Samsung Galaxy A8 (2018) Review: An affordable Galaxy S9 alternative, but is it good value?

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Pros
  •  Bold screen
  •  Fast camera
Cons
  •  Poor GPU for the price
  •  Just okay low-light photos
  •  Limited storage
Key Features

*** NOTE : £1 = $1.33 (correct at time of post)

  • Review Price: £449
  • 5.6-inch FHD+ display
  • 3000mAh battery
  • IP68 rated
  • Exynos 7785 and 4GB RAM
  • 32GB storage
  • Bixby
  • Dual front cameras

What is the Samsung Galaxy A8?

The Samsung Galaxy A8 is for those folk who want a Samsung phone, but won’t pay Galaxy S9 or S9+ money. It costs £449, which is now a fairly conventional price for a classier kind of mid-range phone.

Every element of the phone is solid or better. However, it’s hard to recommend when rivals in the £350-£500 class are so incredibly strong.

For an extra £20 you can get the larger, more powerful OnePlus 6. The Honor 10 is also more advanced and powerful, yet £50 cheaper. And despite costing a whopping £100 less than the Galaxy A8, the Nokia 7 Plus takes better night photos.

Set on a Samsung? Then go for it. However, it isn’t one of the stronger contenders in its class. That we can make such comments about a phone this calibre testament to how accomplished mid-range phones are these days.

Design

The Samsung Galaxy A8 is made of glass, like many 2018 mid-range phones. Its rear is curved, which makes it feel good in the hand, but the front is mostly flat. You don’t get the dramatic curve of the Galaxy S9.

Naturally, Samsung has to ensure the Galaxy A8 doesn’t upstage the S9. As such, it has a more simple finish than some of its rivals. The glass on the rear is therefore plain, rather than sporting a dynamic finish.

The Honor 10 has the most dramatic finish of all at this price. Its “3D” blue look reacts to light as the phone is moved. Even the Moto G6 Plus uses a sub-glass layer that casts S-shaped streaks along the back at the right angle.

Samsung Galaxy A8

The Samsung Galaxy A8 is comparatively plain, then, but I think there’s an audience for this. It’s available in grey, gold and blue, if plain black is a little too conservative for you.

This device is certainly well made. Like most other glass phones, a filling of aluminium joins the two glass plates. Its colour matches that of the rear. Samsung has kept things simple and tasteful, a strategy also seen in the Galaxy S9.

The Galaxy A8 is just a fraction wider – roughly 2mm – than the Galaxy S9. It isn’t for people who want the biggest screen, for movies and games. As such, it’s more a rival to the Honor 10 than OnePlus 6.

Samsung Galaxy A8

As we’ll see later, the Samsung doesn’t pack as much tech as those phones either. However, it does have IP68 water-resistance. None of the Moto G6 phones, or the other rivals at this price, have such high-grade water protection.

You can drop the Galaxy A8 in water to a depth of 1.5 metres, and leave it there for 30 minutes, without it causing damage. While this feature isn’t doesn’t particularly sit high on my list of priorities when most phones are designed to handle rain, if you lead quite an outdoorsy life, than it may sway you.

The Samsung Galaxy A8 has just 32GB storage. For £50 less the Honor 10 has 128GB, an almost ridiculous disparity. The OnePlus 6 also has 64GB storage at a comparable price.

Screen

Many Samsung phones claw back credibility with their screens, because of their use of OLED panels. Samsung actually makes these panels, and the Galaxy A8 includes just such a unit.

Their main benefit is colour saturation. If you want supremely deep, bright and rich colour, you can’t really beat the Samsung Galaxy A8 at the price. It looks more vivid than the OLED OnePlus 6.

The issue? It looks at its best when brought closer to the screen saturation you get in, say, a Moto G6 Plus or Honor 10. I find the default Adaptive Display setting too bold. It isn’t accurate, or particularly tasteful. There are other Photo, Movie and Basic modes that tame the colour.

