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Samsung Galaxy J3 (2018) review: Underwhelming -- even for a budget phone

Samsung may rule when it comes to high-end Androids, but its midrange Galaxy J3 offering is disappointing.

Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
Lynn La
2 min read

High-end phones may be Samsung's specialty, but when it comes to making great entry-level and midrange devices, the company still has work to do. Case in point is the Galaxy J3. Also known in the US as the J3 Star (at US carrier  T-Mobile ), Express Prime 3 (AT&T, prepaid), J3 Achieve ( Sprint ) and Amp Prime 3 (Cricket Wireless) and available for about $130 to $210 depending on the carrier, the Galaxy J3 doesn't add much from last year's predecessor. (In the UK and Australia, that price converts to about £98 to £159 and AU$175 to AU$282, respectively.)

Samsung Galaxy J3 phone

Samsung Galaxy J3 (2018)

The Good

The Samsung Galaxy J3 for 2018 is cheap and has a removable battery.

The Bad

The phone has the same key hardware as last year, and has a mediocre camera and processing speeds.

The Bottom Line

The Galaxy J3 is underwhelming even for a budget phone. Save money and get a better phone by way of the Moto G6 Play.

Besides a bump in megapixels for its cameras, an (expected) Android OS update, only a 0.5GB increase in RAM and more expandable memory, everything else remains the same. That includes the same screen size and resolution, internal storage, processor and battery as last year.

Editors' note: This review was originally published on July 11, 2018 and has been updated with a revised score to reflect final battery test results.

Samsung Galaxy J3 phone

The Galaxy J3's 8-megapixel rear-facing camera.

James Martin/CNET

It's a wonder then, why you'd want to pay for such a phone when Motorola's Moto G6 Play is available for $199, £169 and AU$329. The G6 Play gives you a faster experience overall, a superior camera and a longer-lasting battery -- 15 hours and 16 minutes versus an average of 13 hours and 37 minutes on this year's Galaxy J3.

And as a proverbial cherry on top, the G6 Play is also splashproof, so you don't have to fret if you get a few droplets of water on it. The J3 claims, however, no water-resistance at all.

Samsung Galaxy J3 still needs work

See all photos

Featuring a quad-core Samsung Exynos 7 processor, the J3 is also one of the slowest phones we tested in recent years. (To be fair, we dinged the G6 Play for producing some low benchmark results too, but the Galaxy J3 had even lower scores.) Beyond just lab numbers, the J3 took a beat longer to execute tasks like launch the camera, return to the home screen and populate web pages on Wi-Fi.

As for the camera, the Galaxy J3's 8-megapixel shooter isn't terrible. Pictures taken in ample lighting, both indoor and outdoor, are clear enough to make out. But finer details are muddled and washed out. White light also looks blue and dimly lit objects are often blackened out and are hard to distinguish. Selfies were also decent, but some details were still hazy and blurred.

Enlarge Image

A well-lit outdoor shot taken by the J3.

Lynn La/CNET
Enlarge Image

Taking a photo indoors. Notice the blue haze around the light sources.

Lynn La/CNET

In general, the Moto G6 Play is markedly the better phone than the J3. (Unless you count its lower expandable storage capacity, which is 128GB compared to the J3's 400GB… though this shouldn't matter.) And if you have extra dough to spare, consider the slightly pricier ($249, £219 and AU$399) Moto G6. It edges out the G6 Play with a faster processor, more storage and has two rear cameras for a portrait photo effect.

Samsung Galaxy J3 (2018) spec comparison

Samsung Galaxy J3 (2018)Motorola Moto G6 PlayMotorola Moto G6
Display size, resolution 5-inch; 1,280x720 pixels5.7-inch LCD; 1,440x720 pixels5.7-inch LCD; 2,160x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 293ppi282ppi424ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.62x2.76x0.35 in5.1x2.8x0.4 in6.1x2.8x0.3 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 142.75x70.10x8.89 mm154.4x72.2x9 mm153.8x72.3x8.3 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.36 oz; 152g6.2 oz; 175g5.9 oz; 167g
Mobile software Android 8.0 OreoAndroid 8.0 OreoAndroid 8.0 Oreo
Camera 8-megapixel13-megapixel12-megapixel and 5-megapixel
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel8-megapixel8-megapixel
Video capture 1080p1080p1080p
Processor 1.4GHz quad-core Samsung Exynos 71.4GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 4271.8 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 450
Storage 16GB16GB/32GB32GB/64GB
RAM 2GB2GB or 3GB (varies)3GB or 4 GB (varies)
Expandable storage Up to 400GB128GB128GB
Battery 2,600mAh (removable)4,000mAh3,000mAh
Fingerprint sensor NoneBackBelow screen
Connector Micro-USBMicro-USBUSB-C
Headphone jack YesYesYes
Special features Outdoor mode for screen viewing, BixbySplashproof, 10-watt fast chargerSplashproof, 15-watt fast charger
Price off-contract (USD) $130 to $210 (varies by carrier)$199$249
Price (GBP) Converts to £98 to £159 £169£219
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$175 to AU$282 AU$329AU$399
Watch this: Galaxy J3 is an underwhelming midrange phone
Samsung Galaxy J3 phone

Samsung Galaxy J3 (2018)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 5Camera 6Battery 8