What are the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+?
In a direct comparison the top and bottom bezels are fractionally smaller, meaning the new phone is slightly less tall than last year, though the display itself is identical to before. The edges are rounded enough that you can roll the handset through your fingers. The sides sport the expected buttons: power, volume rocker and Bixby button, which we’ll come back to later. The sim card tray, which also doubles as memory card slot, is on the top of the phone and the headphone jack is on the bottom.
A headphone jack? Yes, although the latest phones from Apple, HTC, Nokia and Sony have all got rid of the 3.5mm audio socket, Samsung has retained it. It’s a point of difference that many have found highly useful. But the big design change awaits us on the back of the Galaxy S9 and S9+, and is also the first way the two handsets diverge in look and function.
The second difference is the way to tell the S9 and S9+ apart. Of course, there’s the size difference, but the S9 has one camera and the S9+ has two. The Note8 boasted two rear cameras, but this is the first time an S phone has done so.
The S9 comes in three colours, midnight black, coral blue and lilac purple. On the black version, especially, the sensors and lenses blend perfectly into the rest of the phone. Except for the flash which rather stands out. For me, the really interesting feature of the phone’s design is not the look but the feel. It’s glass, front and back, and is both smooth and tactile. But it’s how well it fits the hand that is impressive. Even the larger S9+ with its 6.2in display, doesn’t feel gargantuan. Although it’s not a significant design change, mostly from last year’s S8, the new phones have the edge.
It works well but it’s not perfect. Samsung’s problem is that last November when the iPhone X launched, the bar was set very high for a fast, reliable facial recognition feature. The iPhone X almost never fails. The S9 and S9+ are great but they occasionally don’t work – just enough to make you feel less confident in the system.
As it looks at you, it sometimes switches between an icon for iris and one for facial recognition. Occasionally you’ll see a message asking you to open your eyes more fully or hold the phone more upright. On the plus side, when it works, it takes you straight to the home screen or the app you were last using, which adds to the feeling of intimacy when the phone has recognised you and unlocked accordingly.
As for the S9+, the second camera is a telephoto lens, also with a 12MP-resolution sensor. The lenses are crafted so that effectively it delivers 2x optical zoom. And you can, as on the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, shoot both sensors simultaneously and combine the results to give an evocative bokeh effect, where the subject is tightly focused and the background artfully blurred. Unlike some rival systems, though, you can adjust the blur effect after you’ve taken the shot.
AR Emoji come with scores of animations designed to show different emotions – drowning in tears, a light-bulb moment and so on – which you can turn into fun messages. It is clever but to my mind the better part of emoji is hidden in another row of icons in the AR Emoji set-up (which is part of the camera, by the way). These are curious animated creatures which move in sync to your voice and facial movements. It’s great fun, though it must be said it’s not quite as slick or as accurate as Apple’s version of the tech.
But the assistant is still not as advanced as some rivals. Still, in the year that Bixby Vision has been growing up, it’s learnt to work with Google Translate to create a nice effect. Hold the phone in front of a foreign-language road sign or menu, say and thanks to AR capabilities, the lettering that appears on your screen is magically translated into English, or whatever language you’ve selected.
Another difference from Apple’s phone is that the iPhone has never allowed expandable memory by adding a memory card. The Galaxy S9 and S9+ can read a memory card with up to 400GB capacity. The base capacity of the S9 and S9+ is 64GB, so you may well not need extra storage, but the possibility is there. Samsung also promise an enhanced entertainment experience with new and improved stereo speakers and a surround effect for both these inbuilt speakers and when using headphones, thanks to Dolby Atmos technology.
- Beautiful design
- Superb screen
- Great cameras
- Feature packed
- Impressive performance
- Some features could be slicker
- It's pricey
Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus Smartphone Review
Call and Signal Quality
Email, Browsing, Calandar, Contacts
App support and functionality
Value for Money
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.