Samsung’s Galaxy J5 was a really pleasant surprise when we reviewed it earlier this year, as it was probably one of the first budget handsets Samsung’s produced in years that could really go head to head with Motorola’s 3rd Gen Moto G. A big part of its appeal was its stunning AMOLED display, which is a real rarity at this end of the smartphone market. So colour me even more surprised to see one here on this year’s Galaxy J3 as well, which is even cheaper than the J5.
Available for just £140 SIM-free or £11.50-per-month on contract, it’s yet another 3rd Gen Moto G contender, but unlike the rest of its J series stablemates, the J3 has a rather divisive design that may put people off. Unlike the rather plain chassis of the J5, the J3 has a rather bizarre front panel where its black bezels extend up and around the top speaker. The capacitative buttons, meanwhile, are still white. It’s not the most attractive smartphone we’ve ever seen, but otherwise, it’s relatively inoffensive, and its matt, plastic casing still feels pretty robust and comfy in your hand.
Much like the J5 and 3rd Gen Moto G, the J3 has a 5in display with a 1,280 x 720 resolution. However, its AMOLED screen technology blows almost every other budget smartphone out of the water – except the J5, of course, which uses the same panel technology as the J3.
The big advantage that AMOLED screens have over the more common style of screen on smartphones (IPS) is that they have no backlight. With other types of screen, a single backlight is used to provide the illumination when the screen is switched on, with the pixels in front of it adding colour or blocking it off when black is required. The trouble is, no matter how good the screen is, a certain amount of light always leaks through, meaning that black is actually very dark grey.
AMOLED screens work very differently. Instead of one universal backlight, each pixel on an AMOLED screen each generates its own light, which means when its off, there’s no possibility at all of light leaking through from behind to ruin the black level.
It comes as no surprise to find, then, that the J3’s black level is perfect. In fact, I measured it at 0.00cd/m2, and this – combined with the screen’s 100% sRGB colour gamut coverage and the perfect contrast that perfect black leads to – really makes colours pop out of the screen with a wonderful sense of vibrancy and saturation.
In essense, you’re getting the same level of quality as one of Samsung’s top-end smartphones on a handset that costs a fraction of the price, putting it miles in front of its LCD-based rivals. However, Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays aren’t completely perfect, as they often fall behind LCD when it comes to overall brightness. For instance, the J3 could only reach a maximum brightness level of 317.5cd/m2, which is quite low compared to other budget handsets. Sony’s £190 Xperia M4 Aqua, for instance, can reach up to 534.3cd/m2. However, a reading of around 300cd/m2 is still more than usable outdoors.
That said, if you don’t find this is sufficient, Samsung’s included a handy new feature on the J3 called Outdoor mode. Instead of having an ‘auto mode’ tickbox next to the brightness slider in the notification pane, you’ll find a tickbox for ‘Outdoors’ instead, which pumps up the brightness for up to 15 minutes so it’s easier to use in bright sunshine.
With this enabled, I measured a much more impressive max brightness of 447.8cd/m2, which puts it on a much more level playing field with other LCD smartphones. You probably won’t need to use this mode very often, but at least it provides a bit of flexibility, giving you the best of both worlds when it comes to screen quality and brightness.
Performance and Battery Life
However, just because they all look alike doesn’t mean they all offer the same levels of performance. The J1, for instance, makes do with just a dual-core Cortex A7 processor, while the J5 has a much more powerful quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 chipset. The J3, on the other hand, uses a quad-core 1.5GHz Spreadtrum SC9830i, which is paired with 1.5GB of RAM.
With two more cores at its disposal, the J3 offers a considerable step up in performance over the J1, as its score of 1,054 in the Geekbench 3 multicore test can attest. However, it’s still not quite enough to beat the J5, as the J3 was 100 points behind the J5 in the single core test with its result of 362, and over 300 points behind in the multicore test. The J3 still feels pretty nippy when you’re scrolling and swiping through Android, but it will start to struggle when you’re using multiple apps simultaneously.
Surprisingly, the J3’s Peacekeeper browser benchmark score of 774 was actually faster than the J5 by over 100 points. However, this still doesn’t eliminate all signs of stutter, as media-heavy websites in particular still tended to be quite jerky in places when scrolling up and down articles.
It’s no gaming machine either, as the J3 wasn’t able to run our usual Manhattan test in GFX Bench GL. Instead, I ran GFX Bench’s T-Rex test, where it managed 423.9 frames (about 7.9fps) in the onscreen test and 251 frames (4.5fps) in the offscreen test. This is far from stellar, and complex games like Hearthstone were completely out of the question. However, if you’re only intending to play more casual games like Alphabear and Candy Crush, then the J3 should still serve you reasonably well.
In terms of battery life, the J3 sat smack in the middle of the J1 and J5, as its 2,600mAh battery lasted a very respectable 13h 15m in our video playback test with the screen set to our standard brightness levl of 170cd/m2. As a result, you’re not going to have many issues lasting a day away from a charger.