The most well-rounded, full-featured phones in the galaxy.
This year, Samsung looks to be playing it safe with the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+, with two phones that look nearly identical on the surface, but a closer look reveals a different paradigm. However, this isn’t exactly playing it safe, it’s a refinement of an already excellent design, and one that could certainly end up as the phone to get. But which do you pick? The larger phone with more features or the more svelte unit that’s less expensive? We’ll give you a breakdown and ultimately see if either are worth buying in this review!
Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ Specs
Samsung is, of course, selling both the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ worldwide, and will be selling both phones unlocked everywhere, as well as through the typical carrier and retail channels. The smaller Samsung Galaxy S9 with 64GB of storage sells unlocked for $719/£739/€849, while the larger Samsung Galaxy S9+ with 64GB of storage sells unlocked for $839/£869/€949, or thereabouts depending on the specific country in the EU. Variety of colors for each model can include Midnight Black, Lilac Purple, Coral Blue, or Titanium Gray, but all may not be available through more limited network carrier channels. While the phones look similar, they’ve changed slightly in terms of size and shape, but both feature the same display as last year. The Samsung Galaxy S9 features a 5.8-inch display, while the Galaxy S9+ sports a 6.2-inch display.
Both displays are Super AMOLED, with quad-HD resolution (2560 x 1440), an 18.5:9 aspect ratio, HDR10 capabilities, and Gorilla Glass 5 on the top with dual curved sides. Samsung packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC and Adreno 630 GPU inside US-based models, while everyone else gets Samsung’s own, more powerful Exynos 9810 SoC with Mali-G72MP18 GPU. 4GB of RAM is packed inside the smaller S9, while the S9+ gets bumped up to 6GB of RAM. The Samsung Galaxy S9 is powered by a 3,000mAh battery, while the S9+ adds an additional 500mAh to the battery, totaling 3,500mAh inside. The Galaxy S9 measures in at 147.7mm high, 68.7mm wide, 8.4mm thin and weighs 163 grams, while the Galaxy S9+ measures 158.1mm high, 73.8mm wide, 8.5mm thin and weighs 189 grams.
Stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos capability are included on the body, as well as a 3.5mm audio jack and a USB Type-C port. Galaxy S9’s powered by a Snapdragon SoC will feature a 12.2-megapixel Sony IMX345 sensor for the main camera, while Exynos powered Galaxy S9 units feature a 12.2-megapixel Samsung ISOCELL SAK2L3 sensor. Samsung is now famously launching the Galaxy S9 with a variable aperture lens, which changes between f/1.5 and f/2.4 depending on light levels. The Samsung Galaxy S9+ features a secondary camera on the back with f/2.4 2X optical zoom lens, and all rear cameras on either Galaxy S9 model feature OIS. Snapdragon-powered Galaxy S9’s feature an 8.3-megapixel Sony IMX320 sensor up front, and Exynos powered variants have an 8.3-megapixel Samsung ISOCELL S5K3H1 (the same sensors on the Galaxy S8). Both models feature an f/1.7 lens and autofocus on this front-facing camera.
Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ In The Box
Samsung packs a fair amount of extra value into the box, including a pair of AKG headphones (3.5mm audio port), a charging brick, USB Type-A to USB type-C cable, a transfer adapter for transferring data from your old phone, and of course, the usual SIM tray ejection tool and a set of manuals and guides.
Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ Display
At this point in time, it’s pretty safe to say that every flagship release from Samsung debuts a screen that’s the absolute best in the industry, hands down. The Super AMOLED screen on either Samsung Galaxy S9 model represents the absolute best display you’ll get on any phone out there, including incredible color reproduction, brightness levels, pixel persistence rates, white balance, and of course infinite contrast that comes from an OLED panel of any kind. There’s an ever-so-slight blue tint at any angle, but it’s not obnoxious and is really only noticeable when viewing something with a white background, like a web page, where you’ll not likely be tilting the screen anyway.
