Early Verdict: Anyone that has counted Cherry out of the mobile phone game is in for a shock this year, with the local brand debuting one of its most competitive budget phones ever: the Cherry Mobile Aqua S9 Max.
It’s one of the best hero phones from the local brand to date, offering compelling features while keeping the price at under Php 10k.
The Aqua S9 Max is priced at Php 9,999.
- Powerful Helio G90T processor
- Better camera and display hardware vs last year’s Flare S8 Plus
- Competitively priced
- Looks very similar to a certain phone
- A bit on the thick and heavy side
Cherry’s Mobile phone division was relatively quiet this year, with the brand concentrating on IoT and health-related releases during the year of the pandemic. That’s all changed with the announcement and release of the new bang-for-the-buck Aqua S9 Max–a phone packed with enough value that it’s competitive with devices like the POCO M3. Today we’ll be taking a quick look at the new phone and see if it’s really worth the hype:
Unboxing and contents
Staying true to its Aqua branding, you get a dark green box with Cherry Mobile’s new branding on the front, along with a photo of the phone. The back of the details the Aqua S9 Max’s key features, headlined by its Helio G90T processor.
Inside the box, you have the phone itself in Jade Green, headset, USB-C cable, 18w charger, SIM ejector tool, quick start guide, and a tempered glass screen protector. You are not getting a jelly case with the Aqua S9 Max, but the tempered glass inclusion is very much welcome.
No sense beating around the bust here: the Aqua S9 Max is almost identical to the design of Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 8 Pro. The only thing that’ll clue you in about the phone’s real identity is the Cherry Mobile logo printed on the bottom, as well as the additional text located right below the fingerprint scanner.
It’s not a 1:1 copy though–the Aqua S9 Max is a tad thicker than the Redmi Note 8 Pro thanks to the bigger 5130mAh battery inside–which partly explains why it has a less pronounced camera bump.
The polycarbonate frame has a glossy finish, and you get the same finish for its Gorilla Glass-3 protected back panel. That being said, the Aqua S9 Max is both thick and heavy–that might turn off some, but having a large battery is more than makeup for the added girth.
Like the Redmi Note 8 Pro, the Aqua S9 Max has a centrally placed camera module housing three cameras and the fingerprint scanner, while another camera and the LED flash is placed right beside it.
Port and layout is also typical of most budget smartphones: SIM tray on the left side, power and volume control on the right, and USB-C port, headphone jack, and loudspeaker at the bottom.
Up front, you get a 6.53-inch display with a waterdrop notch that is home to a 32-megapixel f/2.0 selfie snapper. You get a Full HD+ resolution on the Aqua S9 Max, along with a thin bottom bezel, making it up to par with current budget phones.
As far as the panel is concerned, colors look great and brightness levels are better than previous Cherry Mobile phones. Blacks are deeper as well, which shows that Cherry Mobile this time gave emphasis on equipping its latest hero phone with a better IPS panel.
The only thing missing with the Aqua S9 Max’s display is that it only has Widevine L3, so you are limited to watching Netflix videos in SD–nonetheless, you can still enjoy YouTube videos in Full HD.
For the first time, Cherry Mobile is joining the high-megapixel race with the Aqua S9 Max. Its quad-rear camera setup is led by a 48-megapixel f/1.8 IMX582 main camera, which can shoot videos in 4K and shoot 108-megapixel photos through software interpolation.
Accompanying it is an 8-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide-angle camera, 2-megapixel f/2.2 depth sensor, and a 2-megapixel f/2.2 macro camera.
Compared to last year’s Flare S8 Plus, you are getting a better camera setup with the Aqua S9 Max, and its added features like 4K video recording make it competitive against the current crop of offerings at the sub-Php 10k segment.
When it comes to internals, the Aqua S9 Max marks the first time Cherry Mobile is using MediaTek’s Helio G-series processor. While it has less RAM compared to last year’s Flare S8 Plus, the Aqua S9 Max makes up for it with a more powerful Helio G90T processor. As MediaTek’s top-tier 4G processor in the Helio G-series, the 12nm-based Helio G90T provides a big performance boost compared to the Helio P70 used on the Flare S8 Plus.
We are very familiar with the performance of the Helio G90T, and we expect the Aqua S9 Max to run games like Asphalt 9 and NBA 2K20 smoothly even at the highest possible graphics settings. The Aqua S9 Max also comes with liquid cooling to keep temperatures stable, which did a good job while we played Asphalt 9 competitively for an hour.
Big performance upgrade aside, the Aqua S9 Max also gets a big upgrade in the battery department with its 5130mAh cell. Topping that up is done via 18w wired charging–the fastest charging speed on a Cherry Mobile phone so far. While it is not as fast as other fast charging solutions, 18w wired charging is a good minimum for 2020 budget phone standards.
Cherry Mobile wants to end 2020 with a big bang, and the Aqua S9 Max is solid proof that the Pinoy brand is still up for a fight in the highly-contested under-Php 10k segment. It also helps that the Aqua S9 Max’s Php 9,999 SRP is more competitive compared to last year’s Php 12,900 SRP for the Flare S8 Plus.
With the Aqua rebranding for Cherry Mobile’s hero phones, we are looking forward to what Cherry Mobile has in store–including its plans to launch an affordable 5G phone in the future.