Blackview A9 Pro Review: A Dual Camera Phone On A Budget

June 19, 2017 - Written By Justin Diaz

The Blackview A9 Pro is affordable without compromising on the screen.

Blackview is a Chinese smartphone brand that has a history of producing entry-level devices that are aimed at those looking for a smartphone on a budget, though Blackview also does this while packing some decent specs for the price into a lot of its phones. One of the latest phones to follow this trend is the Blackview A9 Pro, a budget device that comes in the range of $100 USD and it comes with a dual rear-facing camera that should be able to offer some decent pictures. While the specs on the A9 Pro aren’t exactly top-tier, the use of a dual rear camera makes this quite the value, so let’s take a closer look at how the A9 Pro served us over this past week.

Specs

First and foremost, let’s take a look at the specs to see what the A9 Pro is working with. It’s equipped with an AUO 5-inch HD display, and it’s powered by a MediaTek MT6737 processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage space. It uses USB Type-C for the charging and data transfer port and it has a 3,000mAh battery inside which lasted us longer than we had expected. For the cameras it has an 8-megapixel plus 0.3-megapixel dual rear camera and a 2-megapixel front camera, it supports Dual SIM compatibility and it comes running on Android 7.0 Nougat software so it’s mostly up to date with the software versions. It supports expandable storage as well with microSD cards up to 32GB if you need more than the 16GB that’s available. Like many of Blackview’s other devices, it also has a fingerprint sensor integrated with the front home button, but also like most of Blackview’s other devices it lacks NFC, so the phone won’t support mobile payments, which means that the fingerprint sensor will only be for unlocking the device.

In The Box

In the box you’ll find the phone itself, a clear silicone case, a screen protector that’s already applied to the phone in the box, plus you get an additional screen protector for when you need to swap it out. You’ll also find the charger and a set of earbuds as well as a quick start guide, and then that’s about it. The box isn’t packed with a bunch of extras, but it does come with a few additional items that most phones don’t come with in the box these days, which is always nice to see.

Hardware & Design

The Blackview A9 Pro comes in under $100 and the design of the device makes this pretty clear. While it does use metal for the frame of the device, the back is made of a soft touch plastic material that comes off so you can access the SIM and memory card slots. This is a little bit different from the Blackview P2 and P2 Lite, two other devices we previously reviewed, as those and many other Blackview devices we’ve looked at in the past have all metal bodies or a combination of metal and glass. Despite the plastic backing though, the phone doesn’t feel cheap in the hand, it actually feels quite solid for a phone in this price range.

The version that we spent time with is Black most of the way around, though it does come in other colors. Blackview has painted the frame black to match the face and backing, though it also left the chamfered edges the normal silver colored metal which is a nice touch as it really helps to highlight the chamfered edge. On the front of the device you’ll find the front-facing camera to the left of the earpiece, and down at the bottom you’ll find the fingerprint sensor/home button, though the home button doesn’t have any give to it and you simply tap it to use the home button function. If you look at the bottom of the device you’ll find the single speaker as well as the USB Type-C port, and on the right side of the device is the power button, and the volume up and down buttons. On the left side the device is completely free of any buttons or ports, and this is because the SIM card slot is located under the back plate. Speaking of the back, the dual rear camera sensors sit in the top left corner not too unlike the OPPO R11 and the iPhone 7 Plus, and it actually looks pretty similar in design thanks to the shape and placement of the sensors as well as the LED flash to the right of them. The Blackview logo can be seen in the center of the back, and towards the bottom left edge you can find the cutout where you peel the backing off when you need to access the SIM and microSD card slots. Up top you can find the 3.5mm audio port for plugging in headphones, so you don’t have to resort to using Bluetooth if you prefer not to.

