After the launch of Apple’s 10th anniversary iPhone X, all eyes were on Samsung to check whether the Korean smartphone giant could deliver a smartphone that could one-up Apple’s new Face ID technology along with its edge-to-edge display, which also introduced the annoying notch.
But after the long list of leaks and rumours, way before the official launch, it soon became clear that Samsung had little to offer in terms of new design and features.
With all the talks about smartphones with folding displays, it was a bit disappointing for fans who saw a new smartphone by Samsung at the launch event that looked exactly like last year’s flagship, the Galaxy S8.
It was clear that Samsung is holding back on its patents and technologies for something big. And the answer to that is expected to arrive in the form of the Galaxy X which should pack in some exotic technologies when it arrives in 2019, the tenth anniversary of the Samsung Galaxy series.
But with all the fancy stuff left for next year, what do we get this year?
In short, it’s all about that camera.
Build and Design: 9/10
The design of the Samsung Galaxy S9+ is now a year old. The Infinity Display made popular by the Galaxy S8 is a year old as well. In the year gone by, Samsung has used similar designs on the Galaxy Note 8 and the then again on Galaxy A8+ which makes the design philosophy less exclusive today, than it was a year ago.
With that said, it’s clear that Samsung S8 owners will not be upgrading to an S9 this year, but will patiently wait for either the new Note series or next year’s big upgrade instead.
Samsung has gone in with a more mature, matte finish for its sandwiched metal frame that sits between two sheets of 3D curved glass. The overall design is still good but seems to have lost its charm thanks to the lack of a chrome finish, which made the S8 look like a timepiece.
What has changed are the bits on the back. The Galaxy S9+ now features a new vertically-placed dual camera setup, with a sensibly-placed fingerprint reader that sits closer to the centre than ever before. This makes it much easier to reach out to, in case you are least bothered to partake in Samsung’s other biometric identification security measures.
What has also changed is the design under the glass of the rear panel. It now features a satin-like finish as opposed to the fine cross pattern on the Galaxy S8. It sure looks good, but it’s not a differentiator that will set it apart from the old Galaxy S8.
The glass panels still catch fingerprints, but they are easy to wipe off. The matte finished frame, however, does add some value in the sense that it makes the phone a lot easier to grip than the previous chrome finish, which kept slipping out of my hands.
Despite its notch-less design (which still looks modern and better than a Google Pixel), the Samsung Galaxy S9+ sadly does not come close to Apple iPhone X’s stunning design, which uses a stainless steel frame and an edge-to-edge display. But then, Apple kept refining the same design for the iPhone 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus as well.
So if you are in the market for something unique, the iPhone X still holds better flaunt value. The Samsung Galaxy S9 despite its year-old design still looks a lot better than anything else in the Android market, and the added grip and better fingerprint placement are a much-needed improvement; also hinting that Samsung is listening to its consumers.
The Samsung Galaxy S9+ features a 6.2-inch curved Super AMOLED display sporting a Quad HD+ resolution. Beneath it, sits an all-new octa-core Exynos 9810 SoC, clocked at 2.7 GHz and paired with 6 GB of RAM and 64 GB of internal storage. Thankfully, Samsung did launch a higher storage variant this year, meaning that those who need higher storage can go in for the 256 GB model.
Also, new this year is that dual aperture, dual camera setup with a 12 MP wide-angle camera and a 12 MP telephoto camera. On the front, we again find an 8 MP unit, which is pretty much the same stuff like we saw on last year’s Galaxy S8.
Connectivity options include a support for 4G LTE bands with enhanced 4x4 MIMO and LTE Cat.18 support, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz), Bluetooth v5.0, NFC, GPS and a USB Type-C port that sits at the bottom end. Also at the bottom is good old 3.5 mm headphone jack and hardware features that audiophiles will prefer despite advancements in Bluetooth technologies for audio transmission to wireless accessories.
