After Losing Triple-Camera Race, Samsung Touts Quad-Camera Phone

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By Dominik Bosnjak October 12, 2018, 8:30am
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In short: After losing the triple-camera smartphone race to Huawei, Samsung debuted a quadruple-lens device in the form of the new Galaxy A9 on Thursday and has now launched a global marketing campaign meant to let the public know it has the world's first handset with four sensors on the back. The first in a series of the company's ads can be seen below and attempts to sell you on the Galaxy A9 in no more than a minute, touting the device's broad range of features that attempt to make the most of every shooting scenario, from sports and portraits to landscape shots and low-light environments.

While the functionality of the fourth camera is rather one-dimensional, the overall setup is still unique and provides users with more options for photographing, both in terms of in-camera calibration and post-processing. Following that line of thinking, Samsung is telling consumers to "go wide," "go close," "go bright," and "go sharp or soft," depending on their subjects. With every lens being dedicated to a different subset of scenarios, the Galaxy A9 promises to deliver one of the most versatile mobile photography experiences ever created.

The jury is still out on the exact imaging capabilities of the Galaxy A9 as the device won't be released before next month, with Europe being the only regional market Samsung confirmed so far. The handset will be priced at approximately €599 and isn't expected to debut in the United States as it blurs the lines between the company's mid-rangers and flagships, which isn't something Samsung wants to do in the world's largest market for high-end smartphones where its top-tier products are still selling extremely well.

Background: The Galaxy A9 has been the subject of industry rumors for months now and is believed to have four rear cameras primarily because Huawei beat Samsung to releasing the first triple-camera handset this spring, having done so with the P20 Pro. As the company will only be embracing three-lens systems on a significant scale in 2019, it's understood to have opted to include a rudimentary quad-camera to the Galaxy A9 primarily to fight the simple perception that more sensors equate to better tech, which is a notion that Huawei has been pushing rather aggressively for the better part of the current year. According to benchmark experts, that idea may very well be true in most applications, with the P20 Pro still being considered the world's best camera phone even after spending more than half a year on the market.

Many cameras aside, the Galaxy A9 is a relatively capable mid-range phablet featuring a 6.3-inch FHD+ screen, a 3,800mAh battery, up to 8GB of RAM, and Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 710 chip, as well as 128GB of flash storage space. Samsung is hoping the Android 8.0 Oreo-powered smartphone will help it increase its competitiveness in markets where Chinese rivals such as Xiaomi and OPPO have been undercutting it for years. While that struggle started in Europe only recently, it has been ongoing in markets such as India and China for years, with Samsung already loosing essentially its entire foothold in the latter.

Earlier this year, imaging experts at DxOMark told AndroidHeadlines that handsets with three and more cameras on the back will undoubtedly become much more widespread moving forward as such setups are the most obvious solution to the issue of continuing annual camera improvements without making contemporary mobile devices bulkier. Given how the global smartphone market is currently stagnating in terms of shipments, camera manufacturers are also aggressively lobbying for multi-sensor systems as the trend of embracing them would allow them to keep growing even as smartphone demand grinds to a halt.

Impact: What the new ad doesn't say is that the Galaxy A9 is still essentially a mid-ranger and that the main reason it features four back cameras is so that the company can say it has four back cameras. Namely, for most intents and purposes, the handset sports a conventional trio of modules - a 24-megapixel sensor with a regular f/1.7 lens, a 10-megapixel sensor supported by an f/2.4 wide-angle lens, and an 8-megapixel sensor sitting behind another f/2.4 piece of glass, albeit of the telephoto variety. This is essentially the same setup used by the newly announced LG V40 ThinQ flagship, albeit it delivers worse results given how the Galaxy A9 is still a mid-ranger and hence comes with lesser-quality parts. The fourth camera is just a 5-megapixel module using an f/2.2 lens that Samsung refers to as a "depth sensor." In other words, it exists solely to help create a low-quality bokeh effect, something that any of the other two supporting cameras would already be capable of doing.

Such single-purpose sensors have been a popular choice among select Chinese manufacturers jumping on the dual-camera bandwagon over the last several years as they provided them with an inexpensive way to deliver devices that technically have two rear cameras, though the overall quality of their photographs would rarely be indicative of the presence of an extra lens. Samsung essentially did the same thing with the Galaxy A9, with the only difference being the final camera count.

Due to that state of affairs, the Galaxy A9 is unlikely to start a global trend of quadruple-camera setups being embraced by more manufacturers — even though such setups will eventually become widespread — because it hardly broke major new ground with its latest Android mid-ranger. Still, after losing the triple-camera race to Huawei, the firm apparently felt the need to at least be the first to deliver a four-lens mobile system, which makes the Galaxy A9 more of a marketing tool for the Galaxy brand than a product that Samsung actually expects will be a top seller in its price range, making any commercial success it achieves just a bonus. Given that strategy, it's unlikely that even Samsung itself will be embracing quadruple-camera setup at a significant scale next year, with most reports suggesting that its top 2019 models — the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note 10 ranges — will instead be sporting no more than three cameras on their rear sides.

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October 12, 2018, 8:30am
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