Not everyone has the fortune of being able to win the latest flagship device, or the money to buy one. The fact is most people worldwide dare to splurge on a brand-new flagship only once every two or three years. However, there are still many who do not feel like spending much on their mobile devices, or can only afford to spend very little, and hence settle on devices such as the one we are reviewing today – Samsung’s latest in the very affordable Ace line, the Galaxy Ace 3 LTE. Released 14 months after the Ace 2, it is a significant improvement over its predecessor. While the Ace 2 had a poor 800 MHz dual-core processor, the Ace 3 LTE has upped the clock speed by 50%. The RAM has also been increased from 768 MB to a full gigabyte, amongst other improvements. Before we get going though, let’s have a close look at the Ace 3’s specifications.
- Dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon S400 processor, clocked at 1.2 GHz
- Adreno 305 GPU
- 1 GB RAM
- 8 GB expandable storage
- micro-SD card slot
- 4 inch 16M-color, 800 x 480 pixels, TFT capacitive LCD touchscreen (233ppi pixel density)
- 5 MP autofocus camera
- 1800 mAh battery
- HSDPA, 14.4 Mbps (3G) / 42.2 Mbps (LTE); HSUPA, 5.76 Mbps; LTE, Cat4, 50 Mbps UL, 150 Mbps DL
The Galaxy Ace line of devices has always been one for the budget conscious, and Samsung has again priced it very much in reach of all who wish to purchase it. Off contract, the device retails for $398 SGD and if bought on a $28 SGD/month contract, costs just $98 SGD. While mostly unnoticed by the majority of smartphone users, the Ace 3 is not a complete slouch, as can be seen from the specs above. A dual-core 1.2 GHz S400 and the Adreno 305 GPU mean that the Ace 3 packs a stronger punch than the Galaxy SII flagship from 2 years ago. The SII had a dual-core Cortex-A9 Exynos processor clocked at 1.2 GHz, and a Mali 400-MP GPU. At the time of release, it cost the same as my Xperia Z1 does now – $998 SGD. In comparison, the $398 price is a decent deal, especially considering that the hardware itself is physically newer, and hence more durable.
In terms of storage space, I did not feel the pinch even after I had installed about 4 medium to large-sized games and 9 benchmarking applications. When booting it out of the box, the Ace 3 had 4.95 GB of storage available, and RAM was running at a quiet load of 420 MB (out of the 890 MB available).
I was a little disappointed that the Ace 3 only had a single-band (2.4 GHz band) WiFi radio, though that is to be expected with a low-end device. Still, even my Galaxy R from 2011 had a dual-band WiFi radio, being able to support the 5 GHz band as well.
However, Samsung seemed to be bent on annoying the ever-loving goodness out of me. Before I had even started playing around with the Ace 3, the moment I connected to WiFi, it began to install a 100 MB update, which took more than 10 minutes to download on my 200 Mbps connection (that’s 25 MBps). Following the proceeding reboot, Samsung again started the installation of another 8.5 MB update, which took a good minute. I nearly threw the phone at the wall in annoyance when it began installing yet another update, this time a 28 MB one. This update also took an extraordinary amount of time – 5 minutes for a paltry 28 MB.
While the slow download speeds can be attributed to a slow day for Samsung servers, and you might be telling me that I should have postponed the updates, the fact remains that I did not get the latest update in software out of the box, and that is something that should be expected when purchasing a device new. However, it is to be noted that this was a review set, so you may not have to endure this frustration if buying it from a store.
With the basic introduction done, let’s move on.
UNBOXING AND DESIGN
As is customary with Samsung devices, the box is small and compact, just like the iPhone. Differing from the iPhone design is the method of opening it. While you lift the cover of the iPhone box straight up, the Ace 3’s box asks you to open it up sideways while remaining connected to the box.
Inside the box you will find the device, a USB to micro-USB cable, a charger which uses the USB cable to charge, a pair of earphones and two operation manuals.
The Galaxy Ace 3 is certainly not a thin device, unlike the SIII that its design is modelled after. It measures a good 121.2 x 62.7 x 10 mm, and is one of the thickest low-end devices we’ve seen. The Motorola G is thicker at 11mm, but then again, it retails unlocked for just $179 USD. Still, it is thinner than the Galaxy Ace 2, which measures at 10.5mm.
