- 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display
- Octa-core Exynos 5 chipset
- 2GB of RAM
- 3050mAh battery
- Gorgeous display
- Solid performance
- Splendid battery life
- Great audio quality
- Lacks QuickCharge support
- Captures videos at 30fps only
Following the launch of the Galaxy Alpha in October last year in India, Samsung introduced its Galaxy A series of smartphones in the country. This series primarily constituted the upper mid-range of smartphones, which come in a distinct metallic build. While the Galaxy A3 and the Galaxy A5 were the first two devices to be launched as a part of this series, Samsung wanted to introduce a smartphone that featured higher specifications, and so the Galaxy A8 made its entry.
Launched in August this year, the Samsung Galaxy A8 is a slender, slim smartphone which uses a slightly different design language as compared to the Galaxy Alpha. Interestingly, the phone looks like a mix of the Galaxy S series and the Galaxy Note series of smartphones. At a price of Rs.32,500, the Galaxy A8 competes against the likes of the Motorola Google Nexus 6 and the HTC One E8 Dual SIM. We managed to get our hands on a golden coloured variant of the Galaxy A8. The device is also available in black and white colour options.
Thanks to its price point, the Galaxy A8 falls right between Rs.25,000 - Rs 32,000 range of smartphones and much more expensive flagship devices. With no rivals in this price bracket, it has a great opportunity to lead this upper mid-range segment. We tested this device to check if it was truly worthy of leading this segment and here’s what we found.
The Galaxy A-series, in which the ‘A’ stands for Alpha, comprises of smartphones that sport a metal frame and a textured back. The A8 comes in a smooth metallic frame with chamfered edges on the sides. The metal frame is slightly raised above the glass panel at the sides, and this protects the screen from scratches. This is especially useful in case you keep the phone facing downwards, or if the device has a fall.
At the front is a 5-megapixel camera, which rests on the right side of the earpiece, with the proximity sensor and the ambient light sensor on its left. Below the earpiece comes the Samsung logo in silver. The Home button comes with a metallic outline and has glass on top of it. The anodized colour treatment with glass on top is clearly visible and looks very premium.
The Back and the App Switcher capacitive keys are placed on either side of the Home button. Those keys light up when the display is used and fade back in such a way that it becomes difficult to spot them when not in use. Samsung places the metallic power button on the right edge and the volume rocker to the left. Measuring 158mm in height, 76.8mm in breadth, and only 5.9mm in thickness, the A8 is one of the slimmest devices out there. When held vertically, the phone also appears to be a bit on the taller side.
The back panel of the A8 is made of anodized metal that gives a faux-metal feel. The 16-megapixel primary camera rests at the top at the back, and right in the centre. A speaker mesh comes to its right, and an LED flash to its left. Despite its large size, the A8 gives a great grip in hand thanks to its patterned back. Additionally, the brushed metal frame also adds to the comfort of holding it in hand. Undoubtably, the Galaxy A8 features one of the best designs for a smartphone.
All the devices in the Galaxy A-series feature a Super AMOLED display, with each of them differing only in terms of resolution and screen size. The A8’s Super AMOLED display is bright enough to let you read text under direct sunlight. Thanks to the Super AMOLED display, the colours appear punchier on the A8 than on usual LCD screens. With a pixel resolution of 1080x1920 and a pixel density of 386 PPI, the display on the A8 can be regarded as one of the best-looking displays out there in the upper mid-range segment. The large screen offers more real estate to play around with.
Due to its large size though, it can be a bit problematic to use the display with one hand. The device maintains a 2.5mm bezel, half of which is used by the metal frame. The responsiveness of the display is also quite spiffy. The A8 easily has of one of the best panels on any smartphone today.
Samsung uses its Exynos 5 series mobile chipset inside the A8. The fact that Samsung is using this mobile chipset on an upper mid-range device is certainly a big deal because this same chipset has been used on its flagship devices last year. The A8 supports a 32-bit octa-core Exynos 5430 chipset with four Cortex-A15 processing cores clocked at 1.8GHz and four Cortex-A7 processing cores clocked at 1.3GHz. The chipset integrates a powerful Mali-T628 GPU, which handles the graphics with ease. By default, the A8 offers 2GB of RAM, which is half of what the Asus ZenFone 2 Deluxe and the OnePlus 2 models come with.
This smartphone offers only 32GB of on-board storage option and out of that, only 25GB is roughly available to the user. But, you can always add up to 128GB microSD card to increase the storage space. Our review unit, which is a DUOS version, comes with two SIM card slots, from which the secondary slot is a hybrid slot that can hold either a nanoSIM card or a microSD card at a time. It is certainly going to be a tough call for those of you who use two SIM cards and also like to use the microSD card at the same time for multimedia.
