Samsung's smartphone lineup has a lot of overlaps and there are confusing similarities between models, especially since older ones continue to be sold alongside newer ones. The Korean giant has also recycled its basic template over and over again, and even with a move to metal bodies over the past year or so, most of its phones look just like one another. With its nimble Chinese competitors releasing new models every few months and shoving more features and better specifications into devices across the price spectrum, it has been hard for Samsung to keep up.
However, the new Galaxy C9 Pro is a direct shot against all the upstarts nipping at its heels. It's the biggest departure we've seen from this company in ages, in terms of styling as well as strategy. It capitalises on the premium Samsung brand in a price segment that people look at when they want a polished, capable device, and it is designed around exactly the features and specifications that people want right now.
While the low-cost segment gets a lot of attention, there are some fierce competitors at and around the Galaxy C9 Pro's level, including the OnePlus 3T (Review), Moto Z (Review), Huawei P9 (Review), and Sony Xperia XZ (Review). However, the excellent Galaxy S7 (Review) sells for only slightly more, and with the Galaxy S8 right around the corner, should fall in price very soon. We're curious to see how Samsung intends to take on its competitors as well as itself.
Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro look and feel
Gone are the metal rims and shiny accents around the home button and earpiece that have defined Samsung's phones for years now. Gone too is the usual glass rear panel. The black review unit we received looked almost stealthy, with a matte-finished metal shell and slick glass front. The metal wraps around the sides of the device, and the glass has subtly rounded edges - this is a look we've seen on many phones before, but Samsung manages to make it seem like its own.
The most surprising new touch is that Samsung has gone with striped antenna lines on the top and bottom of the phone. We get a distinct HTC vibe, especially because of the vertical cut going down from the upper band to the camera lens. While these lines look like grooves, they're thankfully flush with the rear. The camera lens does protrude a tiny bit, but it's nearly unnoticeable. It's worth noting that this phone doesn't have a water and dust protection rating.
There's still a physical Home button with an integrated fingerprint sensor below the screen, with capacitive buttons on either side of it. There are volume buttons on the left and a power button on the right. Also on the right edge are two separate trays; one for dual Nano-SIMs, and one for a microSD card. On the bottom, you'll find a USB Type-C port with a standard 3.5mm audio socket to one side and a tiny speaker cutout on the other.
The Galaxy C9 Pro is quite hefty at 190g, and you'll definitely feel its weight in a pocket and in your hand. The 6-inch screen necessitates a tall, wide body, but it's only a few millimetres bigger than an iPhone 7 Plus in both dimensions, and is in fact quite a bit thinner at 6.9mm. The matte texture does a lot to make this phone easy enough to hold - one-handed use isn't impossible at all, but we would not attempt it when walking or being jostled around in a bus.
Surprisingly, this phone is available only in black and gold. We liked the look of our black unit, but from what we've seen, the gold version with its white front face isn't quite as slick. We also noticed lots of smudges and smears on the metal after a few days of use. There definitely is a market for phones with really big screens, and this is one of the most manageable 6-inch smartphones we've seen.
Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro display and specifications
The star of the show here is undoubtedly the 6-inch Super Amoled screen. The Galaxy C9 Pro might be larger than Samsung's Galaxy S and Note models, but it isn't quite at that flagship level, so the screen has a full-HD panel rather than 2560x1440. However, 1080p should be good enough for most people, and we had no issues with clarity or sharpness. Viewing angles are good and colours aren't too saturated.
The SoC is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 653, which has four Cortex-A72 cores running at 1.95GHz and four more Cortex-A53 cores running at 1.44GHz, and integrated Adreno 510 graphics. One of this phone's headline features is that it has 6GB of RAM, which might be overkill but definitely looks good to prospective buyers.
You get 64GB of built-in storage and microSD card compatibility goes up to 256GB, so you really shouldn't be worried about running out of space. The Galaxy C9 Pro also supports dual-band Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 4.2, LTE, VoLTE, and GPS. Samsung is late to the USB Type-C party, but at least the company is on board now. We're also grateful for the presence of a 3.5mm audio port.
The Galaxy C9 Pro's body is large enough for a 4000mAh battery, and quick charging is supported with a compatible charger. The front and rear cameras both have 16-megapixel sensors and f/1.9 aperture lenses, and there's a dual-tone LED flash on the rear.
Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro software
One disappointment is that this phone runs Android 6.0.1, not Nougat. While we expect that there will be an update considering this phone's premium positioning, we don't know when that might happen. Samsung's UI is pretty simple and certainly more polished than what we see from smaller companies. Everything is where you'd expect to find it.
To the left of the first home screen is a news feed called Briefing, which is powered by Flipboard and looks a lot like it. You can choose your preferred topics and sources, or disable it if you don't like it. There are loads of toggles in the pull-down quick settings panel, but for some reason long-pressing any of them takes you to a customisation screen rather than pulling up detailed settings for that particular control. You can run two apps in split-screen mode, but not all are supported. Like with all Samsung phones, you can choose from a variety of fonts for the UI, but now there's also a store that lets you download even more free and paid ones.
