Phone with many cameras

Does having more cameras in a smartphone let you take better photos?

It depends - Google's Pixel phones take excellent photos despite having a single camera while Huawei's triple-camera smartphones (P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro) have earned accolades for their photography prowess.

Samsung certainly hopes you subscribe to the latter, because the Galaxy A9 is the first smartphone to sport four rear cameras.

Arranged vertically at the A9's glass back are a 24-megapixel (MP) primary camera, a 10MP telephoto lens, a 8MP ultra-wide (120-degree) camera and a 5MP depth-sensing camera.

Except for the addition of the telephoto camera, the other cameras are identical to the trio on the Galaxy A7, a mid-range model ($428) that we recently reviewed.

Because of the telephoto lens, the A9's camera app has an extra option (denoted by a single-tree icon) that enables 2x optical zoom when pressed. It takes sharper photos of faraway objects compared to using digital zoom.

I was unimpressed by the A7's cameras, but was expecting more from the A9 because it costs $300 more than the A7. However, I came away similarly unimpressed.

  • SPECS

  • PRICE: $728

    PROCESSOR: Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 (quad-core 2.2GHz, quad-core 1.8GHz)

    DISPLAY: 6.3-inch, Amoled, 2,220 x 1,080 pixels, 393 ppi pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 8.0

    MEMORY: 128GB (microSD expandable to 512GB), 6GB RAM

    REAR CAMERAS: 24MP (f/1.7), 10MP (f/2.4) telephoto, 8MP ultra-wide (120-degree), 5MP depth (f/2.2)

    FRONT CAMERA: 24MP (f/2.0)

    BATTERY: Non-removable 3,800mAh battery

  • RATING

  • FEATURES: 3/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 3/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 2/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    OVERALL: 3/5

In fact, the same issues I noted in the A7 cropped up again in the A9's photos. For instance, the ultra-wide lens still results in photos with a fair amount of barrel distortion, as well as offering fewer details than the main 24MP camera.

Portrait shots with a blurred background look (bokeh effect) make use of the depth-sensing camera, though the resulting software processing often creates artifacts at the edges of the subject.

The main camera is the best of the middling lot - it performs decently in well-lit conditions. Images, though, can appear slightly soft, while their backgrounds, such as a blue sky, had some noise on close examination.

The amount of noise increased greatly when taking photos at night. Images look splotchy while light sources like street lamps are predictably blown out.

Design-wise, the A9 has slightly thicker bezels around its Oled screen than the flagship S9 series, though the bezels are not as chunky as the ones on the A7.

Its glass back has an attractive bluish gradient finish. A dedicated button to activate Samsung's Bixby virtual assistant is on the left edge - it cannot be remapped to another function.

Like the A7, the Galaxy A9 sacrifices premium features such as wireless charging and waterproofing. It also lacks haptic feedback (no vibration when tapping the screen), which is disappointing for its price.

But the A9 does retain the headphone jack, as well as a microSD card slot in addition to two nano-SIM slots. More importantly, it has fast charging via its USB Type-C, which is handy considering that it has a sizeable 3,800mAh battery.

Thanks to this battery, the A9 has great battery stamina. It lasted an impressive 16 hours and 47 minutes in the video-loop battery test.

Powering the A9 is the mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 660. The phone runs well and feels responsive. But I was hoping for a higher-end chip considering the A9's price tag.

This lack of value is my biggest beef with the A9. It is a decent smartphone, if it was more affordable. At $728, it costs more than some flagship devices like the OnePlus 6 ($699). In fact, the A9's biggest competitor is probably Samsung's flagship Galaxy S9, which is better in almost every department except battery life. Launched early last year, the S9 has become more affordable, with a current street price of about $800.

• Verdict: There are better alternatives than the A9 that offer more value. For its price, the camera performance is generally disappointing, though the extra cameras (telephoto and wide-angle) may be of use in some situations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2019, with the headline 'Phone with many cameras'. Print Edition | Subscribe