Like last year’s models, the Samsung Galaxy S9 ships with a Quad-HD panel, but out of the box it’s only running in 1080p mode. Samsung does this primarily to save battery, as it’s very difficult to tell between 1080p and Quad-HD resolution on this size of a display, but the option to increase the resolution is simple to find. Under display properties, you’ll also find adjustments to change the screen mode. Preset modes include Basic, AMOLED photo, and AMOLED cinema, and are all static presets and cannot be adjusted. Adaptive Display gives more control over the look and feel of the display, with simple tweaks for color balance (cool to warm with 5 slider settings), as well as an advanced slider section allowing adjustment of individual red, green and blue channels.
Samsung’s Always on Display (AoD) tech is by far the best in the industry, but not because of anything technological, rather it’s the customization options that really make it something special. As a note, always on display works because of OLED technology, where individual pixels can be lit up, instead of having a battery-hogging backlight that goes across the entire display as LCD displays require. Samsung gives options to show clocks, calendars, custom images, and all sorts of other options as well. Full theme store support means there are tons of themes to choose from for the AoD, including plenty of free and paid screens. Samsung’s Infinity Wallpapers also enhance the always-on displays, providing beautiful images and animations when the phone moves between sleep, lockscreen, and homescreen displays. It’s brilliant, and most importantly, provides valuable information that doesn’t require picking the phone up, such as notifications, calendar events, and the time, all without draining the battery in any substantial way.
The curve on each edge isn’t just there for show, it also serves the purpose of providing a place to add in shortcuts and important information. Samsung’s Edge Panels are accessed by swiping inward from the tab present on the curved edge, which brings up a panel full of information. This panel is completely customizable and presents ways of quickly accessing common contacts, common apps, making custom selections instead of screenshots, and plenty more. The possibilities are basically limitless, as Samsung has opened up development to third-pparty devs, and you can find hundreds of different options to choose from in the Galaxy Apps store, covering both the free and paid spectrums. Popularly downloaded panels include quick messaging panels, Google Maps, Spotify controls, calculators and plenty more. It’s completely unique to Samsung’s ecosystem, and it works better than anywhere else because of the screen design.
Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ Hardware and Build
Visually, the Samsung Galaxy S9 series looks identical to the Samsung Galaxy S8 at first glance, with obvious exception to the fingerprint modules on the back. Samsung also includes an extra camera on the Galaxy S9+, elongating the camera module vertically instead of horizontally as last year’s Galaxy Note 8 did. Samsung has changed the surface texture on the metal sides of the Galaxy S9, this time around choosing a more matte texture, both helping keep fingerprints at bay and providing a tiny bit more friction than last year’s shiny metal did. Samsung’s symmetrical design has been kept, with rolled-in sides on the back and front, curving the screen under the curved glass. The excess of glass means these phones are fingerprint magnets, to say the least, and will look smudgy and gross nearly immediately upon use.
Both phones are a fair bit heavier than last year’s models, about 10-percent heavier each, and are still as slippery as ever thanks to their metal-glass builds. Both units are IP68 water and dust resistant, or the highest water and dust resistance ratings you’ll find in this type of consumer device. Both models are 1-2mm shorter than last year’s models, a direct effect of shrinking that bottom screen bezel just a tad bit. This also means the bezels are no longer symmetrical, as the top bezel is now the largest, followed by the bottom, and then the sides. The button situation is the same as last year, with a dedicated Bixby button on the left side, located just under the volume buttons, while the power button sits on the right, aligned with the gap between the volume and Bixby buttons.