The Galaxy C9 Pro features an always-on display mode, just like the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. You can see the time in one or two time zones, a calendar, as well as the battery level and icons for missed notifications. Unlike the monochrome power-saving modes on other phones, you can choose colours and even background patterns. When the phone is in standby, the backlight goes off but you can still see this information on screen. However, in our experience, the backlight would suddenly come on at random times, even if the phone was lying undisturbed. That was very distracting, especially at night. The always-on display can obviously be disabled.
The Settings app has handy shortcuts that help you find related settings in other subsections. In here, you'll find additional features that Samsung has thrown in, such as a blue light filter with a schedule, an easy mode, a game mode which disables the capacitive touch keys and suppresses notifications, assorted gesture shortcuts, power saving and storage cleanup tools, and even a shortcut to an online user manual.
You get the usual Google apps plus the Microsoft Office collection and a bunch of utilities from Samsung. Secure Folder lets you lock data and apps behind a fingerprint - you can even use it to run a second, secret instance of apps such as Whatsapp. S Secure also lets you lock and hide apps, which seems redundant. S Health tracks your movements and sleep, and set activity goals - of course it works better with a Samsung wearable. Samsung Members offers a confusing mix of company news, a community forum, hardware diagnostic tools, and service-related options. There's also Samsung Themes, Samsung Notes, a USB-OTG data backup app, and Opera Max in addition to Chrome and Samsung's own branded browser.
Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro camera performance
With 16-megapixel sensors at the back as well as at the front, it's clear that Samsung is trying to impress buyers. The camera app has a very clean layout, and you can double-press the home button to launch it at any point. The Pro mode lets you adjust metering in addition to exposure, ISO, and white balance. There's a button for video recording so you don't have to switch to another mode first.
You can swipe right to choose from one of eight filters, but what's more interesting is that you can download more filters and effects including ones from third-party apps such as Line and Candy Camera. Most of these are free as of now, but there are some that cost over Rs 100.
The quality of the Galaxy C9 Pro's rear camera really is brilliant. It's quick to lock focus and there's no shutter lag to speak of. Photos look sharp and rich, with fine detailing even when seen at their actual size. The large screen makes framing very easy, and we were able to achieve some great depth-of-field effects. Noise was manageable in shots taken at night as long as there was at least some ambient lighting, and colours were also maintained well.
Video was also impressive both in the daytime and at night. The ability to record in 4K would have made this phone more useful for lots of people, so it's a curious omission. We also liked what we saw from the phone's front camera. There are voice triggers since it's really difficult to hold a phone this bulky at arm's length and reach the shutter button.
Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro performance
It shouldn't come as any surprise that the Galaxy C9 Pro performed extremely well no matter what we threw at it. We got used to its size, though the weight and balance never really felt natural. This phone was less awkward to use for voice calls than many other 6-inch models we've used. The screen was consistently great for watching videos and playing games on, and the full-HD resolution presents absolutely zero real-world problems. Colours looked fine even under harsh sunlight, and viewing angles were also good.
It might not be obvious at first, but the earpiece doubles up as a second loudspeaker in an attempt to deliver a stereo sound effect. However the two speakers don't converge, and the earpiece is noticeably softer, tinnier, and more muffled than the normal speaker on the bottom. This creates a very off-balance experience - not everyone will notice it, but if you do, it's impossible to ignore. That aside, the sound is pretty thin and shrill, and the bundled earphones are only a little better.
Benchmark test results were strong. We got 84,596 in AnTuTu, 3,997 in Geekbench's multi-core test, 10,233 in 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme and 36fps in GFXBench's T-rex test. Everything was snappy and responsive, and even heavy apps and games loaded quickly. The only odd occurrence was that the Basemark Web benchmark kept crashing - even low-end phones can usually get through it, even if they score poorly.
The 4000mAh battery powered through a day and a half of heavy usage, with the always-on screen active and plenty of LTE and Wi-Fi streaming. Our HD video loop test lasted 12 hours, 56 minutes which is a pretty good result, but again not quite in the same league as flagship phones.
Although Samsung is still the biggest smartphone company in India by market share, it has proven to be less agile than the multitude of Chinese companies which have entered India over the past few years. Xiaomi, Lenovo, Oppo, Vivo and others release new models every six months or so, and with each cycle, better hardware is squeezed into tighter budgets.
We get the distinct feeling that this is exactly what Samsung is trying to fix with the release of the Galaxy C9 Pro. With a big screen, big battery, high-end cameras and 6GB of RAM, the Galaxy C9 Pro hits a number of obvious targets, and will appeal to a lot of people for a lot of different reasons.
While great on its own, this phone isn't quite as powerful as the OnePlus 3T. The Moto Z is also more powerful, and Samsung isn't even trying to compete with the whole Moto Mods ecosystem. As good a phone as the Galaxy C9 Pro is, Samsung is really banking on brand power and buzz-worthy specifications here.
It's also worth noting that the C9 Pro is positioned only slightly below the Galaxy S7. Last year's flagship is superior in terms of style, performance, camera quality, battery life and ruggedness, which all seem like good enough reasons for us to recommend spending an extra Rs. 6,500. Of course, if you can wait a month or so, we'll see how Samsung adjusts the prices of both these models once the Galaxy S8 is announced.