The handset is powered by a 3,500 mAh battery and comes with quick charging, both for wireless and wired chargers.
Last year’s Galaxy S8 saw a few problems with the display. Many users reported that the display showcased a strong red tinge, with others not too happy with the brightness levels. As with everything else on the Galaxy S9+, Samsung has worked on these problems.
While I loved the display on the Galaxy Note 8 last year, the Galaxy S9’s display takes things up a notch. It not only looks stunning running from edge to edge from side to side, but it is a big step in the right direction, which is to produce natural-looking colours.
OLED displays from Samsung have always been a notch above the rest, but they have always been shot down for showcasing oversaturated colours in past. While consumers prefer these colours, they are not the best representation of the reality, something that most users notice only when these photos are viewed on their desktops or laptops, which is where the saturated colours don’t pop and make images look a lot less interesting than what they looked on your smartphone.
For the first time ever, I am happy to say, that Samsung has done a fine job with colour accuracy. It’s the best that I have seen on a smartphone coming from the brand and probably the best I have seen on any Android smartphone so far.
Colours look stunningly close to the real scene when you pop open the cameras viewfinder and the sharpness levels thanks to the 529 ppi pixel density are beyond compare when reading text and viewing images.
The display is a lot brighter than last year’s S8 and I had no problems viewing it in direct sunlight.
Unlike the past, I preferred using the smartphone with Basic Display Mode selected, meaning that the colours were natural looking and not saturated like in the Adaptive Display Screen Mode. At the same time, the Adaptive Display Screen Mode made better sense outdoors or in dim lighting, where the colours on the screen (using the ambient light sensor) automatically adjust the colours to overcome the imbalance in the ambient lighting in your surroundings.
The overall tone is still on the cool side, but Samsung allows for customisations in its Display Settings for customising the colour balance to a user’s liking.
There minimal colour shifting when viewed from an angle and the same goes for brightness levels.
Similar to the Galaxy S8 and Note 8, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ also features an HDR10 compliant panel, meaning that you enjoy expanded colours, contrast and brightness levels along with perfect blacks of the SuperAMOLED display while viewing HDR content.
I appreciated Samsung’s efforts when it came to the Note 8, where the additional customisation of the Samsung Experience UI made sense putting its S Pen to good use. On the Samsung Galaxy S9, things haven’t changed all that much.
You now get 6 GB of RAM to do the heavy lifting of the Samsung’s skinned UI. It feels light and smooth, but it’s not smoother than a Google Pixel 2 XL.
The software has seen some improvements and some upgrades. The skinning looks similar but there are added customisations in Always on Display settings. The same can be said about the lockscreen notifications where the notification cards can now be made completely transparent with just the text showing, which looks pretty cool. I also liked how the new landscape mode of the homescreen shows app names on the right side of every app making them legible no matter how many icons you add to the grid. In short, this is Samsung polishing its Experience UI.
I dig the new wallpapers and Samsung’s theme store has also grown in size. The flagship for once, also comes with the latest operating system, with Android Oreo 8.0 inside.
Oreo also brings along some visual changes with notification dots, notification previews and a lot more. What I liked is how Samsung has given users a choice to switch to the new dots (stock Android) or stick to the badges that have been a staple since the first Galaxy model. Indeed, it’s the good kind of customisation which is something new I have come to see from Samsung with the S9 this year.
Now for the bad part. Samsung’s Experience UI needs a bit of rethinking in places like the Settings menu. It’s complicated enough for someone coming from stock Android (Pixel, Nexus) but it will even be complicated for someone coming from Xiaomi’s MIUI. It’s simply too hard to find things in the settings. Just like last year, I simply gave up searching for things and directly tapped the search bar in Settings to find whatever I wanted.
