Samsung Galaxy A9 review: the beauty and the beast in excess

Samsung Galaxy A9 11

Rating: 7.5/10

Yay:

  • Great AMOLED display
  • The camera is stuffed with more features than you’d ever need
  • Good design
  • Stupendously good wireless audio performance

Nay:

  • Image quality was not up to snuff
  • Slow fingerprint scanner
  • Runs Android Oreo

Introduction

Samsung’s latest – Galaxy A9 – is the Chaebol exercising its engineering might. This is the world’s first phone with four cameras on the rear. The phone comes at a time when the world was just warming up to phones with a triple camera setup. 

So, is this four-camera toting Galaxy A9 any good? I am not going to waste any more time and jump right into my experience with the Galaxy A9, which has been my daily driver since the day of launch. Just to pre-empt my verdict a bit, the Galaxy A9 impresses for reasons other than its four cameras. 

Samsung Galaxy A9 design: clean and very Samsung-like

Okay, before I even talk about anything else, mad respect to Samsung for sticking to their guns and not going down the notch route. In this day and age of edge-to-edge screens with a notch, Samsung stands tall with courage and bucks the trend every single time. The Samsung Galaxy A9 has no notch either. We’ve always been saying #SayNoToTheNotch and I’d like to think Samsung is our ally here. 

The first thing that is striking about the Galaxy A9 is the new gradient colour scheme on our Lemonade Blue colour unit. Although, the colour that really caught my fancy was the Bubblegum Pink colour. I also like the fact that Samsung bundles a neat transparent TPU case inside the box to show off the colour. That said if you want something more understated Samsung has a uniquely-named Caviar Black colour option for you as well.

As for the construction, you get glass on the rear and the front with a metal railing. It is a clean design and inspires confidence in its sturdiness. In fact, I inadvertently dropped the phone once and not so much as a scratch registered on the body. The slightly tapered off rear makes the phone sit in the palm easily but there is no mistaking that it is a massive phone. So, one-handed usage is going to be tough. Also, the rear is a fingerprint magnet so you might have to keep a cloth handy at all times. 

I also like how the cameras are all stacked up vertically on the rear. The square-shaped fingerprint scanner is also in the right position. I found the fingerprint scanner to be slightly slow compared to the blazing fast fingerprint scanners on some competing phones. There is also a Face Unlock option and I found it to be hit and miss too. 

The Power button and the volume rocker are placed on the rear, and in typical Samsung-fashion, are incredibly tactile. Samsung has also added the Bixby button on the left for good measure, but there is still no option to reconfigure to a function of your choice. That’s a little limiting in my opinion. Still, the button is there, in case you want to give Bixby a try — which, in all honesty, is actually pretty decent for system level commands like “Switch on Bluetooth” and such. Neither Siri nor Google Assistant has achieved this level of deep system integration with a voice-based system yet. But yes, Google Assistant is far more refined compared to Bixby. 

There are a couple of things I like more about the Galaxy A9’s design. The clean symmetry at the bottom with the ports and the speaker aligned neatly. And, the fact that the SIM card tray accepts two Nano-SIM cards and a separate MicroSD card are my two favourite design choices.

Overall, the Galaxy A9’s design is a well-thought-out premium affair that we’ve come to expect from Samsung. 

Samsung Galaxy A9 display: AMOLED that impresses

The Samsung Galaxy A9 has a 6.3-inch Full-HD Super AMOLED panel that looks great from the get-go. Yes, the Galaxy Note 9 and the Galaxy S9’s curved screens look slightly better but the difference is mostly not going to be discernible by the naked eye. In fact, this is one of the best smartphone displays in this price range. From watching Netflix to playing games, I enjoyed the uninterrupted experience because there is no notch. That said, I think Samsung could’ve shaved slightly more from the bezels to make it even more tempting but this is fine too. I am just nitpicking here. 

The viewing angles are great. There is very little colour shift or no colour bleeding either. And, you can change the colour gamut, according to your preference from the settings as well. Furthermore, the phone can also get really bright. The only feature missing from this display is the support for HDR considering the OnePlus 6T and the LG G7+ ThinQ come with it.

Oh, and before I forget, Samsung has one of the best Always-On screens in the industry. The Galaxy A9 is no different. 

In all though, I really liked the panel on the Galaxy A9. No complaints as such. 

Samsung Galaxy A9 19

Samsung Galaxy A9 software: duplicate and bloat

The Samsung Galaxy A9 runs on Samsung Experience version 9.0 on top of Android 8.0.0. I would’ve ideally liked to see Android 9 Pie. But this is what you get. Let me break down what I like and don’t like about the software on the Galaxy A9.

