Samsung Galaxy S9
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It’s no surprise that Samsung announced a new flagship at MWC 2018 and it’s even less of a shock that it’s called the Galaxy S9. The S8 was almost a perfect phone so can Samsung really make it even better? Read on to find out.
It’s immediately clear that the Galaxy S9 is very much a new version of the S8, rather than a radically new
device. Like a point upgrade in software terms if you like, so this is essentially the Galaxy S8.1.
With an almost identical design to its predecessor you’d be hard pressed to notice the difference, especially from the front – the bezels above and below the screen are a fraction smaller. The device is also a little shorter than the S8 and it’s a bit thicker and heavier at 8.5mm and 163g, but none of these are things you’ll really notice.
At the rear, the change is more obvious with the fingerprint scanner moving to below the camera. Samsung clearly listened to feedback on this, so not only does it look nicer, it’s also much easier to reach and use. You might still smudge the camera up occasionally but it’s bound to happen far less.
Initially there will be three colours to choose from: Midnight Black, Coral Blue and a new Lilac Purple. We’ve also spotted what looks like Samsung’s Orchid Grey (see below) colour in some images, so perhaps this will arrive at a later date.
As we’ve touched upon, the Galaxy S9’s design isn’t very different in design from its predecessor, so is it a big jump in specs and new technology? Well not really, but Samsung has made improvement to what was already a very impressive smartphone.
The screen is one area that hasn’t changed since the Galaxy S8, so it’s still 5.8in on the regular model and jumps to 6.2in if you get the S9+ ( page 21). Both phones have the curved Infinity Display, so you only need to choose which size you want.
Samsung is sticking to its 18.5:9 aspect ratio, Quad HD+ resolution and Super AMOLED technology. It’s still one of the best screens on the market and compared to our S8, looks a little brighter.
Processor, memory and storage
With a new flagship comes a new processor and Samsung has fitted the Galaxy S9 with a new Exynos 8910 processor. It’s still an octa-core chip with four 1.7GHz efficiency cores, but the faster four have jumped from 2.4- to 2.7GHz. We’re confident the new SoC is perfectly capable of handling all you can throw at it, especially as we didn’t have any issues with the Galaxy S8 or earlier models.
Like the Galaxy S8, you get 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, and although you can find more elsewhere (even in cheaper phones like the OnePlus 5T) it should be enough for most people. If it’s not enough storage, then there’s a 256GB option and a
microSD card slot that can now take up to 400GB. If you are more of a power user, then the S9+ has 6GB of RAM with the same storage options.
Connectivity and Audio
There’s not much Samsung or other manufacturers can do to improve connectivity on a 2018 flagship smartphone. Like the S8, the S9 has all the things you’d expect, including 11ac dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, GPS, USB-C, and a headphone port. Sadly there’s no Quad DAC like the LG V30, but Samsung has improved the audio in terms of the speakers. There are now stereo speakers, with the usual down firing one on the bottom and another where the earpiece is above the screen.
It might sound a little odd with both firing in different directions, but we’ll take it over a mono speaker any day. There’s still tuning from AKG and this time Samsung has also added Dolby Atmos, which you can toggle for a bigger, more spacious soundscape.
Fingerprint and Iris scanners
The fingerprint scanner has been moved to a more convenient location below the camera. It’s also easier to register each new finger according to Samsung with only three swipes rather than many more touches needed previously. We’d rather the Galaxy S9 had the fingerprint scanner embedded in the screen as the tech is out there but it seems we’ll have to wait.
Samsung hasn’t explicitly said the iris scanner is better than before, which is a shame, but the firm is keen to point out that it’s embedded in the front of
the phone without a notch like the iPhone X. There’s also a new Intelligent Scan option, which combines iris and facial scanning. We’re keen to try this out when we have a sample in for review.
The biggest change on the S9 comes in the camera tech, as teased by Samsung before the launch with its ‘The Camera. Reimagined’ campaign.
Sadly, it’s the S9 that’s not as impressive as you’ll have to get the S9+ to get a dual-camera setup. We’d like to see dual-cameras as standard on both phones, but it’s understandable that Samsung wants more than just size to differentiate the two.
Still, the S9’s camera is improved from before even though it remains at 12Mp with 1.4μm pixels and
OIS. The main upgrade is an adjustable aperture that can go down to f/1.5 – the best of any phone on the market. Samsung was already the leader at f/1.7, but now the phone lets in 28 percent more light.
