Samsung is taking the fight to Chinese smartphone-makers like Honor, Oppo and Xiaomi in the highly-competitive mid-range segment. Its latest Galaxy A7, released late last year, is priced at a relatively modest $428, or roughly half the price of the flagship Galaxy S9.
On paper, the A7 looks like a solid mid-tier smartphone embellished with a couple of premium features. Notably, it has a triple rear camera system, which is not found even on Samsung's flagship models.
It also has an Oled screen, which is uncommon for its price bracket. This screen is surprisingly comparable in terms of peak brightness to the one on the Galaxy S9+. In fact, the S9+'s screen looks only a smidgen more vibrant than the A7's screen when comparing the two phones side by side. Of course, the 1,440p screen of the S9+ has more pixels than the 1080p display on the A7.
Unlike most recent smartphones, the A7 does not have a screen notch. But the display is surrounded by fairly thick bezels, especially at the sides. Its resulting 74.4 per cent screen-to-body ratio is not as impressive as competing phones, many of which tout a ratio exceeding 80 per cent.
Its front and back are glass and rather slippery - a sign of a premium device. But its frame is plastic - often associated with cheaper phones - instead of aluminium.
To my surprise, Samsung has gone with a side-mounted fingerprint sensor instead of the usual rear or front version. Outside of Sony's older smartphones, I cannot recall other phones doing so. This placement takes some getting used to, but the sensor itself is reasonably fast at unlocking the phone.
Wireless charging and water resistance are predictably omitted on the A7. But it was disappointing to find that it still uses a micro-USB port for charging, a process that takes a while (around 2hr).
Processor: Samsung Exynos 7885 (Dual-core 2.2GHz, hexa-core 1.6GHz)
Display: 6-inch, Amoled, 2,220 x 1,080 pixels, 411 ppi pixel density
Operating system: Android 8.0
Memory: 128GB (microSD expandable to 512GB), 4GB RAM
Rear cameras: 24MP (f/1.7), 120-degree wide-angle 8MP (f/2.4) and 5MP (f/2.2)
Front camera: 24MP (f/2.0)
Battery: Non-removable 3,300mAh battery
Value for money: 4/5
Battery life: 4/5
Other minor features that I miss include haptic feedback, which means there is no vibration when you type or press any on-screen buttons. The A7 also lacks a notification LED, though the Always-On display is a good alternative.
Its 3,300mAh battery is average for a modern smartphone, but it is more than sufficient for a day's usage. In our video-loop battery test, it lasted 12hr 10min at maximum brightness and volume.
Its other headline feature is the rear triple camera system, which consists of a main 24-megapixel camera, a 8-megapixel wide-angle camera and a 5-megapixel depth-sensing camera.
In the day, photos taken with the main camera turned out sharp with good detail. Colours look slightly more vivid compared to the actual scene. I also noticed a yellowish tinge in some photos, which can be fixed with an easy colour correction.
The wide-angle lens, though, is not as good. Photos are significantly less detailed and there is some visual distortion such as lamp posts appearing curved even after correction by the camera app.
The camera does not fare as well in low-light conditions. Although the app does a decent job of brightening up dark scenes to create a usable photo, the results do not bear close scrutiny - photos look smeary when zoomed in.
Thanks to its depth-sensing lens, the A7 mostly does a decent job at taking photos with a blurred background look (bokeh effect). It is far from perfect, with some artifacts, especially at the edges of the subject. You can adjust the amount of background blur in the app before taking the photo.
Samsung uses its own Exynos 7885 processor in the A7. It may have eight cores, but only two of them are geared for performance and run at 2.2GHz while the other 1.6GHz cores are built for power efficiency. It is not as fast as Qualcomm's mid-range Snapdragon 660 chip in the Geekbench 4 benchmark, especially in the multi-core segment.
Apps do seem to take a fraction longer to start up while switching between apps also seem slower. Navigating Samsung's take on Android 8.0 is mostly smooth without any obvious lag.
Verdict: A solid mid-tier phone from Samsung with a good screen and reasonable price tag.