You might not know it to look at the US market, but Samsung isn’t doing well in the international phone business. The company has been losing market share to up-and-coming stars in the Eastern markets, while the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus stole expected sales away from products like the Galaxy S5. Samsung sold 40% fewer Galaxy S5 phones than it expected to since the device debuted last year, and its new Galaxy A series were designed to emphasize the metal frameworks and style factors that many have felt the Galaxy S family lacked.
To counter this, the company is introducing the Samsung Galaxy A7, a new smartphone that measures even thinner than the new iPhone 6, at 6.3mm. Data on the phone’s processor is being confusingly reported in multiple locations, so here’s the factual breakdown: the dual SIM version of the phone will ship a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor with eight 64-bit CPU cores (Cortex-A53) at 1.5GHz and 1.0GHz, and with an Adreno 405 GPU as well.
The version of the phone intended for Western markets will use the higher-end Exynos 5430 with a 32-bit Cortex-A15 plus Cortex A7 CPU clocked at 1.8GHz and 1.3GHz respectively. This version of the phone is 32-bit only, which means Galaxy A7 owners in Asia-Pacific markets may get 64-bit Android support eventually, but their Western counterparts won’t. The GPU on the Exynos 5430 is an ARM Mali-T628, a serviceable if not extraordinary GPU. In theory, both versions of the phone should be capable of leveraging all eight cores at the same time, provided Samsung enables that functionality.
Other features include a 5.5-inch sAMOLED screen (implying a resolution of 120×720), 2GB of RAM, a 13 megapixel camera with a five megapixel front camera, and a wealth of Samsung’s own custom software for voice control and “Auto Selfie” photos. Samsung also claims to offer a Private Mode (no word on exactly how private this is) and multi-app screen functionality, in which applications are run side-by-side, similar to Windows Metro.
Will the A7 fend off Xiaomi?
Unfortunately, the A7 seems like a phone in search of a problem to solve rather than an iPhone or a challenger to recent rival Xiaomi. On the Apple side, the problem is obvious — while it may shave off 0.2mm compared to the iPhone 6 and offer an attractive metal housing, the iPhone 6 has a higher resolution display, 64-bit software support, and a better CPU core. Meanwhile, Android phones like the Galaxy S5 offer better overall specs and performance — which leaves the A7 competing strictly on aesthetic appeal. The A7 ships with KitKat (Android 4.4), meaning there’s not even an OS advantage to using the later device.
Against Xiaomi, the phone looks no better. That company recently announced its upcoming Mi 4, a 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 device with 3GB of RAM, a 3080 mAH battery, an infrared transmitter, a stainless steel frame, a higher-end front-facing camera (8MP versus 5MP) and a price tag of just $320 versus Samsung’s estimated $600 price for the Galaxy A7.
Compared to its opponents, Samsung is fielding devices with lower-resolution screens, less CPU power, smaller batteries, weaker cameras, and 32-bit CPUs, then trying to paper it over with software tricks and metal framing. It’s not that either of these are bad features, but they aren’t enough to make the Galaxy A7 an attractive phone, even compared to Samsung’sother offerings. The company promised to slash the number of phone models it sold by up to a third this year, but thus far it’s just cranking out more of the same minor variations, often with significantly worse specs.
Also, it’s time for everyone to dump 16GB as a minimum storage size. In a world where cameras regularly shoot at 1080p or higher, and phone operating systems can chew up five gigs of storage space, 16GB of initial capacity just isn’t enough for anyone but budget buyers anymore.