Samsung Galaxy J5: Finally a Decent Mid-Range Device That Doesn’t Break the Bank

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My issues with cheap smartphones are well documented and since there are few low-cost decent options, I usually gravitate towards those. With the Samsung Galaxy J5, I have a reason to recommend a device I deem decent for everyday use that is also reasonably priced. Galaxy J5 is positioned as the mid range device that changes dynamics in the value proposition. Mid range has for most of the time meant compromised experience. J5, just like J7 above it and J1 below it try to close that gap. And they do it well. I’ve had this device for a whole of two weeks and we have something conclusive about it we can tell you.

Design

The Galaxy J5 has a metal frame encasing what is essentially a plastic back that can be removed to reveal a 2,600 mAh battery, two SIM slots (one nano and another micro) and a glass front that packs the “just fine” 5 inch Super AMOLED display. The camera, LED flash and the speaker lie next to each other on the upper part of the back of the device while the 3.5 mm audio jack is placed at the bottom. Some people like it there while others like it at the top. To each their own.

Display

The Galaxy J5, with a 5 inch display, is a big smartphone but doesn’t feel like it. It fits in. Probably because I am used to dealing with big smartphones. It may be a challenge for folks upgrading to the J5 from smaller displays but not for long. Thanks to the curves on the device, you start feeling at home in no time.

Camera

The Galaxy J5’s main selling point is supposed to be the camera. As I found out, while it strives to act the part, it is not yet there. Yes it has a 13 megapixel camera at the back and a rather powerful 5 megapixel camera with a f/1.9 aperture but good shots when you remove the phone from your back pocket and using auto mode are not guaranteed. You’ll need to struggle a bit to get things right. The front-facing shooter which is the first of its kind on a Samsung smartphone (bar the bigger Galaxy J7, of course) thanks to the front LED is just that, another selfie camera. You can take advantage of the wide angle lens but not the flash on the front. In more ways I was disappointed than found it functional. Other than for the purposes of this review where I had to use it, I mostly left it alone and just took selfies the normal way. That way, the selfies are fine.

Touch focus and face-detection function as expected.

I found the main camera to be really good when taking photos outdoors in good lighting. It’s a different story in low light situations even though this is where the camera was supposed to reveal its shine.

Sample photo taken with the Galaxy J5 at the Museum Hill interchange in Nairobi
Sample photo taken with the Galaxy J5 at the Museum Hill interchange in Nairobi

Performance

The Galaxy J5 has a quad-core Qualcomm-made Snapdragon 410 processor clocked at 1.2 GHz. That coupled with the 1.5 GB RAM the phone packs and the well-optimized Android 5.1.1 with TouchWiz leaves a very fast device that pretty much handles anything you throw at it with grace. There are no stutters and no lag as is characteristic of Samsung smartphones that are priced within the range that the Galaxy J5 operates. Operations are so smooth that from time to time you may wonder whether you paid just Ksh 21,000 for such. This is what lower mid-range smartphones ought to be like. Nothing less, of course who are we not to be glad if it even got better?

Double-clicking the home button at any instance fires up the camera application by default. This happens in an instant. Again, no stuttering.

Software

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As already stated, the Galaxy J5 runs on the latest Android 5.1.1 Lollipop hidden layers below thanks to the various customizations Samsung has made to the software to deliver the experience it envisions to the customer. In most instances, bar the premium smartphones like the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+ and the Note 5, on low-cost smartphones this usually means reduced performance and so many issues. It is not the case on the Galaxy J5 and users get to experience the best of Samsung software on the most budget (reasonably) of Samsung hardware. Add to the fact that you can now go to the Samsung Themes Store to tweak the looks of the device to your taste and you have a winner.

Battery

The Galaxy J5 will easily last you a full work day under normal use. That time, as I pointed out before, will be shortened depending on your usage patterns but for the most part, you won’t need to plug it in before 8 hours elapse. And when it does, you may need to take a walk, sleep or do something else because it takes a while to go from 0 to 100%. You can’t expect quick-charging on such a bargain device but you don’t have to withstand the pain of having to wait much longer before the phone is all juiced up and ready for another round of selfies and Whatsapps.

Conclusion

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The Samsung Galaxy J5 is the best smartphone for its price but it could be better.

I’ll overlook the fact that the cameras could’ve been excellent but are only “okay” because for the price of the phone, I really don’t have such high expectations but I feel they could’ve done more. More pixels doesn’t always mean a better camera and this shows in the Galaxy J5’s shooters.

You can only buy the 8 GB version in Kenya at the moment for Ksh 21,000 but I really wish the 16 GB version was available but that would mean the price going up then, no? I guess I can’t have my cake and eat it but the baseline is that the 8 GB internal storage available on the smartphone as advertised is scanty. It even gets scanty when you power up the device for the first time and realize you have a little over 4 GB left for installing applications, storing photos and other use cases. You have the microSD as a redeeming factor since you can install apps to external storage and even have app data also stored on it.

Besides the price, what else do you look for in a smartphone? The Galaxy J5 has an okay 5 inch Super AMOLED HD display, speakers that sound just fine and are loud enough, acceptable call quality, well-optimised software, “just okay” cameras and a battery that will be sure to have at least 5% left by the time you get back home in the evening. The point is, as a package, the Galaxy J5 is a deal. Individual components may not meet the high bar we set for just about any smartphone premium or entry level but in the case of the Galaxy J5, its strength lies in it being a single product that is the sum of functioning parts.

The good

  • 4G/LTE capability
  • Good battery life
  • Excellent performance. The phone feels fast when you use it and you know what? It actually is fast!

The bad

  • Memory. Memory. Memory. 8 GB is not enough on such a fantastic phone.

 

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