“The Samsung Galaxy S9 is the Korean giant’s compact flagship offering for the year 2018”
As is often the case with smartphones, the ‘Plus’ variant of a device gets more features than its standard version. Therefore, the Samsung Galaxy S8 came as a breath of fresh air when it was launched last year, since the device shipped with the same core specs as its pricier sibling, the S8 Plus (review). Unfortunately, the scenery has changed with the Galaxy S9, which besides featuring a smaller screen and a less capacious battery, also ships without a dual-camera setup and lower RAM compared to the Galaxy S9 Plus.
What’s more is that the company’s latest flagships look and perform a lot like its last-gen models. This raises two really important questions from a buyer’s perspective – do you pay a little extra and get the Galaxy S9 Plus (review) which comes with better specs or, do you save some dough and buy the Samsung Galaxy S8? Let’s find out the answer to those questions in this review.
Design and Display
Ever since Xiaomi unveiled the Mi Mix smartphone back in 2016, we’ve seen more and more manufacturers release devices which adhere to the bezel-less design language. Samsung is no exception to this rule and the company’s Galaxy S8 duo were arguably the best-looking bezel-less smartphones when they were launched last year. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the company hasn’t toyed with the design of the Galaxy S9, which looks exactly like its predecessor, save for the repositioned fingerprint sensor at the back. I’m not complaining though, since the familiar design language of the Galaxy S9 still makes it one of the sexiest smartphones in the market which coincidentally, you can also dunk in a tub of water, owing to its IP68 certification.
Before embarking on to review the Galaxy S9, I used the S9 Plus for a while and right off the bat, I can tell you that I prefer the size of the smaller flagship. In fact, a co-worker who bought the Galaxy S9 Plus shared my opinions too. The S9 is extremely comfortable to hold, thanks to its rounded corners and to me, seems the perfect-sized smartphone for one-handed usage. Despite its slippery glass-back design, I never fumbled while reaching the top corners of the display, and the smartphone’s physical buttons have been ergonomically placed too. You still get the Bixby button, which is just as annoying as it was on the Galaxy S8 and yes, I did mistake it for the volume rocker more than once. You can disable it, though that leaves you with a button which does absolutely nothing.
Remember the repositioned fingerprint sensor I spoke about earlier? Well, that makes a world’s difference in the day-to-day usage of the S9 and I could unlock the smartphone without any hassles. It’s not the quickest sensor in the world, but gets the job done when the company’s intelligent scan technology failed to ID my face or retinas. More on that later.
The display backing the Samsung Galaxy S9 remains the same too, and you’ll get a 5.8-inch Super AMOLED QHD+ panel with the smartphone. Thankfully, the display doesn’t ship with a notch, a trend which is catching on like wildfire amongst Android smartphone manufacturers. As far as the quality is concerned, you’ll get the best-looking screen on any smartphone in the market with the Galaxy S9 which is rich in colours and boasts ample contrast levels. The display gets adequately bright under direct sunlight and is complaint with HDR10 standard as well, allowing you to stream content with enhanced visuals from apps like Netflix.
In a nutshell, the Samsung Galaxy S9 is the most gorgeous Android smartphone you can lay your hands on at the moment. For more details, make sure to check out our review of the Galaxy S9 Plus, where we’ve talked about the design in much more depth. Heck, you could even take a look at our review of the Galaxy S8 Plus for that matter.
Samsung has really upped the ante when it comes to smartphone photography and has outfitted the Galaxy S9 duo with dual aperture sensors. As opposed to a fixed aperture lens which is found on pretty much every other smartphone in the market, the Galaxy S9’s camera can switch between two different aperture modes of f/1.5 and f/2.4. Switching to f/1.5 aperture mode opens up the lens and lets in more light, ensuring that the quality of the images doesn’t take a dip even when you’re shooting with the smartphone at night.
Unfortunately, you do miss out on a secondary telephoto lens with the Galaxy S9 which is present on the S9 Plus. While the S9 can still click images in portrait mode with the background of the subject blurred, the quality of shots takes a hit since there’s no dedicated sensor on the smartphone to capture depth information. Moreover, you can’t adjust the amount of blur on the S9, whereas you get the option to manually tweak it while taking the photo as well as after you’ve clicked it on the S9 Plus.
Despite all of that, I still believe that the Galaxy S9 is right up there with its pricier sibling in terms of mobile photography. The images you can click with the S9’s 12MP sensor are simply breathtaking and are rich in both colour as well as details. The lowlight capabilities of the smartphone surpass every other flagship in the market and you’ll be amazed by how effective the variable aperture system on the S9 is. I’ve posted a few sample shots to give you an idea of the device’s camera prowess but rest assured, if you want a smartphone with the best camera, then you can’t go wrong with either of the two flagships from Samsung.
I was impressed with the smartphone’s 8MP, f/1.7 aperture selfie-camera too. While it hasn’t seen a huge upgrade since last year, the camera still managed to capture incredibly detailed selfies. It is also one of the few selfie-shooters in the market which comes with autofocus capabilities, ensuring that a slight movement in your hand doesn’t result in a blurry picture. Moreover, Samsung has also bundled a ‘selfie focus’ mode with the Galaxy S9 which blurs the background of your portraits when clicked with the front camera.
