The phones in Samsung's mid-tier Galaxy A series, targeted at buyers in Southeast Asia, used to be relatively modest offerings that were conservative in both specs and design.
But with Chinese sub-brands such as Oppo's Realme and Huawei's Honor taking a big chunk out of Samsung's pie in developing markets, in particular Southeast Asia, the Korean tech giant can no longer afford to play it safe.
Samsung has given this year's A80 phone a daring design that arguably is more eye-catching and headline-grabbing than its own flagship Galaxy S10.
Alas, look a bit deeper and the compromises made and risks taken are too obvious.
Design and hardware
The Galaxy A80 is Samsung's first true all-screen, bezel-less phone. There's no forehead bezel like in last year's Galaxy S9 or Note 9.
So where is the selfie camera? There isn't one. The Galaxy A80 instead uses the main camera system on the device's back to double as the selfie lens.
Whenever a user triggers the selfie camera mode, the top part of the A80 elevates, and then the triple-camera module flips over to face the user.This is a complicated mechanism that makes the pop-up camera modules in recent releases seem simplistic.
The phone looks great. The 6.7-inch uninterrupted display is a 1080p panel, and while it's not as pixel-dense as the Quad HD resolution that's become the norm in Samsung flagships, it's still a Samsung AMOLED display so the screen pumps out vibrant colours.
There's an in-display fingerprint reader embedded under the screen too, further freeing the phone from needing to create distractions for cameras and sensors.
Overall the A80's hardware is sleek and clean. I'm a fan of the glass back with a glossy, metallic black paint job, as well as the subtle gold trim around the camera module.
It's unfortunate, then, that the hardware doesn't really perform. More on this later.
Software and features
The A80 runs Android 9 with Samsung's relatively new One UI Android skin on top. The software experience here is virtually identical to that of the Samsung Galaxy S10, and that's mostly a good thing. Samsung has cleaned up its software significantly in recent years.
Bixby, Samsung's critically-panned digital assistant, is still here, but at least it's now merely a software feature, as the physical Bixby button that plagued the last few flagship Galaxy phones has been omitted. And without an actual button that is begging for accidental presses, I find that I can now mostly ignore Bixby and use a phone that feels bloat free.
The TOF range imaging sensor is put to good use in a new feature called Live Focus Video, which is a video shooting mode that produces real-time depth-of-field bokeh effect around the subject. It's an impressive feature that most phones do not offer.
The A80 runs on Qualcomm's mid-tier Snapdragon 730. On paper it's not as powerful as the 855 used in flagships, but the 730 is still good for almost all tasks, the only shortcoming happens in the GPU, so graphically intensive games won't run as well.
Paired with the solid software and 6GB of RAM, the basic smartphone performance is fine.
Performance and battery life
Battery life is good, with the 3,700 mAh cell easily lasting an entire day.
But there are a couple of major hardware problems. The first is the slow and unreliable in-display fingerprint sensor. Samsung didn't give the A80 that ultrasonic in-display scanner that's used in the S10. Instead it uses an optical scanner.
Now that's not necessarily a bad thing " I find the optical scanner in recent Vivo, Huawei and Oppo phones to be better than the S10's ultrasonic scanner " but Samsung used a lesser known vendor from Taiwan to supply its ultrasonic scanners (Vivo, Huawei and Oppo all use a Shenzhen-based vendor named Goodix), and it is at least a few generations behind. Unlocking the A80 takes twice as long as unlocking the P30 Pro.
The second issue is that the complicated elevating camera system may be susceptible to malfunction. During my testing period I handled three separate units, and on one of them, the elevating camera mechanism would get stuck while flipping over every now and then. The other two units operated fine, so perhaps that was the rare defective unit.
While it's possible that I may have just got a rare defective unit, but when I shared my video on social media, several other users said their unit suffered from similar problems, including the official Twitter account of SamMobile, the largest Samsung fan community on the internet.
The cameras, even when working, are mediocre. The A80's main 48-megapixel sensor is Samsung's own, which is widely considered inferior to Sony's CMOS sensor that's been used in recent OnePlus and Honor phones. And the wide-angle camera, at eight megapixels, is a bit low in pixel count.
In general, daytime shots turn out fine, but at night, everything falls apart. The wide-angle camera in particularly, captures images so muddied and lacking in detail at night, it is almost unusable.
I can accept the so-so camera performance if Samsung had priced the A80 at US$300 to US$400. But the A80 costs the equivalent of US$650 in most regions.
To put it simply: all other Chinese mid-tier handsets either offer significantly more power at that same US$650 price range (OnePlus 7 Pro, Vivo Nex Dual Display) or similar power as the A80 for under US$400 (Xiaomi Mi 9T, Meizu 16XS, Honor V20).
As it stands, I don't see why anyone would buy the A80 unless they have brand loyalty to Samsung.
Dimensions: 165.2mm x 76.5mm x 9.3mm
Display: 6.7-inch 1,080x 2,400 OLED panel
OS version reviewed: Android 9 with One UI on top
Processor: Snapdragon 730
Main cameras: 48-megapixel f/2.0 sensor, 8-megapixel f/2.2 wide-angle lens, TOF sensor
Front camera: none
Memory: 6GB RAM, 128GB
Price: around US$650 in most regions
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