A quality all-rounder that is now available at some truly amazing price points
Weight: 163g Dimensions: 147.7 x 68.7 x 8.5mmOS: Android 8.0 Screen size: 5.8-inches Resolution: 1440 x 2960 pixels CPU: Exynos 9810 Octa RAM: 4GB Storage: 64GB Battery: 3000mAh Rear camera: 12 MP f/1.5 Front camera: 8 MP f/1.7
REASONS TO BUY
+Now available at low prices
REASONS TO AVOID
-Bixby AI is half
-Similar to Galaxy S8
The Samsung Galaxy S9, despite being outshone by the absolutely stunning Galaxy Note 9 and even more fantastic Huawei Mate 20 Pro, is still a quality Android phone, boasting a brilliant Infinity Edge display which occupies 84 percent of the body and cutting-edge guts.
Yep, this futuristic smartphone is one heck of a looker, and Samsung managed to resist the temptation to add an iPhone X-style notch, too: definitely a good thing to our mind, as it helps the phone maintain its own identity.
The S9 delivers an excellent all-round package. As well as the amazing display and industry-leading specs, this handset also has decent battery life, an excellent camera and fast performance. With all of that combined, you get not only one of the best-looking smartphones on the market, but one of the top performing, too.
We think the 5.8-inch S9 is perfect, but if you’re after an even larger smartphone, Samsung also offers the Galaxy S9+, which features a larger 6.2-inch display.
Generation 9 in plus size – this is the Samsung Galaxy S9+. Unlike last year when the S8 and the S8+ had just size setting them apart, in 2018 Samsung’s Plus means more than higher battery capacity and larger display diagonal – the S9+ has an extra camera on its back too. Makes you wonder if such segmentation has been done before by other makers. Uhm, nope, nothing comes to mind.
Anyway, adding the Note8’s tele camera to the S9’s dual-aperture wide-angle shooter makes for the first dual camera on a Galaxy S phone – you can’t say Samsung’s ahead of the curve on this one, but at least it’s caught up now. The designers also addressed the universally hated placement of the fingerprint reader of the S8s and have moved it under the cameras, along the central axis of the phone – how hard was that to achieve in the first place?
A mandatory chip update sees the S9+ packing the latest Snapdragon 845 in the US and China and the Exynos 9810 elsewhere. 6GB of RAM come standard (the S8+ could be had with 6GB in some places, some of the time, but the default was 4GB) and storage options now go all the way up to 256GB, though you’d probably be getting the 64GB version – there’s a microSD slot if you need more room.
A relatively big change this time around is the long overdue move to a stereo speaker setup with the earpiece now joining forces with the main bottom-firing driver. A welcome lack of changes is observed in this vicinity too – the headphone jack is here for another model year. Yay!
There are, of course, AR emoji – Samsung’s take on personalized animated emoji, which you shouldn’t call animoji. The S9s run Oreo out of the box with the latest Experience on top, while not all S8s have been treated to that official Android 8.0 update (much to the owners’ displeasure).
Samsung Galaxy S9+ specs
- Body: Aluminum frame, Gorilla Glass 5 front and back; IP68 certified for water and dust resistance. Midnight Black, Coral Blue, Titanium Gray, Lilac Purple color schemes.
- Display: 6.2″ Super AMOLED ‘Infinity Display’, 2,960x1440px resolution, 18.5:9 (2.06:1) aspect ratio, 529ppi; HDR10 compliant (no Dolby Vision).
- Rear camera: Primary 12MP, Type 1/2.55″ sensor, f/1.5-2.4 aperture, 26mm equiv. focal length, dual pixel PDAF, OIS; Secondary 12MP, Type 1/3.6″ sensor, f/2.4 aperture, 52mm equiv. focal length, autofocus, OIS; 2x zoom. 2160p/60fps, 1080p/240fps slow motion, 720p/960fps super slow motion video recording.
- Front camera: 8MP, f/1.7 aperture, autofocus; 1440p/30fps video recording.
