January 8, 2019

Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018) review


One of the first phones with five cameras on board and, several months after the announcement, still the only one with four on the back - it's the Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018). We set out to discover how well the impressive specsheet translates into real world performance.

Sitting on top of the ever-confusing Galaxy A-series, the A9 leaves no doubt it's the best-equipped of the bunch. Of course, it's got more cameras than any other - it adds a telephoto module to the A7's regular/wide/depth configuration. There's 'only' a single cam on the front - the 24MP selfie shooter doesn't get a depth sensor of its own.
It's not just the camera count that sets the A9 apart from the rest of the 2018 midrange Galaxy models - it's also got the most powerful chipset. Its Snapdragon 660 outclasses the Exynos chipsets of its lesser brethren and only falls short of the recently announced A8s (which lacks a year designation, so it doesn't really count).
The largest display of the A-series is also to be found on the A9 (2018), its 6.3-inch diagonal only bested by that pesky A8s that came out as we were doing the A9's review, so we had to reword stuff here and there. Anyway, the A9 (2018) feature set continues with more RAM than you could possibly need, 128GB of storage that you can also expand with a dedicated microSD slot, and ample battery capacity complete with Samsung's sort-of fast charging - yup, the A9's spec sheet has all the right boxes checked.

Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018) specs

  • Body: Glass back, metal frame; 162.5 x 77 x 7.8mm, 183g; Caviar Black, Lemonade Blue and Bubblegum Pink color schemes;
  • Display: 6.3" Super AMOLED, FullHD+ 2,220x1,080px resolution Infinity display (18.5:9 aspect ratio), 392ppi pixel density.
  • Rear cameras: (1) 24MP, f/1.7 aperture; phase detection autofocus; (2) 8MP, f/2.4 aperture, fixed focus, 12mm ultra wide; (3) 10MP, f/2.4 aperture, autofocus, 2x optical zoom telephoto; (4) 5MP, f/2.2 aperture, depth sensing only. LED flash. 2160p/30fps video recording.
  • Front camera: 24MP, f/2.0 aperture; fixed focus; 1080p/30fps video recording.
  • OS/Software: Android 8.0 Oreo; Samsung Experience 9.0 custom overlay.
  • Chipset: Snapdragon 660: octa-core 4x2.2 GHz Kryo 260 & 4x1.8 GHz Kryo 260, Adreno 512 GPU.
  • Memory: 6GB/8GB (market dependent) of RAM, 128GB of storage; dedicated microSD slot for expansion.
  • Battery: 3,800 mAh Li-Po (sealed); Samsung Adaptive Fast charging.
  • Connectivity: Dual SIM; LTE Cat. 9 (450Mbps download/50Mbps upload); USB 2.0 Type-C port; Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac; GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO; NFC; Bluetooth 5.0; FM radio.
  • Misc: Rear-mounted fingerprint reader; Samsung Pay; single speaker on the bottom; 3.5mm jack.

Design and 360-degree spin

The Galaxy A9 (2018) is immediately recognizeable - after all, there's no other smartphone with 4 cameras on the back, as we established. The quad-cam array is positioned in the top left corner and is remarkably less intrusive than we would have thought - or is it just us getting used to multi-camera setups?

The four modules are arranged in a row, instead of a 2x2 square and it's perhaps this setup that makes them less in-your-face. It also helps that they all peek at you from one shared window instead of, say, Huawei's 2+1 configuration on the P20 Pro. Even so, Samsung didn't find room in there for the flash and it's outside of the camera cluster.

Instead of the Galaxy A7 (2018)'s one-off side-mounted fingerprint reader, the one on the A9 is placed more conventionally on the back. If you're switching from a smaller phone, this reader may seem a bit high, but if you're coming from another 6+-inch phone it's exactly where you'd expect it to be. A word of praise to Samsung for having no text other than the company logo to spoil the look of the back.

The front is very clean too - the 6.3-inch Super AMOLED takes center stage, naturally, with thin sides and meatier, though not excessive, top and bottom bezels. Samsung still calls it Infinity Display even though it's less 'infinity' than on the S9s and the Note9s of this world. Some folks will prefer it that way - if you're into large screens, but like them flat, the A9's the way to go in Samsung's lineup.

The top bezel houses the usual elements you'd expect to find there. The earpiece is in the middle, the selfie camera is to its right, while the ambient light and proximity sensors share a cutout on the left. There's nothing below the display.

The Galaxy A9 (2018)'s frame is made of metal, keeping together the glass sandwich. Down on the bottom, there's a USB-C port (we still can't forgive Samsung for pairing the A7 with a microUSB port in 2018), a good old 3.5mm jack, the single loudspeaker, and the primary mic.

Up top you'll find the secondary mic pinhole and the card slot. That card slot is our favorite type - it takes two nanoSIMs and a microSD card, so you're not forced to choose between dual SIM versatility and extra storage.

Samsung's messed things up a bit with the control scheme on the A9 (2018) and moved the volume rocker to the right, above the power button. It used to be a given that your Samsung will come with a power-on-the-right-volume-on-the-left setup, but that's no longer the case. There still is a button on the left of the A9 - that one's for Bixby. Even though we find the arrangement unorthodox for a Galaxy, we had no issues with actually using the buttons, so the above are just pointless musings. The click action is good too.

The Galaxy A9 (2018) measures 162.5x77x7.8mm, which is about right for its display size. The 6.4-inch Note9, in fact, has a marginally smaller footprint, but its curved screen helps with the numbers. And then the A9 is actually a full millimeter thinner than the flagship. The A9 (2018) is also reasonably light for the combination of display size and battery capacity, and its 183g won't be a burden on your jeans pocket.