There comes a time in any market when the products available start to become similar– I believe that this point has come and gone a few times with phones and 2018 is no exception. Phones can only be so different from each other if one company makes an improvement in design or with a camera, it is expected that competitors will follow suit.
Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ represent a refined version of design blueprint that has been around for several years. In a move similar to Apple, the smaller and larger devices now have a core difference besides for battery size.– The camera. And after a few weeks with the Galaxy S9+ and I am ready to render a verdict.
A Refined, but Similar, Design
If something works well, there isn’t really a need to change it. While it might be a fingerprint magnet, the design of an Infinity Display with a glass design looks phenomenal. And Samsung kept the design mostly the same on the S9+. Bezels surrounding the display have become much smaller since this ethos was first introduced with the Galaxy S6. Unlike Apple’s implementation of a notch with the iPhone X, Samsung is sticking with core bezels above and below the display, albeit they are smaller.
The sides are now a metal design which gives the S9+ a more sturdy feel that also should eliminate some fingerprints from the sides of the device. Metal sides give it a sleek design transition to the glass back. Samsung’s offering the S9+ in Lilac Purple, Coral Blue, Midnight Black and Titanium Gray. I have an S9+ in Coral Blue, and an S9 in Lilac Purple, both of these offerings are undoubtedly unique colors, and I get the feeling that Samsung is trying to start a new craze around these colors. Given the glass backs, the colors look different depending on lighting conditions and the way the sun hits the device.
A crucial issue with the S8 and S8+ would be the terrible placement of a fingerprint sensor located directly next to the primary camera. It resulted in users getting smudging photos and having a tough time unlocking the device. Samsung has moved the sensor to below the camera on the back of the S9+. It’s a better spot and fits in with the broader Android design themes.
The Core Change Is a Dual Camera
Samsung’s Galaxy S9+ is the first true “flagship” device from the company that has a dual camera on the rear. Up until now, Samsung hasn’t made many advancements regarding hardware with cameras. Instead, they focused on software. Something that Google has perfected most recently with the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. But, Samsung has a pretty remarkable camera on the S9+ to say the least– A 12-megapixel lens that combines a wide-angle and a telephoto lens into one setup. I should note that the S9 can still do bokeh effect photos and they look eerily similar to that of the S9+–The main difference is you don’t get an extra-wide-angle shot and lose some framing options.
The star of the show with the S9+ camera is the technology of a Dual Aperture lens, while this is marketing jargon, it’s pretty neat. You get in both lenses on this model, while the S9 gets it in a single lens. Dual Aperture works similar to the human eye in that in darker situations, more light it lets in. Samsung’s camera can automatically adjust the f-stop, or in Pro mode, you can change it yourself.
It will adjust from f/1.4 to a f/2.5, at times it works out well and other times images will appear blown out from too much light or grainy from not enough light. But for the typical photo, this auto mode will perform well, and the shots are impressive. Helping with these grainy shots and for overall noise reduction, Samsung has packed 6GB’s of RAM into the S9+, which helps these camera processes to complete faster. I did notice that Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL photos came out with less noise and less grain from a larger sample of shots, but for a typical user, the S9+ takes excellent images.
Samsung’s other party trick would be 960 frames per second slow motion video, which is really epic. But similar to last year’s Sony Xperia flagships, in auto mode, it will detect the motion in a square and choose when to film. It can be a bit frustrating when it doesn’t always catch the right moment or results in making the wrong part slow-mo. With any slow-mo videos, you need a ton of light, and they don’t perform well in low-light situations.
Bixby and AR Emojis Need Work
There is still a dedicated Bixby button on the left-hand side of the Galaxy S9+, and you will always hit it by accident several times a day. Bixby needs work, and for any company entering the virtual assistant race this late, you need a ton of R&D behind it. Samsung is doing it’s best, but Bixby is not yet ready for prime time, especially when the Google Assistant is readily available on the same device. Bixby also has a level system now, which appears to be that they are trying to gamify the experience– spoiler alert it doesn’t make you want to use it anymore.
AR Emojis need work and can be a bit creepy. The setup process is relatively simple and makes use of an 8-megapixel camera on the front. They don’t look all the great, and typically after taking a selfie, there is a lot of customizations that need to be done. With that being said they offer more customization than the of Animojis and work across the device, not just in messages.
Emotions are exaggerated and generally can’t bring the point across, I find them to be a gimmick. I think if you end up with an S9 or S9+ you’ll use them for a bit and then be tired of them. But most flagships devices come with a gimmick or two, and at least this one provides a good laugh now and then.
The Rest of the Galaxy S9+
A 6.2-inch Quad HD + Curved Super AMOLED Infinity Edge Display still impresses. Colors are very vibrant, blacks are very dark, and image reproduction is accurate. I would have like to see Samsung go the route that Apple and Essential have gone, but I expect with the next Note or the direct successor to these devices, something will be implemented to that effect. For now, the S9+ has a gorgeous display that is on par with the Pixel 2 family and the iPhone X.
Powering the Galaxy S9+ is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Processor with 6GB of RAM, and this helps to ensure a fast user experience. The device performed exceptionally well in benchmarks and on paper beat out the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. You will not experience much lag on the S9+. Samsung’s new user interface is definitely farther away from clean Android, but this is to be expected.
Like Samsung’s physical design, their user interface design is a refinement from years past. Most of the changes come in the land of Bixby, but those updates will be arriving the Note 8 and S8 some point soon. And don’t expect future Android updates to arrive quickly, as Samsung is notorious for being quite slow with them.
Lastly, you have a 3500mAh battery inside, which should last longer thanks to the Snapdragon 845 processor. It is a relatively safe battery size given the Note 7 fiasco, but it performed pretty well. It is on par with the Pixel 2 XL, iPhone X, and iPhone 8 Plus. There were some days where it did die faster depending on application use, but fast charging performs well.
Samsung’s Galaxy S9 is a refinement of there flagship device, it is perfection for the company, but that doesn’t mean it is perfect for the market. The S9+ has a great camera that is on par with competitors; it has a good display, a fast processor, and an average battery. But there is not a landmark new feature that makes it, to use a Samsung phrase, “the next big thing.” It is refinement rather than groundbreaking, and as the first flagship of 2018, they might be setting the stage for more devices like this.
The Galaxy S9+ is a solid device all around that performs well, but you shouldn’t rush out to upgrade to it if you have an S8 or S8+, or maybe even an S7. Other devices have a less fingerprint magnet design, a cleaner experience, and a just as good camera. Samsung’s Galaxy S9+ is good, but I would look towards a Pixel 2 or iPhone X if you are in the market to get a new phone.
From Samsung, the Galaxy S9+ costs $839 at full cost, which is in the middle of where most carriers are pricing the device. It’s $929 from Verizon, $914 from AT&T, $912 from Sprint, or $840 from T-Mobile.