- OS/Software: Android 8.0 Oreo; Samsung Experience 9.0; Bixby virtual assistant; Smart Connect, Smart Connect Home
- Chipsets: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845: octa-core CPU (4×2.7GHz Kryo 385 Gold & 4×1.7GHz Kryo 385 Silver), Adreno 630 GPU. Exynos 9810: octa-core CPU (4x3rd-gen Mongoose 2.7GHz + 4xCortex-A55 1.8GHz), Mali-G72 MP18 GPU.
- Memory: 6GB of RAM; 64/128/256GB of storage; microSD slot for cards up to 400GB.
- Battery: 3,500mAh Li-Po (sealed); Adaptive Fast Charging (same as S7/S8); QuickCharge 2.0 support; WPC (Qi)&PMA wireless charging.
- Connectivity: Single-SIM, Dual-SIM available in certain markets (hybrid slot); LTE-A, 4-Band/5-Band carrier aggregation, Cat.18 (1.2Gbps/150Mbps); USB Type-C (v3.1); Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac MU-MIMO; GPS, GLONASS, Beidou, Galileo; NFC; Bluetooth 5.0.
- Misc: Fingerprint/iris/face recognition; stereo speakers (bottom-firing + earpiece); 3.5mm jack; bundled AKG headphones; DeX dock compatibility.
We aren’t ones to shy away from the odd complaint (or a dozen) but with the S9+ it’s tough to find what to complain about looking at the specs. Sure, there could have been more battery, but with this generation’s weight pushing 200g, perhaps the 3,500mAh cell is for the better. The exorbitant launch price off contract is another number we’re less than thrilled with, though few people will actually pay that – pre-order promos and carrier subsidies will surely knock a chunk off of it. Let’s see what you’ll be paying for.
Samsung Galaxy S9+ unboxing
Little has changed in the presentation of the Galaxy S9+ and the S9 compared to the last generation which in turn was a slightly modified Galaxy S7 retail bundle. Instead of having the phone on top, its tray now resides below a box that contains the booklets and a SIM pin.
This year, as well as last, the two different USB-C adapters, the cable, and the charger are black – to match the packaging – and potentially to look more ‘tech’. The charger itself is otherwise the same old unit you could trace back to the S5, supporting Samsung’s own Adaptive Fast Charging (and Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0) and rated at 9V/1.67A and 5V/2A.
An AKG branded headset with braided cables and several extra sets of tips completes the retail package. But let’s turn our attention to the phone itself. Follow us on the next page where we take a closer look.
Design and 360-degree spin
A lot is old and familiar, but there’s new too, and where there’s new, the new is better than the old. There, that’s the Galaxy S9+’s design in one exquisitely eloquent sentence.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – the saying goes. But broke the fingerprint sensor placement was, so it’s a good thing that Samsung didn’t persist and fixed it for this generation. Seriously, the off-center location of the reader, high up on the back of the S8+, made it practically unusable, and (literally) opened the eyes of a few people at the office to the benefits of the iris and face unlock options.
Left – not okay, right – okay
Reaching the sensor was made even more difficult on the Note8 – not only was the phone larger but due to the dual camera setup, the sensor was pushed even further to the side. The S9+ now shows us that there’s a better way.
Left – not okay, right – okay
There’s more good news for your index finger too. The S9+ is larger than the S9 (well, duh), but the fingerprint sensor is practically the same distance from the bottom of the phone. Nudged one camera module lower, it’s no harder to reach than on the more compact S9. So, no fingerprint reader complaints this year? Definitely!
Well, when you put it that way, the less careful folks might still give the camera the occasional smudge. That said, it’ll be the telephoto camera and not the main one, so it’s the lesser of two evils.
But that just might be us being overly eager to criticize – to be fair, the fingerprint reader is recessed into its frame, so there’s tactile feedback where your finger is. Plus, just because you might touch the black glass around the camera, doesn’t mean the prints will be in front of the actual lens. Let’s say that the time spent writing this paragraph could have been put to better use.
