LAS VEGAS—Samsung's mobile division has been quite shy at CES this year, not scheduling meetings or talking up its products much. And the company certainly has a challenge, as shown by the confused fellow I met at the Samsung CES booth who said that American Airlines took away his Galaxy S7 phone because it might explode—not the Note 7, the perfectly safe S7.
But Samsung did announce some new phones at CES, and they look good. The Galaxy A3, A5, and A7 are new midrange handsets, and they take some of the design language from the Galaxy S7 and bring them to much less expensive devices.
The smallest of the three, the A3 (above, left) is a 4.7-inch phone with the curved edges and glimmering design of the Galaxy S7. It has midrange, but respectable specs: 13-megapixel and 8-megapixel cameras, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage plus a MicroSD card slot, an octo-core 1.6GHz Cortex-A53 processor, and a rather small 2,350mAh battery. But the key here is how good it feels to hold, and how bright the little 720p screen is. If you care more about portability and design than ultimate performance, the A3 feels fast enough, and its smooth unibody is a joy to hold.
The A5 (above middle, right) is a little bigger and a little better, with a 5.2-inch 1080p screen, dual 16-megapixel cameras, a 1.9GHz processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and a 3,000mAh battery. But the basic hands-on story is the same here: a very bright, very colorful screen, and a smooth, rounded unibody that doesn't rely on cheap-feeling plastics or textures. (The A7, which wasn't on display, is like an A5 but with a 5.5-inch screen.)
These phones will compete with LG's K Series, which we saw earlier this week at CES, and I think Samsung has the lead on design. LG offers removable batteries, which, undoubtedly, will be important to some. But by going unibody with sealed-in batteries, Samsung manages to make midrange phones that look like much more expensive devices. I'm pretty sure that a layperson wouldn't be able to tell an A5 and a Galaxy S7 apart. Both phones integrate Samsung Pay, which works with standard credit card terminals, not just NFC terminals—a cool added feature.
Unfortunately, it does not appear as though the A-series will come to the US, and that's a shame. These phones could do very well here.