I’ve already written about the subtle but important upgrade that Samsung made to its Note series with the addition of a metal frame to the new Note 4 and Note Edge devices. But preceding them on the announcement calendar was the similarly metal-rimmed Galaxy Alpha, which until today looked like a promising alternative to the Galaxy S5. Now that I’ve held it in my hands, I can say it’s so much more than that.
The Galaxy Alpha is terrifically thin and light, though that’s not the first thing you’ll notice about it. It happens to be damn good looking too. The sheen from those polished edges makes all the difference, combining with the lustrous Super AMOLED display to make a great first impression. Some devices look better in press photos than reality — the LG G Watch R is a recent example — but the Galaxy Alpha is exactly the opposite. You have to see it in person to appreciate its slick and refined look. Everything is appropriately proportioned, the 4.7-inch screen size feels just right, and ease of one-handed use is as good as you’ll get from any device in that size class. Those who might have felt let down by the new Moto X moving to a larger 5.2-inch screen may find solace in Samsung’s more compact Alpha. Ergonomically, this phone is a delight. I don’t want to call it perfect, but it kind of is.
I actually like a Samsung phone because of its design, not in spite of it
Like the iPhone 5S, the Galaxy Alpha feels almost lighter than it should be. Scale up the iPhone’s height and width to the size of a 4.7-inch display and you’d have a device very similar to the Alpha. The chamfered metal edging is the same — good looking but also prone to scratching — and so is the comfortable fit in the hand. Samsung’s handset seems to be anticipating the rumored 4.7-inch iPhone coming next week, and doing so in the best fashion possible. The Korean company has produced a phone that’s attractive to the touch and to the eye, raising its game in time to fend off Apple’s latest assault. Whatever new iPhone emerges from Cupertino on Tuesday will have to assert itself through more than just good looks and a fine feel in the hand.
I'm not ready to crown the Galaxy Alpha as Samsung's best overall phone — for one, the size of its 1,860mAh battery worries me — but judged purely on its design and the desire it's produced in me to have it, this phone is a winner. It even manages to retain some of Samsung's familiar personality with its patterned surfaces and dimpled back. When paired with the iffy plastic of the past, they felt like the hallmarks of design failure, but here they add to the idiosyncratic appeal of the device.