Then there are the visual triggers which it completely lacks. Take for example the Home Screen Settings, (which I accessed by long pressing on the Home Screen by the way and not Settings) it’s hard to tell that there is a sub menu present in the App icon badges, unless you happen to notice this fine line that divides the button into two separating the toggle from the actual button. Miss it, and you will never know that there even existed an option to toggle between app badges with a number of the staple Android notification dots.
Thankfully this problem with visual cues only exists in the Settings menu and nowhere else.
Also available on Samsung's smartphones is Samsung's Knox secure space. This time the software gets upgraded to Knox 3.1 and basically gets you defense grade security for securing your work data. What makes it so unique, is that it connects and monitors both hardware and software making it hard for a stray third-party element to even take a peek at your secured data. The work space is secured by the hardware root of trust making it one of the most secure enterprise experiences around, especially when you consider that there's open source Android running on it. Add to this Samsung's various biometric authentication methods and you can tell that its tougher than most BlackBerry devices out there.
Also present is Samsung Pay, but little has changed and the system works well thanks to Samsung's acquired Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) technology, that does not need special POS machines, meaning that it can be used where you would normally swipe your credit or debit card. Indeed, this makes it more useful and straightforward than most other digital payment methods that have come to Android smartphones lately.
As mentioned earlier, the Samsung’s Experience UI has kept improving over the past few years, but still is nowhere close to Google’s Pixel smartphones in terms of smoothness and fluidity.
But the smartphone does pack in quite a punch in terms of raw power with an SoC clocked at 2.7 GHz and 6 GB of RAM.
The above numbers below mean that gaming would be a flawless experience, and so it was.
The smartphone ran even the most graphically demanding games like Asphalt 8: Xtreme, Real Racing 3 and more at the highest settings possible. With the massive 6.2-inch Infinity display that stretches from edge-to-edge, gaming on the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus was an immersive experience. The 6 GB of RAM also ensured that you can resume a game hours after you have paused it. Thanks to Game Launcher, you can even change the performance modes of the phone, before you jump into your game, letting you save battery life when you’re short on juice or far away from a plug point.
Adding to the gaming experience is the dual speaker setup. It’s the best in the business and defeats every other smartphone out there both in terms of clarity and loudness. Samsung and Harman have done a fantastic job of tuning and designing them and it adds volumes to the gaming and the movie viewing experience (which also includes HDR 10 support). The in-box AKG tuned headphones kept up to previous standards delivering well-balanced audio. Add to this audio experience the fact that this smartphone actually comes with a headphone jack and Dolby Atmos. As for everything else that has gotten quicker, so has face unlock. Samsung’s face unlock mode now comes with an added Intelligent Scan mode, which uses multimodal biometric authentication. So it uses both the iris scanning feature along with the not-so-secure face recognition that has plagued Android smartphones this year. The said mode is supposed to be more secure than what any other Android smartphone has on offer, but not as secure as Apple’s Face ID. As for the speed of scanning, it has improved and is more usable now. But the improved proximity of the fingerprint reader, one will see most users using the fingerprint reader more frequently. Call quality was pretty good and the loud earpiece speaker meant that calls can be heard loud and clear even in noisy environments. Camera: 9.5/10 After being more than satisfied with the imaging capabilities of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and the Google Pixel 2 last year, I assumed that things could not get any better six months later. Turns out, I was wrong. Samsung with the S9+ has delivered something even better using smart algorithms and the power of raw hardware, an area where Google did not focus on with the Pixel 2 (it was software at work back then).
It all worked out well for Samsung. The dual-aperture system, despite feeling unnecessary, did prove a point, while the 2x optical zoom performed better than expected. The image quality of the photos shot using the S9+ looked really close to the real scene in almost all shooting scenarios. The hue and colour tones were spot on not just when viewed on that top notch SuperAMOLED display, but on my desktop monitor in the office as well. While I would love to say that the photos were well exposed, the f/2.4 aperture kind of complicated things in broad daylight, which resulted in overexposed images. Had the camera shot the same at f/1.5 these images would have matched the results I got using the iPhone 8 Plus and the Pixel 2.
