Samsung silently introduced the Galaxy J5 and J7 smartphones via a listing on its website in China. Over a period of 3 weeks after that, the two devices, the latest in the budget Galaxy J series, have since made it to several emerging markets where they were targeted. Kenya happens to be one of those markets. I have had with me the lower priced device of the two, the Galaxy J5, for the last one week. Here are a few things I believe you may want to know about it before I finally review it.
The Samsung Galaxy J5 builds on the legacy of the Galaxy J1, one of the best-selling low-end smartphones in the Kenyan market. The Galaxy J1 came in two variations: one had 4G/LTE and cost a few thousand shillings more than the other 3G variant. Since the J1 was affordable to begin with, the LTE option was okay with most buyers. The J5 brings that same 4G/LTE support but with better specifications all round that, as you’ll see later, lead to an assured performance.
2. Front camera with flash
The Galaxy J5 is one of the few smartphones in the Kenyan market and indeed the world that will illuminate your face as you take selfies. I am talking about the LED flash on the front of the phone. While the idea to have it there is certainly appreciated, the execution could have been better. The flash stays on throughout. Unlike at the back where it only comes to life after you hit the shutter button. That is what I prefer but for anyone getting this device, prepare to be blinded by the flash, albeit momentarily. Bar the flash, selfies are more than fine on the 5 megapixel camera.
3. Good battery life
The Galaxy J5 has the same battery capacity as a one time Samsung flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S4. More than two years later, the Galaxy S6 has an even smaller battery albeit with some enhancements to get the most out of it. The Galaxy J5’s 2600 mAh battery provides more than enough power to last you through a typical working day when texting, calling, light browsing and social media activity is the norm.
There is no specific time you can expect it to take as this varies with usage. 4G/LTE just started rolling out last year and not all parts of Nairobi are covered yet. If you happen to live or work (or both) in an area with excellent LTE coverage and happen to be online most of the time or all the time on your phone, the results are likely to be on the lower side. Typical battery consumption over 3G should be balanced regardless of usage. Battery life is fantastic when you’re dominantly on Wi-Fi. I managed to regularly get 6 hours screen on time when using the device exclusively on Wi-Fi and for about an hour and a half on 3G data whilst cheering on Manchester United to its first UEFA Champions League appearance in two years.
Even when you are about to run out of juice in the middle of the day, you can still have the Galaxy J5 spare some for the road by turning Ultra Power Saving Mode, a feature that it has that is meant to shut down all but essential apps and features on the device before you are able to plug it in.
4. Latest Android
I am not sure if you have had a chance to interact with Samsung’s latest premium smartphones like the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 Edge but if you have then you should know this: the software you find on the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge is exactly what you get on the Galaxy J5. That’s a good thing. For the price of the Galaxy J5, you are getting a Galaxy S6 experience. In fact, maybe even better if we are to take things on a level ground. The S6 and its dual edge sibling are just getting the latest Android 5.1.1. The J5 comes with that out of the box. Of course the J5 has inferior hardware and this is very visible on the high definition Super AMOLED display where upon closely looking, you can actually spot a pixel or two.
The Galaxy Note 5 and the Galaxy S6 Edge+ are Samsung’s latest premium smartphones and way beyond the reach of a budget device like the Galaxy J5 yet they fail at one thing: task management. Say you’re checking out an event invite on the Google calendar application and click on a link that opens up in Chrome browser then want togo back. With the multi-tasking button right below your screen that should be easy, right? Unfortunately it’s not. The latest version of Samsung’s TouchWiz will close any active tasks as soon as they’re in the background. Thankfully, the software on the J5 despite being the very latest by virtue of running Android 5.1.1, it is not really the latest from Samsung and as a result, such hiccups don’t exist.
Thanks to better performance and software optimization, Android Lollipop on the Galaxy J5 is fantastic. In fact, it is better than the horrible experience I had on my old Galaxy Note 3 when I upgraded to Android 5.0 early in the year. For the first time in quite a long time, I have used a mid-range Samsung Galaxy device that doesn’t feel like an afterthought when you use the software it packs and then move on to your flagship Galaxy moments later. This has me wondering what to expect when I pick up the Galaxy J5.
Samsung has joined the likes of Huawei in introducing themes to its devices. While a lot of what I encountered on the Samsung Theme Store are themes I’d consider either too colourful for my liking or childish-looking, there are a few notables. Like the Material Dark theme I applied the moment I got the J5. Since Samsung devices feature a customized Samsung interface with just a few touches of the original Android experience as envisioned by Google, it is refreshing to know that you can actually bring that look and feel with just a few taps. For the longest time ever, theming Samsung phones has always been a preserve of a few geeks and power users, now everyone who has a Samsung device like the J5 can do it and feel good about themselves without being pros at anything.
For some reason I can’t fathom, the ability to switch themes is not easily accessible. It is buried deep in the settings instead of being front and centre.
6. Fast performance
Double tap the physical home button to open the camera app – happens instantly. Scroll through the application drawer and the home screen – instantly. From a performance point of view the Galaxy J5 and Galaxy J7 are likely the best Samsung phones at that price that we’ll like in quite some time. Things only get slightly sluggish as the device runs out of memory.
The Galaxy J5 is available in 8 GB and 16 GB storage options. Sadly, the 16 GB version is not available in the Kenyan market, at least as far as we know. Users will have to make do with the 8 GB internal storage indicated on the packaging which shrinks to a further 4 GB when you power up the device for the first time and haven’t even installed Angry Birds 2. For the first time in 3 years, I was forced to seek the services of applications like AppMgr III so as to transfer a few apps to the external storage and have some breathing space.
The Galaxy J5 allows for memory expansion up to 128 GB using microSD cards but you can only go so far with that. There are applications that can’t be moved to external memory without compromising on performance. Also, as has always been the case, widgets won’t work when their mother app is moved from internal storage.
For most people, it may not be an issue but for me, it is the Galaxy J5’s biggest quirk. And it’s annoying. Since the J5 is a fantastic device, where do you turn to in light of this? If money is not an issue, top up the extra Ksh 6,000 and get the Galaxy J7 with twice the storage capacity and all goodness of the J5 made even better. It’s a tough call to make, I know, but it doesn’t take away my general impression of the Galaxy J5: it is a good phone and you can’t go wrong with it. Thankfully, photos are stored on the microSD card by default (you can always change in the settings) so if you buy the phone and slot in your memory card, you may never realize how much little storage you actually have until you start downloading every other application on the Play Store or receive far r too many Whatsapp videos.
To redeem itself, Samsung has partnered with Microsoft to give every buyer of the Galaxy J5 some free cloud storage. 100 GB to be exact. Turn auto-upload on when you’re connected to Wi-Fi or using LTE with sufficient bundles and you may never need to even pop in a microSD card as photos get automatically backed up in the cloud and you can delete local images as you please without risking losing precious memories.
8. Headphone jack at the bottom
This has been the case on a number of devices out there and as a result, it is not suprising. The iPhones have been this way for long and since Samsung made an about turn on its design language to go with metal instead of all plastic, the same happened as well. All newer Samsung devices (from late last year) have the 3.5 mm headphone jack at the bottom. Since the Galaxy J5 is positioned to attract those who are upgrading from basic entry level devices, this can be something of a culture shock but it is not an issue really, you can get used to it and even find it functional.
We’ll be posting the full review of the Galaxy J5 soon so stick around. What would you like to know about the Samsung Galaxy J5?