Android

Samsung Galaxy A8 and A8+ Review: They Could’ve Done Much Better

There is no way to describe how important the mid-range smartphone market is. Loads and loads of manufacturers from all over the world are trying to fight for the largest market value. Samsung’s A-series has always been targeted in this market, and for 2018, Samsung brings out 2 new devices to keep up with the market – the Galaxy A8 and the pricier, larger A8+. With a retail price of RM1799 and RM2499 respectively, does both of them have what it takes to compete in this fierce market? Let’s see.

Unboxing

Both the packaging of the A8 and A8+ are pretty similar, but of course, the A8 has a slightly smaller packaging. A white box is what the A8+ came in, and a box is immediately presented once you lift off the top cover. Opening up the box reveals the SIM tray ejector too, some documents and a nice clear hard case. Lifting off the box reveals the phone, and underneath them are the rest of the accessories – which consists of a USB to USB-C cable, a pair of earphones and a USB wall adapter, with support for Samsung’s Adaptive Fast Charging.

Design

A person who is familiar with Samsung’s latest design will immediately recognize both the A8 and A8+ as a Samsung device. There’s no way to deny that the new A8 and A8+ doesn’t look the Samsung’s more expensive flagship S8 and S8+. While it’s not a carbon copy, Samsung had to trim it down to fit their mid-range line-up. Compared to their predecessor – the 2017 A8, doesn’t matter where you look at it, it is a huge jump, and a good one too. The newer models looked subtler, yet modern looking and handsome at the same time. Both the new A8 and A8+ shares the same design cues, so the difference is only its size in terms of the design.

Putting both side-to-side, the difference in size is quite small, with only 10mm difference in height and 5mm in width. Both have pretty much the same thickness, but the A8+ gains about 20-grams compared to the A8’s 172-grams with it’s larger size. The size of the A8 makes it so much easier and comfortable to hold in hand, while the A8+ isn’t too bad either especially those who are used to larger phones.

While other premium mid-range smartphones jump on the metal unibody bandwagon, Samsung hasn’t felt the need to follow the ship. But this doesn’t mean that both of them have horrible build qualities. There is a metal band that serves as the structural integrity of the device, and it is nicely polished. The front consists of a large piece of Gorilla Glass, and while it still has that 2.5D looking curves on all 4 sides with rounded corners on all 4 corners, they’re not as crazy as the one found in the S8 range. The sides tuck in nicely to the metal band, and with the black model like our A8, it looks there is a curved edge effect like on the S8. The back is plastic however, but it is well polished which looks and feels surprisingly premium. Overall, the materials used on the new A8 and its Plus brother doesn’t make you miss metal unibody much, as they still feels premium and very nice to hold.

Both the A8 & A8+ features an 18.5:9 display with rounded corners, with the A8+’s display measuring at 6-inches, while the A8 is only off by 0.4-inches, and both of them takes up most of the space on the front. There is some space above and below the display, and while the one at the bottom is not enough for any physical Android navigation controls, there is still space on the top for an LED notification light, a few sensors, an earpiece and a pair of front-facing cameras. Both of them also lose out on pressure-sensitive under-screen home key or IRIS scanner, which is something only exclusive to the flagship brothers.

On the left of the A8 and A8+ is a pair of volume buttons, and below that is where one of two removable trays are located, and in it contains a primary nanoSIM card slot. The other tray, which is on top of the device, is where another tray is located, which houses a secondary nanoSIM slot and a microSD card slot. Even though it is a slightly weird combination, and it might take a while to notice the primary nanoSIM tray, we’re glad to see that both the A8 brothers supports dual-SIM while having a standalone slot for storage expansion.

On the right of the device is where the power button and the speaker is located. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a device from Samsung with a speaker mounted on the right, they’ve been doing it since last year when they brought us the A3, A5 and A7. It leaves space at the bottom, which is where the USB-C and 3.5mm headphone jack port is located.

On the back, the 16-megapixel camera is located towards the top in the middle, and the fingerprint sensor is located right below it, with a LED flash next to it. It is nice to see that they’ve fixed the awkwardly located fingerprint sensor, and no doubt that it looks like the ones found on the S9 brothers.

