The Samsung Galaxy S4 packs some of the best tech around underneath a glorious, big screen. But it pairs it with a price tag that's just not palatable for many people. If your phone needs are more modest, but you still want the Samsung name in your pocket, take a look at the new addition to Samsung's budget Galaxy Ace range.
The Ace 3 packs a 4-inch display with an 800x480-pixel resolution, a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, Android 4.2.2 software, 4G connectivity and a 5-megapixel camera.
Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Ace 3?
The launch of the Motorola Moto G has made shopping for budget mobiles considerably easier. Its 4.5-inch screen is sharper and looks better than the Ace 3's, its quad-core processor provides a smoother operation and at £135 SIM-free, it's two-thirds the price of the Ace, too. The Moto G outperforms every other budget phone available right now.
The Ace 3 does have a trick up its sleeve though. It has 4G connectivity, allowing for super-fast data downloads -- the Moto G is 3G only. If data speeds are important then the Ace 3 is worth looking at, otherwise, you'd be much better off checking out the Moto G.
Design and build quality
If you've laid eyes on any of Samsung's recent phones then the Ace 3 will be immediately familiar. Its glossy white body, silver band around the edge, silver edging on the home button and chrome effect speaker grille are all standard design cues found on Samsung's range. The plain white, glossy back does look rather budget though, which isn't helped by the wide bezels around the screen.
The Moto G has quite a plain design too, but its matte plastic back looks rather more smart. If you're after something a little more swanky, the HTC One Mini with its metal body looks much more luxurious. You'll have to fork out more cash though.
At 121mm long, 62mm wide and 10mm thick, it's small enough to comfortably hold in one hand and you're unlikely to notice its 120g weight in your pocket either. The back panel feels nasty and cheap when removed, but so does the S4's -- keep it firmly secured to your phone and it feels much better. There's no flex in the chassis though and it generally feels like it could take a knock or two.
It has 8GB of built-in storage, of which 5GB is available to use -- the rest is taken up by the operating system and large amount of bundled Samsung software. There's a microSD card slot though, letting you expand the storage to make room for all your music, videos and apps.
The 4-inch display has an 800x480-pixel resolution which is very much at the lower end of what I'd expect to see, even on a budget phone. It's here in particular that the Ace really falls behind the Moto G. The G's 4.5-inch display has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution, which makes icons and small text look crisp and clear.
The Ace 3's display isn't anywhere near as crisp. For Facebook and Twitter it'll cope fine, but small icons in games like Asphalt 8 looked fuzzy and unpleasant. It's reasonably bright and its colours aren't awful, although they do have a slightly cold colour cast. The G's colours are much more impressive however, as are its viewing angles.
While the Ace 3's screen is adequate, it's really not a patch on the Moto G's display. When you factor in the G's cheaper price too, there's really no competition.
The Ace 3 arrives running Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean -- again, a step behind the Android 4.3 on the Moto G. Samsung has slapped on its TouchWiz interface though so you probably won't notice that it's not running a more recent version of Android.
It has a very similar look to the interface on the Galaxy S4, with multiple homescreens, a grid of apps in the app menu and bundled software including Samsung's ChatOn instant messaging service, the S Translate tool, S Memo, as well as Samsung's own Web browser, email client and calendar.
That's loads of stuff to chuck into a budget phone and it sadly doesn't make it any better. Having duplicate apps for email and Web browsing makes things quite complicated, particularly for new users who don't know the advantages of using one service over another. The settings menu too is so vast that it's had to be split into four distinct categories, and even then, not everything is where you'd expect it to be.
While the core navigation of Android is much the same as it is on any Android phone, the amount of extra tweaks Samsung has made to the phone makes it pretty complicated to use. By comparison, the Moto G, with its near stock Android interface is much easier to get to grips with.
It's powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, which, on paper at least, isn't as impressive as the Moto G's 1.2GHz quad-core chip. In my benchmark tests however, I actually found the phones to give fairly similar results -- 1,315 from the Moto G on the Geekbench 2 test against the Ace 3's 1,220.
In everyday use though, the Ace 3 feels much more sluggish. Swiping around the homescreens can be quite slow at times, and on various occasions I had to put up with delays in apps opening, particularly the gallery. Switching back to the homescreen after being in an app sometimes required a moment for all the app icons to pop into view.
Navigation aside, it has enough power to tackle most of the crucial apps (Twitter, Facebook and so on) and was able to do a decent job with Asphalt 8 too. Sure, the screen resolution meant it didn't look brilliant, but it at least had quite high frame-rates, resulting in smooth gameplay. Video streaming in Netflix was also well within its capabilities.
On the back you'll find a 5-megapixel camera, with a 0.3-megapixel camera on the front for video calling over Google Hangouts or Skype. I took the camera for a spin and found it to be pretty standard for a budget phone. It had a decent overall exposure with accurate colours, although neither its clarity nor noise levels were much to write home about. Facebook snaps will be fine, but make sure you're in a well lit area.
It has a few different settings to choose from including a panorama mode, burst mode and the weird 'Sound & Shot', which pairs an image with a burst of audio. Samsung reckons Sound & Shot is great for events that rely on audio (such as your daughter performing on her violin for the first time) although why you wouldn't just record a video is beyond me.
Providing the juice is a 1,500mAh battery, which Samsung reckons will give up to 8 hours of talk-time over 3G. That's not a mind-blowing prediction, but it's about what I'd expect at this price. From my own use, I'd say it's quite an accurate estimate.
The small screen and dual-core chip don't demand a massive amount of power so unless you really thrash it, you should be able to get through the day. Keep the screen brightness down and avoid demanding tasks like gaming or video streaming when you're away from the socket and you shouldn't live in fear.
With normal use, you might want to give it a boost before you leave the office in the evening if you're off on a night out, and like all smart phones you'll almost certainly want to charge it overnight.
If it wasn't for the launch of the Motorola Moto G, which beats the Ace 3's specs in nearly every respect and costs less money, the Ace 3 would be an okay purchase. If you're keen on the glossy Samsung aesthetics or need to save money on the phone in order to afford a pricey 4G contract, it's worth a look, otherwise the Moto G should be where your money goes.