The Samsung Galaxy S9 is the phone that’s supposed to lead the charge where the Galaxy S8 , one of the best phones we’ve ever tested, left off – but it’s not as much of an upgrade.
Well, that’s at first glance, because there is a raft of updates that some would find appealing. Yes, the design is identical to the Galaxy S8, and in reality this really should have been the ‘S’ variant of that model if Samsung ever wanted to ape Apple’s naming strategy.
But there’s also a new, high-power camera on the back that brings genuine innovation in the dual-aperture shutter, as well as a more robust frame and so, so much more power under the hood.
The screen is brighter and the dual speakers make this more of a media marvel – and the Galaxy S9 fixes one major flaw with the S8 by making it easy to unlock the phone with your face or finger, which 2017’s model failed at – and that’s why we’ve named it as one of our best smartphones around at the moment.
If this sounds like we’re talking up an uninspiring phone, that’s partly true – but we wanted to make sure you knew the big changes on the S9 if you were confused on why it looks so similar to last year’s model.
These plus points are also set against a backdrop of a high price; we’re not talking iPhone X levels here, but it’s still one of the more expensive options you can buy. The larger Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus with a 6.2-inch screen is even pricier.
So if you’re looking to replace a 2016 phone do all the new features really offer enough to make the Galaxy S9 a worthwhile upgrade, or is the cheaper Galaxy S8 still the best phone in the world?
Price And Release Date
The Samsung Galaxy S9 release date was March 16, with pre-orders being delivered slightly ahead of this around the world – so you’re able to buy it now.
The Galaxy S9 is on sale for £739, $719.99, or AU$1,199 SIM-free directly from Samsung, but exact pricing for other markets is currently unclear.
In the US, we’re seeing around $30 a month for the contract, and between $720-$800 for the phone itself. It’s actually a little cheaper in the US compared to the Galaxy S8, bucking the trend we’re seeing in other regions worldwide.
There aren’t any storage variants of this phone though in the UK or US, with only the 64GB option on sale.
- Too much of a novelty
- Needs a more powerful facial recognition
In our testing we found that we needed to create our avatar a few times, as there were occasional glitches like a weird face shape or the wrong-colored eyes.
We also had to get used to the fact that it doesn’t look like us all the time, although in some of the instantly-generated GIFs you can use for social media we suddenly saw that our AR Emoji mimicked some of our features well from different angles.
The other thing you can do is record a video of yourself speaking as the AR Emoji… and this is where things start to unravel. The Galaxy S9 picks up most of your features, but also gives your avatar a little flickering mouth or eye at times when the camera loses you.
It shows that, to make this feature work properly, brands need a more powerful camera, rather than just relying on software and the front-facing option.
AR Emoji are fun for a little while, but on their own they’re certainly not a reason to buy this phone.
Bixby is back…
We were thoroughly disappointed by Bixby on the Galaxy S8 last year, as it promised to be the ultimate digital assistant and, well, it wasn’t.
It simply couldn’t do enough – it wasn’t able to work out what you wanted contextually, and it wasn’t able to start or control enough apps. We could forgive the gestation period for this feature if it wasn’t for the fact that Google Assistant is already on the phone, and incredibly capable.
Bixby can be too literal – wanting to set a timer preset rather than just starting a countdown for example – and while you can ask it to take a picture and send it to a friend the whole process takes around 30 seconds – and that’s assuming Bixby can find the friend to start with – in which time you’d rather just do it manually.
- Low light performance is incredible
- Some photos seem oddly washed out
- Overall quality is still amazing
The key upgrade is the fact that the sensor can now switch between an aperture of f/1.5 (for great low-light shots) and f/2.4 (for better brighter scenes), while improving the intelligence of the sensor so that it can analyse and improve your images more effectively.
On top of this, Samsung has refined the photography modes on offer, allowing you to take myriad different styles of shot – and nearly all of them are useful and worth playing with.
Let’s focus on the auto mode though, as that’s going to be the one that most Galaxy S9 users snap through. It’s excellent as ever, but possibly not that big of an upgrade over the Samsung Galaxy S8.
In bright light, the pictures from the Galaxy S9 are without equal in terms of clarity; there’s a sharpness, brightness and overall quality that still stuns when you learn it’s come from a smartphone camera.
The Galaxy S9 is also adept at shooting in low light, thanks to that lower aperture, which hasn’t been seen on a smartphone before. Yes, the images are a little on the muddy side, but when compared to low-light snaps from other top-end phones (the iPhone X, for instance) the lack of the noise and the higher brightness is amazing.
If we were to be picky, we’d say that some of the images we’ve taken lack a real pop of color – Samsung has seemingly decided that it wants its cameras to produce images that are more natural-looking, but this comes at the expense of vibrancy at times.
The first picture of each pair is unedited, the second with the ‘auto enhance’ option used.
The colors, shadows and overall sharpness instantly improve.
This is a nice photo already, admittedly.
Perhaps the auto settings add more saturation, but to our eye it’s a more pleasing contrast.
These books are quite wide in color, but get washed out with direct light on them.
Color is restored with the auto-edit function added
We found that just hitting the edit button and selecting the ‘auto’ enhancement created such an improved snap… why not have that all the time, Samsung?
There’s also some definite shutter lag when moving quickly between scenes, as the autofocus and exposure take a moment to recalibrate before being ready to take a picture. On a few occasions we were trying to get a shot simply by taking loads of photos to see if one was in focus, but were delayed by the shutter lag