Once again it’s time to review the latest and greatest flagship device from Samsung, the Galaxy S9. Yes, the Samsung Galaxy S9 flagship is a beautiful beast. However, although it looks pretty delicate, it is significantly tough. The S9 does show a great blend of beauty and power, and the Korean giant is showing the world a glimpse of how next generation smartphones could evolve.
It’s worth mentioning that the specific device I’m reviewing came from Verizon Wireless directly as that’s the contact that I have that sent them to me. Currently you can pick up the Samsung Galaxy S9 from Verizon for approximately $33.33 per month(credit approval required) or you can buy it outright for a price of $799.99. It comes in three color choices, Lilac Purple(the color I was sent for review), Coral Blue and Midnight Black.
There comes a point in most successful products’ existences where they become predictable. The new model, building off of the triumphs of its prior version, maintains the same look and feel while introducing more subtle enhancements. Apple’s used this tack with the iPhone and iPad for multiple generations, and Microsoft has done the same with the Surface Pro in recent years. Don’t rock the boat; don’t fix what isn’t broken.
And so, if you’ve seen last year’s Galaxy S8 from Samsung, you’ve seen this year’s Galaxy S9. Content with the design and appearance of the S8, Samsung focused its efforts on small, mostly unseen changes that result in a better overall experience, but not a dramatically different one. Of course, Samsung being Samsung, there are a bunch of new gimmicky features crammed into it so there’s something to show on commercials.
It took me a little while to come around to the idea of AR Emoji… and then not too long to get bored by them again. Let’s be honest here: these are a clear response to Apple’s Animoji, which gained a lot of attention when the iPhone X launched, and which make use of the TrueDepth camera on the front of the iPhone X.
Samsung’s offering feels like a watered-down version of this, albeit one with a bit more personality. To create your own little avatar you simply smile into the front-facing camera, and the Galaxy S9 creates your own digital version of you. Once it’s created, you can change your avi’s hair and skin color and choose an outfit; it’s a shame there aren’t more customization options here, as the outfits are a bit limited and the hair colors aren’t particularly nuanced. This may seem like a tiny thing, but if you can’t make your AR Emoji look like you then you; and your friends; are going to struggle to engage with it.
In my testing I found that I needed to create my avatar a few times, as there were occasional glitches like a weird face shape or the wrong-colored eyes. I also had to get used to the fact that it doesn’t look like me all the time, although in some of the instantly-generated GIFs you can use for social media I suddenly saw that my AR Emoji mimicked some of my features well from different angles.
Those GIFs are probably the best thing about this new feature; and they get tiresome relatively quickly. You send a few to friends on compatible apps (the AR Emoji GIFs are baked into the Galaxy S9’s keyboard, but you can’t add them in Twitter or Gmail, only in apps like WhatsApp at the moment), but the novelty wears off pretty quickly. 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. Apple definitely does a much better job in this department than Samsung has done.
Fingerprint Scanner And Other Biometrics
Anyone who read my Galaxy S8 review last year would have realized quite quickly that the biometric unlocking features of that phone almost made it unusable. The fingerprint scanner was too hard to reach, the iris scanner too unreliable and the facial recognition just too poor. Samsung needed to do something, and it has, with all three features now working seamlessly and interchangeably.
Intelligent Scan marries the iris scanner and facial recognition to make unlocking your phone with your face a far, far simpler task, and as mentioned the fingerprint scanner is much easier to hit. The speed of the Intelligent Snan feature is so much better than last year… where the iris scanner and facial recognition on the S8 were between 30% and 50% accurate, the two together on the Galaxy S9 yield success almost every time.
In low light the iris scanner is still a bit slow to react, and not always pleased to let you in (in this case, Apple’s Face ID absolutely destroys it for accuracy and ease of use), but it’s so simple to just flick your finger to the scanner on the back that we never had an issue.
There are a couple of flaws with the biometric system. First, the 2D scan of the face the S9 makes to recognize you isn’t as secure as other methods, like the fingerprint scanner or Apple’s Face ID. That’s not a huge problem for me; the fingerprint scanner is a better way of paying for things anyway, and really biometric unlocking is more about convenience than it is security.
I wasn’t able to dupe the Samsung Galaxy S9 with a picture of my face, so if you lose your phone you can feel secure in the knowledge that the thief isn’t getting in, which is what most of us really want. Second, and more frustratingly, you can’t really unlock the phone when it’s placed on a table; the field of vision for the scanner is limited, so unless you weirdly shove your head over it you won’t get in, whereas Apple’s Face ID offers a much wider viewing angle.
Display And Performance
It may have been around for a year, but I still can’t stop gazing at Samsung’s Infinity Display. Samsung has taken the effort to mask all the cameras and sensors sitting in the bezel of the phone, making it look like the screen blends in with the edges, which creates a more immersive viewing experience.
