It is sheer fortune that I got hold of the Samsung Galaxy S9+ one week before the official pre-order collection, a privilege that allows me to share my opinions of Samsung’s newest best Android smartphone. Many thanks to NXT Singapore who are among the first media companies in Singapore to receive the review sets. For an editorial review, get the upcoming April issue from newsstands and Magzter. What I am writing here are my personal opinions and not influenced by any affiliation. The Galaxy S9+ is a loan unit.
Galaxy S9+ Specs
- OS: Android 8 Oreo
- Processor: 10nm, 64-bit, Octa-core processor (2.7 GHz Quad + 1.7 GHz Quad)
- Display: 6.2-inch Quad HD+ Curved Super AMOLED, 18.5:9 (529ppi)
- Rear Wide Angle Camera: OIS, super speed dual pixel 12MP f/1.5-2.4
- Rear Telephoto Camera: OIS, 12MP f/2.4
- Front Camera: 8MP f/1.7
- Memory: 6GB RAM, 64/256GB Storage
- SIM Slot: Nano SIM + Nano SIM or MicroSD slot
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz), VHT80 MU-MIMO, 1024QAM, Bluetooth® v 5.0 (LE up to 2Mbps), ANT+, USB type-C, NFC, Location (GPS, Galileo, Glonass, BeiDou)
- Sensors: Iris sensor, Pressure sensor, Accelerometer, Barometer, Fingerprint sensor, Gyro sensor, Geomagnetic sensor, Hall sensor, HR sensor, Proximity sensor, RGB Light sensor
- Audio: Stereo speakers tuned by AKG, surround sound with Dolby Atmos technology, Audio playback format: MP3, M4A, 3GA, AAC, OGG, OGA, WAV, WMA, AMR, AWB, FLAC, MID, MIDI, XMF, MXMF, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA, APE, DSF, DFF
- Video: MP4, M4V, 3GP, 3G2, WMV, ASF, AVI, FLV, MKV, WEBM
- Price: 64GB S$1348, 256GB S$1498
- Colours: Midnight Black, Coral Blue and Lilac Purple
Best Upgrade: Camera Functions
If there is only one thing worth upgrading from your current phone to the Galaxy S9+, it has to be the camera.
- Dual aperture: a first on a mobile device, you can adjust aperture values of f/1.5 and f/2.4 to achieve varying depth of field. The f/1.5 aperture is also the brightest on a smartphone.
- Super Slow-mo: shooting short bursts of 960fps in a single video clip. This technology was first implemented on Sony Xperia XZ Premium smartphones.
- AR Emoji: create your own cartoon avatar, emoji, as well as videos. This technology was first made popular by iPhone X.
The Galaxy S9+ earned a score of 99 points by DxOMark, making it the highest-rated smartphone camera as of Feb 2018. The wide-angle lens come with variable aperture, just like traditional camera lenses.
A larger aperture (with a smaller number) lets in more light, but gets a shallower depth of field and blurrer background. A smaller aperture lets in less light, but with a greater depth of field, background and foreground becomes less defocused and subjects are sharper.
The blur is more significant if the distance ratio between the camera to the focal point and the camera to the background is very high. Here is another sample photo of a food shot.
The background blur is less significant compared to the first photo. Also, the salad is more blur with f/1.5. The danger of using a large aperture is that images generally appear slightly less sharp, especially when the focal plane does not cover enough area on the photo.
Under auto mode, there is also a tendency for the camera to shoot at the smaller f/2.4 aperture when it detects the scene has sufficient lighting and the focal distance is far. The drawback is that the shutter speed might end up slower or ISO might get higher. While the theoretical advantage is sharper photos, it might result in overall image blur due to handheld shake. Hopefully, Samsung can tweak the software to reduce the occurrences, or else users may experience more blur photos. The current workaround is to select “Pro” shooting mode and manually set the aperture. The Pro mode is also preferred as the screen will indicate the focus areas with green AF points.
Comparing Samsung Galaxy S9+ with Galaxy S8+
The Galaxy S9+ appears is tuned to be slightly warmer. At f/2.4 aperture, the S9+ appears to capture more details.
At f/1.5, the S9+ appears slightly softer compared to f/1.7 on the S8+
Comparing Samsung Galaxy S9+ with iPhone X and LG V30+
In the below photo, LG V30+ produces the best results with high contrast at the expense of blown out highlights. iPhone X offers good balance of details and exposure. Samsung Galaxy S9+ delivers the lowest detail, evidently seen on the plants at the lower right of the images.
Under low light, LG V30+ once again produces the best exposure, followed by iPhone X with the best details albeit slightly grainier. Galaxy S9+ appears to be slightly more processed with reduced fine details, or could be the result of too large an aperture.
Live Focus (Galaxy S9+ only)
First made available on Galaxy Note8, the Live Focus allows user to blur the background and apply bokeh filters, like heart-shape, star-shape. Samsung’s implementation is to capture both the telephoto and wide-angle shots, which is great. I find that the blur effect is not as natural as Apple. In addition, I can only apply live focus on the telephoto lens, unlike Huawei where I could apply the blur on the standard lens. Most smartphones have the background blur effects only on the telephoto lens, which makes Huawei’s implementation more unique.
960fps Super Slow-Mo
Sony is the first to implement this capability on the RX100-series compact cameras several years ago. They then applied on the Xperia XZ Premium smartphones in 2017. The Samsung S9+ functions similarly, except that the S9+ supports auto-slowmo. It means that when the camera detects movement within the centre of the frame, the super slow-mo will be triggered within the same video recording session, where a 0.2 second moment is slowed into 6-second clip. Each video recording can capture up to 20 super slow-mo moments, and the smartphone needs a few seconds in-between takes to flush the buffer.
