Phones

Review: Samsung A8 is close to its flagship smartphone experience

Battery life for Samsung's first smartphones of the year, the Galaxy A8+ and A8 (above), is excellent.
Battery life for Samsung's first smartphones of the year, the Galaxy A8+ and A8 (above), is excellent.PHOTO: SAMSUNG

Samsung's first smartphones of the year, the Galaxy A8+ and A8, are almost as good as the company's flagship devices. Except for their mid-tier processor, both come very close to matching Samsung's best in design and features.

The two have different screen sizes - 6 inches for the A8+ and 5.6 inches for the A8. The A8+ has 6GB RAM and 64GB storage, while the A8 has 4GB RAM and 32GB storage.

At almost 200g, the A8+ is about as large and as bulky as the Note8. Those with smaller hands may find the more compact A8 easier to hold. Personally, I find the A8+ prone to slipping out of my pant pocket because of its size.

Both smartphones have features that are found in Samsung's flagship Galaxy S8 and Note8 devices, such as a near-bezel-less Amoled screen, dual cameras, IP68 water and dust resistance, and a premium glass-and-metal body.

There is a twist though. The dual cameras on the A8 series are at the front, not at the back like the Note8 (the S8 lacks dual cameras).

These front cameras are focused on improving selfies by enabling effects such as blurring the background while keeping the subject in focus for a bokeh effect. This effect can be adjusted before or after a photo has been taken using the Live Focus feature first introduced in the Note8.

In addition, you can superimpose stickers such as cartoon ears on your subject's face as well as add captions such as Happy Birthday to the photo.

  • TECH SPECS / SAMSUNG GALAXY A8+ (2018)

    PRICE: $798

    PROCESSOR: Samsung Exynos 7885 (2.2GHz Dual-core + 1.6GHz Hexa-core)

    DISPLAY: 6-inch, Super Amoled, 1,080x2,220 pixels, 411 ppi pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 7.1.1

    MEMORY: 64GB (microSD expandable up to 256GB), 6GB RAM

    CAMERA: 16MP, f/1.7 (rear); 16MP, f/1.9, 8MP, f/1.9 (front)

    BATTERY: Non-removable 3,500mAh

  • SAMSUNG GALAXY A8 (2018)

    PRICE: $648

    PROCESSOR: Samsung Exynos 7885 (2.2GHz Dual-core + 1.6GHz Hexa-core)

    DISPLAY: 5.6-inch, Super Amoled, 1,080x2,220 pixels, 441 ppi pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 7.1.1

    MEMORY: 32GB (microSD expandable up to 256GB), 4GB RAM

    CAMERA: 16MP, f/1.7 (rear); 16MP, f/1.9, 8MP, f/1.9 (front)

    BATTERY: Non-removable 3,000mAh

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 5/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 3/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

The front cameras can also be used to unlock the device via facial recognition. It is handy enough, though Samsung says it is not as foolproof as the iris scanner on the S8 and Note8.

With the A8 phones, Samsung has fixed a minor annoyance in the Galaxy S8 and Note8. The rear fingerprint sensor is now in the middle right below the rear camera instead of off-centre, making it easier to locate.

The rear camera itself is competent enough. It shoots fast with HDR enabled and takes good-looking photos with accurate colours. The images exhibit some splotchiness and lose detail when zoomed in fully, though most users would probably not notice it in everyday use.

Samsung's Bixby virtual assistant is present on the A8 series, though there is no physical button to trigger it, which is a plus in my opinion as I prefer the Google Assistant.

Having tested the A8 phones for over two weeks and as a Galaxy S7 user, the only thing I would miss on a daily basis is the S7's wireless charging feature, which is not available in the A8 series.

In terms of raw benchmark scores, the A8 series is slightly behind Samsung's two-year-old Galaxy S7 flagship. Compared with the S7, I felt that the A8 phones ran more fluidly while browsing and switching between apps. Perhaps this is due to the ample 6GB RAM on the A8+, as well as software optimisations.

However, the A8 series runs on Android 7.1.1 instead of Android 8.0 Oreo, which was released last year. This is slightly disappointing for a device launched this year, especially when some brands offered Oreo on their 2017 models.

But it is not a surprise. Samsung has been following this update roadmap for a while now - the A8 will eventually receive the Oreo update, but only after last year's flagship S8.

To be fair, my A8 review phones has the December security patch and will probably get the January version soon. In other words, they do get timely bug fixes.

Battery life is excellent on the A8+ with its 3,500mAh battery lasting almost 14 hours in the video-loop test. The A8, with its 3,000mAh battery, also did well with a 121/2-hour uptime.

At $798, the A8+ costs as much as flagship devices from some brands while the A8 ($648) is priced the same as the Galaxy A7, last year's equivalent of the A8+.

But the A8 series definitely performs well enough for most folks, especially if they are not mobile gamers who require a top-class processor.

• Verdict: The Galaxy A8 series is in most respects a flagship smartphone, with only its processor being more in mid-range than high-end.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2018, with the headline 'Samsung A8 is close to its flagship smartphone experience '. Print Edition | Subscribe