First Look at the New Flagship

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+: Familiar Gorgeous Design, and the New Bar for Smartphone Cameras


February 25, 2018 Reviews By Photo by Jarry Truong
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The Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ — the company’s latest flagship smartphones and successors to last year’s Galaxy S8 and S8+ — were announced today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, but we got an early briefing and hands-on with both new smartphones last week in New York York City. You may remember me writing last year that, regarding the Galaxy S8 and S8+, “this is what the future of smartphone design looks like” — the new Galaxy S9 and S9+ stay true to that. There isn’t a massive redesign here, as both smartphones look nearly identical to last year’s flagships. And while many will view the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ as incremental upgrades (sort of like with the “S” iPhones), they boast some important improvements over the Galaxy S8 and S8+, and even the Galaxy Note 8. Most notable upgrade? The camera.

The New Camera

The big difference is the camera. In the past, the rear-facing cameras on the regular and Plus-sized Galaxy S smartphones have been the same. That changes this year, as the Galaxy S9+ is the first Galaxy S smartphone to have a dual-lens camera system that promises to have an even better camera than the best-in-class camera on the Galaxy Note 8. The Galaxy S9+ has a 12-megapixel wide-angle (F1.5/F2.4) and 12-megapixel telephoto (F2.4) lenses, while the Note 8 also had a dual 12-megapixel system with slightly less capable aperture. The Galaxy S9 has the same wide-angle lens as the S9+.

The Galaxy S9 and S9+ have a new and powerful “super speed dual pixel” camera sensor that Samsung says is four times faster than the one found in last year’s smartphones. This sensor also helps the camera take the best low-light photos — whether during day or night — of any previous Galaxy smartphones. The aperture detects how much light there is and automatically adjusts for it. It sounds like a little thing, but in my hands-on time with the phone, I was able to take pretty bright and clear photos in near-dark situations. And the Galaxy S9 performed much better than the Galaxy S8 I tested it against. Additionally, this superior camera sensor allows both smartphones to have a “Super Slow-mo” mode that can capture 960 frames per second. The cameras in each are intelligent enough to detect motion and capture those slow-mos around that action.

The new camera sensor enables both the Galaxy S9 and S9+ create AR Emojis, which looks sort of similar to an iPhone X’s Animoji. These AR Emojis are designed to look and sound like cartoons of you, and you can send them to your friends via most messaging apps or create GIFs of yourself. I’m going to reserve too much judgment until I test these AR Emojis further, but my initial impression was that they didn’t capture myself as accurately as my iPhone X’s Animojis. That said, it’s a feature I’m not sure how many people care about — I haven’t sent an Animoji from my iPhone X in months.

What Else Is New?

One of the main criticisms of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ (and even with the Note 8) was the placement of the rear fingerprint sensor. Its off-center location and proximity to the camera meant that a lot of users mistakenly put their finger on the lens, making it difficult to wield with a non-dominant hand. Samsung has fixed this issue by moving the rear fingerprint sensor to a central location, directly under the camera. Additionally, Samsung has streamlined the way to unlock the phone, combining Retina and facial scanning into something it’s calling Intelligent Scan. This is Samsung’s answer to the iPhone X’s Face ID.

The Galaxy S9 and S9+ have a faster Snapdragon 845 processor. They now have stereo speakers with Dolby Atomos support that are supposedly 40 percent louder than last year’s smartphones. Samsung says the bezels on the new phones are slightly smaller and the sensors at the top are slightly less visible, but it really doesn’t make the phones look any different from the Galaxy S8 and S8+. Bixby, Samsung’s much-maligned AR platform is more capable than ever — you can now point your phone at something and translate foreign languages, convert currency, and tell you how many calories are in a food. Samsung is introducing the Smarthings app that, like Apple’s Home app or the Google Home app, consolidates all smart devices that work together in one place. And Samsung has introduced a new-and-improved DeX docking station for those who want to edit photos or play mobile games on a larger screen.

What’s Not New?

The Galaxy S9 and the S9+ have virtually the same 5.8-inch and 6.2-inch edge-to-edge Infinite Displays, respectively, as the Galaxy S8 and the S8+. The front eight-megapixel cameras on both smartphones are the same. Battery capacity of the S9 (3000mAh) and S9+ (3500mAh) stays the same. Both still support fast wired and wireless charging. Both are IP68 water and dust resistant. Both have The dedicated Bixby button and headphone jack both remain.

Availability and Pricing

You can order the Galaxy S9 and S9+ on March 2 and they’ll be available everywhere March 16. The phones will be available in three colors: lilac purple, midnight black and coral blue. Samsung is also offering a unique trade-in program where old Galaxy users can save up to $350. (See details here). The Galaxy S9 will cost $720 and the Galaxy S9+ will cost $840, and you can purchase “unlocked” versions (not tied to a carrier) of both from Samsung’s website. This pricing puts the Galaxy S9 and S9+ in pretty much direct competition to Apple’s iPhone 8 ($699+) and iPhone 8 Plus ($799+).

Will It Replace Your iPhone?

The Galaxy S9 or S9+ still very much feel like a Samsung smartphone — an Android that’s very much tied to Samsung’s ecosystem of apps and gadgets. For those already with an older Galaxy smartphone, the S9 or S9+ will probably feel like a marked improvement, even if they probably won’t be able to tell the difference between them and last year’s phones (unless they look at the fingerprint sensor). The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are arguably the most beautiful smartphones you can buy, and maybe only the iPhone X comes close in that department. Aside from the camera, though, I doubt there are any new features that will sway an iPhone user over; Samsung’s AR Emojis and updated DeX docking station are neat, but they’re not vital for everyday phone use. (Like I said, I can’t remember the last time I sent somebody an Animoji from my iPhone X.) If last year’s Galaxy S8 and S8+ didn’t make customers switch, these phones probably won’t either. Still, most people buying phones these days care about its camera, and even though we’ll have to do further testing, these smartphones — especially the Galaxy S9+ — are poised to set a new bar for smartphone cameras.

Key Specs

OS: Android 8 Oreo
Display: 5.8-inch Quad HD+ Curved Super AMOLED (S9) / 6.2-inch Quad HD+ Curved Super AMOLED (S9+)
Rear Camera: 12MP AF (S9) / Dual 12MP AF wide and tele photo (S9+)
Front Camera: 8MP AF (both)
Processor: Snapdragon 845 (both)
Memory: 4GB RAM (S9) / 6GB RAM (S9+) / Expandable up to 400GB (both)

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