Display

While AUO HD displays aren’t common panels for the displays on more well-known devices, that doesn’t mean that they can’t provide a decent experience for the user. For us, the response of the display was pretty decent and this is thanks to the digitizer being used. It’s not uncommon to find a cheap quality digitizer in lower-end phones as this helps keep the devices at a low cost for consumers, and while the digitizer used in the A9 Pro might be less expensive, it works pretty well. As for the display panel itself, it’s not the best in terms of quality but it does the job. It’s not as sharp as we’ve seen on some other devices that are close to the same price range, but it does get plenty bright which helps the situation if you’re in direct light. If the picture quality of the display were just a bit more clear, then you may not have needed to turn up the brightness, but due to its lack of clarity lower brightness makes a bit harder to see everything on screen even inside when out of direct light. This was really the only major thing about the display that we noticed could have been a bit better. Still though, being that the phone screen is only 5-inches makes the HD screen a better fit than if Blackview had opted for a 5.5-inch panel, and color reproduction is better than we had expected too. Overall the screen is pretty much average, but when you spend as little of an amount as you do on a phone like the A9 Pro you shouldn’t be expecting a top-notch display.

Performance

Overall performance was actually pretty good for this device, though keep in mind that it does only have 2GB of RAM so it will only be able to handle so much before it starts to buckle under pressure. The use of the lower-end MediaTek processor doesn’t help things either, but performance wasn’t so bad that you have to completely stay away from multi-tasking.

We didn’t really notice much lag when using the device, if any, save for when we tried to boot up some of the more graphically demanding games. For performance when gaming we paid especially close attention to Dawn of Titans, which has some pretty impressive 3D visuals. The graphics were not as sharp as they appear on other devices with better processors, and the RAM being only at 2GB certainly made it less possible to run the game and a bunch of other apps in the background. Switching between apps while the game was running came up with a bit of a sluggish animation for the transition between apps and this was after most instances of trying this out. For the most part the performance is OK here, but anyone that is an extreme power user of their smartphone might not find the best experience with this device.

Fingerprint Sensor

What’s odd with the fingerprint sensor is that it not only acts as a fingerprint sensor and a home button, but it’s also the back button, something which I personally have never come across in a device before. This was a strange choice for Blackview simply because it seems to be out of the ordinary, and while it does minimize the amount of buttons that need to be used, it also keeps the device from having a definitive and visible set of buttons for the back key as well as the recents key. That said, the functionality of the fingerprint sensor actually works decent and only had a few hiccups with recognizing the fingerprint. It unlocks pretty fast though it’s not the quickest, and it seems to work pretty well in terms of recognition, so it does a good job at what it’s meant to do.

Sound

Sound quality is always going to be a battle when there is only one speaker available on a device. If it’s placed in the best possible location then it can be easier to hear what’s playing, but having two speakers is always better. That said, the audio wasn’t too bad with the A9 Pro and when using the device to listen to music or watch videos on YouTube, the sound was certainly passable and didn’t sound too muffled from my hand covering up the speaker when holding it in landscape mode. This is because the speaker is on the left hand side of that bottom part of the frame, so if you’re holding the phone in portrait mode and then tip it to the left to put it in landscape view, the speaker sits at the bottom corner instead of the top, which makes it so that my hand would more or less cup the speaker a little instead of covering it completely, and this helped the sound a bit. Sound wasn’t to choppy or overly blown out when listening at higher volumes, and this was a bit of a surprise as less expensive phones like this one don’t usually have very good audio. In the end though the sound was actually enjoyable, though it still could be better.

Phone Calls & Network

This is an unlocked GSM device that supports LTE networks, so it will work in other regions besides China, and one of those includes the US. That said, compatibility may differ from what some consumers may be expecting as the network frequencies for LTE are different than what carriers use in the US, so it’s likely to get 2G and 3G only. Because I use Project Fi the phone wouldn’t connect to any networks, but you can view the supported network frequencies below if you’re interested.

2G: 850/900/1800/1900
3G: 900/2100
4G LTE: 800/900/1800/2100/2600

Benchmarks

With every device we run it through some benchmark tests to see how the device performs in a simulated real-life situation, and for this we put the Blackview A9 Pro through 3DMark for the graphics, as well as Geekbench 4 and AnTuTu for the two computing benchmarks. You can view the scores in the gallery below if you’re curious to see how well the A9 Pro performed in each test.

Battery Life

Battery was life was better than we expected but that said the A9 Pro does not have the most longevity when compared to other devices that Blackview has made, the battery capacity is 3,000 mAh, so it’s more than enough for the type of hardware that’s on the inside of the device, but when putting through the PCMark battery test it only lasted about 4 hours and 47 minutes. We would have thought it would be a little bit more than that considering the smaller screen and lower-powered processor. This also matched up pretty well with what we actually got from the device for screen on time as we were able to continue using the phone for about 4 and a half hour before it needed a charge, and for day to day use it lasted about a day before needing to be recharged, but we did have to plug it in every single night. With the Blackview P2 Lite that we reviewed last week we actually got about two days before needing a charge, so this is a device which will definitely get you through the day, but you’ll need to plug it in before going to sleep.