Both the A8 and A8+ are available in 3 colours – Orchid Grey, Black and Gold, and the latter 2 is what our A8 and A8+ came in respectively.

Samsung Galaxy A8/A8+ Phone Photos

Specs and Performance

Both the new A8 and A8+ isn’t all just about borrowing from something that is getting out-of-date, underneath it packs specs that are unique to them. Samsung’s Exynos 7885 is put to use for both of them. Not quite from their flagship line-up, but something more suitable for a mid-ranger. The numbers are not bad at this price point, with primary cores, which in this case is only 2 of the 8 cores, clocked at 2.2GHz, while the rest are clocked at 1.6GHz. In case you’re wondering, a comparable Snapdragon 630 is pretty much the same, with all cores running at higher clock speed.

Another reason that explains the price difference between both the Galaxy A8 and A8+ is the memory and storage packed. The regular A8 is packed with a 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, which sounds pretty adequate. The A8+ benefits from additional 2GB of RAM, which equates to a total of 6GB and 64GB of internal storage. Pretty much the numbers you’d expect from a mid-range device these days.

For devices at this price point, both the A8 & A8+ performed adequately well in the real-world. Even though the CPU has a rather unique configuration that we’ve never seen before (2 out of the 8 cores are more powerful), most of the time it performed as usual. Nevertheless, both have no problem dealing with regular tasks. The combination of Samsung’s rather lightweight-looking Experience OS and the processor sings almost in harmony. It does struggle a bit if you decide to run something heavy, but still gets the job done quite well. Under load it stays rather cool, and the battery drain is not severe. One small niggle about the real world experience is that it does have little hiccups here and there, like the experience isn’t butter smooth doesn’t matter if the load on the processor is heavy or not. It is a slight problem even for a premium mid-range smartphone, but that’s a tiny problem to deal with, and it is fast to recover, which makes it almost unnoticeable.

Running Geekbench on the A8+, the results speak for themselves. Single-core score sits at around 1522, while multi-core scored 4358. Both numbers are definitely not mind-blowing, and with only 2 high-powered cores, it does tamper with the scores slightly.

There is also difference in storage options between the A8 and A8+. The A8 has to make deal with 32GB, while the A8+ bumps that up to 64GB. We’re also relieved to see that both of them gets a standalone microSD card slot for storage expansion, and they will take cards up to 64GB. The USB-C port at the bottom also takes OTG devices for more storage.

A dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac is standard across the board, with the usual Wi-Fi direct and Hotspot functionality enabled too. Both also gains Bluetooth 5.0 that is first debut on the Galaxy Note 8, which benefits from twice the speed, four times the range, more bandwidth and higher reliability, among other benefits compared to Bluetooth 4.2. A NFC chip is built-in as well, and it has added functionality for Samsung Pay – their own proprietary mobile payment system. You can just register your card to the device, and use it at any modern credit card terminal with wave support. While it is very convenient, we hope to see support from more banks. Support for 4G+ is also there which is a bonus. But, the USB-C port at the below is only a 2.0.

A FM Radio functionality is also present, and you do need to plug in a pair of earphones for it to work as an antenna.

A fingerprint sensor is located at the back, and unlike the Galaxy S8 and the Note 8 where it’s placed in a awkward location, the fingerprint sensor on both the A8 & A8+ is conveniently located a the back, just below the camera lens. This design is also brought forward to the new Galaxy S9 line-up. As for the sensor itself, it is quick and pretty accurate, despite having a glossy surface. It does hiccup with slightly wet fingers, but that’s nothing much to worry about.

Display

Along with the Galaxy S8, Samsung introduced Infinity Display – their own display with an 18.5:9 ratio. That’s probably the best feature of the phone, and we’re excited to see that they’ve brought it down to the A8 and A8+. It’s not an exact one-to-one replica of the Galaxy S8 though, as sides on the glass does not curve in to give it that edge effect. On the A8 brothers, they settle for the usual 2.5-D like effect as found on most phones these days. Still, the bezels on both sides are very minimal, close to non-existent. Samsung’s Infinity Display also brings rounded corners on all 4 corners. It’s 5.6-inches on the Galaxy A8, and the A8+ bumps it up to 6.0-inches, but they have the same resolution – 1080 X 2220. With around 30 pixels-per-inch difference between both devices, it is almost impossible to pick up any difference.

