Galaxy A8 Review (SM-A8000): An awesome mid-range smartphone with a hefty price tag!
Samsung was losing ground in the mid-range section of the smartphone market and the A series was a much needed lineup for the company. Samsung made a step in the right direction with the Galaxy A series, which offered mid-range smartphones with premium build quality and design.
The Galaxy A8 isn’t an exception and it screams premium in terms of design as well as specifications. It is the largest device in the Galaxy A lineup due to its large display. With the Galaxy A8, Samsung has a winner in its hands, even though the price could have been lower.
Let us dive into the review and see what makes the Galaxy A8 an excellent device.
As we mentioned earlier, the Galaxy A8 is one humongous device. Not only is it the biggest when compared to all other A series smartphones, it is bigger than even the Galaxy Note 4. However, it is a well-crafted piece of hardware with a beautiful design. At the front, you won’t see a single reference to the A series. On the back, however, the similarities are clear and you can see the resemblance, with the same matte finish to it and the same loudspeaker, camera and LED flash placement.
The front has the traditional Samsung appearance that we have come to know. A big 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display with seriously narrow bezel; this phone has the thinnest bezel of all Samsung smartphones that have ever existed, though a disadvantage here is that my big hand would sometimes press the screen and initiate a touch action during one-handed usage.
The front of the phone houses the home button, 5-megapixel selfie camera, a proximity sensor and a light sensor. There is no notification LED here, and why it is absent is beyond my comprehension. A notification LED costs less than 10 cents and would have made the experience so much better, especially at this price.
The right side houses the volume buttons and the left houses tactile volume rockers that are separate instead of attached together. Beneath the volume rockers we find two SIM trays, one of which doubles up as a microSD slot. It’s a Hybrid slot, which means you can either use it for a secondary SIM or for expanding available storage. The top of the phone has the secondary microphone for noise cancellation, and the bottom sports a microUSB port, the primary microphone, and a 3.5 mm headphone jack.
The sides are the best part of the phone, with both sides featuring sort of an arc that curves inwards at the top and bottom, giving it a stunning look and also making it very comfortable to hold. The A8 is really slim and its metal unibody measures only 5.9 mm, but I never got the feeling that it would break or bend. The matte finish on the back does tend to make the phone slippery (but not as much as you would expect), though the plus side is that it prevents fingerprint smudges.
One downside of the A8 we reviewed is that it had tiny cracks in the paint on the four antenna lines at the top and bottom, and we would suggest you check for these before buying the device at your local store.
All in all, the Galaxy A8 is extremely well built. It feels sturdy and looks awesome because of the thin bezel and metallic body.
Samsung is beginning to use its Super AMOLED displays for almost every phone it brings to the market, and the same is the case with the Galaxy A8. The A8 has a 5.7-inch Full HD (1920×1080) display, with a pixel density of 389 ppi. In the world of Quad HD displays, some might think that Full HD no longer does the job on a 5.7-inch display, but that’s not exactly true. I never felt the A8’s screen wasn’t sharp, nor could I ever see individual pixels, and the only time you’ll notice the difference is when you have a Quad HD display placed side by side.
The contrast levels are great; blacks are really black and the viewing angles are great as well. Colors pop and are very vibrant in the default display mode (Adaptive Display). If they feel too vibrant for your taste (I certainly had that issue), Samsung has a solution for that and lets you switch to a different screen mode, with the Basic mode having the most accurate colors. Basic mode can seem a bit too yellow at times, but after a while you should be able to adjust. Finally, the screen can get really bright, especially when the phone detects bright sunlight, so reading the display outdoors should never be an issue.
(SamMobile will come up with detailed screen measurements in the future, so keep an eye out for our Screen Measurements category.)
The Galaxy A8 has the same camera UI as the Galaxy S6, which is to say it is easy to use. This phone comes with the same “double tap home button to wake camera” shortcut, though it’s not as quick as the Galaxy S6 family. There’s also a Pro mode for taking pictures, but the options are limited to exposure, ISO and white balance, meaning you don’t get shutter speed control and can’t save pictures in RAW format (the latter is, to be honest, not exactly an important feature anyway.)
The camera app itself is sometimes slow when pressing the photo thumbnail or when you want to back out of the camera app, which can be annoying from time to time. Samsung has optimized its software a lot this year, but it’s clear the camera app needs more work as we saw these lag issues on the Galaxy J5 as well.
When it comes to taking pictures, the A8 doesn’t stand out. For instance, the 16-megapixel rear camera is limited to 4:3 aspect ratio, so you will need to switch to 12-megapixel if you want to shoot in a wider aspect ratio. The images themselves are quite nice when there is enough light, in which case they come out with a great amount of detail and little to no noise, even if they are a tad too warm for our liking.
In darker situations the phone does a respectable job; the F1.9 aperture does make a difference, with images coming out with a good amount of color and sharpness without too much noise reduction. The low aperture doesn’t help in very low light, but that is due to the lack of optical image stabilization and the use of a not-so-high-end sensor and lens.
The front camera is a different ballgame than the back camera. In short, you need light, light and more light to get acceptable images. In dim situations the camera struggles and the images come out blurry, too warm and with considerable noise.
When it comes to shooting videos, the lack of OIS is really noticeable, the videos come out shaky even though I thought I kept my hand really still.