The shiny glass back • Fingerprint reader under the dual camera • 9>8
Moving on, one noticeable difference in the new design is the frame. Polished and shiny on last year’s model, matte on the S9 and S9+, it’s now a fraction of a millimeter thicker – our calipers showed 3.4mm on the 9th-gen phone, 3.0mm on the S8+. It doesn’t sound like much, but the change of finish alongside the added thickness has resulted in a more secure grip on the phone – it our experience, at least.
Continuing on the ‘meatier is better’ theme, the buttons are now larger. And that means both longer and thicker (except the volume rocker which is just thicker). Big buttons are nice, we like big buttons.
That’s what 3.4mm vs. 3.0mm looks like • In the hand
Speaking of grip, you’re going to need every bit of it you can get as the phone has gained some weight. Higher-strength aluminum and thicker glass are great for durability, but the S9+ now weighs in at 189g – 16g more than the S8+ and just 6g short of the Note8.
Yes, we know, ‘heavy means premium’ and all, but we’re headed for a point where most recent flagships are getting a little too ‘premium’ in terms of weight if you know what we mean. We’ll give the S9+ a pass, but we’re not sure we’re okay with a future where phones weigh 200+ grams.
The S9+ is, in fact, 1.4mm shorter than the model it replaces, 0.4mm wider and 0.4mm thicker – that is to say, it’s essentially the same size.
Over on the front, it’s the SuperAMOLED display you know and love, now with a marginally better screen to body ratio. Not that you’d expect otherwise at this point, but the 6.2-inch panel is curved towards the sides, and it’s also had its corners rounded off. That’s all that is missing from the rectangle though – where other makers are going all notched with their phones, Samsung is embracing the bezel. For now, at least. We can’t say we object.
For the S9 and S9+ they’ve also taken the effort to make the myriad of sensors on top of the display a little less obtrusive – the IR camera, in particular, is now almost invisible, and the selfie cam’s cutout is that little bit smaller than it was on the S8. All the usual stuff is here too, including the ambient light and proximity sensors, and the notification LED.
The earpiece now doubles as a second speaker, taking care of the mids and highs for the right channel when in portrait. It switches between left and right channels in landscape depending on orientation. And Samsung’s done it without making it look any different than the old one. So why did we have to wait so long for stereo speakers?
As part of the sound system’s redesign, the bottom-firing speaker is no longer behind a grille like it was on previous Samsungs. It’s now a single opening, with a mesh somewhere deeper in there for protection against the elements. Oh, yes, the S9+ is IP68-rated, it’s just that we’ve gotten so used to phones being dust and water resistant now that it’s not that big a deal anymore.
The USB-C port is centered here on the bottom, and there’s a pinhole for the primary mic too. The Galaxy S9 and S9+ remain in the ever-shrinking elite club of smartphones with a 3.5mm headphone jack – to be found on the other side of the charging port.
Our review unit happens to be a Duos version – that’s dual SIM in Samsung speak. It will take either two nano SIMs or a nano SIM and a microSD card, up to 400GB currently. What it won’t take is two nano SIMs and a microSD at the same time. Not a big deal, but also far from ideal.
The main speaker, mic, USB-C port and 3.5mm jack • Card slot will take up to 400GB microSDs
A 12MP camera with variable aperture
The Samsung Galaxy S9+ builds on the S9’s single-camera setup by adding the secondary telephoto cam from the Note8. We were introduced to the wide angle cam with the S9, but let’s repeat – it’s got a 12MP sensor with a pixel size of 1.4µm (Samsung’s own ISOCELL for the Exynos model) behind a stabilized variable aperture lens – f/1.5-2.4. The positions are fixed though, you can either opt for f/1.5 or f/2.4 and nothing in-between. There’s dual pixel phase-detection autofocus – that’s what a portion of each of these large pixels is used for.
The telephoto cam is another 12MP unit, but being a smaller sensor, pixels are 1.0µm on this one. The lens has an f/2.4 aperture (just f/2.4, no variations here) and is stabilized too.
