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Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ review: An evolutionary step up
By James Lu & Alvin Soon - 15 Mar 2018

Overview, Design, Display, and Audio

 

What's new with Samsung's latest smartphones?

Samsung's latest smartphones, the Galaxy S9 and S9+, were unveiled on 26th February at Samsung's Unpacked 2018 event the day before MWC this year. Here's a quick rundown of everything that's new:

  • Samsung Exynos 9810 processor
  • 12-megapixel main camera with dual aperture f/2.4 and f/1.5 lens and "Super Speed" Dual Pixel sensor
  • On the S9+ only: Secondary 12-megapixel, f/2.4 camera
  • On the S9+ only: Option for 256GB internal storage capacity
  • Upgraded Bixby Vision
  • Super slow motion recording at 960fps
  • AR Emoji
  • Intelligent Scan biometric security that combines Iris and Face scanning
  • Re-positioned fingerprint scanner
  • Stereo speakers

Here's a detailed look at the specs:

 
 

But first, let's unbox one!

 

So, they look the same as last year's models?

Yes, design-wise, the S9 and S9+ look almost identical to the S8 and S8+, right down to the antenna bars, buttons and ports, which are all in the same places. That means the power button is on the right, and the volume rocker is on the left, with a dedicated Bixby button (which you still can't remap) below it. The phones are still IP68 rated, and yes, unlike a lot of phones out there, you still get a 3.5mm headphone port on the bottom.

The phones use the same Infinity Display design that was first introduced on the S8 and S8+, with the same screen sizes (5.8-inch on the S9 and 6.2-inch on the S9+), 18.5:9 aspect ratio, QHD+ 2,560 x 1,440 pixels resolution and dual-curved edges.

Technically, there are some differences, although you almost certainly won't notice them. Both the S9 and S9+ are actually ever so slightly shorter then their predecessors, with marginally reduced top and bottom bezels. The S9 is 1.2mm shorter than the S8, and the S9+ is 1.3mm shorter than the S8+. However both phones are also about 0.5mm wider and thicker than their predecessors.

Both phones are also slightly heavier, with the S9 coming in at 163g (8g heavier) - you won't notice this - and the S9+ coming in at 189g (16g heavier) - you will notice this. The S9+'s extra weight is mainly due to the addition of a secondary camera on the rear.

Speaking of the rear, the back of both phones is once again glass, which allows for wireless charging, and curved at both edges, which mirrors the curved display on the front. There's a glossy metallic finish underneath (except for the Midnight Black color, which is just as glossy, but not metallic).

On the S9, there's a single 12-megapixel rear camera, with Samsung's new variable aperture lens that adjusts between f/2.4 and f/1.5. The S9+ adds a secondary 12-megapixel, f/2.4 camera camera, which appears to be identical to the one used in the Galaxy Note8. Unlike the Note8, the S9+'s camera array is in a vertical orientation (which seems to be a new trend started by the iPhone X). 

Samsung has also made the smart decision to relocate the fingerprint scanner on both phones to below the camera module. The new position is instantly more user-friendly, and the centered alignment looks more aesthetically pleasing too.

 

What if I want to make sure people know I have one of the new models?

Both models are available in four colors: Midnight BlackCoral BlueTitanium Gray and a new color exclusive to the S9 and S9+, Lilac Purple. Unfortunately, Titanium Gray will not be available in Singapore at launch. By the way, Lilac Purple wasn't just some color chosen at random. It was actually created in the spirit of Pantone's Color of the Year 2018 (specifically Pantone 18-3838 Ultra Violet), which means the S9 could very well end up complementing many of 2018's fashion and lifestyle trends. 

 

These are the best displays Samsung has ever made

While the Infinity Displays on the S9 and S9+ appear to be identical to their predecessors, Samsung has actually made some notable improvements to them. For starters, the new displays have an enhanced High Brightness mode that lets them achieve a staggering 1,130 nits, which is 20 percent higher than the peak brightness capable on the S8 and S8+. This High Brightness mode is very useful when using your phone under bright sunlight.

The displays also boast significantly improved color accuracy. Display calibration and benchmarking experts DisplayMate praised the S9's color accuracy on multiple color gamut standards, including DCI-P3, Adobe RGB, and sRGB / Rec.709, and declared the display to be “Visually Indistinguishable from Perfect” in absolute color accuracy. In fact, DisplayMate went as far to say that the S9 screen is “almost certainly considerably better than your existing living room 4K Ultra HD TV”. These aren't just the best displays Samsung has ever made, they're probably the best displays on any device, ever.

 

Everything sounds better in stereo

Prior to the S9, Samsung had been lagging behind in the onboard audio department, but no longer, as both the S9 and S9+ are armed with stereo speakers. The speaker setup you'll find on the S9 and S9+ is the same kind you'll find on the iPhone 8 and X, which means you get one speaker on the bottom of the phone, and the earpiece actually doubles up as the second speaker. The speakers are tuned by AKG and, according to Samsung, are 40 percent louder than the single speaker on the S8. Compared to my iPhone X, the S9's speakers are definitely louder, and boast a richer, more full sound. Despite the larger size, the S9+ wasn't any louder or better than the S9 - stereo separation from both models was also about the same.

Along with more volume, the speakers on the S9 and S9+ also support Dolby Atmos surround sound imaging. I'm a big fan of Dolby Atmos surround sound when paired with headphones (and the surround sound works perfectly when you have headphones plugged into the S9/S9+) but I wasn't as convinced with it when listening to the onboard speakers. For starters, the maximum volume is noticeably lower with Dolby Atmos turned on, and I wouldn't really describe the sound stage as '360 degree surround sound'. There's definitely more left-right separation, but I didn't feel that it was more immersive. Personally, I would recommend turning Dolby Atmos off if you're using the onboard speakers, and only switching it on when you have headphones plugged in.

  

Finally, if you prefer wireless audio, you'll be pleased to know that the S9 has added more support for high-quality Bluetooth audio codecs, including SBC, AAC, aptX, LDAC, and Samsung HD.

  • Design 9
  • Features 9
  • User-Friendliness 8.5
  • Performance 8.5
  • Value 7
The Good
Gorgeous, color-accurate AMOLED display
Stereo speakers
Excellent dual rear camera setup
AR Emoji
The Bad
Looks exactly the same as last year
Benchmark performance only slightly better
Slightly worse battery life than last year
Very expensive
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