The takers for premium mid-end smartphones are growing much faster than any other segment in India. Samsung, even though a big name in the Indian smartphone market, has somewhat struggled to make an impression with a strong portfolio in the premium mid-end phones. Its Galaxy A series smartphones are fantastic devices, but they have not been able to register the same level of interest as OnePlus 6. But with the new Galaxy A9 (2018), Samsung is trying to reboot its strategy. That’s not a bad thing, though.
The spotlight is on the Galaxy A9 (2018) for one primary reason: it is the world’s first smartphone with quad cameras on the back. Yes, the Galaxy A9 comes with not one or two or three cameras, but four cameras strapped to its rear. But there’s so much else to talk about the Galaxy A9, other than its cameras.
I have spent a week with Samsung’s latest Galaxy A series smartphone to see if it can create a unique positioning in the crowded, yet booming premium mid-end smartphone market. Let’s find out in our detailed review.
Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018) specifications: 6.3-inch Super AMOLED FHD+ display | Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor | 6 or 8GB RAM | 128GB internal storage|microSD card slot (up to 512GB) | Quad camera system: 8MP f/2.4 120-degree wide angle camera, a 10MP f/2.4 telephoto camera with 2X zoom, a 24MP f/1.7 primary camera, and a 5MP f/2.2 depth-sensing camera | 24MP front camera|Bluetooth 5.0 | 4G LTE
Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018) price in India: Rs 36,990
Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018) review: Design and build
The Galaxy A9 looks like a refined version of the new Galaxy A7 and it shows in the design language. From the back, it looks exactly the same as the A7, but with an addition of a fourth camera stacked vertically on the left side of the phone.
The rear is mostly clean, though the glass picks fingerprints easily. In the center resides a fingerprint scanner (the Galaxy A7 features a side mounted fingerprint scanner), just above the Samsung logo. I found it responsive and it quickly unlocks the device in the most secure fashion.
The Galaxy A9 follows the trend set by Samsung of not including a notched display in a smartphone. The 6.3-inch display is not bezel-free, though the bezels have been trimmed down drastically to increase the real-estate of the panel.
Samsung has played safe by adopting its tried-and-tested design formula — an aluminium frame sandwiched between two glass panels that result in a premium feel in hand. At 183 grams, the Galaxy A9 is neither light nor too heavy. Honestly, the A9 felt super comfortable to hold, and that really matters to me.
The phone feels very well made. Also, consumers will definitely love the cheerfulness of the phone. My review unit was in Bubblegum Pink, but it can also be purchased in Lemonade Blue and Caviar Black.
The Galaxy A9’s power button is on the right-hand side, alongside the volume rocker. The infamous Bixby button is on the left-hand side of the phone. On the bottom, you will find a USB-C charging port, a headphone jack, and a mono speaker. On the top, there is a hybrid SIM slot that doubles a microSD card slot.
Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018) review: Display
The Galaxy A9 is equipped with a 6.3-inch Super AMOLED display with an 18.5:9 aspect ratio and 2280 x 1080 resolution. The screen looks very really good, with solid brightness and has good viewing angles.
Sure, it isn’t as good as the screen on the high-end Galaxy S9 Plus, but it is definitely better looking than on the closest competitor OnePlus 6T. It is a pleasure to watch a movie on the Galaxy A9. The display is sharp and has deep blacks and rich colours.
Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018) review: Performance, battery life
Powering the Galaxy A9 is a mid-end processor from Qualcomm, called the Snapdragon 660. It is the same chipset that also powers the Xiaomi Mi A2, which retails for Rs 14,999.
I can definitely say that the phone is fast and snappy. Apps open quickly, multi-tasking posed no issues, and games like Tekken and Sonic CD Classic ran without no problems.
My review unit had 6GB RAM and 128GB of internal storage. There’s a MicroSD card slot that lets you add more storage (up to 512GB) if you need it. Samsung is also selling the Galaxy A9 with 8GB RAM, but that variant will cost more.
Battery life was great in my week-long testing. The 3800mAh battery lasted around a day and a half on a single charge, which is pretty good. I used the Galaxy A9 on a daily basis to browse the web, using apps and playing games while commuting in the metro, watching 60 minutes of Amazon Prime Video, listening to music and taking pictures. The USB Type-C port does allow for fast charging, but not wireless charging.
The Galaxy A9 ships with Android 8.1 Oreo, which is disappointing. Even though Samsung plans to roll out the One UI (based on Android 9.0 Pie) for the Galaxy S9 and Note 9 in January 2019, there is no indication when will the Galaxy A9 get the newest update.
For now, Samsung’s so-called ‘Experience UI’ is a mess. You will notice a lot of preloaded apps and duplicate apps. Bixby, of course, is also pre-installed, and Samsung claims that its AI assistant has been improved a lot. I don’t agree, though, and found it lacking compared to Google Assistant. Call quality was excellent, as was the Galaxy A9’s reception. Speaker quality was surprisingly great, though it lacks bass at higher levels.
Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018) review: Camera
So what’s it like to use a phone with a quad-camera setup? This is what I learned using the Galaxy A9.
Let’s check the specifications. The top camera is an ultra-wide 8MP unit with an aperture of f/2.4. This camera gives you a 120-degree viewing angle in a single frame. The next camera is a 10MP f/2.4 aperture telephoto lens with 2x optical zoom.
The third one is the main 24MP camera with an f/1.7 aperture sensor. The fourth lens is the new 5MP “live focus” depth camera with an aperture of f/2.2. In the front, there is a 24MP camera for taking selfies and video calling.
How’s the experience? Performance is good, but it still isn’t as exceptional as its rivals. Photos are detailed and colourful, especially in good light. Let’s put in this way: the Galaxy A9 is a fantastic camera in bright sunlight.
Let’s take the photo of Delhi’s iconic Jama Masjid in consideration. Here’s the original shot below, just resized for the web. It is well exposed (I didn’t adjust this at all). It’s sharp. The colours look great.
However, the Galaxy A9 doesn’t live up to the promise when performing in low light. The sensor can’t cope in extreme darkness or even during the dusk. That’s disappointing, and it puts the A9’s camera in a negative territory. I have also noticed that one cannot use all four at the same time. So yes, each camera actually plays a specific role and works independently.
One thing that the Galaxy A9 does well is the way it captures ultra-wide angle shots. It adds a new perspective to a scene which isn’t possible to capture from the standard smartphone camera. Here’s the original shot (only resized for web).
The telephoto camera isn’t such a great success either. The 2x optical zoom wasn’t very good when it came to zooming in on a subject.
I have extensively used the depth-sensing camera, and found it unimpressive. The edges looked very artificial. Pictures looked fine on the phone, but viewed at full resolution on a PC, the images lost their crisp detail. The photos of the flowers above were taken in the Live or the Bokeh mode.
On the front, you have a 24MP camera for taking selfies and video calling. The front-facing camera produces good shots, although it wasn’t quite as good as the competition at preserving fine details.
Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018) review: Final verdict
As I have used the Galaxy A9 for a week and where general performance, build quality and overall experience is excellent. The SAMOLED display is something rivals cannot match in this segment. Then there’s the idea of having a phone four cameras on the back, which is thought-provoking. We have to give full credit to Samsung for this.
But being first to the market doesn’t always mean everything is perfect. The same can be said about the Galaxy A9. While the camera performance in good lighting was great, in low-light it struggles. In fact, what should be Galaxy A9’s strength is its biggest disappointment.
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