As for the design itself, as mentioned above, it shares the same look as Samsung’s 2012 flagship Galaxy SIII. The sides are ringed with what seems to be aluminium, and that material is surprisingly scratch proof. If this is really aluminium, Samsung should take note and start manufacturing their devices (at least the flagships) using metal, as over my week of usage, there were no scratches to be seen.
Just like every other Samsung device till date, the Ace 3 also does not shy in its usage of plastic. The brushed metal appearance of the rear cover is just a facade, as that too it plastic. Most of the body is still plastic, except for the possible aluminium ring around the sides of the phone.
To be frank, the fact that Samsung has decided to make all of its devices, low to high-end, look-alike is not one that I am a big fan of. The design has been quite overplayed, not just over two generations, but over more than a dozen smartphones. While it looks decent enough, the Pebble Blue colour that we were given attracted countless fingerprints, both at the front and back. After a while wiping them off got so frustrating, I simply gave up. The white version will certainly be able to mask the fingerprints better though.
The device is certainly easy to slip into pockets, and very easy to forget it there too. I found myself patting my pockets time and again, not used to the light 115g of weight compared to my Z1’s massive 170g. It is heavier than the old Ace 2, but then again, it has NFC, LTE and vastly improved specs. The small dimensions also help immensely when holding the device one-handed, and improves ease of use. One minor flaw seems to be that it is really easy for your index finger to cover the speaker when holding the device left-handed, but shifting your grip is no issue.
The front of the Galaxy Ace 3 house the earpiece, front-facing VGA camera, Smart Stay and proximity sensors, physical home button and capacitive menu and back buttons. Unlike all other major manufacturers Samsung insists on switching the positions of the menu/task switcher and back key on all of its mobile devices. It was not a major issue though, as I got used to it after a day, but personally I would like to see Samsung start following industry standards, and not try to make their own that serve no clear purpose.
On the left side of the device you simply get the volume rocker, which is nice and large. I had no issues in operating it even when it was in my pocket. The raised design makes it easy to identify and use without needing to look at your fingers.
Just like all Samsung devices, the right side of the Ace 3 houses only the power button, which I personally felt was in a higher position than I’m used to, but that is possibly because my daily driver’s power button is in the middle. It is not as highly raised as the volume rocker, but there were no issues in operating the device.
At the top of the phone is a 3.5mm headphone jack, as well as a finger-hold to pry the rear case open to access the battery and micro-SIM card slot.
The bottom of the Ace 3 has the small microphone and micro-USB port.
The rear of the Ace 3 shows off the brushed metal design that Samsung used in the Galaxy SIII, and has used here. The camera lens sits centrally at the top of the device, quite a bit raised, and is flanked by the speaker grille and LED flash. The speaker was extremely loud, and crisp too, however, like all smartphone speakers, it was difficult to hear the background instruments.
The raised camera lens hump does raise concerns of scratches accumulating on the lens, but stability when face-up on a flat surface is not compromised. Below the camera lens is the Samsung logo, and all the way at the bottom is a “4G” sign denoting that the device is LTE capable.
Opening up the back shows the battery compartment, micro-SIM card slot (which requires removal of the battery), and the micro-SD card, which can be swapped without having to take out the battery.
For the price, the design is acceptable, and certainly practical. A spare battery costs just $30, and with just 1800 mAh, LTE usage might cut battery life violently short. That’s where the removal battery comes in handy, and might justify the copious use of plastic in the eyes of some.
The Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 has an 800 x 480 pixels TFT LCD display spread over 4 inches, which is a 0.2 inches upgrade from the Ace 2. This gives it a low pixel density of 233ppi, but as I said before, it is acceptable at this price. After all, the Galaxy SII had the same resolution screen, but spread over an even larger 4.2 inches. I did not find any problems with the pixel density, low as it was. It took quite an effort to see a single pixel, and for that you had to get uncomfortably close to the screen.
Unlike it’s larger cousin flagships, the S4 and Note 3, the Ace 3 uses an LCD screen, which again does wonders for colour reproduction. AMOLED screens have a nasty habit of oversaturation, but Samsung’s use of the TFT LCD display is actually an improvement over their flagship displays (discounting resolution). Viewing angles were also really impressive – it took nearly a 45 degree angle to see significant contrast compression.