Up top is the SIM/microSD card tray, and along the bottom is a single bottom-firing speaker, 3.5mm audio jack, and a USB Type-C port. The fingerprint scanner has been moved to just underneath the camera modules this time, instead of being to the side like the Galaxy S8 was. This is a far more natural position, and the raised rim around it makes it easy to feel where it’s at along the back without smudging the camera up. Samsung’s choice of a very tall 18.5:9 aspect ratio display, coupled with curved edges and tiny bezels make these phones extremely easy and comfortable to hold, despite the seemingly massive sounding screen sizes. Samsung packs in a very nice, punchy motor that neither feels too soft or too obnoxious. By default, it’s set a little too heavy for my liking, but Samsung gives plenty of options to adjust this in the vibration settings, and I quickly found something that was better.
Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ Performance and Benchmarks
Packing the latest in mobile processing packages means the Samsung Galaxy S9 is going to feel as fast as can be right out of the box. Loading apps for the first time, rapidly switching between running apps, and even multi-tasking will satisfy even the heaviest of power users. Samsung phones have long had a stigma of developing significant slowdowns over time, but Samsung seems to have finally solved that problem with that year’s Samsung Galaxy Note 8, which didn’t seem to slow down over time, no matter what was thrown at it. While the verdict is still out on this with the Galaxy S9, we did see some stuttering and jittering during simple tasks like opening the app drawer or flipping through lists (read: social media), and although it was slightly more noticeable at times than with other phones, these sorts of micro-stutters and fraction-of-a-second pauses aren’t uncommon on any phone, Android, iOS or otherwise.
The Samsung Galaxy S9+ features 2GB more RAM than the smaller Galaxy S9, and given that they have the exact same internal components otherwise, as well as the same screen resolution, you can count on always seeing better multi-tasking performance out of the Galaxy S9+. Multi-tasking is a big deal on these phones too, as Samsung offers a ton of different ways to run multiple apps on these big, beautiful screens. Samsung has modified the feel of Android’s card-based multitasking carousel (called Overview), giving a pause to each card before the next one is moved to. This paginated style of moving through cards is a bit strange feeling, but it’s no different from previous generations of Samsung phones that have used this interface.
If you don’t like this, a list view is also available, placing apps in smaller cards that look more like notification cards than anything else. Apps that support multi-window mode have a small split-window icon next to them, although at this point most apps support multi-window, so the list of unsupported apps should be significantly smaller than supported ones. Apps can be placed in a floating window, being able to move around the screen like a desktop windowed app can be, or minimized into an icon for easy access later. The fluidity and mass of options are unparalleled, and it this which makes the Samsung Galaxy S9 the best multi-tasking phone on the market, with only the Galaxy Note 8’s S-Pen features possibly besting it.
Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ Wireless Connectivity and Sound
Two major variants of each Samsung Galaxy S9 exist primarily for the purpose of supporting different types of cellular networks worldwide. Frequencies supported in the US tend to be different than those in other countries, and Qualcomm makes radios specifically for these frequencies, and as such the variants designed to work on US networks sport the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC. Worldwide you’ll find Samsung’s own Exynos SoC with accompanying radios to work with international frequencies at up to Cat18 LTE speeds. Cell radios on either model are as fast as they come and will deliver optimal speed for whatever carrier you so choose. This even includes brand new bands for carriers, like T-Mobile’s LTE Band 71, or 4×4 MIMO support on Sprint’s bands 25 and 41, giving the phone the ability to run up to gigabit speeds in an ideal world.
Just like last year, you’ll find Bluetooth 5.0 with support for two simultaneous streams at once. This gives the ability to both stream to a Bluetooth speaker and a pair of Bluetooth headphones at the same time, giving the incredible option to split sound without having to get a splitter cable. The 3.5mm audio jack isn’t just sticking around this year either, it got an upgrade from 24-bit to 32-bit audio, and now features a higher quality DAC as well. It’s not quite as good as the quad-DAC found on the LG V30 range of phones, but it’s definitely better than the average phone and will deliver excellent quality sound on any system. Samsung’s audio balance continues to improve, and while the Galaxy S9 delivers good audio, it’s still a bit bass-heavy for the most part. Enabling the UHQ scaling feature helps balance things out a good bit, but it’s still a tad on the heavy side and needs adjustment out of the box, otherwise the audio gets a bit drowned out from the heavy bass.
