Samsung upper mid-ranger receives a facelift for 2018
While all eyes are on the newly-launched Samsung Galaxy S9, the smartphone lineup of the South Korean manufacturer includes a plethora of other models that are at least worth a chance, especially because they seem to bring premium technology at a more affordable price.
Truth be told, if you want the best of the best in the Samsung world, there’s no doubt the latest Galaxy S model is the way to go, but if you’re ready to make a compromise for a substantial price cut, there are several alternatives.
One of them is the Galaxy A8, another member of the Galaxy product family, which has recently received a welcome upgrade for 2018. But how big is the compromise that you’re going to make if you downgrade from the S8 to A8? Let’s find out.
At first encounter, there’s no doubt the Galaxy A8 is surprising. As a Galaxy S8 user who hates the edge screen (the curved sides of the display), holding the A8 in hand feels more comfortable than you can imagine. Just think that after many months of using a slippery super-expensive phone you suddenly try out a model that doesn’t look entirely different, but which doesn’t come with the curved sides and has awesome grip.
It feels refreshing and relaxing, and I certainly loved the way the A8 feels. It’s not as premium as the Galaxy S8, that’s for sure, but since I often have to use my phone with a case because of the slippery glass back, I really don’t mind.
The word that describes what the A8 looks like is cute. It has a 5.6-inch display with no home button, small bezels, and dimensions that score extra to ergonomics: 149.2 x 70.6 x 8.4 mm (5.87 x 2.78 x 0.33 in). It is indeed substantially heavier than the S8 at 172 grams versus 155 grams, but keep in mind that it’s also a more affordable device at €499 here in Europe.
“Bigger, heavier, cheaper.”
As I said, there’s no home button, and the bottom bezels are indeed bigger than on the Galaxy S8, but the lack of a curved screen gives the impression of plenty of screen space all the time. And coupled with the great feeling you have in hand, that’s certainly a welcome mix.
The back of the phone is something that Samsung should have done with the S8 from the very beginning. The camera and the fingerprint sensor are this time placed in a vertical layout, which means you can easily have your finger scanned without risking to smudge the camera lens. This is an approach that Samsung used on the recently-launched Galaxy S9, and which appears to have been used on the A8 to test the waters first.
While the back of the phone looks exquisite, it’s not as exquisite as it is on the S8. The back doesn’t have the same solid build, and the glass feels more like plastic when putting the phone on a hard surface.
As a whole, the A8 feels just like it’s supposed to be: a compact phone that you can securely hold in hand, without giving up on the luxurious look and, at the same time, benefitting from the edge-to-edge screen design that Samsung seems to love so much these days. It’s not as refined as the Galaxy S8 is, but what you pay is what you get, so these lack of super-premium touches is one of the compromises I was talking about earlier.
“Feels great in hand.”
So while in terms of looks it lacks the ultra-premium touches that the S8 receives, what about the hardware available on the A8?
Just like it’s the case of the design, the Samsung Galaxy A8 makes a compromise that eventually helps the device hit the shelves at a lower price. And that was its purpose from the very beginning.
Instead of an Exynos 8895 chip, the A8 runs on an Exynos 7885 octa-core processor paired with 4GB RAM. While at first glance the difference might not seem much, it actually is, and it feels the most when running more demanding tasks like playing games.
Most of the time, however, the A8 feels snappy and responsive, and for the average user, that’s certainly enough. If you’re thinking of buying this phone for gaming or more hardcore tasks, you better invest a few extra bucks in the S8 because the performance upgrade is really worth the money.
“Not as refined as S8.”
The display, on the other hand, shows once again why Samsung is currently the leading screen maker.
The nearly edge-to-edge 5.6-inch screen provides a screen-to-body ratio of 75.6% percent, and this is where the bezels are the most noticeable. On the S8, Samsung offers 83.6% ratio with a bigger 5.8-inch display and, in the end, the A8 is larger than its more premium sibling.
But this doesn’t mean that the A8 screen won’t blow your mind. The AMOLED panel offers a resolution of 1080x2220 pixels, 18.5:9 ratio and 441 ppi, obviously a downgrade from the S8, but still among the best specs for a mid-ranger. Gorilla Glass protection is also offered, and so is Samsung’s signature Always-On Display.
The A8 can be ordered with either 32GB or 64GB, but fortunately, microSD card support is offered for an extra of 256GB storage.
“Compromised CPU performance.”
