Cherry Mobile Aqua S9 review
The Cherry Mobile Aqua S9 is something of what I call “underestimated”. Sure it does not look appealing with its outdated SC9863A processor and a camera system that seems underwhelming. Looking at the phone, it looks a lot of other phones out there, and, at least according to some, the ugly “Cherry Mobile” wording at the back. But as the saying goes “do not judge a book by its cover”. This ultra budget phone is actually better than what other people seem to think.
If you haven’t, you can check out my video review of the phone here. Or, you can keep reading.
The box slides downwards, and when you open it, you’ll immediately see the phone itself. The unit we have is the AQUA BLUE version, but in Cherry’s official store in Lazada and Shopee you could choose a variety of colours: from Jade Green, Flare Red, Aqua Blue, Fusion Sky and finally Black. Yes, Cherry mobile gives you a free sim card with 1.5GB of data for internet surfing.
Underneath the box, you will find the power brick, USB-C cable, SIM ejector tool, headphones and finally a clear hard case.
The phone has a 720p HD+ 6.52in display with a waterdrop notch cut-out. At the top, there houses the USB-C (that’s right, you heard me, USB-C in an ultra-budget phone!) and the headphone jack. At the bottom there is your speaker and microphone. On the left, the SIM Card Tray and on the right, we have the power button and volume rocker.
Looking at the back, the phone has a clean, “sun ray” pattern to it this is also where the 13mp quad camera array sits. One thing you’ll notice is that there is no fingerprint reader, which was included in the Flare S8, this has been replaced with a facial scanner instead. On the other hand, the flare s8 does not support face unlock.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s get to the software side of the device.
When I turned on the phone for the first time, there is no bloatware. The only apps you see installed (other than Google Apps) are those I downloaded from the Play Store. These are all my pre-installed apps and games, which some I used for testing. Other than the apps in this folder, there are no other bloatware.
Also, because it’s vanilla android 10, don’t expect gestures like “three-fingered screenshot” or “O-gesture camera” or any other custom gestures, you won’t get them here.
Unlike Flare S8, the Aqua S9’s home screen is much cleaner than the previous iteration and is not cluttered, I hope this clean UI continues in the future.
The Home settings are your usual vanilla android. Coming with options to change desktop grid, allow for home screen notifications, change some features and make the home screen dual, or single layer, to name a few.
Turning it on for the first time, I was concerned that it came packaged with nearly 80% battery, which means the phone might have been tampered with (cause phones normally pack with around 50% battery), however upon checking AnTuTu’s battery test, it seems this isn’t the case thankfully.
Also, you also get the iconic Cherry Mobile Tune when booting up. For some users, this could be an embarrassment or a nuisance but for me, I like the tone, it is a signature to Cherry Mobile. I think they just have to update it a bit to make it feel “modern”
There are also built-in wallpapers from Cherry Mobile, they are colourful and have many creative patterns and lines.
The phone comes with 4G LTE with its Dual SIM Card Slot and dedicated SD Card Slot. It does not support 5G Wi-Fi however, partly due to its old processor. It does support 2.4G though.
In terms of signal strength, it is pretty good, with, so far, only minor infractions in online games like ML. When the connection is stable, the phone’s Wi-Fi is also stable and does not seem to get weak so as long you’re within range of the modem.
For data connections, it depends on the location and the network provider. Given that you are in a location where there is a strong signal, the phone will connect and respond well to those signals. The phone supports 4G and LTE so a good data connection is ensured.
Like I said earlier, it comes with a USB-C. That’s right a budget phone, below 5k that has USB-C. I hope that other brands would follow suit
Did we forget to mention it comes with a free Cherry SIM Card too?
Both the headphone jack and USB-C are situated on top.
The phone comes with a 720p HD Display, IPS LCD and 20:9 screen ratio. Interestingly, it already has a screen protector built in. Recently, Cherry listed the screen protector for the Aqua S9 on Shopee, which is purchasable through this link.
When playing a game and you got used to 1080p, you might feel that the game is a little pixelated, just like the Flare S8. However, the more you use it, the more your eyes get used to the screen, so I hope it does not make you a bit uncomfortable.
Because it is an LCD screen, expect that you will have good contrasts and sharpness, good viewing angles and in conditions where there is decent lighting, the screen is very bright at maximum brightness.
The phone is definitely good for reading. It has accurate blacks, and as previously mentioned, great contrasts and sharpness. The blacks shine when you put the phone under dark mode and the text looks crispy and is easy to read.
