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Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016) review: Cheap, and surprisingly likable

If price is your guide, Samsung's entry-level Galaxy J3 is worth the buy today, though it won't hold up well over time.

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Jessica Dolcourt
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Jessica Dolcourt

Editorial Director / CNET Money, How-To & Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads the CNET Money, How-To, and Performance teams. A California native who grew up in Silicon Valley, she's passionate about connecting people with the highest standard of advice to help them reach their goals.

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There aren't many new phones you can compare to the 5-inch Samsung Galaxy J3. An extremely inexpensive device with parts to match, the phone nevertheless performed better than I expected, but never stellar. Battery life was strong, it ships with the current version of Android (6.0.1) and its daylight photography is good enough to post online despite the camera's low 5-megapixel resolution (selfies, low-light shots, and indoor photos aren't quite as good).

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6.8

Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016)

The Good

The inexpensive Samsung Galaxy J3 runs the current version of Android and takes nice daylight photos. It has a long-lasting, removable battery and the camera app launches with a double-click of the home button.

The Bad

Its underpowered processor makes the photo-capture slow enough to miss action shots.

The Bottom Line

Light users will do fine with Samsung's entry-level Galaxy J3, but you'll want a higher-powered phone if you plan to keep it around for two years or more.

At $110 to $180 in the US (pricing varies by carrier), £140 in the UK (for the 8GB version, from Carphone Warehouse) and AU$329 in Australia, the J3 also earns points for its immediate global availability. In the notoriously carrier-controlled US, for example, it sells on five networks (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile).

The J3 is likable enough in its looks and feel, and its battery kept going long after I expected the phone to conk out -- it lasted 15 hours in CNET's looping video drain test. Phone calls were also problem-free on the AT&T model I tested in San Francisco on medium-high volume. There's plenty of room to expand storage (up to 128GB with a microSD card) and you can replace the battery if that's your jam. Where the J3 falters is mainly in its quad-core processor, which makes gaming slightly less smooth and the camera a half-beat late to capture and process photos.

The sub-$200 Samsung Galaxy J3 handles well

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In the short term, the J3 will serve wallet-watchers well enough, especially if you plan to use the phone lightly. But if you have the cash to spare, jumping up to the next price bracket will get you a phone that will wear better with time, as we expect the Motorola Moto G4 to. This J3, by contrast, leaves you with a slower processor, photos that suffer in larger formats and less on-board storage for photos. (See the specs comparison chart below.)

Camera and screen brightness

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Enlarge Image
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Double-click the home button to launch the camera.

Josh Miller/CNET

One interesting feature I like is an option to jump into "outdoors mode," a screen brightness setting in the notifications/quick settings tray that immediately boosts the brightness so you can read the screen in outdoor lighting. It makes a huge difference.

Samsung lets you double-tap the home button to launch the camera app, which opens right away, but it takes a long second ("one-one thousand") to snap a shot. That's fine for patient people posing for portraits, but I missed most of the pictures I wanted to take of seagulls scrubbing their wings in a fountain and summer bees loading up on pollen (yeah, yeah, I spend a lot of time in parks). Just be aware.

Specs compared to other phones

Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016)Motorola Moto G4Sony Xperia XAHuawei Honor 5XBlu Vivo 5
Display size, resolution 5-inch; 1,280x720 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5-inch; 1,280 x 720 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels 5.5-inch; 1,280x720-pixels
Pixel density 294ppi401ppi294ppi401ppi267ppi
Dimensions (inches) 5.6 x 2.8 x 0.3 in.6.0 x 3.0 x 0.39 in.5.7 x 2.6 x 0.31 in.6 x 3 x 0.32 in.6 x 3 x 0.27 in.
Dimensions (millimeters) 142 x 71 x 7.9 mm153 x 76.6 x 9.8 mm144 x 67 x 7.9 mm151 x 76 x 8.2 mm152 x 75 x 6.9 mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 4.87 oz. (138g)5.47 oz. (155g)4.8 oz. (137.4g)5.6 oz. (158g)5 oz. (141g)
Mobile software Android 6.0.1 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 5.1 LollipopAndroid 5.1 Lollipop
Camera 5-megapixel13-megapixel13-megapixel13-megapixel13-megapixel
Front-facing camera 2-megapixel5-megapixel8-megapixel5-megapixel5-megapixel
Video capture 720p1,080p HD1,080p HD1080p HD1080p HD
Processor 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 4101.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6172GHz octa-core MediaTek Helio P101.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 1.3GHz octa-core MediaTek MT6753
Storage 16GB32GB16GB16GB32GB
RAM 2GB2GB2GB3GB3GB
Expandable storage Up to 128GBUp to 128GB200GBUp to 128GB64GB
Battery 2,600mAh (removable)3,000mAh (removable)2,700mAh (nonremovable)3,000mAh (nonremovable)3,150mAh (removable)
Fingerprint sensor NoneNoneNoneBack coverNone
Connector Micro-USBMicro-USBMicro-USBMicro-USBMicro-USB
Special features N/AWater-resistantN/ADual-SIM card slotsDual-SIM card slots
Price off-contract (USD) $110-$180 (varies by carrier)Converts to $245$280$200$200
Price (GBP) £140 (8GB version)£169Converts to £192Converts to £135 Converts to £135
Price (AUD) AU$329.00Converts to AU$335Converts to AU$391Converts to AU$275Converts to AU$275
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6.8

Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 6Camera 6Battery 9