THERE’S A LOT OF HYPE surrounding Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and S9+ despite the fact that, on paper at least, the flagship duo offer only a handful of updates compared to last year’s S8 and S8+.
This hype is hardly surprising though, as although this year’s updates are somewhat incremental, the Galaxy S8 and S8+ were undoubtedly among, if not the best phones of 2017.
So, surely, Samsung’s Galaxy S9 Plus – with its refined design, upgraded internals and ‘reimagined’ camera setup – is the smartphone to beat in 2018? Read on to find out.
DesignBesides its new Lilac colour option – which we weren’t able to get hold of for this review, unfortunately – you’ll struggle to spot any real aesthetic differences between the Galaxy S9+ and its predecessor. That’s no bad thing though, as the Galaxy S8+, with its glass-coated aluminium frame and sleek curves, was one of the best-looking phones of 2017.
The glass on the new Galaxy S9+ is slightly thicker than last year, and the phone also makes use of tougher 7000 series aluminium. While this makes for a slightly chunkier (8.5mm vs 8.1mm) and weightier (189g vs 173g) handset, it also makes the handset more durable than before, adding to its all-around premium feel.
The only other physical difference between the Galaxy S9+ and its predecessor is the repositioned fingerprint scanner. Now, it sits below the handset’s dual camera setup, rather than next to it, but we still found it a little too close to the lenses which we often had to clean before using due to grubby fingerprint marks.
Thankfully there’s a second authentication option in the form of ‘Intelligent Scan’, Samsung’s supposedly souped-up log-in tech that combines the handset’s front-facing camera and iris scanner. When it works, it works quickly, but on multiple occasions the S9+ has failed to recognise our face, often telling us to “hold the phone straighter” when we’re slouched on the sofa. It’s by no means terrible, but it’s a long way off competing with the iPhone X’s Face ID system.
Elsewhere, the Galaxy S9+ features the same IP68 certification as the S8+, which means it’s capable of withstanding 1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes, the same USB-C port and, praise the lord, the same 3.5mm headphone jack. The phone’s glass rear also offers support for wireless charging.
DisplaySamsung has, wisely in our opinion, decided to stick with the same 6.2in 1440,2960 resolution (529ppi) AMOLED display that debuted on last year’s S8+.
The screen’s 18.5:9 aspect ratio means, just like last year’s model, the handset didn’t prove too cumbersome for our small hands, nor our skinny jean pockets, while the combination of a high pixel density and AMOLED tech means the display is satisfyingly punchy, deep and very sharp.
It’s worth noting, though, S9+ defaults to a Full HD+ resolution, but you can switch to QHD+ if you don’t mind sacrificing battery life in the process.
The curved edges are just as head-turning as they were on 2015’s Galaxy S7 Edge, and while we found little use for Samsung’s dedicated ‘Apps Edge’ functionality, the wraparound screen makes for excellent viewing angles. However, as with last year’s model, we did notice some slight colour shifting when the S9+ is viewed at extreme viewing angles.
SoftwareThe Galaxy S9+ is the first Samsung phone to run Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box. This, naturally, comes topped with the latest version of Samsung’s Experience UI, and while you won’t notice too many changes, there are a handful of incremental new features such as improved notifications and the ability to rotate the homescreen into landscape orientation.
Despite running the latest-and-greatest version of Google’s mobile OS, Samsung continues to fill its flagship smartphones duplicate apps. Fire-up the S9+ and you’ll notice you’ve got two email apps, two web browsers, two photos apps and even two mobile payment options, with both Samsung Pay and Google Pay pre-loaded.
The overwhelming number of pre-loaded apps isn’t our only complaint in the software department, as Bixby – the firm’s somewhat awkward take on Apple’s Siri – continues to take centre stage.
To the left-hand side of the S9+’s homescreen, you’ll find Bixby Home, a largely pointless page that aggregates info as appointments, nearby points of interest and more. Thankfully, Samsung is now allowing users to turn off Bixby Home, as well as to disable the just-as-pointless Bixby key.
Bixby Vision is a pretty cool feature, though, and Samsung’s AI assistant can now translate foreign text in real-time via the camera app. It doesn’t work as well the largely-identical functionality offered by Google, but it shows that Bixby – while still pale in comparison to the likes of Assistant – is starting to make steps in the right direction.
PerformanceUnder the hood of the Galaxy S9+ you’ll find, in the UK at least, an octa-core Exynos 9810 chip comprising of twin quad-core CPUs, one running at 2.7GHz, the other at 1.7GHz. It’s backed up by 6GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and microSD card expansion.
This 10nm SoC, which is swapped out for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 processor in US-bound S9+ handsets, makes for one hell of a nippy smartphone.
Running the Geekbench 4 multi- and single-core tests, Samsung’s big-screened flagship scored 3778 and 8913, respectively, a noticeable bump over the multi-core score of 6076 recorded by last year’s S8+. In short, the Galaxy S9+ is one the fastest Android smartphone we’ve tested, currently trumped only by Apple’s iPhone X.
CameraGetting one up on its smaller S9 sibling, the Galaxy S9+ packs – much like the Note 8 – a wide-angle 12MP f/1.5 camera and a secondary f/2.4 telephoto lens with 2x optical zoom. This f/1.5 lens, according to Samsung, lets in 28 per cent more light that the Galaxy S8’s camera.
The big talking point is the camera’s variable aperture, that – “like the human eye, according to Samsung – adjusts from f/1.5 to f/2.4, depending on the conditions. This means, in short, what that means, that the camera on the S9+ is able to let more light into the lens in a dark setting.
This, combined with the camera’s optical image stabilisation baked into both lenses, makes the camera on the Galaxy S9+ one of the best. Images are sharp, clear and vibrant, and compared with the Galaxy S9, low-light shots are brighter and more defined.
The S9+ ups the ante in the video department, too, with the introduction of ‘Super Slow-Mo’ that lets you capture footage at 960 frames per second at 720p resolution. By comparison, the iPhone X and Pixel 2 XL record at just 240 fps (1080p) and 120 fps (1080p), respectively.
And then there’s Samsung’s AR Emoji. Unlike the iPhone X’s Animoji, Samsung’s AR Emoji are animated characters that (supposedly, at least) look like you. You simply scan your mug using the handset’s front-facing camera and the phone will create you a cartoon avatar. It’s a bit of fun for around five minutes, but we haven’t found ourselves playing with our AR Emoji since.
Battery lifeThe Galaxy S9+ packs a 3,500mAh battery, the same as last year’s Galaxy S8+. However, we found battery life to be slightly worse on this year’s model, despite Samsung’s new 10nm processor promising better energy efficiency than before.
Still, unless you’re watching Netflix on the smartphone for an entire day (one hour of streaming over WiFi saw the battery deplete by 10 per cent), the Galaxy S9+ will breeze through a full day.
There’s fast-charging support included, which sees the S9+ re-juice from 0-100 per cent in around an hour and 20 minutes, and wireless charging is also included.
In shortThe Galaxy S9+ is, undoubtedly, an excellent phone. This is pretty unsurprising though, as the Galaxy S8+ ranked as one of our favourite smartphones of 2018, and Samsung’s latest model simply improves on that with its upgraded internals and excellent camera.
While we had a couple of niggles, perhaps the biggest issue with the S9+ is its price, as at £869, it’s £100 more expensive than its predecessor – which could see potential buyers opting for last year’s model instead.
The goodGorgeous design and screen, excellent camera, blazing-fast performance.
The badAverage battery life, ‘Intelligent Scan’ is glitchy, duplicate apps.
The uglyBixby still needs work.