The 5.8-inch screen size is the same as the S8, but there are some improvements in the AMOLED panel. Colors are incredibly vibrant, but still accurate, and the screen gets brilliantly bright. The S9 has a Quad HD+ (2,960 × 1,440 pixel) resolution, just like the Galaxy S9 Plus, which means it’s even sharper than its larger brother because it packs more pixels (570 pixels-per-inch to be exact).
The end result is a beautiful screen that’s perfect for binge-watching the new season of Jessica Jones. The S9 supports HDR10 after all, so apps like Netflix, YouTube, and HBO with HDR10 content look their absolute best on this phone. Sure, the Galaxy S9 Plus has more screen real estate, but we’re happy watching shows and movies on the smaller S9 as well.
The biggest difference between the S9 Plus and the S9, other than size, is the extra camera on the rear of the S9 Plus. Like many other flagship smartphones, the dual-camera system offers features like 2x optical zoom and a Portrait Mode for a blurred background effect, as well as a wide-angle camera on certain devices like the LG V30. You won’t get any of that on the small Galaxy S9, but you do get a killer single 12-megapixel camera with variable aperture.
That doesn’t sound as cool, but you’ll undoubtedly be more than satisfied and impressed with the photos; specifically the low-light photos; the S9 captures. As we’ve explained before, variable aperture is when the camera can switch between two apertures: In the S9’s case, it can switch between f/1.5 and f/2.4.
The aperture is the hole in the camera that lets light into the sensor. The S9’s f/1.5 is the widest aperture available on a smartphone currently, and that means it can absorb a lot of light because the hole is larger (the lower the number, the wider the aperture). The problem with having such a wide aperture is that the details in the photograph are not as sharp. So if you compare a daylight photo taken with the f/1.5 aperture versus the f/2.4 aperture, the latter photo will be far more detailed.
Thankfully, you don’t need to think about any of this because Samsung hides all this complicated mechanical machinery away from the user interface. Simply open the camera app, tap the shutter icon, and the S9 will take a great photo. It will default to the f/2.4 aperture most of the time, so your photos remain sharp, but when it detects poor lighting, it will automatically switch to the f/1.5 aperture. These photos are noticeably brighter than the S9’s competitors, and while they may be a little fuzzy, they’re still excellent considering the lighting conditions. You can also manually switch apertures in the camera’s Pro mode.
What’s even more impressive is Samsung’s multi-frame noise-reduction image processing, which may not sound interesting, but is important. We’ve all taken photos at night only to find a lot of grain or “noise” ruining the picture. When you tap the shutter icon on the Galaxy S9, the phone captures 12 photos it then compiles to eliminate as much noise as possible. There’s also the Super Slow Motion feature, where you can take 720p videos that are 32 times slower than real life. It’s a fun addition into the camera app, though it does take some getting used to when trying to capture fast-moving scenes.
If you’re a power user, don’t expect to get through a day without charging up the Galaxy S9. After using it heavily for watching YouTube videos, taking photos, playing video games, and browsing the web, I reached 7 percent by 6 p.m. That’s not good at all, and you can easily find better battery life with the competition.
If you don’t use the phone as much, you’ll obviously see better battery life. You can also head to the device manager settings to optimize the battery and get as much time out of it as possible. On a light day of use, I managed 38 percent by 5 p.m., starting with a full charge at 7:30 a.m. The phone supports fast wireless and wired charging, so you have plenty of ways to charge it back to full strength quickly.
For me personally, the Samsung Galaxy S9 isn’t much different from last years Galaxy S8. Sure there’s a couple of new features and small enhancements and changes/additions to the camera, but that’s really about it. With that said, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it and we all know that Samsung makes superb hardware when it comes to their Galaxy S devices and have done so for years.
I would say that if you have a Galaxy S7 or older and are ready for an upgrade, then sure, the Galaxy S9 is something to grab. If you have an S8 already, I’m not sure I’d make the jump quite yet. I’d personally hold off until next year as then you are getting a two year upgrade in devices that might net you a bit more than what you’re going to get upgrading from last years model.
Overall the Galaxy S9 is a great device. It’s beautiful in every way possible and Samsung is making their TouchWiz stuff a bit more tolerable than what it used to be in the past. Is it great? By no means it’s not. But it’s far better than it was back in the early days and up through the Galaxy S7.
Again, you can pick them up at any carrier, but the one I reviewed as I mentioned early on is from the awesome folks over at Verizon Wireless. They do a superb job of always sending me the latest and greatest device to test and review and play around with and I can’t say thank you enough for that. With that said, they are going to be sending me a Samsung Galaxy S9+ to review here in a week or two so be on the look out for that review as well.