Samsung consistently pumps out phones with big, beautiful screens, powerful processors, and high-quality cameras. On paper, that seems amazing. These are best-in-class phones. Supercomputers in your pocket.
But for design snoots like me, it’s hard to see past all the plastic. Samsung phones may have those gorgeous displays — the best in the world, according to some experts — but they’re encased in cheap-feeling, creaky plastic. If the iPhone is a well-designed tool, then Samsung phones are plastic playthings.
Samsung’s newest phone, the Galaxy Alpha, is a response to all that design criticism. It’s Samsung’s first Galaxy phone to incorporate metal — an aluminium band with chamfered edges wrapped around the case.
Oh, and it looks eerily similar to the iPhone 5/5S.
AT&T is the only US carrierselling the Galaxy Alpha right now. It costs $US200 with a two-year contract, or $US613 off-contract.
Feature-wise, the Galaxy Alpha can do pretty much the same stuff as the Galaxy S5, so I’m not going to waste time going over all that. Here’s a quick recap: It has a fingerprint sensor embedded in the home button that lets you unlock the phone without entering a passcode, but it doesn’t work as well as the iPhone’s fingerprint sensor. I often have to try multiple times to get it to work. The Alpha also runs the same version of Android. The screen is a bit smaller at 4.7 inches. It’s also not water resistant like the Galaxy S5 is. Still, to make it easy, just think of the Alpha as a slightly smaller Galaxy S5.
The Alpha is all about Samsung testing its design chops. The phone looks good, but it’s disappointing to see Samsung using the iPhone 5 design from two years ago for inspiration instead of pushing forward on its own. HTC has been able make phones that are just as beautiful as anything Apple can build without copying the iPhone style. The Alpha looks like Samsung took the iPhone 5, made the screen slightly larger, and added a flimsy, removable plastic back cover.
That’s what makes the Galaxy Alpha such a strange device. It’s supposed to offer a “premium” feel, but the result is a curious Frankensteinish mishmash of plastic and high quality metal. Yes, it looks better than any other Samsung phone, but I wish Samsung had gone all the way and made a unibody, all-metal device.
Other than that, the Alpha performs just as well as the Galaxy S5, which is a good phone if you like Android. The screen on the Alpha isn’t as sharp as the one on its big brother, but I doubt most people will notice. It also fits in my hand a lot easier than the Galaxy S5, and the metal band makes it feel more solid and sturdy. The battery can get you through a day and the camera can hold its own against other high-end smartphones.
It’s best to think of the Alpha as an experiment, an offshoot of the Galaxy S5 that’s more about design and build quality than trying to innovate new features. Samsung will likely wait until its next flagship Galaxy phones launches to wow us with something really new.
If you like Samsung phones, I think you should buy the Galaxy S5 over the Alpha. It has a bigger, nicer screen and costs about the same. But if you’ve dying for a Samsung phone with some metal on it, choose the Alpha.
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