Every phone Samsung has released over the last four years or so has been praised with a caveat: why is it made of plastic, ask the critics? Finally, after lacklustre sales for the Galaxy S5 flagship, the company has relented and released the slick, metal Galaxy Alpha. It’s not quite a flagship, say the South Koreans, but it is a beauty. Even if you’re not fetishistically attached to metal – HTC fans – it’s hard not to wonder what took Samsung so long.
With a 4.7-inch screen, the Alpha is a more manageable size than the 5.5-inch monsters such as the S5 and Note 4 – this is a phone that is super slim (6.7mm), very light (115g) and generally manageable with one hand. A fast processor keeps it coping with everything you’re likely to throw at it. That small package necessitates a smaller battery but that doesn’t compromise performance – I found the battery lasted a day. There’s a decent camera, too. If there’s a hint of the iPhone about the design, this still feels like a distinctive Samsung product.
On paper, the Alpha screen should be the weakest point. At 720p it’s simply not got the resolution of the bigger sibling, the S5. In use, however, it would be a harsh critic who compared the two and found the Alpha profoundly wanting. If you really need more than 317pixels per inch, you’re probably looking too closely at the screen. Better is available, but it’s hard to say it’s required.
The metal construction makes the Samsung feel more premium than ever, but it is not without plastic. The back returns to the typical roots, although being detachable and set in to the frame, it feels better than previous models. It provides grip and a tactile, matt feel for a device that, like the S5, also includes a slightly fiddly fingerprint reader. As always design is down to preference, but the Alpha has a class that Samsung has struggled to attain for a while.
Camera, specifications and additional features
There’s an Exynos 5 octa-core with a 1.8GHz Cortex-A15 quad-core and a 1.3GHz Cortex-A7 quad-core running in tandem, with 2GB of Ram. In English, that makes the Alpha extremely powerful and efficient, and it runs all the major 4G bands that EE is currently using to offer superfast network speeds of up to 300Mbps in some major cities.
The 12MP camera (and a 2.1MP model on the front) doesn’t offer optical image stabilisation but it does film in 4K; this is a phone that holds its own with rivals, but doesn’t exceed them. Similarly, it offers the slew of features that now monitor health with Samsung’s own S Health. All of this necessitates Samsung’s TouchWiz interface, gradually lightening up but still conspicuously getting in the way of the pure Google experience that has been so succesful for Motorola and others.
The Alpha is in many ways the phone Samsung fans have been waiting for but it is not yet a flagship – it’s a hint of what is to come. In truth, if a user walks into a Carphone Warehouse and walks out with an Alpha it’s because they like the design and the price. It’s a symbol of Samsung’s willingness to change but also the weakness of its previous designs. In that sense, it’s among the best phones on the market, without being a radical new offering.