New to any Galaxy phone are stereo speakers on the body of the phone, a significant upgrade in every way from the average mono speaker Samsung has placed on their phones for generations. Sound comes out of the speaker at the bottom of the phone, as well as the earpiece near the front. We’ve seen this configuration on other phones before, and it normally works well enough, but Samsung has stepped it up a notch by offering virtual surround sound via Dolby Atmos. The difference this makes is almost beyond words. The sound suddenly fills a room like never before from a Samsung phone, and it’s easy to think that this could legitimately replace a Bluetooth speaker in most regards. It’s not going to deliver the deep bass that some Bluetooth speakers can, because of simple physics if nothing else, but the range of sound and spatial nature of the delivery go beyond what other phones offer in every way.
Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ Battery Life and Support
In our testing, neither the Samsung Galaxy S9 nor the Galaxy S9+ had excellent battery life by any measurement. Battery life on most days could be considered average at best, with moderate usage (read 3-4 hours of screen-on time) lasting about 16 hours off the charger. Heavy usage will most certainly require a top-up sometime during the day, while light users shouldn’t have an issue getting a full day’s use out of the phone. Worse yet is that Samsung only supports Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0, which limits the input wattage between 10-15W, versus the latest QuickCharge 4.0 standard which is closer to 30W on the same Snapdragon 845 platform Samsung utilizes in the US market.
The only reasonable explanation for this is that Samsung is trying to avert another Note 7 disaster by pairing down as many features on battery options as possible, even if other phones don’t have an issue with faster charging. On the bright side, Samsung supports fast wireless charging via WPC and PMA standards, which will wirelessly charge a phone on a supported charger just as fast as the included power brick and cable will. The dock we were given to test is Samsung’s latest model that’s officially sold alongside the Samsung Galaxy S9, and it’s a very well designed one that allows the phone to sit at a usable angle while charging on a desk. The convenience of wireless charging is more about being able to grab the phone on a whim and drop it back on the dock for a charge, meaning it’s not necessarily designed with the idea of using it in the dock, per say.
Something that’s often overlooked is the level of service an OEM provides to its customers after a phone is sold. There are thousands and thousands of different phone models to choose from, but most phones go without any level of significant support from the manufacturer once you purchase them. Typically a 1-year warranty is offered as standard on any electronics purchased within a supported territory (read: not imported), however even this is not without caveats. If a problem is covered and repairable by an OEM, you’ll usually have to ship the device back, wait a week or two without a phone, and then eventually get it back, only to have to set everything else up again. Worse yet, many problems aren’t covered, like accidental damage or similar problems.
Samsung offers a level of premium service for the Galaxy S9 family that’s seemingly unparalleled in the market. You’ll find real-time chat support through the Samsung+ app, which is a step above what even Google offers on its Pixel line of phones in a real-time chat. Samsung Premium Care is also offered for $11.99 per month and promises up to 3 accidental damage claims in a 12-month period with just a $99 deductible. If you’re someone who regularly breaks phones, this may be the Godsend you were looking for, as it’ll cost significantly less than bringing your broken phone to the local repair shop, and should be significantly faster than any other option too. These options aren’t new to the Galaxy S9, but they are still something most OEMs do not offer, and therefore noteworthy.
Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ Software
The Samsung Galaxy S9 ships with both Android 8.0 Oreo, as well as the Samsung Experience 9.0 skin running atop. Both of these experiences will be available in their final form soon on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8 family of phones (among others too), but for now, the Galaxy S9 is the first place to experience the final builds of these software updates. Samsung Experience 9.0 isn’t a game changer by any means, rather an evolution of the bigger changes we’ve seen over the past year or so. Visually the OS looks identical to what’s already on the Galaxy S8 or Note 8, and functionally you won’t find a lot that’s different. That’s not exactly a problem though, as Samsung packs more features and useful functions into their skin than any other OEM, bar none, and it’s truly staggering to delve into the OS and find what’s available for use.