The Home button integrates a Fingerprint sensor, which acts as an additional layer of security to prevent unwanted access to your device. Both the SIM slots support 4G LTE networks, and for India, Band 3 (1800 MHz) as well as Band 40 (2600MHz) are also supported. Besides that, the dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac ensures wider wireless coverage with a good AC standard compliant routers that ensures mobile downloads. The phone has Bluetooth 4.1 that helps in transfer of files to/from other devices. There is also an ANT+ support which allows you to connect to other devices such as activity monitors for easy exchange of monitoring data.
The GPS chip aided with A-GPS and GLONASS support locks the phone’s position on Google Maps quickly. That apart, you can always choose to change its accuracy level from the Location option in the Settings app. The primary camera has a 16-megapixel CMOS sensor that offers a great imaging experience. The front facing 5-megapixel camera also comes with a CMOS sensor that allows you to take wide-angle selfies. The device also features sensors such as geomagnetic, accelerometer, and light sensor. However, what was surprising most on the A8 is that Samsung has not added the Near Field Communication chip to this phone. Additionally, since it uses an Exynos chip, the phone does not have QuickCharge support.
All in all, Samsung has used some of the best hardware on this device, while cutting corners in a few trivial features. Regardless, most of the usual requirements have been checked off, so we’re not complaining.
The A8 boots TouchWiz UI that is based on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop out-to-the-box. Although TouchWiz has equal number of admirers as well as critiques, this version is the best so far, and yet is a work in progress.
The lock screen, due to the large screen size, has a lot of space to feature notifications from multiple apps. If you’re a little conscious, you can also choose to hide the content of these notifications. The phone can be unlocked quickly by a simple swipe gesture, and in case you have set a security layer, then you can use the Fingerprint scanner on the home button. The fingerprint scanner adds a layer of security along with the Samsung KNOX function which requires one to go through the setup.
Themes are the newest addition to this version of TouchWiz, and Samsung also includes the basic ones by default. Of course, you can always download more from the Theme Store to customize the look and feel of the handset.
The Homescreen remains the same as the one that TouchWiz usually features. On the left comes a Briefing panel, which cannot be disabled. The Notification drawer has a row of five Quick Setting toggles. You can hit the Edit button to reveal more such Quick setting toggle rows, and select the ones that you want to place at the top. The brightness slider rests under the row of Quick setting toggles.
By default, the app drawer has the apps arranged alphabetically in 5x5 grid layout. You can always change that layout to 4x5 or 4x4, if you want to view bigger app icons. From the many preloaded apps on the A8, you can uninstall a few like WeChat. Microsoft’s One Drive promises 100GB of free storage if you sign-in using the A8. The App Switcher key, which appears as a small multi-window icon right next to the close button, allows you to view apps in split-screen mode.
Several Samsung apps such as S-Voice andS-Note, have been pre-installed, but are not activated so as to allow you to choose to opt for it incase you plan to use it, instead of having it forced upon you. We faced no stutters or jitters while using several apps at the same time. Finicky users might notice some lag in apps such as the Dialler, SMS, and WhatsApp.
Samsung has integrated a 16-megapixel camera with CMOS sensor at the rear of the device. This primary camera brings autofocus capabilities along with an LED flash, that help in capturing better images. By default, the camera has a F1.9 aperture and shoots 16-megapixel resolution images in 4:3 ratio. The camera app is likely to spoil shutterbugs with its simple lay out. You can either choose to shoot in Auto, as it does by default, or choose from Continuous, HDR (Rich tone), Night, and Panorama modes. One can also download more modes.
The Pro mode, though, offers you more manual control and you can adjust values for White Balance, ISO, and Exposure. Interestingly, it also offers Metering options to keep the exposure centre-weighted, matrix or spot. That apart, there are also some live filters to experiment with.
The CMOS sensor certainly shows its true strength in this camera, as it manages to capture images with great amount of details, good colours, and sharpness. Shooting in bright day light obviously offers best results, but the same cannot be said when shooting in shadows. Since the camera lacks Optical Image Stabilisation, images in low light conditions are only mediocre. While the HDR mode compensates for this, it does not suffice, since it shoots images in 8-megapixel resolution.
The front-facing 5-megapixel camera also has a CMOS sensor and a wider aperture which can capture selfies in wider angles. Video recording surprised us, for the camera records 1080p Full HD videos at 30fps, as opposed to other devices which offer up to 60fps. Besides that, the Slow-motion feature is also absent on the A8.
This is exactly what the key differences between an upper mid-range device and a flagship device are, though the gap between them is vast. Samsung could have easily offered more features to make this camera as strong as other aspects on this device.
LED Flash On
Regardless of the appreciation or criticism that TouchWiz UI receives, its music player is undoubtably one of its better apps. Those who appreciate music will love the simple interface that shows the different kinds of file browsing by playlists, albums, genres, artists, folders, and even composers. A mini-player appears at the bottom on every view mode, which is quite nifty to jump between songs. In the Now Playing mode, one can star a song to favourite it, bump the volume, put it on repeat, or activate the shuffle mode. In the same view, you can select More and choose SoundAlive to further tune the audio output to match to your taste. The SoundAlive option reveals two dials - one to adjust the Bass and Treble, and the other to stress the output to be strong towards Instruments or Vocal. Choosing the details option in this video reveals the different frequency sliders with four preset options under them - 3D, Bass, Clarity, and Concert Hall. You can choose from whichever you prefer.