The Galaxy A8 runs Android 5.1.1 out of the box and it runs the same version of TouchWiz that was introduced with the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge. That is something we like, as the new TouchWiz runs much smoother than the previous iteration found on devices before the S6. Everything is almost identical to the S6 family, except a few features are missing, like Direct Call or the wallpaper motion effect. If you want a full rundown of the software, you can read our review of the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge.
Support for themes is welcome here, though we should point out that not all themes from the S6 are available for the A8, since theme makers need to upload themes for various resolutions (HD, Full HD, and Quad HD). But there are still a few good options available; I’ve been using White Mint from the get go as I don’t like the appearance of stock TouchWiz.
As this is a dual SIM phone (there is also a single SIM version), you have a dedicated menu called SIM Card manager for managing your SIM Cards. For example, you can use the cellular connection on SIM 1 and set the second SIM for the data connection, or do it the other way around. Just like on the Galaxy J5, both SIM cards are active at the same time and you can get calls on both, though the call will be forwarded from one SIM to the other.
(At the end of my review period, I received an update which brought the phone to firmware version A8000ZZH2AOH3 and removed any of the lag that I had before, though the camera app still has some hitches.)
Our review unit of the A8 is powered by the Snapdragon 615 processor, which has 8 cores clocked at 1.5GHz and 1GHz respectively and is paired with the Adreno 405 GPU. There is 2GB of RAM, and our unit had 16GB of internal storage and support for 128GB microSD cards (some markets get 32GB on-board storage.)
Until very recently, Samsung’s mid-range phones were plagued with lags and stutters, but that is a thing of the past. The Galaxy A8 ran smoothly almost the entire time we used it, which was because of the combination of the Snapdragon 615 CPU and the optimized software. One of the SamMobile team members has the Exynos version, and that too performed admirably in almost every scenario.
Moreover, the multitasking issues that were present on the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge are somewhat reduced on the A8, as it can handle more apps in the background before it begins killing them. Another noteworthy thing is that the fingerprint sensor works great, and we actually felt that it sometimes worked better than even the sensor on the S6. As for games, the A8 handled every title with aplomb, though it did get a little hot after long periods of play (we tested titles like Ridge Racer Slipstream, Modern Combat 5 and N.O.V.A 3, all of which are high-end games.)
Audio, Call Quality, and Battery Life
Like most of Samsung’s smartphones, the A8 has a rear-facing speaker. The volume is rather weak, and you will find yourself cupping the back of the phone a lot of times. Sound through the headphones is better; sound is well balanced though the volume is still not as high as we expected. The bass sounds punchy and the treble is nice as well. The Sound Alive feature is present here, so you can set the sound quality to your liking through various controls and presets.
The A8’s call quality is sometimes shallow, but most of the time the other side could hear me well, and the same was the case for me. The cell reception is something to discuss, however; the metal unibody design means the reception wasn’t quite as good as my Galaxy S6 edge. Where I had 4G on my S6 edge, the A8 would often be on 3G, and we’re guessing Samsung has used a lower-quality radio to save on costs.
As for battery life, the only word to describe it would be epic. The 3,050 mAh battery on the A8 can last really, really long. For example, one of our regular days saw us left with 18 percent battery after 1 day and 5 hours, with a screen time of over 5 hours. However, the battery life is better on Wi-Fi and 4G than it is on 3G; the battery depleted rather quickly on 3G, and you will need a steady cellular connection to prevent the battery from depleting even more rapidly.
This year, flagship phones didn’t do so great when it comes to battery life, with Lollipop apparently to blame in most cases. The A8 didn’t have any troubles lasting the entire day, however; we were often left with 40 percent battery life (with moderate use) in the evening before we put it on the charger. In comparison, the S6 would be completely drained by 9 PM, and sometimes even a few hours earlier.
The Galaxy A8 is the best phone in the A series, though its price is a little on the high side. The overall user experience is great, and the phone left a very nice impression on us. The A8 never made me long for the Galaxy S6 edge, which is a great achievement to say the least.
The reason some vendors still opt for Full HD displays makes more sense as well after using the A8, as Full HD isn’t as awesome as Quad HD but gets the job done and also ensures good battery endurance. The new TouchWiz software with support for themes is a highlight, though the missing LED notification is something we don’t approve of. We would suggest Samsung make it a standard feature on every phone they make, especially when it costs upwards of $500.
The competition for Samsung in this price range is quite fierce. You will get a lot of phones with better specs at the same or lower price, though devices with the same finish and build quality are quite hard to find. The camera is great, but the 4:3 aspect ratio is a limitation. The front camera isn’t that great, but overall, the Galaxy A8 is one of the best mid-range Samsung smartphones in a long, long time.
|Awesome build quality||Decent camera|
|Slim bezel||No notification LED (unacceptable in 2015)|
|Excellent battery life||Low volume through loudspeaker as well as headphones|
|Smooth software performance||Size|
Thank you 28mobile for sending us this review unit.
(28mobile is a reliable online retailer offering the most sought after devices in the world, and bringing them to you unlocked and available to purchase as soon as they are released. Their customer is always their primary focus, and their satisfaction with the product and service they deliver is their top priority. They are fortunate to employ a dedicated and talented team that allows them to provide their customers with the products and services they deserve, and their operation is led by one of the hardest working owners in the industry.)