This is our full Samsung Galaxy S9+ review; we have spent more than 9 days using it exclusively as our daily driver across two continents.
It’s interesting when a company uses a bold statement like: “The camera reimagined,” all while referring to a smartphone. It actually took me a few days to understand the purpose for a camera to be added to my Motorola V600 back in 2004. Fast forward to 2018, and I find it amazing that me and my colleagues from other publications all rely on our phones for most of the photography that you see. Phones have changed. Phone cameras have changed. Times, and the players that lead these times, have also changed.
Samsung now leads the market, and its approach to its Galaxy S lineup has focused on creating the best all-rounder. That device that’s not necessarily the best at just one thing, but instead great at everything. The Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S8 both did an amazing job at winning that category, and now it’s time for the new kid on the block to prove itself.
Now, an interesting thing to note is that Samsung is not dubbing this “the smartphone reimagined,” and spent very little time telling us about the reasons why the Galaxy S9 is unique as a phone. Fact of the matter is, this phone is unique, and it also isn’t. In the past week of testing, the most common thing I’ve heard from friends is their personal debate over upgrading. They call this the “Galaxy S8S Plus”. My answer has always been that the statement is not necessarily true. The “Plus,” actually means something now.
Read our Samsung Galaxy S9+ review below to learn more!
Let’s get the first fact off our backs right now: yes, the design is very similar to the Galaxy S8+, but notice I just said “similar.” The use of glass on glass and sexy curves stays around for another year, with the aluminum trim now going matte instead of glossy. Weight distribution has also changed, with this phone feeling slightly heavier as a result. As for color options, I’d definitely recommend you pick Coral Blue, Titanium Gray or Lilac Purple. This Midnight Black is unapologetic about its love for fingerprints and smudges. Other than that, the real highlight of this phone is that you can grab the list of hardware complaints you had with the S8+ and just throw it in the trash. Yes, just do it!
Remember that con of this being just a bloated S8? Gone. Differences in the spec sheet to the regular S9 include 6GB of RAM instead of 4; a dual camera module instead of single, which we’ll discuss later; and a 16% larger battery. In everything else, the power list is the same. A new Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 or Samsung Exynos 9810 powers the show depending on your region. Options that start at 64GB of expandable storage. IP68 water and dust resistance make a return for added convenience. A fast charger through USB-C comes in the box, and fast wireless charging is supported if you have the right hardware. And, for the purpose of this Galaxy S9+ review, I’m even going to call the inclusion of a headphone jack a feature, since this is one of the few flagships left that hasn’t succumbed to the preposterous trend of competitors.
Remember that design complaint of the annoying placement of the fingerprint scanner? That’s fixed too. It’s now placed below the camera, at the same height of competitors, and with a minor hump to help you know it’s there. The scanner is smaller than others, and also not as pronounced, but I’ll take it over another year of gripping strain trying to reach the previous one on such a large phone.
Samsung’s 6.2-inch AMOLED Infinity Display makes a return with QuadHD+ resolution capabilities. It once again comes set for FullHD+ resolution out of the box, and I haven’t really felt the need to change it. This screen is seriously gorgeous, though as with every OLED, a minor shift towards green is visible when you tilt the phone. I’m not the one to complain about that, though, as regular usage doesn’t really call for tilting a phone during normal usage. I love that the minor bezels are still black, regardless of your color variant, making the experience more immersive. And since this phablet is mostly sold to serve the purpose of content consumption, the other complaint of Galaxy flagships not sporting stereo speakers is also gone. The earpiece and the speaker are now tuned by AKG, providing support Dolby ATMOS sound, and are plenty loud.
Samsung Experience 9 is now tasked with making all the hardware take a step back, on top of Android 8.0 Oreo. Yes, no typos here intended for this Galaxy S9+ review, or involuntary. It’s a full version of Android behind. Sad indeed given the battery optimizations of Android 8.1, but it seems to be the price you pay for this Galaxy to feel like one.
In all honesty, I can’t even tell much of a difference between using this and last year’s variant, and that’s not necessarily bad. The user interface is exactly the same, and theming capabilities are still here. The launcher now supports the 5 x 6 icon density that I praised from the Galaxy Note8.
Samsung claims a new approach to multi-tasking where you can react to a notification and turn it into a pop-up window for quick responses, but that seems to only work on Galaxy apps. Hopefully it extends to other apps over time. No worries, standard Android multitasking is still here.
The company spent a great deal talking about Bixby improvements. I will tell you this is still not Bixby 2.0, and even so, I do notice it’s been enhanced with a ton of AR features. Bixby Vision can now translate things instantly for you, which is quite convenient when you travel, though we know it’s not unique. It can even tell you how a set of new makeup will look on your face, though I’m definitely not the target audience. Bixby is even said to be capable of detecting the calorie information of the food you eat, though even that’s hard to be determined in real life. AR will tell the camera what food item this is, but the result won’t be based on the actual item you’re about to eat. I apologize my “buts” on each feature, “but” let’s face it, most of these updates are just theoretically useful.
In Bixby’s defense, the more I use it, the less I complain about having a button for it. I still consider this to be one of the most complete digital assistants in the market, and we have a separate video detailing what.