Stuff I like

  • The fact that the UI has been streamlined to work seamlessly and smoothly is great. Agreed this is not long-term usage, but I am a heavy user generally and I haven’t managed to tax the phone yet. 
  • Samsung is now taking your consent before installing first-party apps like Samsung Health and such. That’s a great step forward. 
  • I like the fact that you can colour-code your folders. 
  • I think Smart Switch is one of the better Switcher apps out there. 
  • You also have the option for running Dual Messenger apps. For a Dual SIM phone, this is a great feature. 
  • There is an easy-to-invoke one-handed mode that is useful in a phone of this size. But I have a question for you guys – how many actually use this feature on your phones?
  • I really like Samsung’s Secure Folder app that lets you protect your personal data from people.  

Samsung Galaxy A9 20 Samsung Galaxy A9 21 Samsung Galaxy A9 22

Stuff I don’t like

  • I can’t, for the life of me, understand why Samsung pre-installs Facebook on the phone and doesn’t let you uninstall it. 
  • There are still a lot of duplicate apps. For example, there is a Gallery app and a separate Photos app as well. And, there are two Calendar apps. 
  • The Bixby Homepage is still a work in progress. I like what Samsung is trying with Bixby but it really needs some concentrated work to be better than Google Assistant, which is more than a couple of steps ahead of all the Voice-based Assistants out there. 

Samsung Galaxy A9 23 Samsung Galaxy A9 24

All said and done, I really like how Samsung has taken good feedback and toned down Experience UI from the days of the heavy-handed TouchWiz. 

Samsung Galaxy A9 camera: an exercise in excess

Okay, shall we finally talk about the four cameras on the Samsung Galaxy A9? I am not going over the specs (you can check it out from the Mr. Phone app) but what you need to know is that apart from the primary camera, you get a wide-angle camera, a telephoto camera with 2x optical zoom, and the final one for depth sensing. That’s not it, the camera app is also loaded with features. Here are my favourite ones:

  • The app has three buttons to switch directly between the wide, telephoto, and regular modes. I find that pretty intuitive really. 
  • There is a special Scene Optimiser mode from the more expensive flagship phones that is pretty useful in optimising shots for specific scenes. For example, the camera can immediately recognise a landscape scenario and change the settings accordingly. 

    Samsung Galaxy A9 camera sample 13 Samsung Galaxy A9 camera sample 9

  • My favourite feature of all is the flaw detection feature. It can immediately tell if someone has blinked or not. That comes in handy so many times if someone moves in the picture. I noticed in my testing that Flaw Detection was not very aggressive but it did work many times. 
  • There’s also the Super Slow Motion video recording option and I am not a fan of that feature honestly. 
Samsung Galaxy A9 camera sample 10

Regular

Samsung Galaxy A9 camera sample 11

Wide

Samsung Galaxy A9 camera sample 12

2x optical

Coming to the performance of the cameras. I have a detailed camera comparison of the Galaxy A9 with the OnePlus 6T and the Poco F1 coming soon. But you know what, if you don’t read my comparison and just look at the samples, you will feel that the camera takes great shots. And for the most part, if you are just going to be uploading to Instagram or Facebook the Galaxy A9’s images are great. However, you know Mr. Phone, we love to pixel peep and take a closer look at stuff:

Samsung Galaxy A9 camera sample 7 Samsung Galaxy A9 camera sample 6

  1. The primary camera takes decent pictures in good lighting conditions with surprisingly natural colours. The saturation levels are not too high, unlike Samsung phones I’ve used in the past. But there is a clear artificial sharpening being employed by the software. 
  2. The low light performance of the rear camera is not too bad either but there is a heavy noise reduction at play that softens the details. 
  3. The dynamic range by default is average at best. However, the HDR mode does an acceptable job of improving it. 

Samsung Galaxy A9 camera sample 4

  1. The telephoto camera takes surprisingly good 2x optical zoom shots with a good amount of details too.
  2. The wide-angle camera is a bit of a letdown with far fewer details and a fixed focus. 
  3. The A9 can shoot 4K video without EIS and 1080p videos with EIS but the video quality is okay at best. What impressed me was the stupendously good sound recording. Samsung really has an edge with sound recording is what I’ve noticed. 

Samsung Galaxy A9 camera sample 14

  1. The selfie camera on the front takes good portraits and serviceable selfies. But, once again these are not very detailed. 

Overall, the camera is filled to the brim with features. If that is what you are craving for the Galaxy A9 is perfect for you. But phones like the OnePlus 6T and the LG G7+ ThinQ offer better details and a more capable sensor performance across the board. 

