Galaxy A8: Samsung’s getting really good at making mid-rangers

Yep, the camera

Samsung’s Galaxy A8 has a great camera…on paper. The rear camera is a 16MP shooter with a super fast f/1.7 aperture lens and phase detection auto-focusing. In front, this guy’s got a dual camera setup with a fixed focus f/1.9 aperture 16MP main selfie shooter and a secondary 8MP f/1.9 aperture slightly wider secondary selfie camera.

Sounds good, right? Yeah, well sort of. But, the resulting images leave a lot to be desired.

If you’re taking pictures in the most perfect of days, you can get some nice photos. But, if you really look at it you’ll notice the exposure is a little off, the highlights are clipped, dynamic range isn’t super great, and if you zoom in, the details look a little unnatural.

Still, if you’re uploading to Instagram, this photo is good enough so I won’t give it such a hard time here.

Take things to a scenario that’s less than well-lit, though, and you’re left with a big pile of disappointment. You can tell that the phone really had to crank down the shutter speed to compensate for the lack of light in this photo because motion isn’t frozen properly — and this isn’t even some super dark scene.

Perhaps the worst thing about this camera in less-than-ideal lighting was the fact that focusing was pretty atrocious. Slow and inaccurate would be words I’d use to describe. My colleague took multiple shots of this angle but this was the only one in focus. Also note the bad dynamic range.

I don’t know if it’s the sensor’s problem (pixels too small), but I’m pretty sure the lack of optical image stabilisation (OIS) was a contributing factor too. As far as first impressions go, consider me unimpressed with the caveat that I will take more photos with it and report my findings in the full review.

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Moving on to the front camera, it’s another case of “photos look OK but not amazing”. Maybe it’s designed to make your skin look fair (they’ve also got a bunch of beautification features) but I didn’t really like the way the skin tone was rendered.

One of the features Samsung highlighted in their blurb was the dual camera. It enables one of two things and the first is perhaps the most pointless one of them all — the secondary camera is ever so slightly wider.

Normal

Wide

Like, might-as-well-don’t-bother kind of wider.

The second thing it enables though, is Live Focus for selfies. Yep, Live Focus, as in Samsung’s version of portrait mode. As we found out in our camera comparison, Live Focus isn’t super great and the same seems to be true about Live Focus for selfies too.

I mean, you can get a neat little background blur but since selfies are usually closely cropped, there really isn’t much background to blur anyway.

Live focus is pretty bad for group selfies and photobombs though.

Conclusion

I guess this brings us back to the main theme I set earlier in this article: Big brands are getting really good at making mid-range value-for-money smartphones.

If you look at the Galaxy A8 as a whole, I think it gets a lot of things right for a smartphone. It’s phenomenally built, it looks really good despite the slightly fat bezels, and it features stuff that only a big brand like Samsung can bring to the mid-range like IP68 water and dust resistance and awesome ecosystem perks like Samsung Pay and Gear VR. It’s almost like a smaller S8 but without the curves.

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You can even pick a bigger version of the same smartphone — the Galaxy A8+ — that comes with a bigger 6″ display, 6GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and a 3,500 mAh battery.

But there are also big uncertainties with the A8 too. I can’t, for example, tell you how well performance will hold up when I get all my apps in and use it for an extended period of time, despite how well it’s performing now. I also can’t conclusively tell you how good the camera is, though first impressions aren’t convincing.

What I can tell you is that when I think of all high mid-range handsets — besides the few notable exceptions — I can’t say that they all far outperform the Galaxy A8 in every respect.

Right now, I think it will all come down to price. If the A8 and A8+ keep it below RM2,000, it could be worth considering. Anything more and you’re probably better off with a discounted 2017 flagship.

Still, I will save final judgement for when I get all the pieces the puzzle lined up in my full review. Until then, take the uncertainties with a grain of salt. Also, let me know what you think of the Galaxy A8 in the comments below!

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