It has a 269 pixel per inch (ppi) density, so naturally, it won’t be as bright in contrast to phones with higher pixel density when viewing under sunlight. This is also the reason why the phone stayed in 720p, cause having it in 1080 would mean that pixels would be more visible.
The screen is bright under good lighting indoors and outdoors. Do not use the phone under direct sunlight because the colours of it get washed away. Although vibrant, for me, it’s not as vibrant in contrast to other phones with the same price range. It does not detract and still is a very usable phone outside of those small nitpicks.
There is also an option called “Eye comfort” that helps you prevent eye strains by reducing blue light. Other than that, there is no other way to adjust the screen’s colours and contrasts without the use of a third party app.
Speaking of the notification slider, it is the default one you would see in other stock android. The device is not part of the Android One program, but it uses the stock version of Android with barely any changes to its settings.
The pencil icon below lets you move and insert new quick widgets for the pull-down notifications. Some third party apps may also have them for convenience.
Just like Flare S8, the speakers are loud, though it’s not the loudest I’ve heard, there are phones out there with definitely better audio. However, for a price of 4k, it’s more than decent and an average user might not tell a difference. (Hell, I can barely tell the difference between this and the Redmi Note 9, except that the Redmi Note 9 is slightly louder). The phone has rich sound, but the quality degrades slightly at max volume. For the price, it is acceptable. It’s not an LG phone by any means, but an average person cannot tell a difference between this and a phone that is priced around 6,000php
Opening the camera UI, you will see that it is plain and simple. Let’s go first to the Camera UI.
The UI itself is plain and simple. It almost reminded me of the old EMUI camera UI. Swiping left and you can see different camera modes, from night shot to manual and portrait.
There is a quad camera setup at the back and a single 8mp shooter at the front. The main camera is 13mp that is powered by a Sony IMX214 sensor, along with your usual ingredients of Depth, AI Lens and Monochrome. There is no ultrawide, telephoto nor macro, but that is something to expect at 4,000php
Technically, there is only one camera, which is the 13mp main sensor. The others are there mainly for enhancement so don’t be fooled by salespeople saying there are four.
HDR VS NORMAL
In comparison to Auto Mode (left), the HDR mode (right) tend to ramp up the highlights where it needs be. It also improves shadows and has slightly more accurate whites and blacks. A brighter image is still an improved image nonetheless.
The phone has a dedicated night mode, called “night shot” It amplifies night images for a much brighter view.
Unfortunately, this is the phone’s biggest weakness. Using the auto mode, the image is washed out, is very dark and grainy and the image overall is soft. Not the best phone in taking night images.
The night mode may have fixed the brightness and lighting, but the image still feels like a painting. Colours are still washed out, but is now brighter and you could tell more from the image.
Even then, I don’t recommend shooting at night, but again, you should also still consider the price tag.
There is scene recognition in Auto/AI mode, and from there, the phone can tell what you are trying to capture; from leaves and buildings to a grand cityscape and even food. The AI can also identify whether you’re trying to shoot at night, and it automatically enhances and adjust the images for you post processing.
If you find the manual mode at the left, you can see that there is no way to adjust shutter speed or aperture, although there are options to change White Balance (albeit just presets) ISO (up to 1600) and Exposure Value (-3/+3). Additionally, you can adjust the contrast and saturation (that’s what the “Customize” button is for). You can also adjust the metering. Aperture could manually be adjusted in Portrait mode though.
The front camera uses an 8mp sensor, so I tried and used it. As you can see below, I’m not really good at taking selfies, and I’m not a fan of it either.
Anyway, the selfie shots are not that bad honestly, though, for me, the focal length is too close, maybe a little farther and it would be decent, after all, it is a “wide” camera. Once again colours are decent and could even be likened to those of 6,000php and above
The Aqua S9 also lets you take panorama shots. You can take a panorama shot horizontally or vertically but you cannot change the direction. It only goes left to right.
In terms of its quality, the picture itself is decent, although there are stitches when zoomed in, although not as obvious when viewed normally. I was already very steady and careful when I attempted the panorama mode by hand.
We also tested the Portrait Mode. It’s a hit or miss. It could detect the background okay, but it struggles at low light. Also, the effect feels artificial. However in areas where light is adequate, it does a good job separating the background from the foreground, not the best, but passable for social media. Take note that the phone could not use portrait mode on objects, and it only detects faces.
Click the button below to see our video, performance and battery test!