AR Emoji is a new trick where your face becomes your new form of digital expression. I’d call it more like digital Bitmoji. It’s definitely better than using an animal like competitors, and that’s also theoretical. Sadly the implementation is not so good. This is definitely not my face, and it doesn’t really sync with your face when wanting to send a video of it as well as competitors do. The stickers are cool to have, but I doubt you’ll use this much after the first day.
Samsung is also making a big deal about consolidating its ecosystem and letting you connect this phone to Samsung’s SmartThings to share data, but that’ll be something we’ll test in the future.
…and then the most important feature: “The Camera, Reimagined.” Samsung has a fair amount of experience in dual aperture cameras, and has ported the technology to the Galaxy S9. In theory the idea is for the primary 12 megapixel camera to go for narrower aperture in bright light at f2.4, and go to the brightest aperture in a smartphone camera today at f1.5, when in low light. The secondary telephoto camera remains normal at f2.4, but both sport OIS and EIS capabilities. Find some Galaxy S9+ review camera samples below for your viewing pleasure.
Photos are gorgeous during the day. Definitely no less than what we expected from a Galaxy. Close ups provide an insane amounts detail, saturation and contrast, even when you pull the photos off the phone.
Also, it’s definitely no Pixel for portrait photos, but I love the versatility of giving you options to apply focus after the fact, or to stick with the wide shot if things went bad.
Low light is where things get interesting. The phone does an amazing job at pulling in color and detail in very dark scenarios. But the catch is that once you try to photograph moving subjects, it sometimes struggles. Not always, but I’d say 3 out of 10 times. Usually what I’ve told friends with previous Galaxy phones is to just trust the phone, even if the viewfinder seems grainy… but not here. It could be that the variable aperture needs a software update for a faster shutter in moving scenarios.
Video recording is great. Love the detail. Love stabilization using the primary camera when walking. Love that you can now record 4K at 60fps, something that not even the cameras we have in the studio can do. Using the zoom lens is convenient, but the transition is a bit harsh, and it tends to play around with the focus on closer subjects. And then selfie video recording is.. ok.. it’s definitely more stable than competitors, but you’ll need a selfie stick as the field of view is atrocious.
Now, another hallmark feature of this phone is the Ultra Slow-Mo. There’s even a DRAM chip built in to enable what Samsung calls the Super Speed Dual Image Sensor. The results are cool for the most part. It definitely adds a cool effect to the clip. Just a few pointers: the auto mode is not good. It asks you to keep steady, but doesn’t always detect moving subjects. My advice is go manual and just tell the camera when you want it to go slow. It looks a bit jagged, but that’s because it’s 720p. Also, don’t count on it for low light, but that’s standard across all phones that do good slow mo.
I’ve been testing the device for 9 days between Barcelona and New York, in order to have the best possible overview for this Galaxy S9+ review. This phone has proven to connect really well to networks, and provide great data speeds. I also praise the loudness of phone calls; a serious improvement over last year’s model.
Remember that complaint of this being a phablet with terrible battery? Believe it or not, that’s gone too. Endurance has definitely improved. This is definitely no KEYone, but I end the day with at least 30% to spare after moderate to heavy use.
Like all Samsung Phones, the UI performs great out of the box. Even after loading 140 apps I haven’t noticed any slow downs. Games also play great, and we praise that Game Launcher makes a return to optimize for their use. We just hope it ages the same way, and we’ll share more information in our After The Buzz later this year.
Samsung’s Intelligent Scan plans to blend facial recognition with Iris Scanning for some true biometric security. This is probably one of the features I praised most when announced, but in the real world I feel it needs improvements. It doesn’t really work well in low light, or when I’m wearing sunglasses. The combination of both services is genius, but iris scanning requires facial alignment, and the phone doesn’t make it evident that you need to do this. A software update allowing the facial masks to extend beyond Iris Scanning would be awesome. Still, I won’t really call this a con, as the fingerprint scanner is still here to save the day when needed.
Pricing & Availability
When it comes to pricing, it really depends on the carrier you choose in the US. Buying it unlocked seems to be the best deal, starting at $839.99, but those locked to a carrier might want to see what upgrade options you have available. Also, if you are in Europe, the price might be even steeper, going as high as 849,00€, which still isn’t iPhone X territory yet, but guaranteed to burn a hole in your pocket.
To conclude our Samsung Galaxy S9+ review, I think it’s important to point out why this phone exists. Samsung really wants to offer the full package. The best all rounder. A phone that excels in everything, and that’s also delightful to use. In that respect, I think the company has succeeded. The whole concept of the camera re-imagined is not necessarily accurate, but it’s not like if the photos were bad. They’re mostly awesome.
I really like it when a company can be humble about feedback, and return with a product that pushes the bar of innovation, all while also addressing complaints. There’s no such thing as a perfect product, and my feedback would be mostly focused on launching a phone that’s not already lagging behind in the latest version of Android; that the AR Emoji definitely needs work, and that Intelligent Scan should improve in all conditions. The cool part is that two of these complaints are optional, and all three can be fixed with a software update.
In everything else, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ is a great phone. Once again, what I’d call the best all rounder that delivers on all the most important features a consumer wants from a flagship. Definitely the phone I’d recommend you give a try in 2018.