This is among the best screens you’ll find for the money; however, the distinct appeal of OLED has waned a little now that the LCD screens in mid-range phones are so good.

Samsung Galaxy A8

That said, OLED makes the phone’s (near) always-on screen viable. When the Galaxy A8 is in standby, it will display the time, date, battery level and a few notification icons onscreen.

An LCD phone would consume a significant amount of power in such a mode; the Galaxy A8 does not. Since OLEDs have emissive pixels, only the lit parts need to be powered.

Software

The Samsung Galaxy A8 may be an important phone in Samsung’s lineup, but it doesn’t currently run the latest version of Android. It has Android 7.1.1, which as of mid-2018 is quite old.

However, Samsung has confirmed that the Android Oreo update is coming. And some of the changes will be overwritten by the Samsung UI anyway.

The Samsung Galaxy A8 runs version 8.5 of the Samsung Experience, the skin that sits on top of Android. It makes some significant changes.

Samsung Galaxy A8

Icon shapes are a little different, as are fonts, and the apps menu is arranged into horizontally scrolling pages rather than a vertical scroll. The soft keys are Samsung’s own, too, looking more like sci-fi symbols than the plain-style used by Google. They’re used in the Galaxy S9 too.

You can’t change these symbols, but Samsung Themes do let you alter most other elements of the software’s look. That includes icon shapes, fonts, backgrounds and icon designs.

I tried a few themes, but ended up reverting to the Samsung Galaxy A8’s standard one. As ever, a lot of user-generated themes are pretty poor, and you have to pay for many of them in the Samsung Themes app.

You also get the Bixby homescreen, which sits to the left of your default one. This is similar to a classic newsfeed screen, but features widgets from other apps including Weather, Samsung Health, Facebook and Uber (if you use it).

I have almost zero interest in using this Bixby screen, and I imagine most Samsung Galaxy A8 users will feel the same. Thankfully, it’s very easy to ignore.

Look at the big cache of preinstalled Samsung apps and you’ll see in action the company’s tendency to have a crack at everything. The S Voice digital assistant is still here; S Health is a Fitbit-style tracker; SmartThings is a smart home platform; and Samsung Pay is a wireless payments platform. There’s plenty more, too.

If bloatware irritates then the Samsung Galaxy A8 might not be for you, although it is possible to uninstall almost every extra app.

Performance

When it comes to general performance, the Galaxy A8 is excellent. I’ve seen fewer software teething problems here than in the Honor 10, and transitions between screens feel fast.

The Samsung Galaxy A8 offers far from the best raw performance per pound, though.

At its heart sits a Exynos 7885 Octa CPU. This is better than most of last year’s mid-range CPUs, since it has two faster Cortex-A73 cores rather than using eight Cortex-A53s. However, Geekbench 4 suggests its performance is still roughly comparable with the Snapdragon 630 CPU of the Moto G6 Plus.

Samsung Galaxy A8

Its GPU is relatively weak, too: it’s a dual-core Mali-G71. This is significantly less powerful than the Adreno 508 of the much cheaper Moto G6 Plus. And – prepare yourself – the OnePlus 6’s Adreno 630 is roughly eight times as powerful.

Sure enough, there are a few choppy moments in the top-end Android game Asphalt 8 than I’d like. It isn’t enough to spoil the game, but there are far more capable phones available at a similar price. The Honor 10 and OnePlus 6 are dramatically more powerful, and the Honor 10 is significantly cheaper.

If you’re into working out value empirically, the Samsung Galaxy A8 isn’t a good deal in power terms.

Camera

The Samsung Galaxy A8 has a fairly simple rear camera setup. There’s a 16-megapixel sensor and a powerful single-LED flash.

Digging deeper into exactly what we get here, the Samsung Galaxy A8 uses the catchily-named s5k2p6sx – a Samsung sensor. This is a 1/2.8-inch unit with relatively small 1.12-micron sensor pixels.

In the past I’ve found some of Samsung’s sensors to be worse than their Sony counterparts – Sony makes the majority of sensors used in phones. However, the Samsung Galaxy A8’s rear camera is good.

