Smartphone companies are clearly torn between multiple lines of thought with regards to cameras in the phones that they sell. There is the one thought, which Google still swears by, that suggests a single camera with excellent artificially intelligent image processing algorithms is the way to go. And the results on the Pixel 3 line-up of phones testify to that. Then there are there dual camera soldiers, which use two sensors for better depth, detailing, driving the portrait mode and accurate colours. You just have to look at the Apple iPhone XS Max is the latest in many examples. Then there is the triple camera gang, which believes that a combination of a wide, an ultrawide and a telephoto lens is ideal. The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is the latest example of that, albeit with excellent results. Now however, we have a fourth line of thought, with the hope of letting you click even better photographs. Samsung has packed in four sensors in the Galaxy A9. "The world's first quad camera smartphone." It is priced at Rs36,990 (6GB +128GB variant) and Rs39,990 (8GB + 128GB variant), and carries the torch for the quad camera generation, for the moment. But are more cameras in a phone really better? The OnePlus 6T clearly will have something to say about it.
Where is the cherry on the cake?
Chances are, this is one phone that you will first admire from the back before you even switch this on. That is because of the four cameras stacked vertically. There is a 24-megapixel (f/1.7 aperture) sensor, a 10-megapixel telephoto sensor (f/2.4 aperture) which contributes with 2X optical zoom, an 8-megapixel ultra-wide-angle sensor (f/2.4 aperture) and a 5-megapixel sensor (f/2.2 aperture) which is essentially adding depth information to the photos that you click. It is the 10-megapixel telephoto sensor which is the same as the Galaxy Note 9, where also its purpose was to enable the 2X optical zoom.
The wardrobe makes all the difference
There is no doubt that the Samsung Galaxy A9 is a pretty phone. At first glance, it doesn’t look any different from most of its siblings. But the new wardrobe has made a significant difference. There are three colour options to choose from—Caviar Black, Bubblegum pink and our favorite, Lemonade Blue. The metal and glass feel great to hold, and what also helps is the rather slim profile of the device. The phone is just 7.8mm thick, and while it tips the scales at 183 grams, it really doesn’t feel that heavy when you hold it up. If you get annoyed by the presence of the Bixby button, well, it is still there. You might have to be a little careful of the slightly slippery back, if your hands are moist. Samsung has given the frame around the back panel a very slight curve, to match the angle of your hand as you hold the phone, but that actually makes the flat spines stick out more. This is a good-looking phone, without any doubt, but it is just that.
A beautiful canvas, as always
On a Samsung phone, a rich and bright display is what you most certainly expect. And that is what the 6.3-inch Super AMOLED canvas (2,220 x 1,080 resolution) absolutely delivers. Pretty much on the lines of the recent Samsung Galaxy phones, this is set to the Adaptive Mode by default, but you can change the vibrancy between cinema, photo and basic modes. We aren’t sure why Samsung calls this an Infinity Display, because the bezels above and below the screen are clearly thicker than on the Galaxy S9+. Brightness is where this display really doesn’t have too many rivals, except perhaps the LG G7+ ThinQ. We quite like the sharpness as well, which makes text very crisp to read.
Playing an alternate reality?
While Samsung often uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon processors for phones sold in other countries and instead switches to the Exynos processor for the versions sold in India, this time around, that hasn’t happened. The Galaxy A9 is powered by the Snapdragon 660 processor, with options of 6GB and 8GB RAM. This processor choice is a bit perplexing, since this is in the same price range as the OnePlus 6 and the OnePlus 6T, and they are powered by the top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processors. Clearly, this is a more mid-range phone processor, in a phone priced as a flagship. Nevertheless, for most tasks, the Galaxy A9 will get the job done without any fuss. If you already use a Samsung phone, you will pretty much be able to get started with this considering the parity in the feature set and options. As a daily driver, the Galaxy A9 is absolutely standing its ground, with absolute ease.
However, with flagship aspirations come the requirements of coming true on the requirements of multi-tasking and gaming. That is where the Galaxy A9 sometimes starts to show the strain, and the OnePlus 6T takes the lead. Games load faster on the 6T, multi-tasking switching is a tad quicker on the 6T and the interface is a lot smoother to navigate when a dozen apps are left open in the background.
If Samsung intended to position the Galaxy A9 as an alternate flagship or something on those lines, it clearly didn’t do the distinguishing bit with the software side of things. The interface wrapped around Android (which is incidentally Android 8.0 Oreo, months after Android 9 Pie has been rolling for even more affordable phones) looks and feels the same as just about any other Samsung phone.
That said, the 3,800mAh battery lasts a day and a half with absolute ease. This is when used as a daily driver with medium usage, including some bit of camera and social media apps. Depending on how you dial up any particular app or trend usage, the battery life will change accordingly. Since the Galaxy A9 has the USB Type-C port, you can use the fast charging feature with the bundled adapter and cable.
Is this the ultimate phone for photographers?
Coming back to the big question. The camera. Are 4 cameras better than 3 or 2? Have others missed a trick by sticking with dual cameras? Should Google be worried about still sticking to one camera in the latest Pixel phone? The thing is, none of the cameras used in the Galaxy A9 are not something we haven’t already seen. Which means, they don’t necessarily have an advantage of any other sensors in rival smartphones. However, Samsung’s big bet is that there is more of these sensors working together, and the more the merrier.
As it turns out, the experience is neatly divided into two halves. Low light photos get the benefit of more light being captured, in addition to the extra data that is available for post processing. However, the same benefits are lost in daytime and good light photos. In fact, quite a few photos actually have been ruined because of too much light being captured—if ever we had feared such a thing. The colours struggle to show up accurately or vividly as a result, which pretty much means you will not have as detailed and vibrant an image as you would expect. In most lighting condition, side by side, the OnePlus 6T clicks photos that look richer, sharper and more detailed. Because of the additional light that is available in the Galaxy A9, the shadow areas in photos also get compromised—and don’t exactly look like shadows. Then there is the issue of indoor photos with overhead lights. If you aren’t literally cajoling this camera, what you’ll probably end up with are photos that indicate a rain of light from the overhead lights. Our suspicion, for all this criticism is that the image processing algorithms are not optimized for the additional lighting and details that the extra sensors are pulling in—this could simply be a software related issue, and can be solved for better photos, if the image processing algorithms are tweaked a bit for the extra hardware.
We also noticed that the Galaxy A9’s camera app takes a fraction longer than the OnePlus 6T—which isn’t much in the larger scheme of things, but when you have to take a photo in a hurry, it can be the difference between getting the photo and missing the moment.
Should you buy one?
If you are thinking of buying the Samsung Galaxy A9 purely for photography purposes, caught up by the whole "The world's first quad camera smartphone" positioning, we would suggest holding off for a bit till some software tweaks are deployed for better light handling. If you are thinking about buying this purely as a daily driver phone, then this has pretty much everything you would expect—a good design, bright display, consistent performance, reliable battery life and additional features wrapped around Android. But then again, at this price, you can’t not compare it with the rivals such as the OnePlus 6T. And in that case, there really can be only one winner. All hinges on the software now, and whether Samsung can salvage this quad camera phone.
Also Read | Huawei Mate 20 Pro Review
Also Read | Google Pixel 3 XL Review