Samsung Pay is still the best mobile payments solution around, with support for both NFC and MST (magnetic strip transfer), ensuring that it will work even with most terminals that haven’t been updated with mobile-payment specific NFC technology. Little has been changed about the home screen launcher or the themes support, but Bixby has gotten a slight upgrade, leading up to the 2.0 release scheduled for this Fall. The dedicated Bixby button on the side of the phone can be easily disabled within Bixby’s options if you prefer, which helps cut down on the number of erroneous times Bixby appears.
Bixby Briefing is a new way to set a morning alarm, as it will play any one of a dozen preset songs (or your own custom music) while Bixby reads the time, weather and latest news aloud. Samsung has updated DeX to better reflect that of a desktop experience than ever before, including the new DeX dock. This dock places the phone flat on a table and allows the phone to be used as a touchpad, similar to one found on a laptop. While this is an optional accessory rather than an included one, Samsung’s partnership with partners like VMWare and Microsoft mean that you can actually run virtual cloud-based computers from DeX, meaning you can truly use the phone as your all-in-one solution in place of a PC, as these virtual machines can run Windows or any number of different operating systems.
Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ Biometrics and Security
Samsung has brought about some positive changes to the biometric authentication on the Samsung Galaxy S9 by combining facial recognition technology with its unique iris scanning technology to bring about one of the most secure and hassle-free ways of unlocking a phone we’ve seen yet. This new Intelligent Scan, as it’s called, automatically determines the best way to unlock the phone based on available light, and generally works well even while walking or moving around. It’s not instant, and there are certainly other unlocking methods that are considerably faster, but it’s very difficult to fool so long as fast recognition mode is turned off.
The fingerprint scanner has also been moved to a better location than last year; just under the camera module on the back. This is far more comfortable than last year’s side-oriented fingerprint scanner, which often was too far out of reach and made it too easy to smudge up the camera. Samsung utilizes any number of these biometric authentication methods to lock the phone down even further if you so choose. Options for things like Secure Folder, which allows users to put anything from apps to documents, pictures, and video into a folder that’s separately locked behind a specific iris, fingerprint or password. Samsung Pay also utilizes biometric scanning for authentication, making mobile payments safer than with a simple magnetic strip card.
Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ Camera Software
Every flagship seems to bring some camera interface redesign, and while we’ve seen improvements in some ways in previous generations, Samsung’s navigational aspects of the UI have continually gotten worse over the years. This year debuts the worst navigation we’ve seen in a Samsung camera in quite a while, and easily one of the more frustrating UIs on any flagship. The design seems to follow the trend of putting everything on the screen without hiding it behind menus; an idea that’s novel and wonderful when well executed, however, this design is anything but that. Camera modes are now prominently displayed across the top in a horizontally scrolling row of words, swiping left or right on the screen to move between them.
Modes include Food, Panorama, Pro, Live Focus, Auto, Super Slow-Mo, AR Emoji, and Hyperlapse. The issue with this design is twofold; first off, it’s far slower to switch between modes with this design. Each swipe adds an extra second to mode switching, and it’s not possible to move from one end of the row to the other without swiping through a number of different modes first. Mode names can be clicked on to more quickly switch to that mode, but again, not all modes are displayed on the screen at once as used to be the case in Samsung’s camera software.
The second issue comes when any mode requires adjustment via a slider. Pro mode features sliders for things like manual focus, ISO and shutter speed, while other modes like Live Focus feature sliders for background blur strength and skin smoothing. These require far too accurate of presses on the small dot indicator on the slider, as any wrong move will switch modes instead of moving the slider. This is even more frustrating when holding the phone in landscape mode, as it becomes confusing when a mode is switched, as the functionality doesn’t rotate with the phone. Swiping up or down moves between the front and rear-facing cameras, and this makes things doubly confusing as well. There are far too many swipes and gestures in this interface, and at the end of the day it feels convoluted and confusing.
