Samsung Galaxy A80 review: brilliant idea, average results
Samsung's DJ Koh went on record recently, saying that he will try to mix it up in the midrange side of things and will introduce unique or flagship features there to better differentiate the A-series. It was not explicitly said, but with that move, he aims to stave off the onslaught of Chinese brands that are decimating everyone's midrange and encroaching on the high-end turf with value-for-money propositions.
One needs to look no further than the Galaxy A80 to gauge that DJ Koh wasn't kidding when he said that the lines between Samsung's flagships and midrangers will get increasingly blurry. Not only does the phone have an in-display fingerprint reader, glass body, generous RAM/storage amounts, and a big battery, but it also adds a triple camera system with 3D depth-sensing - you know, S10 5G-style.
To top it all off, the Galaxy A80 sports a unique rotating camera mechanism that lets you do what only dual-screen phones have allowed to so far - take selfies with the best camera you have on the phone, rather than the subpar pieces usually put at the front. That’s all fine and dandy but what if the best camera on the A80 isn’t performing well enough to justify the added design complexities? Here's our full scoop on the unique Samsung Galaxy A80.
In the box:
- Galaxy A80
- Fast 25W wall charger
- USB-C earphones
Galaxy A80 design and display
The first New Infinity design comes with a gorgeous display
Lo and behold, Samsung went with the jolliest of all the jolly "all-screen" phone designs. So far we've had wide notches, dewdrop notches, hole-in-display, sliders, dual-screen, and pop-up camera approaches to ensuring that you have as large an active display area as possible at the front. Samsung chose the last one for the A80, replaced the earpiece with sound-emitting display and the home key finger scanner with in-display one, allowing it to fit a giant 6.7" FHD+ panel (1080x2400 pixels) of the Super AMOLED variety.
Said screen is gorgeous, too, and not only because of the sheer size. It is very bright for an OLED panel - we went out and measured nearly 600 nits average under direct sunlight which is a commendable performance for this technology. Its color presentation and contrast are top of the line, too, and even the dreaded angle view doesn’t bring overly cold colors that were a staple for OLED panels just a generation or two ago.
We know what you are most interested in - how is this new type of "all-screen," "bezel-less" Samsung phone design called? Why, New Infinity Display, of course, that's the only one left from the quartet of Infinity design approaches Samsung revealed last year. Indeed, neither the shrunk top and bottom bezels of the S8 that started it all, nor the waterdrop notches or hole-in-display Infinity-V or -O designs are fit to explain this one.
Unfortunately, despite the clever design, the end result is still a huge phone at 6.50 x 3.01 x 0.35 inches (165 x 76.5 x 9 mm ). The Gorilla Glass 6 body and metal frame, as well as the sliding and rotating tri-camera mechanism also make the A80 very heavy and the feeling in the hand is of a quite the cumbersome device, even without a case on. The weight distribution is good, though - we expected a top-heavy glass phone that we’d have to baby when using with one hand, but it is heavy all around.
The "3D Glass" body lies on a metal frame, exuding a premium look and feel, just like the tactile and solid metal keys on the sides. This huge display framed by only a thin bezel border means that we often pressed something on the screen inadvertently when we took the phone out of the pocket or tried to use it with one hand.
Speaking of one-handed usage, it takes about two seconds to unlock the display with the in-screen fingerprint reader. Thus, you can’t just tap it, you have to hold on to the scanner area. Since it is located way below at the bottom, the initial setup of your fingerprint better be with the angle you will actually approach it at with your thumb, or it won’t register when you try to unlock your phone while holding it with one hand.
Galaxy A80 specs and interface performance
AI enters the stage
As a true upper midrange, the Galaxy A80 offers a generous amount of operating memory and storage. This time around, however, Samsung went all in, equipping the phone with no less than 8GB of RAM (the Galaxy S10 has that much) and 128GB of internal memory. The 8nm octa-core Snapdragon 730 processor is no slouch, either, as it is set in a 2.2GHz Dual + 1.8GHz Hexa-core configuration.
In short, the A80 is specc'd above its midrange positioning, and sits just a step below the S10 family. Samsung reveals that an "Intelligent Performance Enhancer provides AI-powered performance optimization software" in the A80.
From our time spent using the phone, it learns and adapts to your usage scenarios and power draw to deliver smooth performance with the least toll on battery life. We found the OneUI interface on the A80 to be a pretty solid performer all around, albeit a bit too heavy on feature options and intrusive when it comes to notifications and permissions for its own services like CallID or Samsung Pass.
If you are used to Samsung’s ecosystem, though, there will be no learning curve with the A80 - it features familiar AoD display, OneUI theming and navigation gesture options. Oh, there is no dedicated Bixby button but Samsung’s virtual butler is here, offering you to set up its Routines that help schedule and optimize your everyday life with the phone further.
Apart from small ommissions, like the inability to edit a number before calling in the Phone app, and the fact that you have to download a Samsung app to get all navigation gestures (One Hand Operation+), we like how OneUI finally turned out.
The Galaxy A80's amazing pop-up, rotating tri-camera
Rear cam selfies come true and effortless
Some use an extra screen on the back in order to take selfies with the best camera kit you have in your phone - the rear one - and some, like Samsung with the A80, simply rotate the back shooters towards you when you tap the selfie button. The whole process is quick, seamless and automated, no manual push-up or flipping, just be careful that the rotation is not obstructed in any way.
