With upcoming flagships like the Apple iPhone 7 (or should we say iPhones?) and Samsung Galaxy Note 7 hogging recent tech headlines, it's quite easy for their less publicized pals to fall through the digital cracks. Samsung's Galaxy A9 Pro is one of those under-the-radar smartphones. Apparently, it's already here, ready and waiting for the Filipino consumer market yet we haven't heard much about it. Well, that situation has to change, right?
This phablet sticks to the winning formula when it comes to aesthetics. Our loaner unit, clad in gold, was a welcome break from our usual (and boring) black. It's almost as big as our everyday smartphone (a still-working Samsung Galaxy Note 3), and slightly thinner at 7.9mm. Though the A9 Pro is “thicker” than Samsung's other models, the difference is barely noticeable in real life and use, anyway.
The front has the standard look, with a 6.0” Super AMOLED display taking up most of the space. The 8MP front camera and Home button (which also works as a fingerprint sensor) complete the A9 Pro's face. The equally glassy back portion houses the 16MP camera, and LED flash slash built-in Torch, the latter coming in handy for unscheduled blackouts and that frantic search for misplaced remotes and car keys.
There are several changes when it comes to the sides' layout, or maybe we haven't been around that many newer smartphones lately. The Power button is on the right side, along with the dual SIM slot. At the bottom, you'll see the internal speakers, micro USB port, and the headphone jack—the latter should be on the top, if you ask us. Separate volume toggles are on the left side, while the micro SD slot takes the headphone jack's usual spot at the top. There are no removable covers or parts, except for those for the SIM and micro SD slots. Aesthetically speaking, it's a great move. But that also means you can't replace your batteries or do minor repairs or replacements yourself, a bummer for some users.
The 2016 update to Galaxy A9 doesn't differ much from its predecessor. Considering they were only “born” five months apart, you really shouldn't expect any major changes. Based on this specs comparison on GSMArena.com, it retains most of its innards, including the Qualcomm MSM8976 Snapdragon 652 processor and Adreno 510 GPU, and ARM octa-core Cortex-A72 and A53 CPUs.
The real differences this Pro has with the prior A9 are in terms of connectivity, imaging, and battery capacity. The Pro supports multiple LTE bands, ups the rear camera to 16MP (but with a slight decrease in sensor size to 1/2.8”), and puts a 5000mAh battery in place. It also ships with Android Marshmallow (6.0.1) already installed, so you won't have to upgrade for a while, unlike the rest of us Android users with older smartphones.
The yays and nays
The first thing we noticed upon bootup and factory reset is that the A9 Pro isn't preloaded with unnecessary third-party apps. Sure, it comes with Samsung-, Google- and Microsoft-branded apps all ready to go, but they're all neatly arranged in their respective folders and/or tucked away in secondary screens or in the main Apps menu, so you won't feel bombarded by apps you won't use or can't uninstall. Thanks for that, Samsung.
We also appreciated having a built-in fingerprint sensor—no more repeated swiping of unlock patterns, or typing in of security codes. Yes, we're super late to the fingerprint-sensor party. Better late than never, right?
As for the touted battery life... the added 1000mAh is a boon for us. The A9 Pro lasted a full day and a few hours over with heavy use, and up to a day and a half with casual usage. Not bad at all, given that we're always looking for a power outlet by midday, or grabbing our power banks for a quick charge in between tasks. Coupled with Fast Charging, this is one of the very few smartphones where battery life won't be a big issue at all.
We were quite satisfied with the quality of the photos and short videos that the A9 Pro produced. It's slightly limited if we compare its built-in shooting modes and effects with those found in higher-end models, but typical users won't find anything majorly to complain about here. The A9 Pro does its job, and fairly quickly, giving you detailed media you can quickly show off on your social media platform, cloud service, or communication method of choice. And selfie lovers, rejoice: not only does this smartphone give you 8MP worth of vanity per shot, it also offers what it calls Wide Selfies, so your companions won't have to squeeze against you like you're all in a mosh pit. Think of it as a toned-down Panorama Mode for selfies. Yes? Yes.
The larger screen size and improved visual quality also let us enjoy our online and downloaded media better. Sure, the A9 Pro will be confined to bags and man-pouches instead of your front or back pockets, but going large works for you in other ways. Reading e-books is easier on a 6” display, as well as checking out Instagram's new Stories feature or any of our social media feeds. (We don't play Pokémon Go, but for those who can't get enough of it, better visuals plus improved battery life equals more time spent catching 'em all.)
We also tried viewing a few episodes of the Netflix hit Stranger Things on the A9 Pro... which brings us to the one thing we'll nitpick about, screen-wise. The series' darker scenes (literally speaking) highlighted a perennial smartphone problem: screen glare. There was just too much of it on the A9 Pro, and it was just so distracting that we wound up switching to another gadget in the middle of an episode. If you're in an environment with moderate to bright light, prepare for glare.
For people like us who are already hard of hearing, this Pro's penchant for being loud is a godsend. Sound quality goes wayward the higher you go in volume level, so keep it in the middle and you'll be just fine, tandercats. You can also personalize your sound settings via Samsung's Adapt Sound, and activate SoundAlive+ and Tube Amp to make your media sound better.
This smartphone also kept its cool throughout the testing period; except for that time we ran AnTuTu 3D Benchmark and its upper right back portion got too warm for our comfort. It didn't do so well in those tests, scoring 21st with a 77969 result.
To be honest, we had a hard time finding anything to complain about with the Samsung A9 Pro. It's a smartphone with satisfactory specs and acceptable daily performance. It provides us with enough onboard storage for all our media, lasts long enough for us to do everything we need to do, does whatever we ask of it with little delay, and makes us place a higher value on understated but reliable products over flashy, overloaded, and overpriced ones.
The Samsung Galaxy A9 Pro has an SRP of P25,990. Check out the Samsung Philippines website or visit any official outlet or authorized reseller for more information on the Samsung A9 Pro.