AR Emojis are a brand new feature to the camera and are generated via a single picture taken from either front or rear-facing camera. Your likeness will then be transferred onto a digital avatar, and the software will automatically try to mold it to your likeness. Samsung’s choice of avatar is stylistically generic looking, and the software seems to have a difficult time truly matching what the user looks like. Some additional animated CG characters are available as well, including a bunny, robot, and a cat, as well as AR masks and hats.
Opening the AR Emoji mode after creating an avatar attempts to bring the avatar to life by using the camera to replicate your actual movements; something that sounds good in theory, but in practice is pretty bad. Without additional IR cameras or other hardware to properly track facial nuances and movements, the avatars are stuttery and generally don’t move in realistic or natural ways at all. In general, it’s a feature that feels like it should have been left in beta quite a while longer and needs some serious improvement before it becomes truly usable and enjoyable.
Portrait mode (called Live Focus) was introduced with the Galaxy Note 8’s dual cameras last Fall, and both Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ offer the same capabilities, despite the smaller S9 only having a single rear-facing camera. The advantage of having dual cameras on the S9+ is multi-fold in regards to this Live Focus mode. First off, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ gives the option to adjust the amount of blur after the shot, whereas you can only toggle it on or off on the smaller S9. You’ll also be able to choose between the zoomed in portrait shot on the S9+, or the regular “wide angle” shot from the standard lens after the fact. The front-facing camera utilizes the same algorithm as the smaller S9 for Selfie Focus mode, which again is a selection between background blur or no background blur, with no option to adjust the amount since it’s just a single front-facing camera.
Bixby is now integrated into the camera experience, rather than having to navigate to Bixby first and then select Bixby lens. From within the camera’s auto mode, a small Bixby eye icon appears in the bottom left, and opens a separate interface for Bixby Vision. The interface here suffers from similar issues in navigation, in that you have to scroll through all 8 modes to see everything available, and the software switches to each of these modes as you scroll through. It’s slow and irritatingly designed and presents too many options on screen at once. Modes include Makeup, Text, Image, Shopping, Place, Food, Wine, and QR Reader. Most of these modes were included in previous versions of Bixby, but Makeup mode is a brand new one to this latest update. Bixby is also able to translate visually using Google Translate, right in the Text mode of Bixby Vision. This is invaluable while traveling in a foreign country with a language you might not understand and is extremely handy to have built into the camera instead of having to download the separate Google Translate app.
Makeup mode is split between this Bixby Vision version, which is more full-featured, and the regular front-facing camera, which again creates a confusing interface and leads one to wonder where in the world they found the other mode. Once you get past this confusion, makeup mode is unique among smartphone AR masks and attempts to apply a layer of makeup to your face, all of which is fully customizable. About a dozen presets are included, and adjustments can be made to everything from lipstick to blush, foundation to eyeliner, and everything between. Samsung has partnered with Sephora on this mode, and all available customizations act more like previews of what you can expect from a certain Sephora makeup or color, and of course, your picture can be taken with any of these customizations.
Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ Camera Performance and Quality
Variable aperture is something brand new to modern smartphones, and while it’s been tried in the past, Samsung is popularizing its implementation on the Galaxy S9. Both Samsung Galaxy S9 models feature this variable aperture, where the camera will automatically switch between f/1.5 and f/2.4 lenses based on available light. In most lighting conditions the Galaxy S9 will use the f/2.4 lens, which brings in enough light to deliver a balanced picture while cutting down on the distortion that the f/1.5 lens causes. The f/1.5 lens is activated in situations where brightness is measured at under 100 lux, or enough light where reading a book become uncomfortable.
