The new Galaxy A9 is Samsung’s premium mid-range offering to take on the OnePlus 6T. It highlights a quad-camera system, but it is really the display and performance that makes it a worthy competition.

Samsung is taking a fresh approach with its mid-range Galaxy A-series, because the old way has proved to be unfruitful in today’s competitive market. So, the company has decided to introduce new and unique technologies to the Galaxy A-series before they make their way to the flagship Galaxy S and Note series.

The new Galaxy A9 was launched earlier this year in Pakistan starting at Rs 80,000, and is the world’s first smartphone to offer four rear cameras. Samsung feels a unique feature like this will help the phone stand out in a segment that is dominated by brands like OnePlus. Having four cameras unlocks a wide number of modes and options for users to capture the perfect shot. But are four cameras enough to give the Galaxy A9 an edge over the competition?

DESIGN

It is pretty evident that Samsung has taken some cues from Huawei and OnePlus while designing the new Galaxy A9. The 2018 model looks quite different from its predecessor which offered a metal unibody design. This one has more glass, more display and a gradient color design that completes the overall look. It is offered in some funky colors called Bubblegum Pink and Lemonade Blue. I got the latter color as my review unit. The gradient design sees the color shift from green to blue and the intensity of it changes depending on how light hits the panel. It’s a pretty design that’s not too harsh on the eyes and I’m particularly fond of the Lemonade Blue option that makes it look almost jewel-like. The Caviar Black is plain without any gradient design, for those looking for a subtler option.

The body of the Galaxy A9 is quite attractive. The 3D glass on the back curves around the edges and into the metal frame, giving it a Galaxy S9 like comfortable and premium feel. Despite the large battery inside, the Galaxy A9 didn’t feel too heavy to hold. The power, volume and Bixby buttons on the sides also have a nice click to them. I like the placement of the Bixby button, in particular, as it is placed above center and reduces accidental presses. Unfortunately, the Bixby button cannot be remapped, unless you download a third-party app.

The top of the frame sees a slot that will hold two Nano SIMs and a microSD card. The bottom sees a speaker grille, USB Type-C port and a headphone jack. The squarish fingerprint sensor on the back is well-positioned and made it easy to reach and identify on one go. Overall, the A9 is as tall as the Galaxy Note 9, but it feels a lot more comfortable to hold.

Despite a glass back, the Galaxy A9 does not support wireless charging. If it did, it would have given the device a nice edge over the OnePlus 6T. The four cameras have been placed vertically and are pretty flush with the panel so you won’t have to worry about any imbalance or damage to the lenses while placing the phone on a flat surface.

DISPLAY:

The Galaxy A9 comes with a tall 6.3-inch FHD+ (1080×2160) Super AMOLED Infinity display. This is a sharp and vivid panel with some oversaturated colors, which is natural to find on Samsung’s OLED displays. App icons look bright with colors that pop on screen. Blacks are deep and viewing angles look good. The brightness is good enough even in bright, sunlit conditions.

Pictures look sharp on this display and while Samsung didn’t explicitly mention it, the Galaxy A9 supports Wide vine L1 standard which means you will be able to stream content on Netflix and other platform on true 720p resolution and higher. The Galaxy A9 is meant for consuming media as it offers crisp detailing and terrific colors. White balance is pretty good and the display is on the cooler side of things. Overall, this is a display that should keep you pleased while streaming videos or playing games.

PERFORMANCE & SOFTWARE:

Powering the Galaxy A9 (2018) is a Snapdragon 660 chipset, which is always good to hear. The Snapdragon 660 is known to be a mid-range powerhouse and we have seen it power the likes of the Realme 2 Pro and Xiaomi Mi A2, to name a few. But that’s also where the problem lies. From a psychological perspective, consumers are well aware that they can get a SD660 phone for under Rs 20,000. And here is the Galaxy A9 that costs as much as the Snapdragon 845-powered OnePlus 6T.

But if you were to ignore this difference and were to simply work with the Galaxy A9 as a standalone product, you would be pleased with the performance. The phone handles most intensive tasks with ease, showing barely any signs of lagging or slowdown. Apps are quick to open and load and multitasking is a breeze thanks to 6GB of RAM on board.

The Galaxy A9 is a great device to play graphic intensive games like PUBG. Not only will the game run smoothly with negligible frame rate drop, but it looks pretty stunning on a wide sAMOLED display as well. The game will run on medium graphic setting by default, but it holds well even if you crank it up to high graphics. The phone does get a little warm after about 10 to 15 minutes, but it won’t affect battery life significantly.

Samsung is typically late to jump on the latest Android software so the Galaxy A9 is still on Android 8.0 Oreo with Experience 9.0 on top. It’s disappointing to see Galaxy phones running Oreo when Pie has been out for months. This is probably one of the more important areas that Samsung should be focusing on if it wants its mid-range Galaxy A line to catch consumers’ interest.

The software is familiar with colorful app icons and preloaded apps like Microsoft’s productivity suite, Samsung Mall, Pay Mini, Prime Video, Amazon Shopping and Samsung Max, to name a few. Swiping right on the home screen will take you to Bixby Home that will give you relevant information about weather, fitness activity and more.

CAMERA:

The highlight of course is the quad cameras on the back of the new Galaxy A9. This setup includes a 24MP main sensor with f/1.7 aperture, an 8MP 120-degree ultra-wide-angle lens with f/2.4 aperture, a 10MP telephoto lens with 2x optical zoom and a 5MP depth sensor. The front camera also sees a 24MP selfie snapper. With all these cameras on board, the camera app becomes quite populated with features.

Outdoors and with adequate sunlight, photos captured with the primary lens look bright and sharp thanks to a fast shutter speed and f/1.7 aperture. The 24MP primary camera will retain good detail even after zooming in. The camera app comes with a host of modes like Live Focus, Beauty, Super Slow-Mo and Scene Optimizer, among others that you can play around with depending on the situation. If you use Scene Optimizer while photographing food for example, the camera will boost the contrast so colors look deep and the food looks more appetizing. This is a phone that is meant for consumers who love to Instagram a lot.

You can also switch between standard lens, wide-angle lens and 2X optical zoom by tapping the appropriate leaf icon on the bottom. I have been impressed with the wide-angle lens on the Galaxy A7 and my feelings remain the same for the Galaxy A9 as well. The 120-degree ultra-wide-angle camera captures a vast area in the frame. There is some fish-eye effect that takes place, but Samsung has a correction option in place that will straighten things out. The 8MP sensor, however, will not capture a lot of detail and you will notice some noise as you zoom into the picture.

The primary camera does as good job locking focus on a subject and autofocus is generally quite fast, even in low light. It is worth noting that tap to focus will only work with the primary and telephoto sensors, but not with the ultra-wide-angle sensor. In low-light conditions, the primary camera does well to let in light, but photos will appear grainy and soft. In such conditions, the zoom and ultra-wide-angle cameras are not useful at all due to their small apertures.

The problem I had with the selfie camera on the Galaxy A7 continues to be present in the Galaxy A9. The selfie camera and Samsung’s software-based AI smoothen facial features even with beauty mode turned off. That being said, the front camera manages to offer plenty of detail, both outdoors and indoors. I also found the camera app a little buggy as it often failed to register touch input while trying to switch between modes.

BATTERY:

 As much as the Galaxy A9 is about its quad-camera system, it is also low-key about other features as well. The phone gets a large 3,800mAh battery with fast charge support via USB Type-C. This is just 200mAh short of what you get with the Galaxy Note 9, but in real-world usage you’re likely to get the same performance. The Galaxy A9 easily lasts a full day on average to above average usage.