Making its debut in March 2010, Samsung’s Galaxy S series has been one of the longest-standing flagship ranges in the world of smartphones, surpassed only by Apple’s iPhone series. Nine generations in, the range has continued to push the envelope in terms of what we expect from our smartphones, both in terms of the hardware and features. The latest Galaxy S9 and S9+ (first impressions) are no different. Following the tick-tock approach, this time around, the South Korean giant has refined the S8 and S8+ (review) from the outside, while focussing on camera capabilities and upgraded internals. Of course, like their predecessors, the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ can easily be called the best Android smartphones one can buy, but the real question is what do you get for your money. And that’s what I’m here to dig deeper into today after using the S9+ for about a week.
Specs at a glance
|Resolution||1440 x 2960 pixels|
|CPU||Quad core, 2.7 GHz + Quad core, 1.7 GHz, Samsung Exynos 9 Octa|
|Internal memory||64 GB|
|External memory||Up to 400 GB|
|Capacity||3500 mAH, Li-ion, Non removable|
|Talktime||Up to 25 Hours (3G)|
|Primary camera||12 MP|
|Secondary camera||8 MP|
|Network support||Dual SIM 4G|
|Other options||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS|
|Operating system||Android 8.0 Oreo|
The screen on the Samsung Galaxy S9+ has been rated as the best display ever on a smartphone by DisplayMate, while DxoMark has ranked the device as the best smartphone for capturing stills. One look at the potent spec sheet above, and it’s evident that the brand has left no stone unturned in making its latest offerings the crème de la crème of the phone world. What makes the ‘Plus’ model more exciting is that Samsung has differentiated it well from its smaller sibling, just like the way Apple has been doing with its own iPhones. For the first-time ever, the Galaxy S series gets dual rear cameras, available only on the Galaxy S9+.
Both the S9 and the S9+ are available in two storage options of 64GB and 256GB, and the best part is that contrary to rumours which suggested that pricing might be quite high this time, the price tags remains the same as the launch price of last year’s S8 and S8+. The pricing for the Galaxy S9 starts at Rs 57,900, while the base model of the S9+ will set you back by Rs 64,900.
So if money is no bar and you simply want the best smartphone available, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ will not disappoint you. If you don’t necessarily want the dual-camera functionality and are looking for a relatively smaller smartphone, then the Galaxy S9 should serve your needs equally well.
Now if you’re wondering why I think so, then read on.
Cameras: more than meets the eye
Primary camera: 12 MP
Flash: LED Flash
Secondary camera: 8 MP
“The human eye is an incredibly powerful image capturing tool” – that’s how Samsung started the camera segment of the presentation of its latest flagships at the launch event at MWC, Barcelona. And that’s what has inspired the brand for the camera capabilities of the Galaxy S9 and S9+. Just like how the human eye adapts to different lighting conditions by contracting or expanding the pupils, the cameras on the S9 duo offer a dual aperture of f/1.5 and f/2.4, and can automatically switch between them depending upon the ambient light. In fact, the f/1.5 aperture is the widest-ever on a smartphone yet, making the S9 duo ideal devices for low-light photography. Both the S9 and S9+ come with this feature, but the latter adds dual cameras to the mix. Specs-wise, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ comes equipped with a pair of 12-megapixel snappers, with the primary being a wide-angle sensor and the secondary lens being a telephoto one with f/2.4 aperture. The optically-stabilised sensors offer Live Focus functionality and the ability to zoom up to 2x without losing image quality, similar to the Galaxy Note8 (review). The phone also comes with impressive video-recording capabilities, including a new super slow-mo mode that lets you shoot videos 32 times slower than normal playback speeds.
Like always, the camera app on Samsung’s flagship phone is loaded to the gills with modes and options. That’s not to say that the app is difficult to use, as all the options are laid out nicely. When you hold the phone in portrait mode, the large circular button at the bottom acts as the shutter, while the one besides it lets you start shooting videos instantly, and you can also preview your shots. Right above these, you’ll find the camera settings, the ability to use the entire screen as a viewfinder (the resolution is reduced to 7.9MP in this case), the flash toggle, filters and the front camera toggle. You can also use Bixby Vision (which debuted with the S8 duo), and use the 2x optical zoom. Up top, there are a ton of modes such as Live Focus, Pro, Panorama, Food, Super Slow Mo, AR Emoji and Hyperlapse.