If you are addicted to watching ‘the Slo Mo guys’ on YouTube, then you’ll be glad to know that the Galaxy S9 will let you capture slow motion videos of your own too. Now, the resolution is capped at 720p and the feature only works when there’s ample light around (even then it’s a hit or a miss). However, when you do get it right, the footage looks impressive and for some reason, really satisfying too.
Lastly, you’ll also get the option to unlock your S9 by either letting the device scan your face or your irises. The smartphone can even choose which scanning method should be used depending upon the lighting conditions on its own. Samsung calls this Intelligent Scan and for the most part, it works as advertised. However, I did find the method to be a tad bit slower when compared to face unlock on other smartphones. Moreover, it doesn’t always work when you’re using your phone in the dark.
In summation, the cameras on the Samsung Galaxy S9 certainly live up to the hype the company created at the launch event of the smartphones. Now, let’s talk about something that didn’t – the AR Emojis.
AR Emojis are Samsung’s take on Apple’s Animojis, which allow users to create a 3D avatar of themselves. Unfortunately, my avatar looked nothing like me and came out to be rather disturbing and creepy which is why, I didn’t find much use for this feature. To know more about how AR Emojis work, make sure to check out our review of the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus.
The Samsung Galaxy S9 boots Android Oreo which is layered with the custom Samsung Experience 9.0 skin on top. As far as custom skins go, Samsung has done a pretty good job at keeping things minimal, though it’s still a far cry from stock Android. While the company has reduced the bloatware on the device, the handset is still riddled with numerous duplicate applications.
Now, you do get some nifty features with the skin such as the ability to create a shortcut for a pair of apps to be opened in split-screen mode simultaneously. However, they don’t make up for the UI stutters and random app crashes on the S9. Moreover, you still can’t remap the Bixby button to open some other application and since it’s positioned so close to the volume rocker, you will end up accidentally pressing it on several occasions. Suffice it to say, software is Samsung’s weakest link and it is still haunting the company’s flagships, even to this day.
Performance and Battery life
The Samsung Galaxy S9 is a really fast smartphone, though I must say, using the OnePlus 5T (review) has spoiled me a bit. The S9 is powered by an Exynos 9810 octa-core processor which has been paired with 4GB of RAM. Together, they churn out incredible performance, albeit the device doesn’t seem as snappy as the 5T or even the Google Pixel 2 XL (review) for that matter. The difference in the performance becomes evident when you’re multitasking between several applications and I noticed that the S9 struggled to keep applications in memory over extended usage.
I never faced this issue with my 5T, whose 8 gigs of memory helped me switch between different applications instantly. Make no mistake, the Galaxy S9 can easily handle intensive gaming and does a fine job at multitasking too, but it’s just not the quickest smartphone in the market. Suffice it to say, if you want a bit more grunt under the hood, then you’ll be better off with the S9 Plus, which ships with 6GB of RAM.
I wish I could say that Samsung’s performance woes end there, but that’s not it. During my usage, I noticed that my unit of the Galaxy S9 stayed perpetually warm to the touch, which made it uncomfortable to hold in the hot temperature conditions of Delhi. You shouldn’t expect to get through the end of the day with the smartphone’s 3,000mAh battery either. Even with the display set at full HD+ resolution, the battery on my Samsung Galaxy S9 dipped to critical numbers by evening. Thankfully, you get a fast charger bundled with the retail packaging of the smartphone so you can top it back to 100 percent charge level quickly. The phone supports wireless charging as well.
In the audio department, the S9 now comes with a pair of speakers, (one at the bottom and the other being the earpiece itself) which have been fine-tuned by AKG. Coupled with the smartphone’s brilliant display, the S9 offers an impeccable movie-watching experience.
The Samsung Galaxy S9 is a fantastic smartphone, albeit is sandwiched awkwardly between the Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy S9 Plus which makes it a hard sell. The smartphone isn’t a huge upgrade over its predecessor and has noticeable shortcomings when compared to its bigger brother. Therefore, if you already own the Galaxy S8, then it’ll be hard for you to justify upgrading to the newer flagship since you’ll only miss out on an improved camera and an ergonomically positioned fingerprint sensor. Instead, it makes more sense for you to upgrade over to the S9 Plus which features a better camera setup, a bigger display, more RAM and a beefier battery.
With that said, the S9 makes for a compelling proposition for those who’ve been using a smartphone which is over two years old and are looking to upgrade to a compact premium flagship. The only real competition the Galaxy S9 has in this department is from the Google Pixel 2, which although boasts an impressive camera and marginally faster performance, pales in comparison to the S9’s incredible looks.
Editor’s Rating: 4 / 5
- Impressive display
- Incredible cameras
- Good performer
- Heating issues
- Samsung Experience UX is a work in progress
- Battery life is not up to the mark