What I was extremely disappointed in was that the Ace 3 did not have an ambient light sensor, which meant that there is no setting for auto-brightness at all – the hardware simply does not support it. This might have been forgivable 2 to 3 years ago, but for a smartphone released in 2013, this omission is absolutely inexcusable.
The contrast ratio figures for the Ace 3 come in well, especially for its class and price.
|Display test||50% brightness||100% brightness|
|Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2||Contrast ratio||Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2||Contrast ratio|
|Samsung Galaxy Ace 3||0.22||180||828||0.54||472||879|
|LG Nexus 5||0.31||298||948||0.54||526||967|
|LG Optimus G||0.14||197||1445||0.33||417||1438|
|Sony Xperia Z1||–||–||–||0.38||580||1513|
|Samsung I9505 Galaxy S4||0||201||∞||0||404||∞|
|Oppo Find 5||0.17||176||1123||0.51||565||1107|
The figures are especially good when looking at comparisons with the Nexus 5. At full brightness, black levels are equal to the Nexus 5, and white levels and contrast ratio are very close behind.
The tale is similar when looking at sunlight legibility.
It outperforms the Sony Xperia Z Ultra by a hair, but is trounced by not only the Xperia Z1, but also the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini. This is not a major problem though, as the S4 mini has an AMOLED screen, rather than a TFT LCD one. Not only that, it’s price and performance bracket is squarely in the mid-range. For this price, the Ace 3 has a very positive showing.
The Galaxy Ace 3 comes with a removable 1800 mAh battery. The benefits of having a removable battery means that you can effectively double your battery life by just carrying a slim piece of plastic in your pockets. However, it was here where the device unexpectedly shined, was in the battery life tests. With such a low-capacity battery, I was really not expecting a good showing, but it met and surpassed expectations by a mile.
The main reason for its good showing can perhaps be attributed to the fact that the screen is at a low 800 x 480 pixels resolution, and is just 4 inches. The S400’s low clock speed and low-end GPU also sip very little power, so that reduces the battery drain by a significant margin.
In our Daily Usage Test, we used the phone heavily. With the brightness set at minimum for most of the time, I went about my day. During the 1 hour commute to and from work, I used LTE and surfed the Web. At work, I connected to WiFi and surfed for a another hour, before streaming a YouTube video for another hour. I also played half an hour of Train Conductor 2 afterwards. Following this I set the brightness to maximum and started watching Thor. Safe to say, even with just 1800 mAh, this phone is a seriously good performer in terms of battery life.
A score of 20 and a half hours is decidedly impressive, especially with a 6 hour screen-on time. In comparison with other devices in the same class, the battery usage during LTE browsing is unparalleled, draining just 22% of battery over a time period of 1 hour. The 2 hour WiFi test was also extremely well done, with a drain of just 13%. Train Conductor 2 was where the Ace 3 slipped up, draining 20% of its battery within 30 minutes.
All in all, with such a good performance, and the option of replacing your battery with a spare, you’re never going to feel that the Ace 3 does not have an adequate battery.
As with all Samsung devices, the Galaxy Ace 3 also comes out of the box with the latest TouchWiz Nature UX version, and with Android 4.2.2 Jellybean. While 4.4 KitKat has been released, only Nexus, Google Play Edition and Motorola’s Moto line has received it. As for 4.3, all flagships but the LG G2 have got the update, but it has still not made its way down to the mid and low-end devices.
What Samsung’s UI is, is extremely tacky. A smorgasbord of colour choices that make little to no sense, icons designed by someone trying the hardest to make you cringe and a 90s styled Settings and File Manager navigation experience result in the absolute worst user-interface in modern smartphones.
Upon holding the power button, we are greeted by the model number and name of the device, followed by the Samsung logo and a decently short boot animation. Boot up times were normal, clocking in at 32 seconds on average.
Following that, you are greeted with the standard Samsung lock screen. Lock screen widgets are not enabled by default, so a quick pop into the settings menu (more on that below) fixes that. This activates quick launch shortcuts, so you can launch applications like the camera by starting an upward swipe originating from the camera icon at the bottom of the lock screen. This does not work with a secured lock screen, though, unlike all other OEMs and Nexus devices.
