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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Samsung goes metal with Galaxy Alpha's 'new approach'

Samsung is putting the pedal to the metal with the Samsung Galaxy Alpha, the first in a new lineup of metal smartphones.
The 4.7-inch Alpha is Samsung's first major metal mobile device, with previous Galaxy phones andtablets encased in plastic. Samsung says the Alpha shows off a "new design approach", suggesting more metal marvels will follow. The Alpha has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution display, an octa- or quad-core processor (depending on where you live), 4G LTE, the latest Android 4.4.4 KitKat software and a 12-megapixel camera.
The Korean company hasn't announced prices, or in which countries the Alpha will appear, apart from the UK, where it will go on sale in early September.

Metal design

With its all-new metal body, the Galaxy Alpha is all about the design. Although its dimpled back panel looks similar to the Galaxy S5, it's been given a metal frame that wraps around the edge. The metal has had its sharp corners machined down, a little like the iPhone 5S, and has a speaker grille drilled into the bottom -- also like the iPhone 5S. It comes in black, white, gold, silver and blue.
The back panel itself doesn't appear to be made from metal. I assume it's the same rubberised, textured feel found on the S5, although I'll have to wait until I get one in my hands before confirming that. The metal edge should help make the phone feel more sturdy to hold -- the Sony Xperia Z2's metal frame certainly feels solid -- and the Alpha is only 6.7mm thick, undercutting the S5's 8.1mm girth.
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Samsung
With a 4.7-inch screen to house, the body of the phone has shrunk in all directions. It's 132mm long and 66mm wide (5.2 by 2.6 inches), which should make the phone easier to use in one hand than the 142 by 72mm S5. At 115g (4 ounces), it's lighter than the S5 as well. If you're after a slick Galaxy phone that's less noticeable banging around in your blazer pocket, this might well be the phone for you.
It's not all good news, though. Unlike the S5, the Galaxy Alpha doesn't appear to be water resistant, meaning you're going to have to continue to be super careful when passing your pretty new phone around at the pub or taking calls in the rain. Boo and, indeed, hiss.

Display

An all-singing, all-dancing metal Samsung Galaxy phone has been circling the rumour mill for a long time and many rumours suggested the phone would have an "Ultra HD" 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution, in order to compete with LG's spectacularly high-res G3. Instead, the Alpha comes with a much more modest 1,280x720-pixel resolution. Sigh.
The Alpha is smaller though, so it squashes those pixels into a tighter space. It has a pixel density of 317 pixels per inch, which falls far below 441ppi of the Galaxy S5 or indeed the ludicrous 538ppi of the G3. Although I don't expect the screen to look fuzzy, it's still disappointing Samsung hasn't plumped for a higher resolution to match the snazzy new look.
It's a Super AMOLED panel, which I expect will be as bright and vivid as most of Samsung's displays, but I'll have to leave the final verdict for the full review.

Features

The phone arrives running the latest version of Android available -- that's version 4.4.4 KitKat -- and you can expect Samsung to have given it the same skin that you'll see on the S5. The S5 was so packed full of tweakable settings and software features that Samsung had tried to make the settings menu a little easier to navigate by using large, colourful icons. I'm not convinced it helped, as it was still far more complicated than more stripped down phones such as the HTC One M8.
The Alpha packs fun features, like the fingerprint scanner that's incorporated into the physical home button on the front of the phone, and the heart-rate monitor on the back next to the camera. You'll also find bundled Samsung software like S Health and the Private Mode -- which lets you hide files from prying eyes -- as well as the ultra-power-saving mode, which turns the screen monochrome and kills nonessential services to eke out every last drop of battery life.
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Samsung
Speaking of battery, the Alpha packs an 1,860mAh cell, which isn't hugely capacious, but with a relatively low resolution display it shouldn't drain away too quickly. We'll have to wait and see how it performs in the full review. As the battery is removable, you'll be able to carry around a spare for those times when you're away from plugs for ages.
On the back of the phone is a 12-megapixel camera, which again is a sizeable step down from the 16-megapixel camera found on the S5. It has the flagship's always-on HDR mode, however, which I found worked brilliantly on the S5. It can shoot video in 4K (3,840x2,160-pixel) resolution too.

Outlook

Those of you hoping for a metal Samsung Galaxy phone that packs the latest, greatest mobile technology around will be disappointed. Its screen resolution doesn't impress, it lacks the water resistance of the S5 and the camera has been knocked down a peg. Still, it's a good-looking piece of kit and will no doubt receive a lot of love from those of you not keen on the plasticky feel of Samsung's other Galaxy phones.
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