a moment, and then starts lagging and stuttering the next. It does not run consistently.

There is the typical for Samsung stutter right after you press an icon: for a split second everything freezes and only then the app starts appearing. This is consistent everywhere and with all apps in TouchWiz, call it microlag, call it stutter, but it’s there.

Then, there is the Flipboard magazine. It’s enabled by default and sits at the left-most panel on the home screen. You will immediately notice that every single time you go there - whether the app needs to refresh or not - it freezes your phone for a second or two (or more). This is quite annoying, so despite the fact that the Flipboard app is very tastefully done and serves interesting, well curated news, we’d rather disable it (long hold the home screen, swipe to the leftmost screen and uncheck the box at the top).

For all else, TouchWiz is a familiar affair with its colorful, cartoonish style and a mixture of influences – Material Design floating buttons are mixed with the Tizen-inspired settings menu and notifications drawer, and all of that comes together in a weird, slightly incoherent aesthetic.

System performance

It lags and stutters way too often. Snapdragon 615 seems insufficient for this phone and if you play games on mobile, this is definitely not the right device.

We’ve already mentioned it before, but let’s make it perfectly clear: the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) stutters and lags every once in a while and it’s not a speed demon. In fact, its performance is its weakest part in our opinion. It’s not that the phone is terribly slow, but it is inconsistent and when it stutters, you notice.

So why is that? The answer to that one is complex: TouchWiz is on one hand of the equation, while on the other is the Snapdragon 615 with its pedestrian performance. The chip itself is made on the 28nm manufacturing node (top-end phones like the Galaxy S6 have their chips made on more power efficient nodes, like the 16nm FinFET) and there is 3GB of RAM on board. An octa-core chip with four Cortex A53s running at up to 1.5GHz and four more A53s clocked lower, at up to 1.2GHz, it does not seem well fitted to the 1080p screen and the load of the TouchWiz-based Android.

Note: Reporting tools agree that the Galaxy A7 (2016) does indeed feature the Snapdragon 615 (MSM8939) system chip, but Samsung itself has not officially disclosed what kind of processor it uses in this phone. In some markets, the A7 (2016) will reportedly ship with a different processor, the Exynos 7580 with Mali T720 GPU. The Exynos version should have comparable performance with the Snapdragon model.

We have put together a quick video to illustrate the way the Galaxy A7 (2016) runs and what the stutter looks like in real life.

Digging deeper in the performance issues, we look at benchmarks. The Snapdragon 615 system chip is found in devices like the honor 5x, Huawei P8 Lite, HTC Desire 820, and it’s easy to spot that the benchmarks in fact confirm that in terms of computing power, all these handsets are on the same footing.

However, most of these phones were released last year and featured a 720p display, which allowed more headroom for the Snapdragon 615 chip. Having a 1080p display shows in the benchmark: you can clearly see how the scores are dropping for all on-screen tests. At this point it’s quite obvious that the Snapdragon 615 system chip is the main culprit behind the uninspiring performance of the Galaxy A7 (2016) and one if its weakest points.

This is especially true for games: the A7 will stutter and drop frames, and if you play games on your device, this phone will not be a good choice for you.

Internal storage comes in at 16GB on the A7, of which around 11GB are available to the end user. Luckily, the phone has a hybrid dual SIM/SIM+microSD card slot, so that you can insert your own card to bump up the storage allowance here.

AnTuTu Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) 34395.33
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) 35638.33
Motorola Moto X Pure Edition (2015) 51822
Honor 5X 35183
Vellamo Metal Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) 1094.66
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) 1115
Motorola Moto X Pure Edition (2015) 2657
Honor 5X 1108
Vellamo Browser Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) 1982
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) 1944
Motorola Moto X Pure Edition (2015) 4424
Honor 5X 2327
Sunspider Lower is better
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) 1941.6
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) 1961.86
Motorola Moto X Pure Edition (2015) 1529.1
Honor 5X 1171.7
GFXBench T-Rex HD on-screen Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) 14
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) 14
Motorola Moto X Pure Edition (2015) 24
Honor 5X 15
GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 on-screen Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) 5.76
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) 5.6
Motorola Moto X Pure Edition (2015) 9.3
Honor 5X 6
Basemark OS II Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) 827.66
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) 763.33
Motorola Moto X Pure Edition (2015) 1214
Geekbench 3 single-core Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) 676.3
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) 684.33
Motorola Moto X Pure Edition (2015) 650
Honor 5X 696
Geekbench 3 multi-core Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016) 3013
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) 3023
Motorola Moto X Pure Edition (2015) 2075
Honor 5X 3028

Internet and Connectivity

Web pages render a bit on the slow side. 4G LTE is on board, but band support is fairly limited. Yay for NFC and Samsung Pay support!

Surfing the web on the Galaxy A7 (2016) happens via the built-in Samsung browser. We had no major issues, but neither did pages load lightning fast: in fact, heavier pages rendered a bit on the slow side. You also have Google’s mobile Chrome browser pre-installed, and the experience with it is similar.

It’s important to know that currently, the Galaxy A7 (2016) is not officially sold in the United States. The review unit we have is a phone with limited 4G LTE connectivity bands, mostly covering the European market. The unit we tested supports bands 1 (2100 MHz), 3 (1800 MHz), 5 (850 MHz), 7 (2600 MHz), 8 (900 MHz), and 20 (800 MHz), but lacks the key 2/4/12/13 and 17 bands that major U.S. carriers use.

However, listed at the FCC is a different model (SMA710M) that has passed certification and is registered with support for bands 2/4/5/17, which matches AT&T’s bands, so it is possible for that particular model to land in the U.S. at a certain point in the future.

The phone also supports dual-channel Wi-Fi so that you can avoid the often congested 2.4GHz Wi-Fi channel in urban areas and switch to 5GHz if your router supports that.

In terms of connectivity, you also have NFC support, as the Galaxy A7 (2016) supports Samsung Pay in select markets. For wireless connectivity, Bluetooth 4.1 support is also on board.

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