If you begin playing music using the stock or any third-party app, the clock on the lock screen turns into quick controls for the music player. The music player controls can be swiped away though, if you want the clock back.
As has been with all Android devices since 4.0 ICS, you can secure your device using Face, Pattern, PIN or Password unlock, in ascending order of security.
Unlocking the phone involves swiping in any direction, as long as the swipe originates below the clock, and takes you to the central of five homescreen panes. Out of the five, the central one (#3) is set as the default home screen, but you can set any of them as the default one, and you can shuffle them around.
Widgets can be added to the homescreen by tapping the menu button and selecting ‘Add Apps and Widgets’. This can also be done by simply tapping and holding an empty space on the homescreen. In both scenarios, a context menu appears, allowing you to perform various customizations on your phone – add widgets or shortcuts, change the wallpaper and the theme. You can also add shortcuts from the app drawer by holding your finger over an icon and dragging it across to the homescreen area.
The Ace 3 comes along with many live and static wallpapers, with most of them being Full HD ones from the Galaxy S4. Before selecting one, you get a preview of how it’s going to look like.
Just like all other OEMs, Samsung has included their own apps and accompanying widgets as well.
At the dock at the bottom of the homescreen, you get to place four shortcuts to your favourite apps, and at the right end is the app drawer. You can also place a whole folder in any of the four slots. A minor flaw I found in Samsung’s UI is that you are unable to switch the location of the app drawer – it is permanently fixed.
Pulling down the notification bar you get greeted by the clock, a quick shortcut to the settings, five quick toggles and a brightness control bar. Swiping left on the quick toggles leads you to more quick toggles. To access more toggles, and shuffle their order, there is a button on the very top right of the screen. This opens up a kitchen sink of toggles, which you can activate and change the order of as you please.
Notifications are expanded by default, but collapse as they accumulate. To view more, you have to scroll down the notifications bar. They are usually accompanied with helpful quick response buttons, like marking an email ‘Read’ or having a quick ‘Reply’ option.
Tapping on the right-most button in the dock brings up the app drawer, where you can view your application in a custom grid, an alphabetical grid or an alphabetical list format. To access the menu for organizational settings, you have to tap on the menu button. Doing so presents you with a shortcut to the Play Store, option to rearrange the icons, ability to create a folder, uninstall apps, view only downloaded apps, change your view type, share an app, and hide applications (and consequently show the hidden ones).
As with all Android devices on 4.1 and above (as well as the downloadable app from the iOS App Store), the Ace 3 comes with the highly intelligent Google Now. To know more about Google Now, have a look at Google’s explanation of what it does.
Samsung has also skinned the stock task switcher, and launching it gives you the option of closing all apps, launching Google Now, or launching the task manager. This makes it easy to access the task manager, rather than having to wade through their horrendous Settings menu.
Coming to the Settings menu, Samsung has decided that they did not like the modern list interface of the Settings menu that Google suggests to use. Since Android 4.1, they have instead transformed the menu into a tabbed one on all their devices, with the tabs ‘Connections’, ‘My Device’, ‘Accounts’ and ‘More’. This makes it extremely frustrating to delve into the Settings menu, because unless you remember everything, you have idea why ‘Storage’ is under ‘More’ and not ‘My Device’, or why the ‘Blocking’ mode is under ‘My Device’ and not ‘Connections’. Even after months of use, our reviewer Timothy still has to hop between the tabs to find what he is looking for, and the story was the same for me, coming from the near-stock experience of Sony.
Problem with Samsung’s UI is that they fail to realise that the look of the interface is as important as the functionality, and no compromise can be made on either of them. With TouchWiz, they’ve made concessions on both. In many Samsung devices, TouchWiz is usually replaced quickly by custom ROMs or downloaded launchers due to many people disliking how the UI looks. A backwards navigation interface, and one that looks mired in the days of 2.3 Gingerbread dooms TouchWiz to the annals of worst User Interfaces ever.
In short, the user interface of the Ace 3 is just like all Samsung devices – laughably bad. The tacky icons, combined with a navigation interface that makes you want to pull your hair out make Samsung’s mouthful TouchWiz Nature UX interface the worst one of major Android manufacturers.