It doesn’t radically oversaturate colour, which could make grass look too green and can cause tone clipping when you take a photo of, say, a vivid flower. Daylight photos look sharp, clean and punchy; just lacking a little of the clean-ness of a top-end 12-megapixel camera down at pixel level.

The Samsung Galaxy A8 is also very fast to shoot, far more so than the Moto G6 or Honor 10. This camera is great fun to use.

However, it doesn’t have any lossless or enhanced digital zoom, and the camera is non-stabilised. Optical image stabilisation enables a phone to use longer exposures at night without resulting in blurred images as a result of  natural handshake.

Not surprisingly, then, the Samsung Galaxy A8 isn’t a master of low-light photography. It will take better night images than a true entry-level phone, but the Nokia 7 Plus is significantly better. It uses a lower-resolution 12-megapixel camera. The OnePlus 6 is better, too, since it has a stabilised rear camera.

You get fairly tasteful processing and a great overall experience, but like the CPU, the Samsung Galaxy A8’s hardware isn’t the best available at the price.

Days

Night

Note that there’s a Bixby mode in the camera app that lets you scan barcodes and image-search photos to try to identify objects. It’s a shopping tool for the most part, but you can also take a picture of some text and the Samsung Galaxy A8 will try to transcribe it. That’s a pretty neat extra feature.

There are two cameras around the front, again 16-megapixel units. These use the s5k3p8sp, a smaller sensor with smaller 1-micron pixels, and an unnamed backup sensor.

However, it’s still adept at making your selfies look bright and reasonably detailed in dim lighting. The dual-sensor array also allows a mode called Live Focus, which lets you blur out the background in images.

Samsung isn’t as obsessed with this “bokeh” feature as Huawei or Apple, but it does work quite well. Adding blur makes portraits look more dramatic. I’d rather have background blur in the rear camera, but seem to be in the minority as someone who avoids personal selfies.

Interested in video? The Samsung Galaxy A8 is rather weak in this area since it can’t capture 4K video, maxing out at 1080p. However, its software stabilisation at 1080p is very effective.

Battery life

The Samsung Galaxy A8 has a 3000mAh battery, the minimum I’d expect to see in a phone this size. It seems to at least match the Honor 10 for real-world performance. That phone has has a larger 3400mAh unit.

I get a solid day’s use out of a charge with some juice left over for day two, and that with a bit of YouTube streaming and a few hours of audio streaming on day one. Unless you’re a very light user, you’re unlikely to get two days’ use from the Galaxy A8, however.

The Samsung Galaxy A8 does perform extremely well in one-task endurance tests, though, most likely because its OLED screen is super-efficient. 30 minutes of Real Racing 3 consumes just 8% of the battery, suggesting six hours of gaming off a single charge. This is great for a phone with a fairly conservative battery capacity.

It is also capable of lasting quite some time only playing video. Real-world use doesn’t get close to something like the Huawei P20 Pro or BlackBerry Motion, though.

Finally, the speaker sits along the right of the device, so you won’t block it when holding the Samsung Galaxy A8 phone on its side to watch a video or play a game. However, it’s a mono speaker and doesn’t have the bass power of the very best. The OnePlus 6 and Honor 10 don’t have killer speakers, either.

Why buy the Samsung Galaxy A8?

The Samsung Galaxy A8 is a nice phone; it looks and feels good. The screen is as bold as any and the camera is fun to use.

However, it’s a shame that in some respects the phone appears closer to the much cheaper Motorola Moto G6 Plus than the Honor 10 and OnePlus 6, which are closer in price. Processor power is the biggest issue, particularly that of its graphics chipset.

The OnePlus 6 is a better phone for gamers. However, if you just want a pleasant phone and like the Galaxy series, this one is easy to live with.

Verdict

It’s a more affordable Galaxy S9 alternative, but you’ll find better value at the price.

(trustedreviews.com, http://bit.ly/2smclUo)

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