This lens brings in quite a bit more light than the f/1.5 lens but also causes a circular distortion, particularly around the outside 1/3 of the picture. Most of the time you won’t notice this in darker situations, which is why it’s an alright trade-off in favor of available light. In our tests, we would commonly see ISO 1250 used in very dark situations, and toggling between lenses shows the difference here. While the f/2.4 lens had to use a slow 1/6th of a second shutter to get the shot, the f/1.5 lens was able to get the same amount of light with only a 1/10th-second shutter, which could be the difference between a blurry and a blur-free shot. See the example shots below for differences between the two lenses.
Samsung is utilizing a new multi-frame noise reduction method for shots, which will take up to 12 photos at a time and combine them into one. While the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 would take 3 shots instantly and combine them together for better noise reduction and detail enhancement, the Galaxy S9 takes 10 shots in the same period. In low light situations, this works rather well and gives the Galaxy S9 very noise-free shots in general. Noise-free isn’t always a positive thing though, as reducing noise too much will eventually reduce overall detail, and this is unfortunately very typical of Samsung’s processing over the years.
Directly comparing shots between something like a Google Pixel, for instance, shows this reality. While the Pixel’s Google Camera software tends to include slightly more noise in lower light situations, it does so with considerably greater detail, contrast and more color accurate shots as a whole. This isn’t the case every single time, as the Galaxy S9 definitely takes some truly excellent low light shots in most cases, and Samsung’s combination of multi-frame shots and low f-stop lenses and large sensors means you’ll likely see brighter shots on the Galaxy S9 than almost any other phone.
This noise reduction also unfortunately still takes place during very well lit situations too, meaning zoom detail is once again significantly worse than other cameras with the same camera specs and capabilities. Samsung’s new multi-frame algorithms enhance dynamic range, even over last year’s extremely capable cameras, and deliver some of the absolute widest dynamic range we’ve ever seen from any smartphone. In our tests, only the Pixel line of phones delivered better dynamic range, and even then not in every situation. This extra processing wreaks havoc on detail though, and zooming in even a little bit will reveal very muddy details in most shots. It’s extremely disappointing to see this happen once again, and it’s a wonder if Samsung will ever fix this problem at all.
Folks who have children will know how difficult it can be to take pictures of them, and it’s in these situations where most smartphones struggle significantly in getting a clear shot. Samsung’s cameras are generally very good at this, and much of its success can be attributed to the extremely fast focusing times of the sensor. Focus times range in single milliseconds, while many other phones still take dozens or hundreds of milliseconds to focus on the scene. This results in more times where your image is not just in focus but focused on the right subject. The problems arise once lower light or indoor lighting comes into play, as Samsung tends to choose slow shutter speed over high ISO, resulting in blurry moving subjects (since the shutter stays open for longer than a few milliseconds). As a result, you’ll find some shots don’t come out well, but for the most part, it passes the test with little issue.
The front-facing camera is the same as last year, which was a marginal improvement over the previous year. It’s not the highest resolution front-facing camera on the market, but it generally takes good pictures in well-lit scenes. Anything lower than direct sunlight or bright indoor rooms starts to look extremely soft though, and the dynamic range of this sensor is lacking quite a bit. Lower lighting conditions lessen the quality significantly, and in general, this is not a great low light selfie camera by any means. It’s not as bad as the LG V30’s camera, which both struggles to take low light shots and is lower resolution, but it’s not good either.
Samsung offers a soft flash for the front-facing camera, which turns the screen a bright off-white in an effort to light up the scene. While this works in some capacity, it’s far too strong of a light, and both causes people squint to see the camera, as well as create that awful harsh flash look in photos. In comparison, the Google Pixel or Pixel 2 decimate it in every single measurement, including resolution, color accuracy, dynamic range, and quality overall. The difference in dynamic range is particularly apparent in situations where there’s lots of strong backlighting, as the Galaxy S9 will either underexpose the foreground or more often will overexpose the bright background.