Sound quality and effects can further be customized if you have hooked a pair of headphones or a Bluetooth headset to the A8. Having done that, the Adapt Sound feature will guide you to find the best sound meant for you for voice calls, music, and even video. It’s a procedural audio levels testing guide. Audiophiles with a premium pair of headphones can make the best of the Tube Amp simulation option the Sound Effects, while others can enjoy the Surround Sound effects using SoundAlive+. For audio lovers, the Music app is an absolute delight. Also, the audio output of the speakers is clear, but its tiny speakers make it sound muddled when the phone is kept on the bed or other uneven surfaces. The audio output over headphones is phenomenally customizable as per personal preferences.
The dedicated Video Player is capable of supporting popular video file formats up to 4K resolution without any issues. We enjoyed watching both .mp4 and .mkv files in 4K resolution. Subtitle support extended beyond the type and size of font, for one can chose colour as well as the background colour. Apart from adjusting the playback speed, you can also stream the audio through Bluetooth or turn on the audio only mode for listening to videos. A built-in video Editor lets you rotate the video, incase you’ve recorded it in an awkward angle and also trims it.
The audio and video playback support as well as quality are top-notch on this device, and the A8 can easily adapt itself to being anybody’s portable media player.
An octa-core Exynos 5 series chipset in a slim device could only mean decent performance with certain trade-offs. Firstly, the chipset, which supports 32-bit, doesn’t really match up to the modern 64-bit chip in terms of overall performance. Nevertheless, thanks to the software optimisation on this chipset, we barely notice the difference. We put the device through synthetic benchmarks, in which the phone managed to score 48,970. This score slots the device above Galaxy Note 4, which is excellent in terms of performance.
Gaming on the A8 is fun. We enjoyed playing a mix of graphic-intensive as well as casual games. Present day games that have great graphics, are a visual treat to play. However, we did notice that the frame would get warm after a 30-minute gaming session. We struggled to run our usual 3DMark benchmark test to assess the A8’s gaming prowess because the interface could not handle it. Under the Ice Storm Unlimited test at 720p HD resolution though, the device managed to score 17,587 when all apps were closed in the multitasking rolodex using the App Switcher.
Voice call quality on the A8 is fairly good - the earpiece delivers crystal clear audio and the built-in microphone doesn’t let ambient noise pass through. As mentioned in the previous section, the performance of the A8 in terms of the audio and video output is as one would expect on a device in its price point.
The battery life is usually one of the biggest trade-offs that many slim phones tend to make. However, in this case, Samsung manages to squeeze in a 3050mAh battery inside the 5.9mm thick chassis. While we had expected it to give us an average battery life, keeping the Super AMOLED display and the octa-core Exynos 5 chipset in mind, the phone impressed us with its phenomenal battery life. The phone managed to run for two days on minimum brightness, and had more than 5 hours of Screen-on time, without gaming sessions.
On moderate usage involving phone calls accounting to roughly two hours, instant messaging on WhatsApp throughout, using social media throughout the day, listening to music for an hour, streaming videos for half an hour, and gaming for about half an hour, the phone managed to run more than a day and a half. At about 25 percent brightness, the Screen-on time was a bit more than 7 hours, alongside simultaneous usage involving voice calls, using WhatsApp, and only using Twitter and Facebook. It must be noted that we did not use the Power Saving or Ultra-power saving mode even once during this time. If the Power Saving mode is activated, you can expect the phone to run for more than ten hours, but only when the battery life is at a minimum of 25 percent.
The lack of QuickCharge is disappointing, for the phone takes more than two hours and 20 minutes to charge from zero to 100 percent. As a feature rich phablet, the A8 does a splendid job in offering ample battery capacity as well as enough options for power management.
At a price tag of Rs.32,500, the A8 might seem as though it is priced steeply, but the market operating price pulls it closer to approximately Rs.29,000. With the A8, Samsung fills the void between the much talked about OnePlus 2 and other flagship devices. Since we generally prefer devices that are affordably priced, if this phone’s price drops to around Rs.25,000, the A8 is sure to give the OnePlus 2 some tough competition.
Phablets which feature octa-core processors and Super AMOLED screens usually need to make an extra effort in order to pose as a strong rival. In the case of A8 though, the package includes a crisp, bright display along with powerful hardware and a long-lasting battery life. Despite some drawbacks in the form of its camera, lack of QuickCharging feature and NFC, the phone still impresses us. We would certainly recommend the Galaxy A8 to those of you who seek a slim and stylish phablet that gives solid performance along with a splendid battery life.