The smaller aperture did see one advantage in the sense that all of these images (shot at f/2.4), did present a lot more detail than what the competition managed to deliver. So even if the overall shot did look a bit overexposed, the details did come through.
Dynamic range was spot on in most conditions, but it is hard to fathom why the HDR mode rarely turned on. Seems like Samsung wanted to present the image exactly the way I saw it with my own eyes, nothing less and nothing more. This move by Samsung seems to have worked in its favour, in the sense that I did not notice the pastel-like strong HDR tones (with added colours) I have seen on Pixel 2. The iPhone 8 Plus did a great job here but the colours and saturation were a bit too strong. Autofocus was really fast and more importantly, accurate.
Annoying dual aperture system
The images looked sharp and clean with little or no noise in a majority of the photos shot.
While this worked wonders for S9+ in daylight, low light landscape shots saw some areas losing out on details. This is evident in most of the street scenes in the sample gallery where the details on the road often got blurred out due to the sharpening and strong noise processing despite class-leading f/1.5 aperture.
The annoying f/2.4 aperture kicked in even in low light under bright street lighting ruining a few shots completely.
Shooting a building, a person in dimly lit scenarios, saw some pretty clean shots provided the lighting in the surroundings was dim enough for the f/1.5 to kick in. Anything brighter than 100 lux and the f/2.4 aperture opens up even if you are under a bright street lamp in the middle of the night. Samsung really needs to re-program the usage scenarios for its dual aperture system.
But add a bit of directional light in a completely dark environment, and the results are stunning and class-leading, both in terms of detail and noise. The bronze Buddha statue and the colourful handbag photos are evidence of the capabilities of this smartphone.
Images shot using the selfie camera were pretty good, both in daylight and in low light which is a big improvement over the S8’s front-facing camera.
2X Optical Zoom
As for the optical zoom, it performed above expectations. It beats the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 Plus zoom functionalities, delivering zoomed in images that actually look clean, exceptionally sharp and colour accurate. The f/2.4 aperture on the optical telephoto lens works in its favour. So much so that I did use the telephoto lens to shoot some close-ups in broad daylight. The zoomed in photo of the sleeping dog shot using the telephoto lens is proof of its capabilities.
Video recording was a pretty good experience. While I have always praised Apple iPhones for their silky smooth and cinematic video recording, Samsung is getting there. With the Galaxy S9, not only did Samsung include 4K 60 fps video recording but also super-slow-motion video at 960 fps.
While Full HD 60 fps takes advantage of video stabilisation, 4K at 60 fps video does not. Still, as long as you keep your hands steady, the footage is the best you can get on an Android smartphone. If you want the OIS though, you can switch to 4K at 30 fps. If you are thinking about file size, well fear not as Samsung has also included high-efficiency video like we have seen on the recent iPhone models. HEVC format takes up less space. But be warned when sharing it with other Android smartphones, as you may not be able to view them if they don’t support the new format.
Super slow-motion video sounded great on paper and in the demos at launch, but in reality, its usage will be rather minimal. The reason for the same is that it needs lots of light to both focus on the subject and deliver flicker-free video footage that you see in movies or documentaries.
Apart from this, there is a complexity of using the feature itself. Personally, I preferred the auto mode, where you simply drag a box on the viewfinder to the area where you expect the fast motion to happen, instead of going manual and trying to trigger it after you have started recording the video. You need to keep in mind, that slow motion feature only works for a couple of seconds and nothing more, so you need to know what you want to capture in slow-mo beforehand.
Another problem is the resolution which is a bit too low at 1280 x 720 pixels.
And lastly, there’s Samsung’s rather gimmicky, AR Emoji. They are fun but not as cool as Apple’s Animoji. The replicas of your mug can look scary at times, so it’s wise to smile when your register your face to generate the custom emoji. The biggest problem with AR Emoji is that 2D tracking does not accurately track your facial expressions, meaning that the expressions are far and few. However, the AR stickers masks and characters do look great.
