Samsung's shift in design has to be felt to be believed. No, really, on the outside the Samsung Galaxy Alpha is very similar to the Galaxy S5 mini. A keen eye will notice that the bezels above and below the screen are smaller, accommodating the bigger screen. The Alpha is also considerably thinner, if that's not obvious at first glance.
Of course, the major upgrade to Samsung's design language here is the metal chassis. The sides of the phone are exposed metal while the front and back are covered in glass and plastic, not unlike Apple's iPhone 4 / 4s and Sony's Xperias.
The Galaxy Alpha will inevitably draw comparisons with the iPhone - the flat metal sides are segmented by thin lines of plastic and look so familiar. Samsung's design features flared corners which improve handling a bit by preventing your fingers from slipping off the curved edge. They also remind us a bit of the Samsung Galaxy S5 Active.
The back of the phone is plastic, with the dotted pattern of perforated leather similar to the Galaxy S5 though here the pattern is subtler and looks less like leather.
While the plastic isn't the most premium variety, the Samsung Galaxy Alpha impresses with a mere 6.7mm thickness. It's the slimmest Galaxy device to date though not the slimmest smartphone in general.
The feeling of compactness is helped by the weight of 115g, few 4.7" phones weigh this little. The Galaxy Alpha feels tiny compared to the current crop of 5" flagships.
The Galaxy Alpha also compares favorably against the iPhone 5s, which measures 7.6mm thick and weighs 113g. The iPhone 6 is expected to be bigger and thinner than its predecessor but it remains to be seen if Apple can keep the weight in check. And it's the upcoming iPhone that Samsung has in its sights, not the 5s.
We can only guess that the secret behind the reduced weight is the lower battery capacity, which in this case amounts to only 1,860mAh. Indeed, the battery is removable, but the capacity is less than adequate.
The front is made of glass though Samsung has not yet revealed whether it's the usual Gorilla Glass or not. Under the glass is a plastic that matches the back in terms of color and the fine dotted pattern. The Galaxy Alpha will be available in Charcoal Black, Sleek Silver, Dazzling White, Frosted Gold and Scuba Blue.
The front of the device features an earpiece, the usual bunch of sensors (proximity, ambient light and Air Gesture) and a notification LED. There's also a 2MP/1080p camera above the screen. Nothing has changed below the screen either, a hardware Home key is flanked by capacitive App switcher and Back keys.
The Home key has a fingerprint scanner, which can be used to lock the phone and authorize transactions (it's PayPay-certified). It also enables Private mode, which gives you access to a secure part of the storage where you can keep sensitive data and photos.
The sensorama tour continues with a heart rate monitor on the back. It's placed next to the camera and shares a small black plate with the LED flash.
The camera itself protrudes slightly from the back of the phone, extending past the 6.7mm thickness. It has 12MP resolution and can record 2160p video, more on that later.
The back panel can be removed to expose the 1,860mAh battery. It's user-replaceable but is relatively small even for a phone this size. We guess sacrificing battery capacity is part of how Samsung got the Galaxy Alpha down to this thickness and weight. Ultra Power Saving Mode is available for when battery charge gets too close to 0% for comfort.
Anyway, under the back cover you'll find a nanoSIM card slot but no microSD. The phone comes with 32GB of storage and that's all you're getting (there's no 64GB version announced yet).
The bottom of the phone features a microUSB 2.0 port, a microphone and the grille of the loudspeaker. Positioning the loudspeaker here means it won't get muffled regardless of how you put the phone down (face up or face down) but is bound to draw even more comparisons with the iPhone.
Note that the Galaxy Alpha is not water resistant like its Galaxy S5 siblings.
The top of the phone features the second microphone and an exposed 3.5mm audio jack. What's missing is an IR blaster, which both the big Galaxy S5 and S5 mini have.
The metal sides of the phone have one hardware control each - the Power button on the right and the Volume rocker on the left. Both are made of metal and are slightly too thin for our liking, it makes pressing the keys slightly more difficult.
Among the sensors packed inside the Samsung Galaxy Alpha is a Hall sensor, normally used to detect the opening and closing of covers. Samsung hasn't announced any dedicated Alpha covers yet but it would be interesting to see if they'll have a premium feel to them compared to regular S Covers. Note that there doesn't seem to be a barometer or humidity sensor either.
The Samsung Galaxy Alpha comes loaded with wireless connectivity features. It starts with LTE Cat. 6 (up to 300Mpbs down, 50Mbps up) to match what the latest Snapdragon 805 can offer. Regular 2G and 3G connectivity is of course supported, too.
Local connectivity is no slower, the phone packs a MIMO (2x2) antenna setup for dual-channel connectivity. That's different from dual-band (which the Alpha also has), it means that it can use the 80MHz Wi-Fi band instead of the usual 40MHz, for enhanced speed. Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac standards are supported.
Other local connectivity includes Bluetooth 4.0 LE and ANT+, both of which are low-power and can be used to connect with wireless sports accessories (to be used with the S Health app or third-party apps). NFC rounds off the wireless connectivity section.
The Galaxy Alpha relies on a standard microUSB 2.0 port for charging and wired data connectivity. USB 3.0 ports are rare and require a fairly large adapter. What we do miss here is wired TV out either via MHL or SlimPort.