Samsung released the Galaxy S9 and the S9+ in March 2018. The smartphone duo set the bar for all the competition this year. The S9 doesn't bring a radically fresh design, but under the hood and in terms of software features, things are different. In our full review of the Samsung Galaxy S9, we give you an insight into the new features the S series brought to the table in 2018.
- Unoriginal design
- Slow unlocking
- Battery life
- Bixby wake-up
The price has dropped to around $600
Samsung is selling the devices through several carriers. The Galaxy S9 can be bought in three color versions and two storage configurations. A Galaxy S9 with 64 GB costs around $600 these days. If you need more internal memory, namely 256 GB, it'll cost you a bit more, depending on the retailer. The Galaxy S9 is available in Midnight Black, Coral Blue and Lilac Purple. For information about how and where to order them in the US and the UK, follow the link below:
Samsung Galaxy S9 design and build quality
My first impression of the Galaxy S9 is that it looks very similar to the S8. In other words, Samsung hasn't done anything particularly innovative in terms of design this year. The 18.5:9 format remains the same, as does the Infinity display, button layout, Bixby button and, fortunately, the 3.5 mm headphone jack. This time, the fingerprint sensor is located under the rear camera, where it should have been on the S8 in the first place. You no longer need to do a little yoga with your finger every time you want to unlock it. This position also makes it easier to use the option of opening the notification bar from the sensor.
Great attention to detail
In addition to these obvious changes, there are some more subtle ones. For example, the bottom loudspeaker has recessed in the body. This tweak is probably thanks to the sound professionals at AKG, who worked on the audio system and speakers.
A fine detail that has also been improved is hidden in the screen-to-frame transitions. The gap between the Gorilla Glass 5 to the aluminium frame is even more perfect than in the Galaxy S8, melting together almost imperceptibly. The S9 is also protected against water and dust with an IP68 certification.
At the back, Samsung has made another change in addition to the previously mentioned repositioning of the fingerprint sensor. The unpleasant but mandatory CE logo, IMEI and other manufacturer information is now hardly noticeable on the back. Its silkscreen printing is less conspicuous although it maintains a good contrast and is very easy to read, if you look at it.
As always, the screen is one of the best
Underneath the Gorilla Glass is a Super AMOLED panel with the famous curved edges and scarcely any bezels. Samsung maintains the impression of an almost bezel-less screen and has kept the 83.6% screen-to-body ratio of the S8. The front camera and iris scanner are hidden in the upper frame which is slightly wider than the lower one.
After an exhaustive analysis of the screen we can almost ascertain the words of Display Mate. Every year Samsung manages to impress with the quality of its Galaxy S series screens, which thus become a benchmark for the rest of the industry. The color representation is tough to beat, along with the visualization, as well as the perfect black and the contrast it provides.
Additionally, there is now a function to improve video playback. The Video Enhancer makes videos brighter with more vivid colors, as well as giving YouTube support. Apart from enhancing videos, the S9 screen has four modes for color rendering, but you can also adjust the temperature and RGB spectrum manually.
For an in-depth review of the Galaxy S9 display, check out our article here.
Thank AKG and Dolby: The Galaxy S9 finally sounds good!
In terms of audio output, there is hardly a Galaxy S smartphone from the past which can touch the S9. With the Galaxy S9 and also the larger S9+ model, it is apparent that Samsung has made a strategically good decision for the S series through the acquisition of Harman Kardon and the audio specialists from AKG.
As with the Galaxy S8, the S9 also includes an AKG headset in its box. The sound is good enough for an in-ear headset and it provides decent noise cancelling, if the environment is not too loud. With headphones connected to the headphone jack the S9 offers a lot of volume, but you will be notified if the level could potentially be harmful.
On the S9, AKG sound engineers have also designed the device's main speaker and stereo sound. The result is a smartphone that is both loud and clear, similar to the Razer Phone or Axon 7 ZTE, which can deliver Dolby Atmos virtual surround sound. Leaning the device on a table gives the impression that the lower frame loudspeaker is more powerful, but that is only due to the reflection of sound on the surface. When you hold the S9 in your hands, the sound is perfectly immersive.
An exceptional dual-aperture camera
The camera of the Galaxy S8 was very good, but the demands of users are getting higher. Better image quality is no longer enough to compete and win these days. A potential Galaxy S9 buyer expects new features from Samsung that no other smartphone can offer. There's one such unique feature on the S9, which sits between the lens and the image sensor in the form of a variable aperture.
The S9 is one of the first smartphones (together with the Galaxy S9+) to offer variable aperture: between f/2.4 for well-lit environments and f/1.5 for dark indoor and outdoor environments. It is also the largest aperture camera ever mounted on a smartphone with this f/1.5 capable of absorbing a lot of light. Some of the software features include the new noise reduction mode for night photos and Bixby Vision, which is now included in the camera application.
