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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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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).


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

See all photos

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

Enlarge Image

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
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

Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 6Camera 6Battery 9