Samsung’s Galaxy S series is known for its camera performance, but recently the company changed its strategy, and brought a four-camera setup to its mid-range A series first instead of S series. The Galaxy A9 (2018) is the first device in the world to feature a quad-camera setup at the back.
I got a chance to first experience the handset at the launch event in Malaysia, post which the company brought the device to India. The handset comes in two RAM options in India, 6GB and 8GB. The 6GB RAM and 128GB storage variant is priced at Rs 36,990, whereas the 8GB RAM with 128GB storage costs Rs 39,990. Samsung is offering three color variants – Lemonade Blue, Caviar Black and Bubblegum Pink. Here’s my review of the 6GB RAM variant of the Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018).
Design, build and display
The 2018 edition of the Galaxy A9 doesn’t only have quad-camera as highlight, but the overall design too is up a notch. Samsung hasn’t followed the notch trend, and you will instead get rather thick bezels at the top and bottom of the display. It is quite taller than the Galaxy A7, but the new Galaxy A9 still holds nicely in hands.
The 3D curved glass back on the Galaxy A9 is borrowed from the flagship Galaxy S series smartphones, and it blends seamlessly with mid-metal frame. The curved edges and rounded corners make for a premium in-hand feel.
Samsung has opted for gradient design this time around, and that is one more thing that I liked in the Galaxy A9. Other than the Caviar Black variant, the other two color options – Lemonade Blue and Bubblegum Pink – look quite flashy. I found the pink variant to be best looking of the three. Having said that, the front and back glass attracts smudges very easily, and the phone is quite slippery as well. Samsung provides a soft clear case with the phone, so that works as a quick solution to this problem, and the phone’s look doesn’t get compromised either.
Upfront, Samsung is using its signature AMOLED ‘Infinity Display’ for the Galaxy A9, which is 6.3-inch panel size and offers full-HD+ (1080×2220 pixels) resolution with 18.5:9 aspect ratio. It offers overall good colors with deep blacks. The sunlight legibility is great, and the display offers enough brightness for any outdoor condition. The images, videos and texts look sharp on Galaxy A9’s display.
Performance, UI, Face Unlock and fingerprint sensor
As far as the internal power of Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018) is concerned, it packs a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 SoC, and our review unit had 6GB of RAM. Samsung has been generous with onboard storage and the Galaxy A9 comes with 128GB built-in flash storage. If you wish to expand it further, then there is a provision for the use of up to 512GB microSD card.
During my review, I didn’t come across any performance issue with the Galaxy A9. Daily usage and multitasking weren’t a problem at all. Although I sometimes felt that the Galaxy A9 would have performed same with 4GB RAM, something Samsung can consider for a lighter model.
I use apps extensively, and the only issue I came across was how some apps were not optimized for the Galaxy A9. For instance, the Instagram Stories reply option did not pull the text area above keyboard, so i could not see what I was typing. Having said that, the issue has to do with a particular app, and not the overall device. In terms of gaming, heavier games like PUBG played out fine, and so did lower graphics games like Subway Surfer.
The Samsung Galaxy A9 comes with Android 8.0 with Samsung’s Experience 9 UI skinned on top. When it comes to Experience UI, I feel that it is among the best UIs out there. I personally prefer stock Android OS over any overlay/UI, but in case of Samsung’s UI, I didn’t have any complaints. The overall experience of UI feels smooth, and I mostly used full-screen gestures instead of navigation keys. If you are coming from any stock Android or any other custom overlay, then you’ll find a bit of learning curve initially, but that doesn’t take away the smooth experience.
For security, Samsung is using fingerprint scanner and face unlock on the Galaxy A9. I found fingerprint scanner to be okay, but the face recognition was a bit of let down initially. It took few seconds to unlock, but learnt over time. It’s not clear if the software update during my review time helped face unlock, but after a regular use, it took less time to unlock.
Samsung has vertically stacked four lenses on the Galaxy A9, which is world’s first of its kind on a smartphone. This obviously raises a lot of expectation from the camera. The setup includes an ultra-wide lens, telephoto lens, primary lens, and a depth sensor. While it is the highlight of the device, I felt that the cameras were average at best. I expected a lot more from Samsung in this department considering they already have great single and dual-camera setups on the premium Galaxy S series.
First lens on the Galaxy A9 is an 8-megapixel 120-degrees ultra wide-angle lens, followed by a 10-megapixel f/2.4 telephoto lens for 2X optical zoom, then a 24-megapixel f/1.7 main camera, and lastly the fourth 5-megapixel f/2.2 depth camera for live focus.
I found the primary camera to be decent in good lighting conditions, and it managed to capture natural colors, lights and shadows. The center sharpness in all shots was up to the mark. Also, the dynamic range appeared good in all shots. It could manage decent amount of detailing as well. I mostly found the scene optimizer mode to be pretty useful. It works more like a preset for different situations.
When it came to low light shots, the camera mostly processed images for better sharpness, but corners still missed a little detailing. Even for the telephoto camera, it does get close to subject but misses out on sharpness and detailing. To be honest, the shots looked artificial.
Having said that, my favorite in the setup was wide-angle lens. The good part about 120-degrees ultra wide-angle shots is that you can take big group shots or bigger landscape, although it ends up with a slight fish-eye effect.
As for the front 24-megapixel selfie camera, it is not sensational either. I found the images to be acceptable but not very great or detailed. The bokeh mode does an okay job, but misses out on detailing and sharpness.
The Galaxy A9 packs a 3,800mAh battery with Samsung’s own 15W adaptive fast charging and USB Type-C port. I found the battery charging to be reasonable, but not as fast as some of its competitors. It usually took about two hours to charge full 100 percent. The battery could easily go for one full day without charging. I was mostly left with about 10-15 percent battery at the end of my day. My usage pattern included web surfing, calling, bit of video streaming, maps navigation, and social media apps. The phone does heat a bit while charging, but that’s normal.
All of us expect Samsung to deliver quality build and feel for its devices, and the Galaxy A9 does just that. I was thoroughly impressed with the quality build, design, and feel of the phone. In performance department too, the Galaxy A9 managed almost everything right in my review time. From multitasking to response time, I didn’t encounter any major problem in the device. Also, the phone doesn’t heat at all except while charging.
But, I feel the Galaxy A9 is a camera-centric smartphone first, and Samsung should try to fix the issues at earliest possible. I assume that camera can be improved over time if Samsung can tweak or upgrade the software accordingly. The handset sits in a price segment where its obvious competitor is now OnePlus 6T, which is overall a better offering. But Samsung has its own set of consumers offline, and the Galaxy A9 comes with a brand trust that most consumers might want to look at. This might not be a heavily spec’d smartphone to beat the competition, but the four cameras and a great design still make it a worthy contender.