We now arrive at the performance stage of our review. While most of the targeted consumers of the Galaxy Ace 3 would not be wanting much in this category, it is still important to gauge whether the phone can be your daily driver for the time period you want it to. Having a phone that is already struggling today, will mean that two years down the road it will be unusable.
The Galaxy Ace 3 uses a two-generation old System-on-Chip (SoC) from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon S400. While it is clocked only till 1.2 GHz, and has just two-cores, it is worth mentioning that the S400 itself only supports configurations of 1.2 GHz (2 or 4 cores), 1.4 GHz (2 cores), and what is seen in the Galaxy S4 mini – 1.7 GHz (2 cores). While it may be a disappointment to some that the clock speed and cores have been limited so in the Ace 3, one can hardly argue about it at this price.
The RAM allocation for the Ace 3 is also quite impressive, considering that it was only at the beginning of this year that 2 GB RAM became prevalent in flagships. The non-LTE enabled Galaxy SIII packed only 1 GB of RAM as well, so the RAM allocation is not as backwards as you would think it would be. Furthermore, the Ace 3 used around 420 to 490 MB of RAM on idle, which is standard for low-end devices.
It should be noted that synthetic benchmarks are not always a reflection of real world performance.
Let’s see how the Ace 3 performs, shall we?
Benchmark Pi is an application used to measure the time (in milliseconds) your mobile device takes to run and complete the Pi calculation algorithm resulting in a approximation of the first Pi digits. Here, the Ace 3 performs decently for its specs – the Xperia SP and S4 mini have their processors clocked at 1.7 GHz, and the One mini has it at 1.4 GHz.
In BrowserMark 2, the Ace 3 manages to outperform Nokia’s own budget offering – the Lumia 625. While the difference between the rest of the devices seems large, real world performance hardly feels different.
In GL Benchmark 2.5 Egypt, the Ace 3 ties in with the One mini, and is just 2 FPS behind the S4 mini as well. The Xperia SP performs much better, but that’s because it uses Adreno’s 320 GPU, instead of the 305 in the other three.
The story is similar in 2.7 Egypt, with the Ace 3 just 0.2 and 1 FPS behind the One mini and S4 mini, respectively.
Once again the Ace 3 follows the company S4 mini and the HTC closely, but is no match for the Xperia SP.
In Geekbench 2, a processor benchmark, the Ace 3 is completely decimated. The 200 MHz difference in clock speeds between it and the One mini proves to be a nearly three-fold improvement in performance, while the S4 mini and Xperia SP are even farther ahead.
In Linpack, another CPU benchmark, the Ace 3 is yet again last, but by a smaller margin than that in the Geekbench 2 test. The performance is still pretty good, considering the price.
In Quadrant the Ace 3 comes out fighting but again places last, with very little separating it and the HTC One mini.
In SunSpider, a Java benchmark, the Ace 3 performs decently, even though it comes in last. With just 250 milliseconds separating it and the Xperia SP, the benchmark differences will not be noticed in real life usage.
The Ace 3 again performs decently in the Vellamo benchmark, a tool for testing HTML5 browsing performance. It is not too far behind the company S4 mini, though it is completely outclassed by the Xperia SP.
Finally, in AnTuTu, the most comprehensive benchmarking tool, where RAM and ROM I/Os, processor, GPU and the like are tested, the Ace 3 performs quite well, coming really close to the S4 mini and Xperia SP, and leaving the One mini in the dust with a score of 14197.
That concludes the benchmarks, and from that what can be taken away is that the Ace 3 is a very capable device, though you should not have any illusions of it performing as well as the low-end devices of 2015. As I have said at the beginning, synthetic benchmarks are not always a true litmus test for real world performance. An issue I do have with Samsung is that the constant updating of their TouchWiz UI eventually cripples their devices, but we can’t be sure of anything right now.
Samsung has given the Galaxy Ace 3 the same, clean and easy to use camera interface that it has given to its other devices. The viewfinder handles both still and video capture, so you don’t have to switch modes. However, this is certainly not the most convenient solution – if you’re shooting full resolution 5MP photos, you’ll have to frame your videos using a 4:3 viewfinder.
he settings are found in two places. The first is the Mode button under the shutter key. It brings up a carousel with different shooting modes, each with a descriptive image and text. When you get familiar with those modes, you can switch to the grid, which drops the text but is faster.