We need to test it out properly in the real world, but the idea here is that the phone automatically adjusts between f/1.5 and f/2.4 depending on the shooting conditions. The phone’s mechanical-like DSLR camera should mean better results in both daylight and low light.
What Samsung calls the Super Speed Dual Pixel package now has DRAM so it can do things faster and more intelligently. The camera now takes 12 shots together instead of three to improve noise by 30 percent. Furthermore, the S9 can now match Sony’s flagship Xperia phones and shoot super slow motion video at a whopping 960fps. That means 0.2 seconds
in real life becomes six seconds of video and Samsung has some clever technology to make it easier to make great slow-motion videos.
With Sony’s phones we found it hard to press the super slow-mo button at the right time while recording a video of something that happens very quickly, like a balloon popping. Since 960fps can only be switched on in a short burst, it’s easy to miss the moment.
The S9 has an auto detect function, so you can tell the phone where within the shot to watch for movement. As soon as it does, it will kick into the super slow motion. You can then share as a gif, do things such as reverse the video and even set it as a moving lock screen wallpaper.
We’re still not totally convinced by Bixby, but the camera part, Bixby Vision, has been improved and can now do live translation, better place recognition and more food features, such as calories and recipes. The latter will be market dependant.
After some hands-on time we’re pretty impressed and there’s more to talk about with the front camera, which remains at 8Mp with an f/1.7 aperture but on the software side Samsung has created AR Emoji to provide users with something similar to Apple’s Animoji feature.
Instead of the phone tracking your face to animate various animals and the like, you take a photo of yourself and the S9 will create an emoji that looks like you – 18 animated gifs are automatically generated, though you can make your own custom ones. And you can send them to anyone, not just those who also happen to have an S9.
We haven’t had a chance to test the Galaxy S9‘s battery life, but what we can say is that we’re not expecting a huge change compared to the S8.
This is because the battery remains at 3,000mAh and Samsung has not made any claims on the subject. The Galaxy S9 will offer fast charging via the USB-C port and with wireless charging.
As you would expect, the Galaxy S9 phones come with Android 8 Oreo and Samsung’s own user interface. There’s not a huge change in the way things work compared to before, but that’s to be expected.
There are still preloaded apps from Google and Microsoft, but Samsung has made a few tweaks here and there to tighten up the experience.
For those using various different Samsung apps for other devices, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s
now one app to rule them all. SmartThings is now the one place where you can manage all your devices and it will also do useful things like provide your new Samsung TV, for example, with the Wi-Fi details and logins to all your services.
There are improvements to Bixby – you can, for example, use the phone in landscape mode, whether you’re browsing the home screen panels or your apps. When you are, notifications will pop up at the top, but in an unintrusive way.
There’s also a new DeX dock (pictured opposite), so you can connect the phone to a monitor and use it like a PC. This time it’s flat, so you can use the screen as a trackpad or even keyboard.
So the Galaxy S9 is only a small upgrade compared to the S8 so existing users might not feel the need to upgrade. This could be a trend in 2018 as makers struggle to find big innovations. The camera is the main improvement here but it’s the S9+ that has the far more interesting dual-lens setup. Still, Samsung has improved an already elite smartphone so we’re feeling positive after some hands-on time. Chris Martin
• 5.8in (2960x1440, 570ppi) Super AMOLED capacitive display
• Android 8.0 Oreo
• Exynos 9810 Octa processor
• Octa-core 4x 2.8GHz Mongoose M3 and 4x 1.7GHz Cortex-A55 CPU
• Mali-G72 MP18 GPU
• 4GB RAM
• 64/128/256GB storage, microSD up to 256GB
• Iris/fingerprint scanner
• 12Mp rear-facing camera: (f/1.5-2.4, 26mm, 1/2.5in, 1.4μm, Dual Pixel PDAF), phase detection autofocus, OIS, LED flash
• 8Mp front-facing camera: f/1.7, autofocus, 1440p, dual video call, Auto HDR
• 802.11ac Wi-Fi
• Bluetooth 5.0
• A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO
• Micro-USB 3.1 Type-C
• Non-removable lithium-ion 3,000mAh battery
The S9 will be available in four colours
The Intelligent Scan option combines iris and facial scanning
The phone’s camera comes with some clever technology
The new DeX dock