In extreme darkness or for fill flash applications, a single LED flash is there to help. Nothing has changed in this matter since the Galaxy S2 – no dual-tone quadruple-LEDs from Samsung.
The camera does 4-frame image stacking, three times, and then combines the three resulting images to cancel out noise. Samsung promises 30% less noise on all images, which is an impressive achievement right there. Combined with the bright f/1.5 aperture, the results should be cleaner low-light images with less noise and more fine detail.
The camera app UI has changed since the Note8 – but we are not sure it was for the better. Now it’s just like Apple’s iOS camera app, but with advanced settings – meaning everything is laid out on a rolodex of the available modes.
There is still no dedicated video recording mode and thus a video viewfinder. This shouldn’t be an issue for most real-world scenarios, but precisely framing is immensely more difficult without seeing the proper viewfinder before you start recording. You can tap and hold the REC button to see the actual video viewfinder, though, and a hint for that would have been appreciated. Returning Samsung users will know about it, but others will only find it by pure accident.
However, Samsung does have an abundance of powerful features it has to fit inside the UI, and we won’t hold that against the Galaxy S9. So, all the important shooting modes are available in the viewfinder, and you switch between those with swipes. The resolution and stabilization options are naturally in the advanced settings.
f/1.5 vs. f/2.4: the theory
How does the variable aperture camera work? That’s probably the million-dollar question, so we’ll start with that. This means brighter aperture versus darker aperture. But it’s not about that per se. The depth of field changes, too, something we rarely pay attention to on phone cameras. Having variable aperture opens up some new possibilities, and we’ll try to explain the differences without going into full technical mode.
So far, the bright aperture on a mobile camera meant better low-light shots with less noise and more detail. But f/1.5 is quite bright, and the daylight shots may eventually end up overexposed if the shutter speed can’t get high enough. However, at least in Pro mode, the Galaxy S9 can increase the shutter speed up to 1/24000s, which means it should avoid blowing the highlights, theoretically at least. That then rules out the potential for overexposure as the reason behind the f/2.4 setting.
The main camera at the top: f/1.5 on the left, f/2.4 on the right
Depth of field is another consideration. A relatively large by smartphone standards 1/2.55″ sensor with the brightest aperture available is a recipe for shallow depth of field. Again, that is relatively speaking – at smartphone sensor sizes depth of field is pretty huge, which is why we have the whole push for faux bokeh effects to recreate a shallow depth of field. That said, with the right subjects and distances the f/2.4 aperture could bring everything in focus, while f/1.5 might leave some of the subjects blurred.
And the third vantage point is that brighter lenses just tend to be softer at their widest aperture, all other things being equal. Even high-end SLR lenses tend to perform better when stopped down a little, so why shouldn’t that apply on a smaller scale, in your smartphone?
So in the end, we have the f/1.5 aperture for improved low-light photos (video benefits a little too), and f/2.4 for sharper images with (a bit) more depth of field in good light. The best of both worlds, so to speak.
In bright light, the Galaxy S9+ produces great-looking photos with plenty of detail, which are also practically noise-free. The engineers have dialed down the sharpening, and we’re not seeing the halos that the overly aggressive sharpening produced on the Note8. Dynamic range is also nice and wide, in no small part thanks to the always-on Auto HDR (technically, you could turn it off in settings, but we’re sticking with full auto for this test). Those are all taken at f/2.4.
Camera samples, daylight, normal camera
The same holds true for the telephoto camera as well – you won’t be sacrificing image quality when you zoom to 2x.
Camera samples, daylight, telephoto camera
An improvised telephoto shootout ended up pitting the S9+ vs. the Note8 and the iPhone X. Unsurprisingly, the two Samsungs look quite similar, but the iPhone X’s shots are noticeably grainier.
Telephoto samples compared: Galaxy S9+ • Galaxy Note8 • iPhone X
We then compared the output from the S9+’s main camera at the two aperture settings – we forced the f/1.5 setting in Pro mode. The first pair of shots illustrates the different depth of field – on the f/2.4 image pretty much everything is in sharp focus, while in the f/1.5 shot the farthest part of the dotted wall panelling is starting to go blurry.
