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★★★★★ £739 • From www.ama­zon.co.uk

Computer Shopper - - CONTENTS - Nathan Spen­de­low

With the Galaxy S9, Sam­sung has left the de­sign mostly un­touched in favour of up­grad­ing the rear cam­era. The re­sult­ing shots look fantastic, but it needs more than that to jus­tify its ti­tanic price

VER­DICT

An im­pres­sive phone with a su­perla­tive cam­era, but even that isn’t quite worth the money

CHANCES ARE YOU al­ready know at least some­thing about the Sam­sung Galaxy S9: leaks, ru­mours and ed­u­cated guesses have been ram­pant, and there were cer­tainly no gasps of sur­prise when the Galaxy S9 was fi­nally of­fi­cially re­vealed at MWC 2018.

It prob­a­bly didn’t help Sam­sung’s pre-re­lease buzz that the Galaxy S9 looks so much like the Galaxy S8 (Shop­per 353); to an ex­tent, this is a smart­phone that builds on pre­vi­ous suc­cesses, rather than aims for a com­plete rein­ven­tion. De­spite this, it costs £739, mak­ing it even more ex­pen­sive than the in­fa­mously dear iPhone 8.

How­ever, there are two key up­grades here: the new 12-megapixel f/1.5 rear cam­era, which prom­ises to per­form better in low light than the Galaxy S8’s cam­era; and the Exynos 9810 chip, which should of­fer faster per­for­mance.

FA­MIL­IAR FACE

In any case, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing that the gen­eral de­sign is so fa­mil­iar. The Galaxy S8 was an ex­tremely good-look­ing hand­set, and so is this, es­pe­cially now that the top and bot­tom bezels (which were al­ready the only ones re­main­ing) have been shaved off slightly fur­ther. The re­sult is an even higher screen-to-body ra­tio than on the S8.

The screen it­self re­mains 5.8in di­ag­o­nally, with the same high 2,960x1,440 res­o­lu­tion and 18.5:1 as­pect ra­tio – and, since this is one of Sam­sung’s Su­per AMOLED pan­els, it looks fantastic. Our X-Rite colour cal­i­bra­tor found it cov­ered 99.3% of the sRGB colour gamut space, with an av­er­age delta-E of 1.94, which means you can ex­pect bright, ac­cu­rate colour re­pro­duc­tion across the board, al­though im­ages are a tad over­ex­posed in the phone’s de­fault Adap­tive dis­play mode.

AMOLED tech­nol­ogy also de­liv­ers un­beat­able con­trast lev­els – our colourime­ter re­ported a per­fect in­fin­ity:1 score – and the Galaxy S9’s max­i­mum bright­ness reaches a very re­spectable 299cd/m2. Switch on auto bright­ness, and that fig­ure rock­ets up to a blind­ing 996cd/m2.

Along the bot­tom edge you’ll find the same con­nec­tions as the S8, too: a soli­tary USB Type-C port for charg­ing and, mer­ci­fully, a 3.5mm head­phone jack. On the right edge sits the vol­ume rocker and power but­ton, along­side a ded­i­cated but­ton for the Bixby dig­i­tal as­sis­tant, while the com­bined mi­croSD and nano-SIM card slot is placed at the top. All these slots and ports don’t pre­vent the Galaxy S9 be­ing rated to the IP68 for du­s­tand wa­ter-re­sis­tance, ei­ther.

CHIP SHAPE

The real dif­fer­ences from the Galaxy S8 are on the in­side. In the US, the Galaxy S9 includes Qual­comm’s lat­est flag­ship chip, the Snap­dragon 845, but here in the UK, you’ll get Sam­sung’s own octa-core, 2.9GHz Exynos 9810 in­stead, along with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of stor­age.

This re­gional change is fine by us, as the Galaxy S9’s bench­mark scores clearly sur­passed what we saw from the Snap­dragon 845 when we tested the lat­ter at Qual­comm’s of­fices. In GeekBench 4, it recorded a stu­pen­dously high 3,659 in the sin­gle-core test, as well as 8,804 in the mul­ti­core test – so be­sides hav­ing a good chance of best­ing every other An­droid hand­set to be re­leased in the com­ing year, the Galaxy S9 man­ages to im­prove on its im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor’s scores by 45% in the sin­gle-core and 25% in the mul­ti­core test. This is one se­ri­ously quick smart­phone.

GPU per­for­mance is also up on the Galaxy S8: the S9 man­aged 45fps in GFXBench Man­hat­tan’s na­tive-res on­screen test, as well as 77fps in the 1080p off­screen test.

No­tably, it looks as though both Sam­sung and Qual­comm are still hav­ing to play catch-up with Ap­ple in the per­for­mance

stakes, as the iPhone 8 still out­paced the Galaxy S9 in both GeekBench and GFXBench. How­ever, if you’d rather stick with An­droid than switch over to iOS, then this is – and could well be for a while – the most pow­er­ful smart­phone you can go for.

KEEN EYE

All that power takes a toll on bat­tery life, how­ever, and with a sever­ity we haven’t seen on the flag­ship Galaxy phones in a long while. With the screen set to our stan­dard 170cd/m2 bright­ness and flight mode en­gaged, we were able to run our video play­back test for 14h 23m be­fore bat­tery lev­els fell flat. That’s de­cent, but some two-and-a-half hours be­hind the Galaxy S8.