Both features the same display panel, and luckily, it’s a good one. We’ve always have a soft spot for Samsung’s AMOLED display on their higher end devices, and we’re happy to see it on both the A8 and A8+. As expected, colours are vivid and pops well, thanks to the nature of AMOLED panel where pixels will not light up on a black portion of the display. The colours are very true to life and accurate, which is a result of a good display calibration. It is also easy to the device under sunlight as the brightness level are quite high.

Along with the AMOLED panel, Samsung has also included software adjustments with 4 options for colour profiles – AMOLED basic, AMOLED photo, AMOLED cinema and Adaptive mode. Unless you are very meticulous about the colour profiles, Adaptive is the best setting to stay on. There’s also an option to lower down the display resolution to 720p to save some battery life, but we’ve never seen the need to do that.

Speakers

While most smartphones out there have their speakers at the bottom or on the sides of the front panels, the Galaxy A-series have had their speakers located towards the right of the device, and it is carried forward to the Galaxy A8 and A8+. One advantage of this setup is that it is located at a spot where it is less likely to be accidentally covered. Looks and sounds rather weird, but it is a good solution.

As for the speakers itself, we have to give it credit for being one of the better sounding mono speaker out there. While it does not have the same quality as a pair of stereo speakers, there’s still good amount of clarity with sufficient level of bass. We just wished it would be louder, even for a mono speaker. At least there’s no distortion at maximum volume.

Camera performance

The camera setup on the A8 and A8+ is probably where the elephant is in the room. To start off, while most other smartphones out there have jumped on the dual-camera bandwagon for their rear camera, Samsung has decided to stick with a single camera setup. A rather standard 16-megapixel sensor is present with aperture of f/1.7. The technology that goes along with it are pretty standard as well, with phase detection autofocus and a single LED flash. While it may sound like the same as before, it does have a brighter lens.

As for real world use, the A8 does capture good quality photos in most cases, especially when lighting is in the sensor’s favour. In its most favourable conditions, you can expect good quality photos, where colours are true-to-life and bright, as well as good amount of details. As with any Samsung device, some oversharpening may occur, but that’s pretty normal. But, it tends overexpose the photos by a little if you leave it in auto, which can be resolved if you actually touch on the object that you want to focus on. Dynamic range are pretty adequate, but we still expected more.

As lighting gets dimmer, this is where the problem starts. Even in dimmer locations such as in a not so well-lit interior, pictures start to get messy. The usual overexposure and detail loss problems start to show up almost immediately. In low light conditions, this thing desperately needs a larger sensor or lens. Along with the lack of Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), low-light photography in this thing is less than ideal. In order to keep the noise level low, they had to crank up the shutter time. The included night mode does improve things a little bit, but you do still need a tripod to go along with it.

Samsung Galaxy A8/A8+ Samples

But, here comes the biggest problem of the Galaxy A8 and A8+ – it’s autofocus ability. For reasons we can’t seem to work out, autofocus ability on these devices are so inconsistent. It was unable to focus accurately in auto mode quite a lot of the time, and even when you use manual focus, it does take a couple to tries. It is slow too, and stayed quite confused for most of the time, which results in lots of focus hunting.

And it doesn’t help much turning to video mode as well. Both the Galaxy A8 and A8+ both records videos up to 1080p only at 30 frames-per-second. There is an option to record it at 2220 X 1080, which is basically using up the entire frame of the 18.5:9 display. But, it only makes sense to keep that recording on your device and record with the usual 1920 X 1080 resolution, as it doesn’t look very good. Switching to native 1080p, you do get good colours and good amount of details. The lack of OIS does tamper a little bit with the image stabilization, even when its fitted with an electronic one. But, all of that can go to waste if you don’t set the focus on manual mode before starting your recording. The focus hunting problem is present here, especially when you start moving around. In darker conditions, there are some noise as expected.