While Bixby as an assistant still has a long way to go before it can match Apple's Siri, Samsung has now added Bixby Vision to the mix this year. Bixby Vision works similar to Google Lens but works straight through the viewfinder. So instead of clicking a picture and then scanning it, Bixby gets direct access to the camera (it gives you a disclaimer first) for you to use it as a scanner to get more information about the objects in your surroundings.
Digging deeper, Bixby Vision just like the digital assistant, still needs a lot of work.
The computer vision tech will let you scan text for translation, images (can literally be anything but mostly for consumer products), places (an AR map with pins all around you), food, wine and QR codes.
From my testing, it works as a concept, but is not really practical just yet. While object recognition worked fine (it could recognize that I had a leather men's wallet) the categorisations are rather broad and not specific, meaning you will still be left clueless at the end of your search.
The places feature worked just fine and is useful in certain scenarios, give you an AR map with pins to point out how far the nearest.
The Text translate feature was again not up to the mark, with random suggestion laid out in floating AR text.
In short, Bixby Vision worked great as a concept, but still needs plenty of work. Problem is that Samsung's assistant is a year old, but hasn't matured enough to make having the dedicated Bixby button worthwhile, which is worrisome. More so because you have the smarter Google Assistant built in as well.
All-in-all Samsung’s camera is a massive improvement over the S8’s camera, but that dual aperture system kind of messes things up depending on the lighting conditions. On the bright side, the 2X optical zoom, the low-light shooting along and 4K 60 fps video recording more than makeup for the mess of the dual aperture system, making the Galaxy S9 a better camera offering than the Pixel 2 XL and the Apple iPhone 8 Plus.
Indeed, this has got to be the one area that the Galaxy S9 Plus did disappoint. My daily driver is an iPhone 8 Plus which runs easily for a day, but with the Galaxy S9 Plus I found that I often needed to charge it by the end of the day.
However, this is keeping in mind that S9+ does offer one of the bigger displays in the flagship smartphone space and it offers a QHD+ resolution to go with it. With the resolution set to full, the 9 hours and 4 minutes on our standard PC Mark Work 2.0 Battery Life test, was a bit disappointing.
Luckily Samsung does have plenty of measures to ensure that you don’t run out of charge that easily. There are a ton of power management options, with Samsung letting you run the Galaxy S9+ at Full HD+ or even HD+ resolutions and some background battery saving magic that should get you a few more hours that should get you past the day. Add to this, quick charging both using wired and wireless chargers and you have little to worry about when it comes to juicing up your S9+.
Verdict and Price in India
While the design of the Samsung Galaxy S9 may see S8 owners look the other way, it is a more polished version of its predecessor with plenty of under the hood improvements.
The Galaxy S9 Plus still features one of the more eye-catching designs among its competitors. Google Pixel 2 may come with machine learning smarts, but it does not fare well in the looks department. The iPhone 8 Plus is the same old iPhone 6 design (with some more glass), but it has a place in the sense that it is one of three new devices that run iOS.
So with that, the Galaxy S9+ will only compete with the Pixel 2 XL in the Android space.
At Rs 64,900, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ looks the part, performs and unlike the past iterations, actually comes with something extra above the standard model with a 2X optical zoom and 6 GB RAM.
Add to this class-leading imaging and a stunningly accurate SuperAMOLED display and it’s hard to look at anything else in the Android market right now (and possibly in the months to come).
To make the offering even more attractive, Samsung has also announced a whole host of cashback offers.
If you are an S8/S8+ or Note 8 user, you can skip the S9+ as it does not offer a significant upgrade from your existing devices. But yes, if you are on older Samsung or Android or even older Apple devices (and are looking to switch) then the Galaxy S9 and S9+ are smartphones that must definitely be considered.