How many cameras are enough? How many are too many? The Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018) came out around three and a half years ago and it was the first ever quad camera phone. It promised a lot of versatility, allowing you to switch between three focal lengths to get the best possible framing for your shot, as rendering a shallow depth of field normally possible only with the large sensors of DSLRs.
Let’s look at the camera roster of the A9. There were three usable cameras on the back and one utility module (we’ll get to the front-facing camera later).
- 24 MP primary camera, f/1.7 aperture, 4K video recording at 30 fps
- 8 MP ultra wide-angle (120° FoV, 12 mm)
- 10 MP telephoto (2x optical magnification, 52 mm)
- 5 MP depth sensor
Why are so many cameras even necessary? Well, there had been some attempts at using variable focal length cameras, but those never really fit in a sub-10 mm phone. And the A9 was thinner than 8 mm, with a camera that was almost flush with the rear panel.
With the tech available at the time, the most straightforward way to offer multiple focal lengths was to use multiple modules. The LG G5 proved the utility of having an ultrawide lens in 2016, soon after telephoto cameras started adorning the backs of smartphones.
It wasn’t until 2018 that the first phones to offer both started appearing. The LG V40 ThinQ was announced on October 3 (a couple of weeks ahead of the A9) and featured a 107° ultra wide, 78° wide and 45° telephoto lenses on its back. With two cameras on the front, 90° and 80°, it was the first phone with five cameras on board. The Samsung also had five in total, but in a 4+1 configuration.
You may be eager to talk about whether depth sensors are actually useful or just bump up the count for marketing purposes. Unfortunately, we have bigger issues to tackle first – the Galaxy A9 (2018) cameras just weren’t very good.
Below are camera samples from the main camera and the first thing that strikes us even now is “Why are they so purple?”. The phone occasionally got the white balance right, but it was a rarity. And even when it did, photos were still noisy and soft.
The telephoto camera handled colors better, but for some odd reason the output from the 10MP sensor was upscaled to 24MP. You could turn it off, but it was odd that it was even an option.
The ultrawide-angle camera had different woes, the images it produced were heavily distorted. Image quality wasn’t perfect either. In some ways we liked the exaggerated perspective, but there is a reason why most ultra wides have distortion correction enabled by default.
Here are a few night-time photos, which aren’t great either. Zoomed in photos were taken with the main camera, the tele module presumably performed even worse.
Overall, we expected more, even from a mid-ranger from 2018. Especially one where the main attraction was the cameras, though that wasn’t the only thing that the Galaxy A9 (2018) had going for it. More on that later, it is time to focus on the depth sensor.
Surprisingly, the portrait shots that were taken by the main camera and depth sensor working together were quite nice as the phone managed to separate subject from background fairly accurately.
And it worked with non-human subjects too, enabling some creative photos. All things considered, the depth sensor was the one module doing its job well, the other three disappointed.
The selfie camera was equipped with a 24MP sensor, which was the same size as the sensor in the main camera on the back – 1/2.8″, 0.9 µm pixels. Its main issue was the lack of autofocus, which meant you had to be conscious of how you held the phone. Too far or too close and your mug would be out of focus. Dynamic range wasn’t perfect either, but under the right conditions you could get some really good shots.
While cameras were the headlining feature, the Galaxy A9 (2018) also stood out with its size – its 6.3” display was one of the largest you can get back then, especially if you wanted a high-quality Super AMOLED panel. It was bright, had great color accuracy and supported the sRGB, Adobe RGB and DCI-P3 color spaces. It was one of the best screens you could have, outside of the flagship Galaxy S and Note series.
The A9 was equipped with the fairly powerful Snapdragon 660, a 14nm chip with four Kryo 260 Gold cores (based on Cortex-A73) and four Silver cores (A53), plus an Adreno 512. It paired the chipset with 6GB or 8GB of RAM and 64/128 GB storage, plus a dedicated microSD slot.
That made it one of the performance leaders in the mid-range segment. Unfortunately, it was saddled with an old Android 8.0 Oreo. Even so, the Samsung Experience 9.0 software included split-screen multitasking, so you could make the best out of the 6.3 inches and the relatively powerful chipset. And, thankfully, the 9.0 Pie updated arrived quickly, with a rollout starting a few months after launch.
The phone was powered by a 3,800 mAh battery, which gave it a respectable Endurance rating of 88 hours in our tests. It could have done better had it gotten something more efficient than a 14 nm chipset, but battery life was still one of the strong suites of the A9.
The Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018) was perhaps too expensive for its own good, launching in India at ₹39,000, the equivalent of €470 at the time. It quickly received a price cut to ₹37,000, but the price could drop only so much, considering the camera modules and expansive Super AMOLED display on board.
In the end, the A9 was a good idea executed poorly. Maybe Samsung got overambitious, even the Galaxy S9+ and Note9 couldn’t fit both a telephoto and an ultra wide module, despite working with a higher budget. Still, we appreciate the attempt – the ambition is what made the Galaxy A9 (2018) a memorable phone.