Software

The software side of things with the A9 Pro is a lot like some of the other Blackview devices out there, and quite frankly a lot like plenty of Chinese smartphones that come from brands other than Blackview. It has no app drawer which means all of the apps are placed on the home screen after installation. You can reorder them as you like, and even place them in folders, but you will end up with pages of home screens to fit all of your apps. The nice thing is that since this is Android you can place the apps wherever you like. So if you want your main home screen to be mostly empty and have other pages filled with app icons, you can do so.

There are a number of features in the software that provide extra functionality that you won’t find in many Android devices out there as part of the native software experience. Take the floating shortcut button for instance. This is enabled by default after pulling the phone out of the box and gives you access to things like cleaning up the memory, jumping to the lock screen, entering game mode, entering a read mode, and more. You can move this button to wherever you like on the screen but it will always end up at the edge. So essentially you can drag it up and down the edge of the display and put it on either the right or left side. You’ll find additional features which aren’t available on stock Android software like One Hand FloatView, a mode for using the device with one hand which makes it easier to do things like typing and such when only using one hand, and the gesture unlock, which can be found on most Blackview devices and allows for unlocking the display by drawing various letters on screen while it’s asleep to open it up to an app or certain menu. These gesture unlock shortcuts can be a big benefit to anyone who likes efficiency. There are some other unconventional features included here that are worth mentioning. For example, in the settings menu there is a couple of options to make more use out of the fingerprint sensor. You can enable the sensor to act as your shutter button when in the camera app and you can enable an option which allows you to long press the fingerprint sensor when there is an incoming call to answer that call. Other than that the software is pretty much standard, though the UI does also have its own unique look to it.

Camera

It’s often said that the best camera is the one you have on you, and by that logic, it doesn’t matter if the camera is 8-megapixels or 20-megapixels, or if the sensor used is top of the line or bottom of the barrel, because having any camera at all is better than having no camera. That said, the camera is not one of the A9 Pro’s strong suits. It carries an 8-megapixel sensor plus 0.3-megapixel sensor for the dual camera setup that is used here, and while I did find it would take a decent enough picture or two, many of them came out much too grainy or just filled with noise and little less clarity than we would expect from a dual camera setup. That isn’t the case though.

Perhaps some good to come from the camera on the A9 Pro is that it offers up more than one or two camera modes which is more than you’ll usually find in a device at this price range. Beyond the standard camera mode, video mode, and panorama, you also get something called broken mode and you also get a beauty mode. There’s also a button for turning on HDR shots, so if you have more of a steady hand you can enable this option and play with it to see if it gives you a better picture in certain situations. Depending on the subject, you might sometimes end up with a more detailed and vibrant shot, though it’s not always going to be that way. There’s no pro mode here so that means no getting to adjust things like the manual exposure or ISO, but then again this is an entry-level device so it shouldn’t be expected to have a camera with loads of options. In the end the camera does its job but it’s not a feature that should be drawing attention from consumers who are looking for a really good smartphone camera.

The Good

Decent fingerprint sensor

Sound quality was good

Decent build quality

USB Type-C

Small footprint

Expandable storage

The Bad

Battery Life was a little low for a 3,000 mAh battery

Camera wasn’t great

No recents key

No NFC

Somewhat sluggish performance when playing games

Wrap Up

Blackview has a pretty wide range of different devices available, and the A9 Pro is one which is aimed more at the entry-level consumer than some of its other options. For an entry-level device, the A9 Pro is not a bad choice, especially if your main concern is just having a smartphone in general while also saving some money. Though it’s not the most powerful device on the planet, it does do most of what other devices will do and that’s something to take into account.

Should you buy the Blackview A9 Pro?

Not if you need something powerful and top of the line. If you want a device that’s capable, though, and a device which won’t cost you a lot, then yes, the A9 Pro is a nice choice as it will only cost you less than $120 USD, and it has a nice set of features for a phone that costs around this price point.

Buy The Blackview A9 Pro