Okay let’s face it. When it comes to smartphones there is no such thing as too many lenses anymore.
What began as single lens VGA cameras as an added afterthought of a feature on early phones steadily became better and better to a point where they became the primary snapping device for most, in some cases surpassing dedicated cameras. Well we say surpassing, but dedicated cameras still had the edge in providing multiple focal lengths via interchangeable lenses.
That was, of course, until Samsung had a go at it with the A9, the world’s first quad-camera smartphone, featuring a whopping 24+5+10+8 MP camera setup. And that’s just the rear setup. Add a single 24MP front cam and if we are not very much mistaken, the A9 probably has the maximum number of cameras ever fitted to a mainstream smartphone.
Marketing gimmick or pure genius? Let’s find out if Samsung’s Quads are good in a time when consumers accept nothing less than royal flushes!
Design and Build: Rainbow of sturdiness
In a time long forgotten, there was a chance where the build quality from Samsung would be a point of contention for us. But the dark days are over and Samsung has consistently been churning out smartphones with great build. And it’s the same with the A9.
The A9 has the usual blend of fit and finish combined with sturdiness that you might find on any other mid range Samsung phone, but this time with some zesty flair on two of the three colour variants. The two variants in question come with a gradient design with the colour options being Bubblegum Pink and Lemonade Blue. There is also a Caviar Black for those a bit less flashy.
The metal chassis is sandwiched between a glass back and 6.3 inch 18.5:9 front. The curved corners help the device sit firmly in one hand and that's a blessing considering it's quite big and slightly slippery due to the all glass finish. The finish though is a bit of a fingerprint magnet but is not too evident on the Lemonade Blue variant we tested.
The Aux port, USB-C port and speaker can all be found on the bottom while the SIM tray is located on the top with the power and volume rocker buttons on the right and a lonesome dedicated Bixby button on the left.
Display: Vibrant as ever
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years, you probably already know that Samsung makes one of the best displays on the smartphone market today. Especially when it comes to their flagships. And that certainly has trickled down to their mid range devices, with the A9 boasting a supremely sharp and vibrant display.
The 2220 x 1080 FHD+ Super AMOLED display is certainly one of the best at least in this price range. The text is sharp, pictures and videos look vibrant and viewing angles are pretty respectable too. Viewing videos in 1080p are a pleasure with the colours being vibrant and contrast being just right. Samsung displays do tend to make content a bit more vibrant than others and some might say it verges on being unnatural, but we here at Stuff, being the optimists that we are, tend to think it's better than reality.
The A9 display gets plenty bright. It’s perfectly visible in harsh sunlight while toning it down at night so you are not blinded.
Performance & OS: Samsung’s best at the price
For the price, it seems Samsung skimped a bit when it came to the processor. The 2.2GHz Octa Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor may seem underpowered on paper, but on the A9 it works really well in conjunction with the 6GB RAM variant that we tested. It is to be noted that the A9 is also available with 8GB RAM which may potentially work even better.
It performs day-to-day tasks efficiently and in a buttery smooth way and performance while multitasking is also reasonably good. At this price though, you can get better performance and speed if that’s what you need from a smartphone. But at no point can it be considered slow or frustrating to use, not by a long shot.
Gaming performance is adequate too with less demanding games working flawlessly but the A9 does face the occasional hiccup while playing something graphic intensive. Cell phone gamers should not be deterred though as any lags or stutters are extremely rare.
When it comes to software, the A9 features Android’s 8.0 Oreo with Samsung’s usual host of pre-installed apps and the Samsung skin that has been featured on the new devices from the brand. And most users who are not Stock Android purists will be pleased with its slickness.
The 3800 mAh battery lasts long, but we suspect the large and vibrant screen keeps it from being a device that lasts more than a day. Charging at the end of a day is a must with the A9 even without super heavy usage. But on the other hand, it does charge up reasonably quick with the provided charger and a 10 minute pit stop can stretch things for a few more hours.
The A9 performs pretty well, but it is by no means the last word in performance, and at this premium price, it is simply outperformed by similarly priced competition.
Cameras: It’s quality, not quantity
For a smartphone that has been majorly marketed for its camera performance, it lacks the ‘wow’ factor. One would expect it to be utterly amazing considering it’s the world’s first quad camera smartphone. But it just is not. It should be noted that the three focal lengths cannot be used in pro mode, which only works with the 24MP main sensor. Also, among the three focal lengths, only two are usable. The aforementioned main sensor works well and the 8MP Ultra Wide camera is pretty handy. The 10MP telephoto sensor though leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, we found better results when shooting the same shot on the main sensor and then zooming in to 2x digitally in some situations. The dedicated 5MP depth camera works well too, for the most part. Let’s just say that the depth sensing works as well as other cameras on devices in the same price bracket.
That being said, and taking some of the gimmicky bits out of consideration, the cameras on the A9 are pretty respectable when you don't compare it to the best camera phones out there, which incidentally at least cost double the asking price of the A9. There is no other smartphone in the market today at this price that offers the same amount of flexibility as the A9.
By a wide margin, the highlight of the camera is the option to go Ultra Wide. The 120° view is just so usable and handy that you tend to take it for granted. The sheer amount of data one can include in the frame at close range and for things that are further away is astounding. We may have ended up using the ultra wide mode more than any other mode on the A9. It also has inbuilt software to help get rid of the optical distortion caused by the lens and it works.
The main sensor works really well too, with reasonable amounts of detail, great colour reproduction if slightly more vivid and good performance in low light as well.
Quite frankly, if you like the camera and the performance, you might be better off saving ₹15k and buying the A7. It features an Exynos processor but with the same 2.2GHz clock speed, same resolution display (but 0.3 inches smaller) and three rear cameras. The only thing it really misses out on is the 2x telephoto lens, which as we have already mentioned is a bit underwhelming.
The A9 puts us in a weird predicament. It does most things right as you would expect from Samsung. The build quality is excellent, the display is gorgeous and Samsung's software experience has improved greatly over the last couple of years. All well and good, but there is a bit of a problem in this serene scenario. And it’s the price. At ₹ 36,990 it comes dangerously close to the current industry leader, the OnePlus 6T which has a bucketload of features the A9 misses out on, like Dash charging, Snapdragon 845 processor and a debatably slicker software experience. Yes, we understand that the premium pricing is due to the world’s first quad camera system, but the excessive lenses don’t provide anything mind-blowing. We are not saying it's a bad camera but it’s not as good as the hype would lead you to believe either. In fact the A9 makes a pretty compelling sales pitch for its more reasonably priced sibling, the A7, which apart from the telephoto lens, slightly larger battery and USB-C gets pretty much everything the A9 has.