Super Slow Motion (Slow-Mo) is another new feature that’s made possible by hardware and software upgrades, and it’s Samsung’s implementation that is the best we’ve seen so far in the industry. Utilizing on-chip DRAM, the sensors inside the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ are able to capture 960FPS video at 720p, although the actual quality looks more like SD content than something crisper, like standard 720p video. Samsung’s implementation is superior because of the software design; while Sony is the only other OEM that offers 960FPS video, its implementation relies on manual capturing, which at this speed can be difficult to get. Samsung offers manual for those that prefer it, but the default mode is automatic and captures slow motion video when it happens inside of a yellow box on the screen.
In practice, this only works well in well-lit areas, as this rate of speed significantly cuts down on available light, and even well-lit scenes will look a bit on the dark side. Anything that’s effectively less than bright sunlight is going to be near unusable, and it’s simply impossible to catch this super slow motion video inside; there’s just never enough light to make it worthwhile. It’s also a bit difficult to frame the shot simply because it’s cropped so much, and you’ll have to stand several feet away to be sure you catch enough of the action to make sense. This is compounded by the lower resolution of the mode, but it’s certainly better than nothing, and the opportunities presented by this speed of video are simply amazing…if you can catch the action, that is.
Standard video recording is anything but standard, as has come to be the case with Samsung phones over the years. 4K stabilized recording is easily in the top of the top when it comes to smartphones, and you’ll not only find incredibly crisp imagery from the Samsung Galaxy S9 but super stabilized images as well. Samsung appears to be working toward wider color gamut capture with the Galaxy S9, and although it doesn’t officially state support for HDR video, Samsung is using a format with wide color gamut support for capture. As such you don’t find any unbelievable level of dynamic range here, but that’s not to say it’s bad by any means, just not quite at the level of the photography mode found on the phone.
Sound recording quality is something many OEMs seem to forget about, but Samsung has paid special attention to placing high-quality mics on the phone, with excellent noise cancellation and low levels of distortion. Comparing videos recorded on the Galaxy S9 with other smartphones marks a clear difference in recorded sound quality. While some other mics sound muffled or scratchy, the Galaxy S9’s audio is clean, clear and simply excellent. Check out the gallery below to see and hear everything we took with the Galaxy S9 during the review period.
Gorgeous, IP68 water and dust resistant build
Incredible Dolby Atmos speakers
3.5mm audio jack
PMA and WPC wireless charging support
Edge panels are ultra useful
Samsung Pay is still the best mobile payments solution
Great new biometric authentication
Super slow-mo is amazing when it works
Low light camera performance is generally great (rear camera only)
Dynamic range is insanely good (rear camera only)
Variable aperture is a big deal
Ultra high-quality audio recording
New Bixby modes work very well
Samsung Premium Support is unparalleled on the Android side of things
Only supports QuickCharge 2.0
Camera noise processing is still too heavy
Front-facing camera should be better
New camera interface is terrible
Battery life should be better
Having fewer features on the smaller Galaxy S9 camera is lame
Far from playing it safe, Samsung has further refined an already excellent design language, adding in new features and improving what needed improving. Brand-new Dolby Atmos-grade speakers are among the best new enhancements that will make daily use of the phone better than ever, and the slew of features Samsung packs into both models is dizzying, to say the least. Some cool new camera tricks are marred by a terrible camera UI redesign, but the quality at the end of the day matches up to what Samsung has delivered in the past. With so many possibilities out of the box, Samsung Pay, customer service that excels well-above the industry average, and plenty of accessories and supported devices to choose from, it’s a no-brainer to choose the Samsung Galaxy S9 or S9+ from the pack in most ways. Grab one at your favorite carrier, or unlocked from Samsung, Amazon, or any number of other retailers below.
Order the Samsung Galaxy S9
Order the Samsung Galaxy S9+
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