It also comes with NFC for Samsung Pay, a USB Type-C connector, and a 3,000 mAh battery which easily gets you through the day. Samsung Galaxy S8 comes with the same battery, and given the lowered specs, I found the A8 to provide at least 2 more hours per charge, with an average of 26 hours. Fast charging is also offered, but wireless charging is not.
A fingerprint sensor is placed on the back in a vertical layout, an approach that Samsung is now using on the Galaxy S9 as well, but the device lacks more premium features offered on the S8 and its successor, like iris scanning, a heart-rate sensor, and Samsung DeX support.
The camera, on the other hand, is among the best for this price range. You get a 16-megapixel sensor with f/1.7, 1/2.8”, and 1.12 µm, and as compared with the S8, it lacks Dual Pixel and OIS.
Samsung has apparently spent more time on software optimizations to compensate for the cheaper hardware, but there still is room for improvements. While I found the camera capable of shooting pics with good colors and (often) correct white balance settings, there are moments when it struggles to focus. This means there’s a chance you might miss the opportunity to take the perfect shot.
“Above-the-average camera performance.”
Also, taking photos of moving subjects is nearly impossible without a tripod, and if you’re also in motion, the lack of OIS is quite a major drawback. But if you take your time and turn to the Pro mode to adjust more settings, you can actually take stunning pics.
On the other hand, the front-facing camera is a dual-lens configuration with 16 MP (f/1.9, 1/3.1”, 1.0 µm) + 8 MP (f/1.9, 1/4.0”, 1.12 µm). This means it lets you take photos with a depth-of-field effect, and it’s supposed to make your selfies look better.
And while in most of the cases this is indeed true, and it lets you adjust the background blur manually from the Gallery app, I’ve also noticed that unless the light conditions are just perfect, colors tend to become washed out, especially on people’s faces. This is a problem that I first observed on the Galaxy S6 a few years ago, and which still exists on Samsung’s models, most likely because of the software processing that the South Korean firm implemented on its devices.
Launched in early 2018, Samsung Galaxy A8 runs on Android 7.1.1, and this is actually a deal-breaker for me. Let me explain.
“Android 7? Really?”
My Samsung Galaxy S8, which is the best of the best that Samsung has to offer right now in terms of smartphones except for the Note 8, hasn’t yet received Android Oreo, even though the latest version of the OS has already been available for many months. While I do understand that Samsung needs to make further optimizations to the stock code to get everything right when its flagships get Oreo, the company truly has a software update problem that’s plaguing every new generation of high-end models.
Samsung started the Android Oreo rollout for the S8 earlier this month, only to suspend it temporarily due to some issues that it discovered to be causing unexpected reboots. The release takes place in stages, and that’s the correct approach, but this also means that some users might have to wait longer than others. How long is still an enigma, and here I am with my Galaxy S8 already replaced by the Galaxy S9 and still not running the latest Android despite the nearly $1,000 price tag.
The same for the monthly security updates. Why calling them monthly updates when they ship every few months? My S8 is still running the November 2017 update, and by the looks of things, nobody can tell when I’m supposed to receive a new patch.
And this leads me to my software concerns regarding the A8. With Android 7.1.1 installed on a phone launched in 2018, it’s pretty clear that it could take some time until Oreo is released, and there’s a good chance that Google releases Android P in the meantime. This puts a long-term commitment to the A8 in doubt, as Samsung itself can’t seem to handle software updates properly.
Thanks to the mix of mid-to-premium hardware and software optimizations that Samsung typically makes on all its devices, slowdowns or performance hiccups are never experienced on the A8.
Everything runs smoothly most of the time, the display is very responsive, so for the majority of users, it's clearly a solid choice.
Since Android Oreo has already been around for several months, what's the point of launching a new phone that doesn't run this version out of the box? And given Samsung's way of handling software updates, it's very unlikely this phone is going to get the update to Oreo anytime soon, and this is just the South Korean's way of ruining an otherwise great phone.
Other than that, a bigger battery would have been nice, and to be completely honest, I really missed wireless charging during my time with the phone.
The device features a stunning screen, good sound with a speaker cleverly placed on the right side for uncompromised volume in landscape mode, dual-lens front-facing camera, a decent rear camera, and good battery life that should be enough for one full day of average use.
A bit earlier, I told you that Samsung had to make some compromises to make the device a bit more affordable, and the place where you notice this the most is the processor and the lack of upper-premium refinements in terms of build quality. Camera performance has also been impacted by the cost-cutting process, but you're still getting above-the-average shots for a mid-ranger.
In the end, if the A8 is on your shopping list, just give it a try. It's a 2018 model, and it's the closest you can get to the premium segment without spending a fortune on a phone.