If ever a handset was an enigma, it’s the Samsung Galaxy Ace 3. It is a low cost phone – you can buy it Sim-free for £210 – and yet it packs some features you don’t usually see in a handset at this price. It supports 4G and it has Near Field Communications built in, and these factors alone make it look like a bargain. Add in the fact that it has a fair range of the usual Samsung gesture and motion-based goodies on board, and it is bound to draw the attention of Samsung fans who don’t have the money for the company’s higher-end handsets.
And then Samsung goes and shoots itself in the foot by giving the Galaxy Ace 3 a relatively poor screen. Also, there’s the thing Samsung can do nothing about – the Motorola Moto G. This £150 handset is the one that every phone in this budget price bracket now has to fight against.
The three things the Galaxy Ace 3 has that the Moto G doesn’t are the only things that stand in the way of you deciding on Motorola rather than Samsung. Those three things are 4G, NFC and microSD card support. In every other respect Moto has the win.
So, assuming I still have your attention with this review, let’s take a closer look at this Samsung enigma.
It is quite a pleasure to review a handset that has a 4in screen. The chassis is just 62.7mm wide, and even my little hands can reach right the way across from one edge of the screen to the other for one-handed use while being jolted around on the bus. On the downside, I never really felt that the Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 was as secure as it might be in my paws, because of its characteristic shiny plastic chassis. That stretch of non-grippy backplate gave rise to a couple of near-drop situations.
And the screen itself does not wow me. It is nice and bright, the TFT display doing well enough for a handset at this price, and the viewing angles are good. But the resolution is just 800 x 480 pixels, and that’s not really enough to ensure fully smooth and readable text all the time. It’s not a disaster, it’s just a bit irritating – and of course there’s also the fact that the Moto G has a 4.5in 1,280 x 720 pixel screen. Oh dear.
Performance is a little bit sluggish and that’s down to the 1.2 GHz dual-core processor with 1GB of RAM in support. It’s not a really big deal, and performance is fine as long as you don’t have too much going on at once. And, if you have not experienced a lightning fast higher-end handset, then you won’t have anything to compare this with and will probably be quite happy. But again I am reminded of the Moto G and its quad-core Snapdragon – and the Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 just doesn’t stack up.
There’s 8GB of internal memory here, and quite a bit of it is occupied. The Galaxy Ace 3 has to cope with Android 4.2, Samsung’s TouchWiz skin, a fair few Samsung add-ons such as some gesture and motion-based controls, and a host of extra apps. So that 8GB translates down to 4.9GB free for your own stuff. It is a good thing there’s a microSD card slot for you to add more storage, and a major plus is the fact that the card is hot-swappable, as the slot is under the backplate on the right long edge.
So, what Samsung add-ons come with the Ace 3 exactly? Well, you don’t get the full range seen on higher-end Samsung handsets, but there are some goodies here. Smart Alert gives the Galaxy Ace 3 a little vibrate if you pick it up after a missed call or alert, just to remind you to take a look at what you’ve missed. You can mute calls or pause music by turning the handset face down. Smart Screen uses the front camera to detect when you are looking at the phone and it then keeps the screen on, overriding any display timeout settings you may have chosen.
When it comes to add-on apps, Samsung goes to town and it often duplicates apps that come as part of Android. S planner, S Translator, S Voice, Game Hub, Music Hub, and Readers Hub are all here, and there’s Samsung’s ChatON too. You also get a file manager, memo app, Dropbox, and FM radio – and a couple of others too. It might all be quite confusing to newcomers to Android or anyone upgrading from a plainer implementation.
This is probably why Samsung includes its Easy Mode, a skin the company uses a lot on its handsets. It is meant to help people who are new to smartphones get used to the whole concept by reducing the number of options available. It’s a weird kind of logic, though, to provide a lot of extras and then let users ignore them.
There are two cameras and while the 0.3-megapixel front one is only barely acceptable, the main 5-megapixel camera is serviceable and has some handy shooting modes that you flip through a carousel to use. It is all easy to work with, and produces shots you’ll probably not mind sharing via social media, though it’s not really up to producing good quality keepers. That’s not out of the ordinary for a handset at this price, though.
Battery life is an area where Samsung could have given its Galaxy Ace 3 an advantage, but instead the 1,800mAh battery is only likely to get you through a day if you are a fairly light user. If you’re gaming, listening to music, doing a lot of surfing over Wi-Fi or using that 4G capability, then you may need to find mains power at some point during the day.
It is quite difficult to recommend the Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 – but that’s not because of any really poor intrinsic failings. Yes, I’d have liked a better screen and better battery life, but when stacked up alongside 4G and NFC these are compromises you have to weigh up. If you want them in a low cost phone, you’ll be drawn here. My problem is more with the competition from that Moto G handset. If you don’t need 4G and NFC and can live without microSD – well, you know what to do.
Manufacturer and Model
Samsung Galaxy Ace 3
4in, 800 x 480 pixels
VGA (640 x 480)
62.7 x 10 x 121.2mm (WxDxH)