While both the Galaxy A8 and A8+ does feature a pair of front-facing cameras, they’re not marketed as the best smartphones for selfie, like what Vivo and Oppo is trying hard at. It’s a combination of 16-megapixel and 8-megapixel sensors with f/1.9 aperture. While the 16MP unit is a normal unit, the 8MP features a wider lens, perfect for group selfies. Samples from the 8MP unit is slightly softer than the 16MP unit, but both features good colours and good details. They do not feature autofocus, unfortunately, but it’s easy to keep your face in focus. There’s also a live focus feature which blurs the background of the object of the image. While it does work quite well, it does get confused with complicated shapes, and the blur doesn’t look as real as it should be. Still, it’s only a small problem to deal with, and it’s also worth pointing out that live focus mode isn’t the great for group selfies.

The camera app is simple to use. The usual camera shortcuts are on the left, while the preview, shutter button and video recording button are on the right. There’s not much fancy modes to choose from, but there’s still a good amount of filters to play with. Surprisingly HDR mode is tucked in between the long list of settings, but it’s best to just leave it in auto. The pro mode is a disappointment though, as you only have control over exposure, ISO, white balance and a metering mode selector.

Software

Both the Galaxy A8 and A8+ comes with Samsung Experience 8.5, based on Android 7.1.1. We’re expecting Android 8.0 updates are in the works. It’s pretty much the same user interface over recent Samsung devices – namely the S8 and Note 8. The overall look and feel is pretty minimal – which we have to credit Samsung for given the problems that users face before with their TouchWiz interface. After setting up your device, it even gives you the option to only download and install the apps that you actually want, which weirdly, includes a calculator. The interface is fast and easy to use, and even though there are minor hiccups around, it doesn’t tamper the experience too much. You can expect all the bells and whistles from more expensive Samsung devices, including Secure Folder, Always-on display, Bixby and so on. Bixby isn’t as annoying as what’s on the S8 and Note 8, as it doesn’t have a dedicated button to itself.

Samsung Galaxy A8/A8+ Screenshots

Battery life

This is where there’s a difference between the Galaxy A8 and the A8+ as well. The cheaper variant gets a 3000mAh, while the latter gets an additional 500mAh. We’ve been rocking around with the A8+, and the battery life is alright. With 2 SIM cards and lots of switching between Wi-Fi and Data, our usual test returned around 20% at the end of the day, which isn’t too bad considering its size.

Luckily, both comes with a charger with Adaptive Fast Charging. The charger will get a flat A8+’s battery to 45% in 30 minutes, and will automatically alters the charging rate as the battery is full.

Conclusion

Coming to this point, the latest additions to Samsung’s mid-range A-series is pretty complicated. On one hand, they do look like they are trying to be a slightly different version of their flagship S-series, but, on the other hand, Samsung had to make it clear that they are one notch below their flagship S-series, so they had to tone down everything. It gets worse considering that the price that they are asking, as if you turn your heads to the Chinese, they can offer a lot more for the money. Still, if you’re a loyal fan to the brand, both the A8 and A8+ is still not a bad phone to use in the long run. While we are okay with the price difference between the A8 and A8+, we’d still think both should have a lower price.

Recap:
Exynos 7885 Processor (2x 2.2GHz + 6x 1.6GHz)
4GB/6GB of RAM, 64GB internal storage (dedicated slot for microSD up to 256GB)
5.6-inch/6.0-inch 18.5:9 Super AMOLED Display, 2220 X 1080 resolution
16MP Rear Camera, video up to 1080p
16MP + 8MP Wide angle front-facing camera
3000/3500mAh battery

The Pros:
Gorgeous display
Solid build quality
Lightweight easy to use software
Dual front-facing camera
Doesn’t have a dedicated Bixby button

The Cons:
Autofocus ability on the cameras
Unable to record in 60fps or in 4K
Lackluster camera setup
A bit too pricey
Overall not so good value for money

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