There’s some good news, for­tu­nately: once the bat­tery hits zero, the Galaxy S9 can be fast-charged to full in just un­der an hour and a half.

One sub­tle up­date that makes the Galaxy S9 much more pleas­ant to use is the com­bi­na­tion of the phone’s iris and fa­cial recog­ni­tion sys­tems. The Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus in­tro­duced these bio­met­ric lo­gin tools last year, but the Galaxy S9 brings them to­gether, un­der the name ‘In­tel­li­gent Scan’. If you en­able this, the phone will try to un­lock us­ing one method, and if that fails, it falls back to the other. It’s a sim­ple idea, but we found it greatly re­duced the fre­quency of failed recog­ni­tion at­tempts com­pared to the pre­vi­ous generation. The fin­ger­print en­rol­ment process has also been im­proved, so it now takes only two swipes of your in­dex fin­ger to reg­is­ter in­stead of the 16 dabs it re­quired pre­vi­ously.

Bixby, Sam­sung’s smart­phone AI plat­form, has had an up­grade, too: it can now trans­late text in real time via the rear cam­era. That’s an abil­ity that Google’s Trans­late app has had for years, but we found Sam­sung’s im­ple­men­ta­tion faster and more ac­cu­rate.

OPEN WIDE

Su­per­fi­cially, the Galaxy S9’s cam­era specs are sim­i­lar to what went be­fore: you get a sin­gle 12-megapixel sen­sor with dual-pixel phase-de­tec­tion aut­o­fo­cus and op­ti­cal im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion. As with the Galaxy S8, there’s no sec­ondary 2x tele­photo zoom lens on the reg­u­lar-sized hand­set.

What is new is an f/1.5 aper­ture that’s sig­nif­i­cantly wider than that of the S8. This lets in much more light, bright­en­ing up shots and cap­tur­ing crisper de­tails. You don’t need to do any­thing to get the ben­e­fit: the cam­era widens the aper­ture au­to­mat­i­cally once the light­ing con­di­tions are be­low 100 lux, which is about what you’d get on a gloomy, over­cast day in the UK.

For brighter scenes, the Galaxy S9 can switch to f/2.4 on the fly, so you get a bit more depth of field and don’t have to worry about over­ex­po­sure. Ex­pe­ri­enced pho­tog­ra­phers will be very happy to hear that you can also se­lect the aper­ture size for your­self in the cam­era’s Pro mode.

In use, the Galaxy S9’s wide-aper­ture cam­era per­formed re­mark­ably well. Even in pitch-black con­di­tions of around 1 lux, the cam­era was able to cap­ture a noise-free im­age, with plenty of detail. This is cer­tainly helped by the im­age sig­nalling pro­ces­sor’s abil­ity to shoot 12 frames in quick suc­ces­sion and com­bine them into one prac­ti­cally per­fect im­age.

MO­TION QUICK­NESS

In­deed, put the Galaxy S9’s low-light im­ages side by side with shots from the ex­cel­lent Pixel 2, and the S9’s look even better, with su­pe­rior colour re­pro­duc­tion across the pal­ette. In more cam­era-friendly light­ing con­di­tions, heaps of detail is picked up, and shots are well ex­posed. The HDR sys­tem also does a good job at punch­ing up dark, shad­owy ar­eas and soft­en­ing high­lights.

The video hard­ware gets an up­grade, too. The Galaxy S9 can now record 720p footage at a ridicu­lous 960fps, stretch­ing 0.2 sec­onds of ac­tiv­ity out into six sec­onds of video. It’s ex­tremely easy to set up: sim­ply draw a box on the screen, and the slow-mo­tion recorder will kick in when­ever move­ment is de­tected within that space.

This is also one of the first phones to fea­ture Sam­sung’s an­swer to Ap­ple’s An­i­mo­jis. Un­like the Ap­ple im­ple­men­ta­tion, which maps a pre­de­fined emoji on to your face, Sam­sung’s sys­tem al­lows you to cre­ate your own avatar, Bit­moji-style, and over­lays it on to your face via the IR cam­era. It’s a neat idea, but the re­sults may or may not live up to ex­pec­ta­tions; some­times the re­sult­ing an­i­mated char­ac­ters are de­cent like­nesses of their sub­jects, some­times they clearly mis­judge cer­tain fa­cial fea­tures or hairstyles, and some­times they just look un­set­tling.

FOR­TUNE HUNTER

Even if this isn’t a rad­i­cal de­par­ture from last year’s blue­print, the Galaxy S9 can make the en­vi­able claim of hav­ing both the best smart­phone cam­era and the best per­for­mance of any cur­rent An­droid hand­set. That’s noth­ing to sniff at, al­though we’re still not quite con­vinced by the price.

At £739, this is £60 more than the Galaxy S8 was at launch, and now even that has – like many other An­droid flag­ships – dropped be­low £500. This makes it hard to rec­om­mend pick­ing up the Galaxy S9 right now, al­though if that price drops to some­thing more rea­son­able, it could be­come much more of a must-have.

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