Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+
The Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ look almost identical to last year’s models, right down to the antenna bars, buttons and ports, all being in the same places. That means the power button is on the right, and the volume rocker is on the left, with a dedicated Bixby button (which you still can’t remap) below it. The phones are still IP68 rated, and yes, unlike a lot of phones out there, you still get a 3.5mm headphone port on the bottom.
Technically, there are some diﬀerences, although you almost certainly won’t notice them. Both the S9 and S9+ are actually ever so slightly shorter than their predecessors, with marginally reduced top and bottom bezels. The S9 is 1.2mm shorter than the S8, and the S9+ is 1.3mm shorter than the S8+. However both phones are also about 0.5mm wider and thicker than their predecessors. Both phones are also slightly heavier, with the S9 coming in at 163g (8g heavier) - you won’t notice this - and the S9+ coming in at 189g (16g heavier) - you will notice this. The S9+’s extra weight is mainly due to the addition of a secondary camera on the rear.
The phones use the same Infinity Display design that was first introduced on the S8 and S8+, with the same screen sizes (5.8-inch on the S9 and 6.2-inch on the S9+), a 18.5:9 aspect ratio, and QHD+ resolution (2,560 x 1,440 pixels) with dual-curved edges. While the displays look mostly the same, Samsung has actually made some notable improvements to them. For starters, the new displays have an enhanced High Brightness mode that lets them achieve a staggering 1,130 nits, which is 20 percent higher than the peak brightness capable on the S8 and S8+. The displays also boast significantly improved color accuracy.
For the first time on a Samsung phone, the S9 and S9+ are also equipped with stereo speakers. You get one speaker on the bottom of the phone, and the earpiece doubles up as the second speaker. The speakers are tuned by AKG and boast a surprisingly rich, full sound. Despite the larger size, the S9+ wasn’t any louder or better than the S9 - stereo separation from both models was also about the same.
A big new feature on the S9 is AR Emoji, which lets you send animated emoji that imitate your own facial expressions. One big diﬀerence from Apple’s Animoji is that Samsung’s version lets you create your own emoji option that lets you use a cartoon version of your own face. Once you’ve created your AR emoji, you can share it in GIF or PNG format, and it is also possible to use AR Emoji as stickers with compatible apps.
The main rear camera on both
phones is a dual-aperture lens that
switches between f/1.5 and f/2.4
The new Lilac Purple color was
created in the spirit of Pantone’s
Color of the Year 2018 (Pantone
18-3838 Ultra Violet).
The headline feature for the S9 and S9+ camera is its dual-aperture lens, which switches between f/1.5 and f/2.4. This main camera captures 12MP images using a 1/2.55-inch sensor, with a pixel size of 1.4 microns. The S9 comes with this main camera only, but the S9+ also comes with a second camera for zoom.
The S9+’s telephoto lens also captures 12MP photos, but it has a smaller sensor that measures 1/3.4“, with a pixel size of 1 micron. Its lens has a fixed aperture of f/2.4. There’s also an integrated DRAM module on the new 12MP sensor provides extra processing power for the S9 cameras. This allows Samsung to combine up to 12 images per shot for a final composite, up from three images before.
In Auto Mode, the main camera switches automatically between f/1.5 and f/2.4, depending on the amount of light. You can only toggle the aperture in Pro Mode. The lower a lens’ aperture value, the wider it can open, and the more light it lets in. f/1.5 is especially useful in low light, but it can be too much in bright daylight. That’s when the main camera will switch to f/2.4 to let less light in.
On cameras with bigger sensors, like a mirrorless or DSLR camera, a lens with a large aperture can create blurrier backgrounds. But on cameras with miniature sensors, like smartphones, the eﬀect is negligible. You can use the S9+’s Live Focus Mode to simulate background blur, which works well most of the time.
It’s in low light that the S9’s f/1.5 lens shines. Because of its wide aperture, the S9 can capture more light in dark situations. It can also let you shoot at lower ISO, resulting in a cleaner photo with more detail. At f/1.5, the S9 has the fastest smartphone lens today.
As usual, there are two processor variants of the S9 and S9+. US and China get Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 processor, while everyone else gets Samsung’s own Exynos 9810. Like the 845, the Exynos 9810 is a 10nm 64-bit octa-core processor running on a 4x4 big.LITTLE configuration. It uses four high-power Mongoose M3 cores clocked at 2.7GHz, and four high-eﬃciency Cortex-A55One cores, clocked at 1.8GHz. The 9810 uses a Mali-G72 MP18 GPU. The S9 has 4GB RAM, while the S9+ has 6GB RAM.
Benchmark performance was good, but wasn’t that much better than last year’s models, with on average only a 10-15 percent increase in benchmark performance.
Like last year, the S9 uses a 3,000mAh battery, while the A9+ has a 3,500mAh battery. Battery life on both models remains excellent, although we didn’t see much improvement from last year. In fact, the S9+ was a little worse than last year’s S8+.
Last year’s S8 and S8+ were huge jumps forward for Samsung. Those phones introduced us to an exciting new design, and new features like the Infinity Display and Bixby. This year, it’s hard to feel the same level of enthusiasm for the S9 and S9+. That’s not to say that they’re not great phones though. These are still the best phones Samsung has ever made, but they’re evolutionary, not revolutionary, and they mainly build upon the foundation laid by the S8 and S8+.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the price of Samsung’s S range is slowly creeping up. Last year, the S8 retailed for $1,148, while the S8+ was $1,298. This year, the S9 is $1,198, and the S9+ starts at $1,348 for the 64GB model, and goes up to $1,498 for the 256GB model. That’s $100 more than last year’s Note8.
These are still the best phones Samsung has ever made, and by far the best Android phones available right now, but they’re getting really pricey.
S9 AT A GLANCE
Android 8.0 Nougat with Samsung
Samsung Exynos 9810 octa-core
(4x2.8 GHz Mongoose M3 & 4x1.7 GHz Cortex-A55)
5.8-inch 2,560 x 1,440 pixels (~570 ppi)
Super AMOLED In nity Display
12-megapixel, dual f/1.5 and 2.4, 26mm,
Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS, LED flash
147.7 x 68.7 x 8.5 mm
S9+ AT A GLANCE
Android 8.0 Nougat with
Samsung Experience 9.0
Samsung Exynos 9810 octacore
(4x2.8 GHz Mongoose M3 & 4x1.7 GHz Cortex-A55)
6.2-inch 2,560 x 1,440 pixels
(~529 ppi) Super AMOLED
Dual 12-megapixel, dual
f/1.5 and 2.4, 26mm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS, LED flash and 12-megapixel f/2.4,
52mm telephoto, 2x optical zoom
158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm
By James Lu and Alvin Soon Pictures SAMSUNG