Samsung Galaxy S9
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Samsung’s Galaxy S9 is the first flagship to hit the market in 2018. 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 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+. 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.
As previously, you can take advantage of features such as the Edge screen, where you can swipe in from the side and flick through various panels of things like popular contacts, apps and more. There’s also the always on feature, which displays important information on the lock screen when the phone is off.
There are plenty more smaller features, many of which have been around a long time, hidden away in the settings menu, so it’s worth exploring what the S9 can do, especially if this is your first Galaxy device.
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.
As you can see from the benchmark results, the Exynos outpaces the Snapdragon 845 a little bit (figures via Qualcomm’s reference design), but neither can match the raw power of the iPhone’s A11 chip. We’ve included the OnePlus 5T so you can get an idea of the performance on offer at a much lower price.
It’s important to note that performance isn’t an issue here and the S9 is clearly capable of handling all you can throw at it.
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 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.
Unlike most, Samsung continues to offer heart rate monitor. The S9 can reach 4G speeds of 1.2Gb/s, which is impressive, but in real life you’re not going to see that. There’s no Quad DAC for better headphone audio like the LG V30, but Samsung has improved the
speakers on the S9. There are now stereo speakers with the usual down firing one on the bottom and now one where the earpiece is above the screen.
It’s the same setup Apple uses for recent iPhones, and also one Sony has adopted with the XZ2.
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.
There’s a noticeable improvement compared to the S8, particularly in the on-board speakers. They’ve got a lot more power but aren’t flawless, with the audio quality getting a bit rough at higher volumes. We do like the optional Dolby Atmos mode, which can make content a lot more immersive, especially video.
It’s worth noting that the supplied AKG headphones are very good, so most users won’t be rushing out to find a replacement pair.
Samsung’s upgrades in the audio department are welcome, but the S9 isn’t the best phone around for audio – that’s still the LG V30.
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 actually managed to register two fingers in just two swipes each. The fingerprint scanner is quick (not the fastest around, but plenty fast enough) and accurate and can now
be used to pull the notification panel down – just switch it on in the settings.
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.
One thing is for sure, there’s a dramatic improvement over previous iterations. Generally, it works quite well, but it’s not as consistent compared to rival phones just doing face unlock. Even switching
to just facial scanning it’s not as good as phones like the iPhone X and OnePlus 5T.
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.
Huawei temporarily had the fastest lenses (on the Mate 10 Pro) at f/1.6, but the S9’s lens now lets in 28 percent more light than on the S8.
The iris is mechanical like a DSLR camera and 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. DxO has awarded the Galaxy S9+ a score of 99 for the camera, the highest of a phone to date. The regular model might not have the telephoto lens but it’s still excellent on its own.
You can see a landscape image and a photo taken in low light overleaf. The Galaxy S9 might not be
doing the same level of clever software processing that makes images look great on the Pixel 2 phones, but it’s still very impressive.
Overall, the S9 has a camera that can achieve excellent results in all conditions, partly thanks to that dual aperture. You get crisp shots in decent light – although some can be a little washed out like our shot of St. Pancras (opposite) – stunning detail in macro and most noteworthy is how well it copes in low light, without excessive levels of noise.
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.
Super slow motion
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 tech 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 such as 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. You can also shoot in manual mode, selecting when you want to do the slow motion shooting which is easier for some situations. In either mode, you can shoot 20 different slow-mo sections within one video.
Sony’s new Xperia XZ2 phones might be able to do 960fps in 1080p, but we’d rather have the functionality offered by the S9 to make better content in 720p.
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 (although there are some
to choose from), you take a photo of yourself and the S9 will create an emoji that looks like you.
It’s quick and easy, though we’re not exactly blown away with the likeness (and it cannot handle beards at all) – the three colleagues we got to try it were all given very similar characters. You can edit them a bit to help and choose from one that incorporates the selfie you took or a more cartoon option. Once you’re done 18 animated gifs are automatically generated and you can send them to anyone, not just those who also happen to have an S9. They’re pretty cool and easy to access via the default keyboard. However, one of the ideas is that you can animate the character yourself, but doing this is extremely glitchy and the emoji of you spends most of the time flinching. The tracking on the iPhone X is leagues ahead. It might be fun but let’s face it, this is another gimmick feature just like Animoji.
It’s a shame 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, though. With the supplied charger, we managed to charge the S9 from 0- to 36 percent in 30 minutes. That’s pretty good, although the HTC U11+ beats it slightly at 38 percent.
With no change in battery capacity, it’s no surprise that the phone isn’t going to last you any longer than before. The S9 will last a day of average usage and perhaps a little bit longer for light users. Fast wired and wireless charging will help you keep it topped up.
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.
We’re going to have to wait for big jumps in technology, but although the Galaxy S9 only brings a disappointingly small bunch of minor improvements it’s still an amazing smartphone that will be hard to beat in 2018. Samsung has expertly combined design, hardware and software to make a phone that will
appeal to all kinds of users. The incremental updates will mean S8 users might struggle to justify upgrading. However, those on an S7 or earlier Galaxy will notice a huge difference. But might want to simply grab the S8 at a lower price. 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
• 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