In terms of the image quality, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ delivers impressive results. The images are incredibly detailed and vibrant, making them eye-pleasing, be it a landscape or a close-up of a flower. While images look great even otherwise, you can also enable the HDR mode to add more charm. Courtesy dual-pixel autofocus, the camera is quick to focus, making it a joy to shoot with. That said, often times, there’s a bit of a shutter lag. Thanks to the innovative dual aperture technology, the device excels in shooting in dim conditions too, as it offers a sharp output with accurate colours and minimal noise. While you won’t be able to know which aperture was used while shotting in auto mode, the pro mode lets you choose the aperture for shooting. Here’s an example of the difference between the f/1.5 and f/2.4 aperture, without changing any other settings like shutter speed or ISO sensitivity.
Even with all these capabilities, the cameras on the S9+ remain a shade behind the Google Pixel 2 XL’s shooters in terms of pure image quality. That said, we’re glad that there are two very impressive cameraphones in the Android segment now. Take a gander at the camera samples taken from the Galaxy S9+.
While Samsung might not be the first to incorporate super slow-mo capabilities in a smartphone (Sony introduced it with the Xperia XZs), I’m certainly glad it did. With Motion Detection feature, the S9+’s camera can even trigger Super slow-mo recording automatically whenever it detects motion in a designated area of the frame. While the phone can only capture a 960fps Super slow-mo video for 0.2 seconds, the actual clip turns out to be a six second long, and helps make moments extra-ordinary by adding a different perspective. You can also enhance this further by adding background music or make videos even more interesting as GIFs with options like reverse, loop and swing. However, you need ample lighting to shoot videos in this mode. The regular videos captured by the phone are also impressive in terms of details, colours and smoothness.
For selfies, Samsung is continuing with an 8MP f/1.7 shooter at front. However, the S9 duo remains among the very few phones to offer autofocus functionality for the selfie camera. This certainly adds to the quality of the image, which is quite good in daylight or even poorly-lit scenarios, thanks to the screen flash (samples in the gallery above). And if you want to spruce up your selfies, there’s the new AR Emoji. Not much different from Apple’s Animojis (at least in terms of the idea, if not the tech and execution), the feature lets you create a virtual 3D avatar of yourself that tracks your facial movements. However, unlike Apple’s TrueDepth camera system, the Chaebol is only utilising the front camera and machine learning (to map out more than 100 facial features) to enable this functionality. The device even lets you customise your AR Emoji and also creates some GIFs once the avatar is made. While initially, these avatars are fun to create and you can share them via WhatsApp, etc., they seem gimmicky once the novelty factor wears off.
Design and display: cut from the same metal and glass
Dimensions: 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm
Weight: 189 grams
When the S9/S9+ are kept next to their predecessors, you could find it tough to tell them apart. Not that it’s a bad thing, as Samsung has popularised the glass-based design with metallic reinforcement along the edges. Add to it the Infinity Display up front which curves towards the sides, and the Samsung Galaxy S9+ is a stunning smartphone. Another factor distinguishing the device from the crowd is its Coral Blue and Lilac Purple hues along with the regular black or grey options.
On noticing closely however, the S9 duo feature even slimmer bezels at the top and bottom as compared to their previous avatars. With the display panel turned off, the smartphone seems to have a full-screen front as it seamlessly blends with the bezels which cleverly hide the sensors, and only the earpiece and the front-facing camera is visible up top.
The placement of ports and controls remains the same and thankfully, that means there’s a 3.5mm socket at the base. Sadly, the device retains a dedicated button to launch the Bixby smart assistant, and the key can’t be mapped to anything else. Thankfully, Samsung has addressed the biggest gripe we had with its last year’s flagships – the positioning of the fingerprint scanner. On the Samsung Galaxy S9+, the scanner is now conveniently located beneath the camera module, making it easier to reach along with ensuring that the sensors don’t get smudged. The camera module is accompanied by the LED flash and a heart-rate sensor.