Samsung Galaxy A9 performance: sacrificing raw power for being a workhorse

The Samsung Galaxy A9 comes with a Snapdragon 660 SoC and at least 6GB of RAM, with another variant that comes with 8GB of RAM. You also get 128GB of internal storage in both the variants with the option to extend the storage further using a microSD card. So, storage and RAM-wise you are sorted. No complaints there. However, a lot of you might be thinking the Realme 2 Pro or the Mi A2 comes with a SD 660, so this is a letdown on the Galaxy A9. Well, you are not wrong entirely. 

Here’s the thing though, I need to highlight a certain fact. I ran my benchmarks as usual and found out that the SD 660 on the Galaxy A9 had some of the best numbers I’ve achieved on this chipset. For example, I got an AnTuTu score of 140567, which is better than the Realme 2 Pro’s number of 131647. Some say the Realme 2 Pro has a lite version of the SD660 but I don’t know how much truth is there in that statement. 

Well, moving on, I also played a couple of games of PUBG on the Galaxy A9 and ran Gamebench as well. Unfortunately, the default settings are capped at mid-level. So, I couldn’t push the Smooth setting to Ultra which runs the game at 60fps. But, I got a constant framerate of 30fps with the phone heating up from 34-degree to 40-degree in the course of a 20-minute session, which is normal. All that said, the Galaxy A9 is not going to be a powerhouse but it works as a workhorse. I had no trouble in daily usage as the performance was A-grade for that. If you are not a sucker for more power (and I know a lot of folks), the Galaxy A9 should work well. 

I was on an Airtel network and noticed that the phone was rock-steady with 4G connection and call quality as well. Also, the phone supports VoLTE on both the SIMs, which is awesome. 

Samsung Galaxy A9 multimedia: impressive

The Samsung Galaxy A9 is actually a great smartphone for watching videos and listening to music on the go. I tried my 1More Triple Drivers with the Galaxy A9 and the bundled earphones as well. The bundled ones are fine but the Galaxy A9 could drive my 1More’s pretty well. I had a fun listening experience from the phone. In fact, with support for aptX out of the box, the Galaxy A9 does a stupendous job with the sound quality with wireless earphones as well. There’s support for Dolby Atmos as well, which is kickass.  

The single downward firing speaker, on the other hand, sounds a little harsh at high volume. But, I guess with Widevine L1 support for watching video streaming in HD quality and a good pair of wireless earphones the Galaxy A9’s big 6.3-inch display can be considered to offer a great multimedia experience. I quite enjoyed a couple of episodes of Chef’s Table on the phone. 

Samsung Galaxy A9 battery: good enough for a day

The Samsung Galaxy A9 has a 3,800mAh battery powering its internals. Samsung claims that the phone supports fast charging but it took me 2 hours and 20 mins to charge this battery from 0 to 100 using the bundled charger. I doubt this is fast by today’s standards.

Also, I got an average SoT of anywhere between 4 hours and 5 hours. This is good enough for a day’s worth of usage for most people. It is not great, but it is not bad either. Maybe you can get a better battery life by turning off the Always-On display. 

Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy A9?

My initial expectation of Samsung slaying it with the four cameras was thwarted after using the phone. But if you look past that marketing spiel, the Galaxy A9 is a reliable performer with a great multimedia experience out-of-the-box. Well, you come for one thing and get another!

That said, if you are buying a phone online, there could be a few better performers and shooters out there. Let’s compare a few phones with the Galaxy A9.  

OnePlus 6T

The OnePlus 6T is a great phone under Rs 40,000 that offers close to a flagship-class performance. For most folks, the 6T is going to be the de facto choice. But, the Galaxy A9 has some tangible benefits over the 6T in the form of a better quality AMOLED panel. Also, interestingly the OnePlus Bullets Wireless sounded way better on the Galaxy A9 compared to the OnePlus 6T. 

Also read: OnePlus 6T review: aggressively marching towards the future

LG G7+ ThinQ

The G7+ ThinQ has a lot going for it except for the battery life and the software. The Galaxy A9 beats the G7+ ThinQ in both these aspects. You need to weigh and measure what is important for you: a solid software experience, with a decent battery life on the Galaxy A9. Or, a better camera and great multimedia performance on the G7+ ThinQ.

Also read: LG G7+ ThinQ: 5 reasons why it is better than the OnePlus 6 and Poco F1

Poco F1

The Poco F1 is much more cost effective and powerful. But the Galaxy A9 has a better display with Widevine L1 support for watching streaming content in HD. Again, these are the calls you need to take before making a pick. 

Also read: Poco F1 by Xiaomi review: don’t think it, just buy it

Poco F1 5

It’s all very simple really. The Samsung Galaxy A9 is going to be a good option in the offline market for folks looking for phones under Rs 40,000. Couple that with the stellar brand value and the after-sales service of Samsung, people are bound to be swayed by the sheer number of features available in the phone. For the others, there’s always the OnePlus 6T a click away. 

Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?