On its way to establishing a stranglehold over the Android smartphone market, Samsung built a reputation for two things – using plastic even on its most premium offerings and stuffing its phones to the brim with unwanted bloatware.
With the latest generation of releases, the Korean company seems to have made a conscious decision to reverse those philosophies.
The new Galaxy A8, which falls into the not-quite-flagship but definitely-not-budget category, follows in the footsteps of the S6 and all its myriad variants with a slim metal body and minimal software footprint.
The full metal unibody design is great to hold and behold, every bit as premium as the price tag it commands.
The loss of the plastic back cover also means that the A8 does not have a removable battery, although microSD support has been incorporated via one of the two ejectable SIM trays. The display is flanked by 2.5mm barely-there bezels which lead nicely into the cut-metal frame featuring some sharp angles. The A8 is now Samsung’s slimmest phone at 5.9mm. It also weighs quite less at 151 g.
But despite these dimensions, the device feels very solid to wield thanks to its metal construction.
Hardware and performance
The 5.7-inch Super AMOLED on the Galaxy A8 is capable of Full HD resolution at a pixel density of 386 ppi. While the spec is inferior to the flagship models, it is still a brilliant display that makes for an excellent movie watching or gaming experience. Viewing angles are great and readability is barely affected even under direct sunlight. However, headphones will be required for any kind of media consumption as the rear mounted speakers are quite disappointing, producing sound that is rather tinny and inaudible in noisy environments.
The device is powered by Samsung’s own octa-core Exynos 5430 processor paired with a Mali T628 graphics chip.
It comes with 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage space. Standard Android benchmark tests such as Geek Bench 3 and Antutu put the A8 ahead of phones like the Motorola Nexus 6 and iPhone 6, but well out of reach of its flagship brethren- the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. In real world usage, we found the interface to be lag-free and multitasking to be fluid. Gaming performance was admirable as well with demanding titles such as N.O.V.A 3, Dead Trigger 2 and Real Racing 3 all running smoothly.
The A8 also features a fingerprint sensor integrated into the home button which is incredibly accurate and very fast.
We would put its performance on par with the sensor on the iPhone 6 and leagues ahead of a direct competitor- the OnePlus Two.
Despite its razor thin profile, Samsung has managed to fit a 3050 mAh battery into the A8. We did not get enough time with the device to benchmark its battery, but under heavy usage, with long spells of high-res video playback and graphics-intensive gaming, the A8 managed to deliver screen on times (SOT) between 4 and 6 hours. This indicates that under more realistic usage conditions, the device should last more than a day on a single charge.
The A8 features a 16 MP rear shooter and a 5 MP front facing unit. The spec is identical to the imaging hardware found on the Galaxy S6, minus Optical Image Stabilization (OIS).
The camera software, which can be launched by pressing the home button twice has a clean interface and is quick to respond. Shutter speed is snappy as well.
As for the actual output, like most smartphones these days, the A8 excels at shooting under brightly-light conditions, with the HDR mode adding extra detail and colour when required. Low light performance is the real differentiator and the drop in quality is acceptable on the A8. Despite the lack of OIS, the f1.9 aperture sensor pulls enough light in to deal with dark subjects and environments.
Samsung’s TouchWiz UI has come a long way from its early days. Bloatware has almost completely been eliminated, with most of Samsung’s apps relegated to a Galaxy app store from where the user can install them if required.
It is not stock Android by any stretch of the imagination, but almost all the customizations are useful and unobtrusive these days. Samsung’s stock launcher features theme switching support, the ability to customize the quick access panel and a whole host of other tiny tweaks to the homescreen and app drawer. It also supports split-screen multitasking, although we are still on the fence over whether smartphones require such a feature.
Easy mode, which simplifies the interface and makes it ideal for usage by very old or very young people is a nice addition.
The Ultra Power saving mode, which limits the phone to a few apps is supposed to give your battery life a massive boost, but the fact that it is glacially slow means that it should see very sparing usage.
The Samsung Galaxy A8 is an excellent hardware and software package. Its flaws are decidedly few and extremely far between. While all the buzz in the class directly below the flagships currently belongs to the OnePlus Two, we firmly believe that the A8 is a better device. Unfortunately, it is currently priced significantly higher, which is the only reason it does not immediately become a must-buy. Our advice to potential buyers would be to wait for the inevitable correction in price a few months down the line before forking over your money.
Love : Display, fingerprint sensor, software
Hate : No removable battery, no OIS