On paper, the rear camera setup is to be trusted. Samsung placed Sony's new 48MP pixel-binning juggernaut in there as the main sensor and chose to accompany it with an 8MP wide-angle sidekick for those landscape and group shots.
What is notably left out is a zoom camera but the high-end Galaxy S line has to carry some advantages still, plus with the huge resolution of the main sensor you could probably do some lossless crop-zooming that pretty much delivers similar results as an extra 2x telephoto lens.
There's one more thing about the Galaxy A80's camera, though, and that is a 3D depth-sensing ToF camera that comes in handy not only for unlocking but also for 3D-mapping the object to deliver that perfect bokeh or portrait mode shot. Samsung brought down all the features from the S10 line, too, like the excellent Super Steady video mode that will keep your live footage from any shakes and jitters - the A80 is dubbed as the "Era of Live," after all.
The time-of-flight camera offers Live Focus in video mode, too, so you can map the depth of objects caught in the footage while filming it. You get the same 30 scene recognition and optimization scenarios that the S10 has, which Samsung is very careful not to call AI. How did pictures and video turn out, though?
Not that great, evidently. The colors are oversaturated and we desperately wish that we were seeing Samsung’s typical oversharpening because here the images turn out way too soft. The camera’s dynamic range capture abilities are on the weak side - it delivers darker shadows and overexposes brighter areas of the frame more than it should.
Needless to say, that goes for selfies, too, as they are taken with the same camera kit, so despite the most impressive front-camera specs ever, the selfie shots with the Galaxy A80 aren’t miles ahead of those from the higher-end phones from Google, Apple, Huawei or even Samsung itself. There is no scene optimizer for selfie shots, and Samsung just recently issued a hefty camera update that added autofocus to the camera when in flipped-out selfie mode for some reason.
Despite that the phone’s chipset is powerful enough to support 4K video recording, the footage in all definitions is decent only when there is enough light around. At night or even at dusk, it becomes soft, lacking detail and with a rather narrow dynamic range that burns brighter objects. Adding insult to injury, the wide-angle lens that can be used for video recording as well, is heavily distorting the edges of the frame both when you shoot stills and when you capture footage. Bummer.
You’d be forgiven to think that call quality on the Galaxy A80 is subpar - after all, there is no visible earpiece you can press your ear against! In fact, if you do this rather reflexive movement, you will have trouble hearing what the person on the line is telling you.
Unfortunately, Samsung only tells you that you have to put your ear against the circled area on the screen when you are trying to call the old-fashioned way for the first time, and not when someone calls you via Messenger, for instance. There should be a more visible warning that the phone employs a sound-emitting display, so you don’t go searching for the right place on the top bezel to press your ear again.
After that initial confusion, you quickly find out that the sound cast by the screen’s vibrations is strong and clean and the new way of doing things is as good as the old one, more so since the mics on the A80 relayed our voice loud and proud to the other side without parasitic noises.
Battery life and charging speeds
The Galaxy A80’s sufficiently large 3700 mAh battery can be topped up very quickly with the fast 25W brick in the box, faster than even the S10 trio. While the picture with charging is rosy, battery life is in the gray zone. One would think that 3700 mAh coupled with a 1080p display and a modern 8nm chipset would bring much better screen-on time in our grueling test compared to the 2K panels on the S10 family, but that’s not exactly the case.
The phone died shy of 9 hours when we ran our test sequence which puts it in the golden middle. During our time with the A80, we noticed that it’s not a phone you can trust to survive a night away from the charger if you need it at least till noon on the next day. The Galaxy A80 is strictly a one-day handset despite its hulking body that could’ve fit a larger battery were it not for the sliding camera mechanism.
Since there is no place for a notification LED at the tiny top bezel, we had to resort to Samsung’s Always-on-Display (AoD) option to see that there is a new notification without unlocking the phone. As usual, AoD is quite a heavy power user and was at the top of the battery-eating modules in the daily chart, even ahead of the (admittedly modest) screen-on time count.
Samsung is taking an exciting direction with the New Infinity design on the Galaxy A80. Apart from dual-screen phones, its rotating camera is the only “all-screen” construction that lets you take selfies with the superior rear camera.
Unfortunately, said camera performs subpar in a few areas, especially in low-light shots, so we can’t really vote with two hands for the flip camera design as much as we wanted to. Moreover, if you are longing for the compact phones of yesteryear, the Galaxy A80 will only exacerbate that notion - it feels very heavy and bulky in the hand.
Granted, the OnePlus 7 Pro leaves a similarly hefty footprint but for the same $600 price it offers better shots, a 90Hz display, and a flagship chipset. If you don’t mind encroached-on displays, the P30 or Honor 20 Pro will bring superior cameras and chipsets in more compact bodies for around the same price tag as the A80 and in the same markets where they are all sold.
The New Infinity design idea has a huge potential, though, and if Samsung manages to equip its subsequent iterations with a better camera in a more compact footprint, that would constitute a killer handset.
We are fairly certain that Samsung’s engineering prowess is up to the task for New Infinity 2.0 but for now, we have to take a few points off the Galaxy A80’s feel and performance for being a brilliant idea that delivers average results.