You might not really need the fingerprint reader though, and that’s because the Galaxy S9+ offers Intelligent Scan. Unlike the Apple iPhone X, the Galaxy S9+ doesn’t have any hardware implementation for face unlock, but the Intelligent Scan capability combines the facial authentication mechanism with iris recognition. What this means is that depending upon the lighting conditions, the device chooses the more appropriate unlocking method on its own. In dim environments for example, the iris scan is used to unlock the smartphone, since it can work with less light. However, the downside is that intelligent scan isn’t as fast as facial unlock on many smartphones.
The rear panel of the Galaxy S9+ is a shiny slab of glass, which looks really eye-pleasing with its light-reflecting characteristics, but gathers fingerprints and smudges. The good thing however, is that even though it’s smooth, the phone doesn’t feel slippery even after long sessions of usage. Samsung is also thoughtfully bundling a soft transparent case to protect it. I used the handset without the case for a couple of days to get the in-hand feel and the glass didn’t get scratched. However, using a case is advisable to make sure the sheen can stay for long periods.
While the Samsung Galaxy S9+ is marginally thicker than its predecessor – 8.5mm vs 8.1mm, it doesn’t seem that way, thanks to curved edges at the front and back. In fact, the device also weighs more at 185g versus 173g of the S8+, and yet doesn’t feel heavy as the weight has been distributed well across the body. Ergonomically, the smartphone offers a good in-hand feel and it can even be operated single-handedly, provided one has large hands. Unlike previous smartphones with curved edges from the Korean brand, the display sloping towards the edges is much more refined and thus, reduces the chance of inadvertent touches.
The Corning Gorilla Glass 5-protected display continues to offer QHD+ resolution. And while I couldn’t have thought this was possible, the Samsung Galaxy S9+’s 6.2-inch Super AMOLED panel looks even better than its previous iteration. It’s sharp, bright and vibrant, and can easily be seen under harsh sunlight. The display is also certified for Mobile HDR Premium, allowing it to offer more contrast while watching compatible videos. The always-on display feature also gets an update as there are quite a few templates to show date and time, and you can utilise just the edge screen for the same if you want.
Of course, the Galaxy S9+ continues with the dust- and water-proofing feature, all thanks to IP68 protection. The device can survive in 1.5m deep water for up to 30 minutes.
Hardware and software: faster than a bullet
CPU: Quad core, 2.7 GHz + Quad core, 1.7 GHz, Samsung Exynos 9 Octa
GPU: Mali-G72 MP18
RAM: 6 GB
Memory: 64 GB + Up to 400 GB
SIM Slots: Dual SIM , GSM+GSM
Like always, Samsung’s newest flagship comes equipped with the latest and greatest. The Galaxy S9+ is powered by a 10nm Exynos 9810 processor. The SoC is clocked at 2.8GHz for the four high-end cores, while the remaining four power-efficient scores are tuned at 1.7GHz. Combined with a Mali-T880 graphics engine and 6GB of RAM, the phone is a true powerhouse. From basic tasks of switching between apps to running heavy ones, or even playing graphics-intensive games, the smartphone performs like a hot knife on butter. The thermals are also managed well. Even after an hour of playing Middle-earth: Shadow of War or CSR Racing 2, the handset doesn’t heat up. The same remains the case even while using GPS, though the phone does get slightly warm while charging, which is quite normal anyway.
Even though the performance is a delight, some lag does creep in here and there on the Samsung Galaxy S9+. While scrolling the multitasking menu or swiping left to access the Bixby screen for example, you’ll find traces of jitter creeping in. That said, the software is quite refined and hasn’t crashed on me yet.
Talking about software, the Galaxy S9+ boots the latest Android 8.0 Oreo layered with the custom Samsung Experience 9.0 layer atop. As such, it’s not much different from previous iterations of the skin. The custom interface and icons can be themed the way you want. While Samsung has definitely reduced the laundry-list of features it used to offer with its software, it still continues with duplicate apps (from both Samsung and Google – two browsers, two app stores, etc.) and there are preinstalled titles from Microsoft as well.