As Sony has already demonstrated the super slow-motion capabilities over the months, I will not indulge in the amazement of this technology to be able to capture in bullet-time moments. Like the Sony Xperia smartphones, I enjoy having such a feature on the Galaxy S9+. Ample lighting is needed in order for the video to record 960 fps, else the effect will be very grainy and underexposed. The video is recorded at normal HD (1280 x 720) and the smartphone provides video editing functions to add music, trim, or disable super slow-mo segments within the video.
Samsung offered their version of personalised emoji, which seemed to receive some flak. Personally, it’s a commendable effort to introduce fun to messaging. The AR Emoji process is simple: after taking a selfie, the app lets go through a process of customising the image, from skin colour, hair, eye-wear, to clothes. The hair variety is massive while others are limiting.
Generally, I feel the caricature is too good-looking and almost does not resemble the person, other than the eyebrows and the eyes.
Like Apple iPhone X, the Emoji can record your facial expression live. Looking at the sample video, you can see that the app needs some improvements as the expressions twitch, making them unnatural.
Let’s move on to other new features on the Samsung Galaxy S9+.
Wallpapers In Video
You can now use videos up to 15 seconds as your lock screen wallpaper. It would look even more impressive if you put a Super Slow-mo footage on it.
The Galaxy S9+ can play audio through both the front-facing ear speaker and the bottom speaker, just like Huawei. It improves the listening experience, as now you can hear that the sound is directing towards the front instead of firing downwards. The tuning is also less bright compared to Huawei. This feature should be a standard feature for all smartphones, just as I have hoped that all smartphones should have front-facing speakers for the longest time.
The Galaxy S9+ support Dolby Atmos, so when you turn it on, you get a better 3D audio experience even when listening to audio files.
The Galaxy S9+ 3500 mAh battery is barely sufficient to last the full 16 hours. Every day, I go to bed with a single-digit battery life remaining. There are ways to extend the battery life for a few more hours, but I reckon I can live with that for now. If I have a long night, I would charge the phone for 30 minutes in the afternoon, which will boost the battery by over 50%. The battery life does improve over the week, from 13 hours to 16 hours, but I cannot confirm if it’s due to usage pattern or the A.I. battery management.
Silicone Transparent Case
Ladies and gentlemen, please enjoy the phone with protection, compliments of Samsung. This should last you for a few days/weeks/months while you hunt for the perfect case that speaks your personality, without subjecting to keep it under wraps at home. Unfortunately, it does not come with screen protector, so looks like the S9 will still be grounded, unless your favourite mobile accessory shop already has it stocked up. Personally, I never apply screen protector, and most of the phones I review appear to be fine. But I agree accidents happen, so it’s up to the individual’s risk appetite. One trick: I wouldn’t worry about hairline scratches: before selling the phone, apply the screen protector for the new owner, and the hairline scratches will not show at all. So, Carousell buyers, beware! Always ask for the screen protector to be removed to inspect. But honestly, should you expect a perfectly new condition when buying a second-hand smartphone? I wouldn’t worry about minor defects as long as they are not ugly.
The Bixby button is still there, and the whole Bixby ecosystem is still improving. Photo recognition is still temperamental, but it will get better when the data bank grows. Instant translation is also not perfect, but it’s better than nothing. I hope they reposition the button because I often press on it accidentally when I try to click the power button, or when I want to adjust volume. This hardware button placement demonstrates Samsung’s commitment to influence consumers to use Bixby, but honestly, if the feature is that good, people will use it. Just look at Google search engine.
My review is in no way comprehensive. I only have 7 days to get hands on, but throughout this week, I have experienced without doubt the best Android smartphone in the market. But like all decisions, you have to ask yourself whether the new features are worth paying for.
The Galaxy S9+ feels identical to the Galaxy S8+, so there is a lack of freshness. The phone is heavier than most smartphones, because it’s packed with tech. In comparison, the LG V30+ feels like feather. The significant new features are the camera, which I feel offers new usages for the consumer, so I would say it’s worth upgrading to. The repositioning of the fingerprint sensor makes it more usable, and is my primary unlock method.
Would I personally buy the Galaxy S9+? I won’t, because despite having all the best mobile technologies, I feel the phone is too pricey with too much packed into one, with the potential of being the single point of failure. During my review, the fingerprint sensor failed twice, and I had to restart the phone. The shooting modes keep changing even though I wanted to swipe from front camera to back camera, causing delays. It has multiple biometric features, but I do not need iris and facial recognition. It has its own ecosystem of apps like Samsung Pay, Samsung App Store, Samsung Cloud, which I had to enroll specially, instead of the common Google ecosystem. I could choose to use the Google apps, but that would mean I am not maximising my dollar when I buy a Samsung phone.
Would I recommend the Galaxy S9+? Yes I would, because it now comes with some of the features that I love on the Sony Xperia (super slow-mo), the Huawei (front-facing stereo speakers), iPhone (AR Emoji). It has some of the well-loved technologies in the mobile industry, introduces new mobile camera capabilities (dual aperture), multiple biometric security features. And this time, it gets the fingerprint sensor right.
This Galaxy S9 review is just one of the thousands online. It’s not the best, most articulated, structured, thorough, but it is honest, unpretentious. If you want more people like us independent reviewers to give real opinions about the latest products, please share this article so that it reaches out to a wider audience.