The Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017) measures 3mm shorter and 1mm narrower than an iPhone 7, though it is a bit thicker. It's thicker than both the iPhone and last year's Galaxy A3 (2016). Unlike the S6 to S7 transition, the new A3 does not come with a meaningful bump in battery capacity, but the camera is actually slightly receded from the back.
Samsung never gave us a Galaxy S7 mini (or S6 mini for that matter) and we think it's because the A3 took on that role. The Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017) makes it quite obvious - design hits every note of the S7 theme, it just plays them at a lower volume.
The metal frame lays the foundation of the rounded design, which is enhanced by the 2.5D beveled glass on the front and the curved glass on the back (both Gorilla Glass). The design of the back evokes the Galaxy S7 and Note7, not a bad company to be in.
And it's waterproof like them too, the IP68 rating means the phone can go underwater in up to 1.5m of depth and stay there for half an hour. While you may never dunk your phone in the pool, you'd really appreciate the waterproofing the next time you pull out your phone while it's raining. With normal phones, we rush the phone back into our pocket to protect it. IP-rated phones we use at a leisurely pace - it's only water, after all!
Coming back from a 5.5" (or even bigger phone), holding the Galaxy A3 (2017) is an experience. It's comfortable to use and we twirled it in our hands with confidence - it is small and light, we never worried that we can drop it (even though the metal and glass body is fairly slippery).
However, there's a reason screens grew bigger and bigger - multimedia content and apps displaced phone calls as the primary use of a smartphone and as their functionality grew, so did the complexity of their interface. Even dedicated mobile sites are quite busy, the modern digital world demands screen real estate.
Apple's iPhone 7 has the comfort of being its best-selling product, of course developers will check that their apps work well on its 4.7" screen. The 4.7" Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017) does not enjoy such a prominent position, not when most Android screens are closer to 6" than they are to 5".
Android's abilities to scale apps from tiny screens to large slabs is impressive, so apps certainly remain usable. But we did feel our interaction with the phone slowed down a bit. We liken it to going from a roomy desktop keyboard to the slim QWERTY of an ultrabook - it works, yes, but the former is easier to use. Granted, the latter is easier to carry, it's a balance and a choice.
Sony used to be the go-to maker for premium compact phones, but with the passing of the Z-series, its position has weakened. The Xperia X Compact is not waterproof, it can't shoot 2160p video, it lacks stereo speakers and even the fingerprint reader is omitted in some regions (notably the US). The stage is set for the A3 (2017) to conquer the premium compact Android market.
Samsung's proposition has a fingerprint reader (on the Home key) and it works with Samsung Pay, one of two well-supported mobile payment systems (the other being Apple Pay). Two capacitive keys are also below the screen, which is the preferable option - with a 4.7" screen, there's no room to spare.
Above the screen is an 8MP selfie camera. It's not the 16MP shooter of the bigger members of the 2017 A-series, but it can do 1080p video and it has an f/1.9 aperture (which lets more light in than iPhone 7's f/2.2 aperture).
On the back, the 13MP main camera is slightly recessed - this guards it from scratches and, frankly, it just looks better. The camera is paired with a single-LED flash, but the biometric sensors from the S7 are absent. There's no wireless charging either.
Charging is accomplished through the USB-C port on the bottom (which is still a novelty on Samsung devices). Next to it are mouthpiece and, thankfully, the 3.5mm headphone jack. USB-C has native support for audio (both analog and digital) so we're glad Samsung didn't give into temptation and kept the standard jack.
The secondary mic is on the opposite side of the phone. Also on top is the card tray - our Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017) is a single-SIM unit where nanoSIM and microSD share a tray. Dual-SIM versions come with a hybrid slot (2x nanoSIM or nanoSIM + microSD). Note that only the A5 and A7 will have versions with a dedicated microSD slot.
You see, the A3 (2017) has only one storage option - 16GB - and only 10GB of that are visible to the user (the rest are system-reserved). And even then, you don't start with 10GB free. It was quite quickly that we found ourselves with only 6GB free storage left.
On the sides of the phone are the Volume keys (left) and the Power button (right). We found them a bit too small for comfortable use (the Power button especially).
Above the Power button is the loudspeaker grill - an odd placement on the side of the phone, but it works out well most of the time. It doesn't get muffled when you put the phone on a flat surface and it fires up or down when you watch a video (holding the phone horizontally, as nature intended). Just be careful not to cover it with your thumb.
The Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017) is available in Black Sky (like ours), Blue Mist (similar to S7's Coral Blue), Peach Cloud (too cutesy for us, but to each their own) and the mandatory Gold Sand (like it or not, a gold option is a must for some markets).
Even if we put aside the size of the A3 for a moment, we still love its design - it's the design of the S7 that we loved almost a year ago and still holds up. We have some reservations about the size, but this is the kind of phone you buy specifically for its size. If you're in the target market, you have few other options. Even fewer that are this good.