Having said that, I liked the fact that I can access the pair of apps that were previously opened in split-screen mode directly in the multitasking menu. Speaking of which, the S9+ gets the App Pair mode from the Galaxy Note8, allowing you to automatically set two apps to open simultaneously using a single tap from the Apps Edge. Another small-but-useful feature is that when you’re using the multitasking mode in landscape orientation, then the homescreen and app menu rotate accordingly.
Bixby has also got some updates on the S9+. And while it’s no Google Assistant, it does come in handy in quite a few scenarios. For Bixby Vision, the camera now comes with nine preset modes, letting you translate text, scan a QR code or get the calorie information for the food in front. All of these are useful, since normally, you’d need separate apps for similar functionality.
On the storage side of things, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ ships with 64GB of memory (there’s a 256GB storage variant as well). End users will get around 50.5GB for their personal use, and if that’s not enough, one can always slide in a microSD card of up to 400GB to add more.
Battery and more
Capacity: 3500 mAH, Li-ion, Non removable
Talktime: Up to 25 Hours (3G)
Fuelling the Samsung Galaxy S9+ is a 3,500mAh battery, which is the same capacity as its predecessor. It ensures that the device can comfortably last an entire working day, but if you’re a heavy user, it’d require juicing up by night. With my usage of streaming music via Bluetooth, watching YouTube videos for an hour, using 4G for messaging on WhatsApp and browsing, and of course, a few calls, the device had less than 10 percent left by the end of the day. On an average, the phone is able to offer about four hours of screen-on time. This is when the screen was pushing 1,080 x 2,160 pixels and wasn’t set at QHD+ resolution. In our video loop test however, it gave impressive results as it drained just 10 percent in an hour of HD video playback with both brightness and volume levels at 50 percent.
You can, of course, use the battery saving modes to prolong usage time as and when required. With the bundled charger, the S9+ can be juiced up from 10 to 100 percent in about 90 minutes. The phone also supports fast charging with the optional wireless charger.
Complementing the immersive display for multimedia lovers are stereo speakers tuned by AKG. While one speaker is placed at the bottom, the earpiece doubles up as another, offering loud sound output. The audio is also much richer thanks to Dolby support.
The Samsung Galaxy S9+ comes with a full suite of connectivity options, ranging from dual-SIM support (the secondary slot is hybrid) to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, NFC and GPS. It supports 4G VoLTE with Carrier Aggregation (CA) to offer faster data speeds, and thanks to Bluetooth 5.0, it can also stream music to two devices at the same time.
Should you buy it?
Is the Samsung Galaxy S9+ perfect? No
Is it the best Android smartphone one can buy? Without a doubt. It’s a great all-rounder that impresses in almost every aspect and doesn’t miss out on anything crucial feature either.
If you’re in the market for a flagship smartphone, then you should know that the Galaxy S9+ is more affordable than the iPhone X (review), which costs nearly a lakh for the base model. While the iPhone X will certainly make more sense for those who are invested heavily in the Apple ecosystem and/or want a no-fuss smartphone, the S9+ surely gets my recommendation for its price and features like Dual Aperture and Super slow-mo video recording. Another strong contender in the Android category is the Google Pixel 2 XL (review), which is still slightly better in terms of the camera capabilities, and also the software (as it comes with stock Android and promises regular updates). However, if you’re looking for an all-rounder smartphone that won’t leave you wanting for more, then the Samsung Galaxy S9+ is a better choice.
Editor’s rating: 4.5 / 5
- Gorgeous IP68-protected design
- Impressive high-res curved display
- Fantastic camera, even in low light
- Ability to capture super slow-mo videos
- Powerful performance
- AKG-tuned stereo speakers
- Features such as 3.5mm port and dual-SIM support
- The intelligent scan isn’t fast enough
- AR Emojis are barely useful
- Average battery life
Photos by Raj Rout