It's easy to tell the Samsung Galaxy S7 is the more upscale model. It has a better pair of in-ear headphones packed in a nice carrying case, and you get a microUSB to full-size USB adapter if you need to plug in accessories (to transfer data or just to charge them up).
Both phones come with a standard Samsung Fast charger and a USB cable.
Cheaper, but just as good? No, not really. You may not need the better headset or the USB adapter, but when it comes to value-for-money, the more you get, the better.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 has a smooth body with rounded corners and glass on the front and back. The glass gently curves into the metal frame. While looks are subjective, the S7 has the better ergonomics as A5's flat front and back don't sit as well in hand.
The Galaxy A5 (2016) weighs practically the same as the S7, but is slightly thinner - 7.3mm vs. 7.9mm - if that's something you care about. And don't worry about the battery, the difference is tiny (2,900mAh and 3,000mAh respectively).
Both phones apparently come from the same mold, however, with their exposed metal frame, Gorilla Glass 4 on the front and back, the front adorned with a fingerprint-reading hardware Home button. Even the side buttons are positioned identically, so they are equally easy to reach on both devices.
Around back, the S7 has an additional sensor that the A5 lacks - a heart rate sensor - but more importantly, its camera is nearly flush with the back while the 13MP shooter of the A-series sticks out more prominently.
That's one of the reasons why we don't mind that the Galaxy S7 is a fraction of a millimeter thicker. Another reason is the IP68 rating, which gives it improved resistance to the elements - specifically it can survive underwater (1.5m deep or more, though you shouldn't try and find the limit).
Both phones offer microSD slots and depending on the exact sub-model it can be a dedicated slot or it can trade places with SIM2. The Galaxy A5 (2016) only comes with 16GB of built-in storage so you'll need a memory card, while you may be able to squeak by with S7's 32GB. There's a 64GB model too - games will appreciate the fast and roomy UFS 2.0 storage, multimedia files will not care.
Cheaper, but just as good? You know what, we think we can live with the design of the Galaxy A5 (2016). The smooth curves of the Galaxy S7 are more appealing to our eyes and hands, but not enough to pay extra just for that.
"Super AMOLED" has become synonymous with the screens of flagship Galaxy phones, and these two are no exception. They are virtually the same size - the A5 slightly bigger at 5.2" vs. 5.1" - and both displays are flat (the 2.5D beveled Gorilla Glass 4 above them is not).
You'll notice that the S7 screen has QHD resolution against the 1080p of the A5. Super AMOLED does look better with some extra sharpness, but at this screen diagonal, the pixel density really only makes a difference in Virtual Reality (VR). And A5's GPU is no good for VR anyway, so if that's a consideration for you, you may as well order the S7 and a Gear VR now.
For regular usage, both screens deliver similar image quality - that is to say an amazing image quality. The rich colors, deep blacks and overall punchiness of an AMOLED screen is Samsung's forte.
For those thinking "ugh, AMOLED colors", the Basic display mode delivers the best color accuracy in the business. Surprisingly, the Galaxy A5 (2016) comes out ahead with a lower average deltaE, 1.3 vs. 1.7, though that's nitpicking. We tend to prefer the less accurate, but punchier Adaptive mode, but accuracy is there if you need it.
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The A5 screen holds its own regarding brightness too - it's brighter that the S7 screen in both manual and auto modes. However, despite this, it does slightly worse in sunlight legibility. In the dark, the Super AMOLED screens can deliver as little as 2 nits so they won't blind you.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 has a hidden ace though - its Always On Display (AOD) is great at delivering notifications and is surprisingly useful even for simple things like checking the time and date.
We're quite impressed by the caliber of the screen that the Galaxy A5 (2016) delivers, though there's a big "but" coming. Its PWM-driven, which means you may notice a flicker, which becomes more apparent as the brightness goes down. Most people are not sensitive to this and may not even notice it (the backlighting on many desktop monitors runs this way too), but if you tend to notice screen flicker, then the A5 may not be for you.
Cheaper, but just as good? We're divided. If we put aside VR (which is niche) and the Always On screen (which we think is awesome), the Galaxy A5 (2016) screen can rub shoulders with flagships. The screen flicker is a potential deal-breaker though, if possible get some hands-on time in a brick and mortar store before you commit to purchasing.
While the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) starts with a small disadvantage - 100mAh less in battery capacity - it turns out that one of the flagship features on the Galaxy S7 has a much more meaningful impact.
The Always On Display feature surely takes its toll on the Endurance rating. Again, we think it's a great feature that brings a lot of value. If you don't use it, this would bring the S7 to near-A5 levels of battery Endurance. We're sure that most people will still pick AOD even if it means more frequent charging. Also, note that AOD automatically turns off when you have the phone in your pocket or purse or when it's pitch dark, so it won't be that bad on your battery life as our test suggets as it assumes the feature is on 24h per day.
The Galaxy A5 (2016) gets a 90 hour Endurance rating - a huge improvement over the S7 with AOD and a small but decent bump over the S7 without AOD. This is all due to the more efficient standby of the A5, the results from the individual tests are essentially equal to those of the S7.
Note that these numbers are for the A5 with the Snapdragon 615 chipset and there's an Exynos 7580 version that we haven't tested.
Both phones support Fast charging and come with the needed wall charger for it on most markets. For the Galaxy S7, Samsung quotes 0% to 100% charging in 90 minutes but gives no similar numbers for the A5.
The Galaxy S7 also has wireless charging (supporting both Qi and PMA standards), and this mode can top up the battery quite quickly too (not as fast as wired charging, but faster than standard wireless charging).
Cheaper, but just as good? For the most part, yes, you might say even better. Even if you disable AOD on the S7, you can expect the A5 to last slightly longer. We think wireless charging is a convenience, but not a necessity.