In the upper left corner, there are a couple of quick settings plus an arrow to reveal more options. The arrow at the bottom of the screen brings up a row of color effects. Each effect gets a live preview, so you can see what the particular scene will look like with it.
There are more settings in the top left corner, but they won’t be very often used. Still, there a number of interesting options here like having the volume rocker act as a still shutter key, a video shutter key or a zoom lever. Another interesting option is contextual file names – the Galaxy Ace 3 will name photos with your location (the GPS needs to be on for this to work).
The Ace 3 comes with 7 different capture modes (still only), shown below.
The Galaxy Ace 3 has a 5 megapixel camera, producing images at the 4:3 aspect ratio, 2560 x 1920 resolution. While this was a flagship level camera two years ago, today, the majority of snappers are 13 MP, with some going up to 21 and 41 MP. 5 MP is certainly a low-end resolution, but it’s the pictures that will speak a thousand words about the quality. Shall we?
The camera is just a decent performer in daylight. Colours look soft and muted, the images have overblown highlights when in bright lighting, and when shifting to an area with varied lighting and/or colours, it quickly becomes apparent that the Ace 3’s camera cannot cope. Due to the low resolution, there is very little fine detail captured. Images tend to take on the tinge of the central object (see #3), and produce insipid colours. Trying to take landscape shots also results in the image being darker than the scene is, and the camera fails completely when attempting to take a macro shot.
The video recording capabilities of the Ace 3 are decent. It is able to record 720p at 30 FPS, which is the minimum we expect, even for low-end devices.
Night photos are even worse, with the exposure values being highly inaccurate. There is massive lens flare, and the shutter speed drops to an unmanageable one, so it’s nearly impossible to take a photo while not supporting your hands on a surface. There are massive amounts of noise, and fine detail is non-existent. White balance also varies wildly, resulting in your colour reproduction being all wrong.
The video recording at night is not much better than the still photograph quality. Lens flare is still ridiculously high, the visual noise is unbearable, and there is very little detail.
All in all, the camera is not something you should be asking to take wondrous photos. It might get by in the day, but at night it fails completely, and you’re better off not taking any photos or videos. For a $400 device though, the quality is passable, but just barely.
The Galaxy Ace 3 is a very capable device, but we still were hoping for slightly better specs and performance, especially in the camera department. The device runs Jellybean 4.2.2 with surprisingly rare lag for just a dual-core 1.2 GHz, two-generation old processor. The 1 GB RAM is also really good in keeping the smartphone capable to run multiple apps at once.
However, with that said, the Ace series is not the only low-end device line available for cheap.
Sony also has their low-end device, the Xperia V available right now, and it’s for even cheaper than the Ace 3. It even has a 720p display, and a flagship-level 13 MP camera. What’s more, just like the flagship Z1, it is also waterproof. Performance is at the same level, considering it uses a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, albeit an older generation one.
HTC also has a low-end offering – the Desire 601. Priced at the same level as the Ace 3, it offers the same SoC as the Ace 3, just clocked higher at 1.4 GHz. Specs are mostly similar, as is the performance. However, the 601 also has a higher resolution screen (960 x 540 pixels), and unquestionably looks miles better than the Ace 3, as it shares the same design as the flagship HTC One. While the 601 is plastic, you cannot deny it looking better than other low-end devices.
Not to be forgotten is Nokia as well. Their impeccable Lumia 625 is a very capable low-end, cheap, Windows Phone smartphone. It offers a 4.7-inch display covered in Gorilla Glass 2, as well as a dual-core 1.2 Krait CPU with Adreno 305 GPU. There’s also a hefty 2000 mAh battery and the 5MP camera is capable of full HD video recording, but most importantly, the Lumia 625 also has triple-band LTE connectivity, whereas all the option above (including the Ace 3) only have single or dual band.
In short, the Ace 3 has stiff competition, and not just from Android devices. I would be hard pressed to find more than one reason recommend the Ace 3 over any of the other options presented above, especially considering the fact that mid-range offerings like the Xperia SP are going for as low as $350, while providing much stronger cases for purchase. As many features that the Ace 3 has, other phones match, and often better it. Hence, the Ace 3 will not be my go-to low-end purchase, but it still is a decent low-end device.