Flashback: Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018), the world’s first phone with four cameras on the back
How many cameras are enough? How many are too many? The Samsung Galaxy A9 (2018) was released around three and a half years ago and it was the very first quad camera phone. It promised a lot of versatility, letting you switch between three focal lengths to get the best possible framing for your shot, while making shallow depth of field normally only possible with large DSLR sensors.
Let’s take a look at the A9’s camera list. There were three usable cameras on the back and a utility module (we’ll get to the front camera later).
- 24 MP main camera, f/1.7 aperture, 4K video recording at 30 fps
- 8 MP ultra-wide-angle (120° FoV, 12 mm)
- 10 MP telephoto lens (2x optical magnification, 52 mm)
- 5 MP depth sensor
Why are so many cameras even needed? Well, there have been a few attempts to use varifocal cameras, but these never really fit into a phone that’s under 10mm. And the A9 was thinner than 8mm, with a camera almost flush with the rear panel.
With the technology available at the time, the easiest way to offer multiple focal lengths was to use multiple modules. The LG G5 proved the usefulness of having an ultra-wide lens in 2016, shortly after telephoto lenses started gracing the backs of smartphones.
It wasn’t until 2018 that the first phones to offer both began to appear. The LG V40 ThinQ was announced on October 3 (a few weeks before the A9) and featured a 107° ultra-wide telephoto lens, 78° wide and 45° rear. 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 find out if depth sensors are actually useful or just to increase the number for marketing purposes. Unfortunately, we have bigger issues to address first – the Galaxy A9 (2018) cameras just weren’t very good.
Below are sample cameras from the main camera and the first thing that still strikes us now is “Why are they so purple?”. The phone would sometimes get the white balance just right, but that was a rarity. And even when it did, the photos were still loud and soft.
Camera samples, normal camera
The telephoto lens handled colors better, but for some odd reason the output of the 10MP sensor was upscaled to 24MP. You could turn it off, but it was weird that it was even an option.
Camera samples, telephoto
The ultra wide angle camera had different issues, the images it produced were heavily distorted. Image quality wasn’t perfect either. In some ways we liked the exaggerated perspective, but there’s a reason most ultrawides have distortion correction turned on by default.
Camera samples, ultra wide
Here are some night shots, which aren’t great either. Magnified photos were taken with the main camera, the tele module was probably even worse.
Low light samples, normal camera
Overall, we expected more, even from a 2018 mid-ranger. Especially one where the main attraction was the cameras, although that wasn’t the only thing the Galaxy A9 (2018) had. for him. More on that later, it’s time to focus on the depth sensor.
Surprisingly, portraits taken by the main camera and depth sensor working together were quite nice as the phone managed to separate the subject from the background quite accurately.
And it also worked with non-human subjects, allowing for creative shots. All things considered, the depth sensor was the only module that did its job well, with the other three being disappointed.
The selfie camera featured a 24MP sensor, which was the same size as the main camera sensor on the back – 1/2.8″, 0.9µm pixels. Its main issue was the lack of autofocus, which meant you had to be aware of how you were holding the phone. Too far or too close and your mug would be blurry. Dynamic range wasn’t perfect either, but under the right conditions, you could get very good shots.
While the cameras were the star, the Galaxy A9 (2018) also stood out for its size – its 6.3-inch screen was one of the biggest you could get at the time, especially if you wanted a high quality Super AMOLED panel. It was bright, had great color accuracy, and supported 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.
6.3-inch FHD+ Super AMOLED display • Dedicated microSD slot • 3,800 mAh battery with 18W fast charge
The A9 featured the fairly powerful Snapdragon 660, a 14nm chip with four Kryo 260 Gold cores (Cortex-A73 based) and four Silver cores (A53), plus an Adreno 512. It paired the chipset with 6GB or 8 GB of RAM and 64/128 GB of storage, plus a dedicated microSD slot.
This made it one of the performance leaders in the mid-range segment. Unfortunately, it was struggling with an old Android 8.0 Oreo. Even so, the Samsung Experience 9.0 software included split-screen multitasking, letting you get the most out of the 6.3-inches and relatively powerful chipset. And, thankfully, the 9.0 Pie update arrived quickly, with a rollout starting a few months after launch.
The phone was powered by a 3,800mAh battery, which earned it a respectable 88-hour endurance rating in our tests. It could have done better had it gotten something more efficient than a 14nm chipset, but battery life was still one of the A9’s strong suits.
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 soon received a price reduction to ₹37,000 but the price could only come down to a certain extent considering the camera modules and the expansive Super AMOLED display on board.
In the end, the A9 was a good idea poorly executed. Maybe Samsung got too ambitious, even the Galaxy S9+ and Note9 couldn’t fit both a telephoto and an ultrawide module, despite having a higher budget. Still, we appreciate the attempt – the ambition is what made the Galaxy A9 (2018) such a memorable phone.