The other two comparisons show improved detail in the f/2.4 images when viewed next to the f/1.5 ones, though we feel there’s some extra sharpening applied to the narrower aperture photos to make the difference more pronounced. Software algorithms can’t really help with corner softness (the iPhone graffiti), which is typically an issue with large aperture lenses, and we’re seeing some of it in bottom corners of the f/1.5 shot, but nothing remotely troubling and certainly better than some flagship cameras we’ve tested. The f/2.4 images are sharp all the way to the extremes.
Camera samples, f/2.4 (left) vs. f/1.5
We’ve praised Samsung’s HDR algorithms in the past and also enjoyed the live preview of the effect while with other makers you had to wait for the final image. Well, Samsung’s HDR now does very little. Or, rather, it’s always on, so changing the setting between auto, on and off, doesn’t result in dramatically different shots – often not different at all.
Camera samples, HDR: Auto • Off • On
In low-light, that f/1.5 aperture proves its worth and the Galaxy S9+ can pick lower ISOs than the competition resulting in less noise. Of course, the competent noise reduction and optical stabilization help too.
Camera samples, low light, normal camera
The telephoto camera, on the other hand, doesn’t really work in low light, and the S9+ in fact zooms in digitally with the normal one. The end results are therefore soft when looked at 1:1 magnification, but still usable at a fit-to-screen level.
Camera samples, low light, telephoto camera
We also shot a few quick comparison at night with a set of flagships we happened to have in our pockets at the time. The Galaxy’s consistently turned out the sharpest, though the Pixel does have the wider dynamic range.
Low-light shots compared: Galaxy S9+ • Google Pixel 2 XL • Apple iPhone 8 Plus • Sony Xperia XZ2
We didn’t think much of the following scene which we shot with the Galaxy S9+ and the iPhone 8 Plus, but it turned up surprising results. We took photos with the normal cameras first, then the telephoto ones, and the S9+ actually did end up using the telephoto cam instead of zooming in on the main one. Not the iPhone. The difference is staggering, and makes us wonder if the light threshold for engaging the main camera in 2x mode might be set too high.
Normal camera: Galaxy S9+ • iPhone 8 Plus
Telephoto camera: Galaxy S9+ • iPhone 8 Plus
Once you’re done examining the real-life samples you can have a look at our Photo compare tool for some studio shots. We’ve pre-selected the Pixel 2 XL and the iPhone X for the normal camera but replaced the Pixel with the Note8 for the telephoto comparison, due to the Pixel’s glaring lack of a telephoto camera. You can, by all means, pick any three phones to compare once you’re there.
Normal camera: Galaxy S9+ against the Pixel 2 XL and the iPhone X in our Photo compare tool
Telephoto camera: Galaxy S9+ against the Galaxy Note8 and the iPhone X in our Photo compare tool
The Galaxy S9+ puts the two cameras to good use for shooting portraits with artificial bokeh (Samsung calls the mode Live focus). The edge detection is mostly good, though stray strands of hair will confuse it – it’s not a marked improvement over, say, the Note8 or the iPhone X/8 Plus.
Camera samples, Live focus mode, humans
We compared the S9+’s portraits to the ones from the Note8 and we have to point out that we’re liking the S9+’s skin tones a lot more. The Note’s overly yellowish rendition of skin may or may not have been the reason for at least one person at the office to part with their Note8. The Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, favors a more reddish representation.
Portraits compared: Galaxy S9+ • Galaxy Note8 • Google Pixel 2 XL
The S9+’s Live focus mode works quite well with isolating non-human subjects too, and we’re particularly impressed by the rendition of our unofficial torture test, a.k.a. aloe plant.
Camera samples, Live focus mode, non-humans (obviously)
8MP selfies with autofocus
The Galaxy S9+ borrows last generation’s selfie cam – an 8MP f/1.7 unit with autofocus. It produces nice-looking images in good light and it’s got a Selective focus mode of its own – blurred background portraits with a single camera.
Selfie samples, Selective focus mode