Sony technology refined with Samsung software
The sensor also offers some innovation compared to its predecessor. Thanks to built-in memory, the Galaxy S9 can now capture in slow motion with 960 frames per second in HD, according to Samsung. Just 0.2 seconds of real-time recording becomes a sequence of almost 6 seconds. That might sound familiar. Sony introduced the Motion Eye Sensor with the same specs last year with the Xperia XZ Premium.
The main difference is that Samsung incorporates an automatic capture feature that makes things a lot easier. However, you have to keep in mind that it needs practice, preparation and a lot of light to have good results. The system takes approximately three seconds to clear the sensor's built-in cache to be able to shoot again, while still recording at 30 fps. In addition to slow-motion video, you can also create animated GIFs with these sequences.
AR Emoji: a hint of Nintendo mixed with Apple Animoji
Since the presentation of Apple's iPhone X, we have a new way to send emojis personalized to the max with Animoji. Now, anyone who owns a Galaxy S9 can also share their "AR Emojis" through WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter or email. These have a more personal touch as an avatar is generated through a facial recognition that automatically applies 18 different moods, which are then available to share as a GIF. You can also record videos where your AR Emojis will imitate your movements.
Excellent performance with state-of-the-art software
This is another section that warrants a full article, so we'll publish that soon. The Galaxy S9+ is the most powerful smartphone we have tested. The S9 comes in second place. Both pack a Snapdragon 845, if you're in the US, and run on Android 9.0 Pie customized with Samsung Experience 9.0.
The fluidity of the system, in general, is good but we have found some roughness in the graphics. For example, in the 3DMark benchmarks we had problems with 3D objects in one of the tests using the game Need for Speed: No Limits - sometimes vehicles rendered with 'scratches' on them, as you can see in the screenshot below. This seems to be due to a software issue that is likely to be fixed with the next update.
Bixby: unrequited love
I must admit, I am starting to like Bixby more and more, but there is still a long way to go for Samsung's assistant. As the brand pointed out, it has a new function - Bixby Vision. It is capable of recognizing even the amount of calories in food. It's also one of the few assistants that lets you customize responses and change settings or perform custom tasks with your voice.
The biggest negative is that Bixby didn't work seamlessly with voice commands. I've had a lot of problems with Bixby Voice. On many occasions, when you wanted to use it and say "Hi Bixby", only the icon appeared in the notification bar for an instant and nothing else happened. Using the button is ok, but it kind of takes the fun out of using an assistant. The whole idea is not having to touch the phone.
We hoped for a bigger battery
The battery is the most important thing to consider. It has exactly the same battery capacity as the S8 - 3,000 mAh, but this time with a better processor. In the end, the results are not very different, the S9 battery doesn't cope very well with so much power.
The processor has better energy management, and as a result we have a maximum duration of 12 to 18 hours, with a screen time that can vary from about 4 hours playing with demanding games for example, or up to 6 hours watching movies (that aren't too bright).
Luckily the fast charging works quite well, reaching 50% in 39 min and 90% in 75 minutes, and for it to reach 100% it's around 93 minutes. Plus the charger is not as big as the OnePlus Dash.
More options for business customers thanks to Samsung DeX
Many of the features mentioned are very much tailored to private usage of the Galaxy S9. But since the presentation of DeX for the Galaxy S8, Samsung is also increasingly targeting business customers with its top smartphones. Employees on the go can dock the smartphone in the office and virtually conjure up a PC replacement from their pocket. This certainly helps when you don't want to purchase additional laptops and software licenses in some situations.
For the Galaxy S9 and S9+, there is a new docking station, which not only looks different, but also brings some new features. On the one hand, a docked smartphone can now be quickly charged up via Fast Charge. For this, however, the DeX mode must be turned off. DeX mode only works without Fast Charge.
Along with the new docking station, there are options to use the Galaxy S9 as a touchpad, to change the resolution and - exciting for the IT enthusiasts among you - to restrict the apps available in DeX mode. The new DeX station, which is compatible with this phone, is going for around $75 right now.
Samsung Galaxy S9 technical specifications
At first glance, the Galaxy S9 looks unspectacular - apart from the repositioning of the fingerprint sensor, not much has changed on the surface. Only after you hold the Galaxy S9 in your hands and compare it side-by-side to the Galaxy S8, the changes in detail become noticeable. In addition, Samsung gave the Galaxy S9 a useful hardware update under the hood. Especially the camera with its dual aperture and Super Slow Motion function, along with the stereo speakers, make the Galaxy S9 a very interesting smartphone for the end of 2018 or the start of 2019.
Overall, the Galaxy S9 is more consistent than the Galaxy S8. Samsung has addressed many of the critiques of the Galaxy S8 and changed things with the S9. In addition, Samsung seems to have looked around the market and observed where the trends are going. The slow motion function and AR Emoji certainly belong to these trends. Bixby has potential, but needs some software tweaks. Unfortunately the battery also leaves a lot to be desired - something that is more difficult to change.
Overall, my impressions of the S9 were as good as those I had with the S8 - they might look the same, but you have to take a closer look at the features.
What do you think of the Samsung Galaxy S9? Was it love at first sight for you?