Android

Samsung Galaxy S9+ Review – A Complete Redesign Isn’t Necessary

In recent years, we’ve seen lots of smartphone manufacturers shifting their focus on the mid-range smartphone market, and endlessly, we’ve mentioned how important that market is, seeing the amount of models that are offered for that market. For Samsung, it’s a slightly different story. Their flagship Galaxy S line-up is what puts them hot in the game right now, which is why when it’s time to for a new product, they have to be cautious. Now in it’s 9th generation, the Galaxy S9+ is the big boy in the line-up, and with them applying the policy of “not changing anything that is not broken”, does the Galaxy S9+ regains its crown? Let’s find out.

The smaller Galaxy S9 in Malaysia is retailed at RM3299, while the S9+ is offered in 3 variants – 64GB, 128GB and 256GB, and they are priced at RM3799, RM3999 and RM4399 respectively.

Specifications
Exynos 9810 Octa-core Processor – 4X 2.7GHz + 4X 1.8GHz
6GB RAM, 64GB, 128GB & 256GB internal storage, microSD support up to 256GB
6.2-inch Super AMOLED Infinity Display, 18.5:9 ratio, 1440 X 2960, 529 ppi
12MP + 12MP rear camera, f/1.5 or f/2.4 aperture, 4K video recording up to 60fps
8MP front-facing camera, f/1.7 aperture, autofocus
3500mAh battery, Adaptive Fast Charge

Unboxing

A black box is presented when you purchase a Galaxy S9+, with the large “S9+” wording in the middle in reflective blue colour. Opening the packaging reveals a tray which contains the documentations and a SIM removal tool. The device sits below the tray. Underneath the device you do get the usual accessories – including Samsung’s Adaptive Fast Charging wall adapter, a USB-C cable, a pair of AKG-tuned in-ear earphones with extra tips and a USB-C to USB Type A connector. Surprisingly, there’s no case or USB-C to microUSB connector in our review packaging.

Design

Still as beautiful as before

If you think that the Galaxy S9+ looks pretty much the same as its predecessor, then you’re not wrong. For this generation, Samsung has applied the policy of not fixing anything that is broken. A lot of what makes the Galaxy S8+ a great phone is brought forward to the Galaxy S9+. The dimensions are pretty much identical, except that the S9+ is just a little thicker than its predecessor. While it is nice to hold in hand, the curves of the display and the rear glass just makes it a little hard to operate single-handedly, without a case.

The materials used are pretty much identical too. The front and back panels are glass, which contributes to the premium feeling of the device. But, the rear glass collects a good amount of fingerprints compared to the front, and we found ourselves reaching for a cleaning cloth quite often. The metal band that acts as a structural support has a matte finish compared to the glossy finish on its predecessor. Combining all of that makes the phone weighing at around 189-grams, which is on the heavier side, but nothing wrong with that.

Samsung’s Infinity Display still dominates the front panel. Measuring 6.2-inches on the Galaxy S9+, the 18.5:9 pretty much equates to an 84% body-to-screen ratio. The rounded left and right sides of the glass and the displays that we have a love-hate relationship is still there. As usual, it does look good and gives a premium touch, plus making swiping from the edge is a breeze, but we’ve had our fair share of accidental inputs, especially when using the device single-handedly. Maybe the experience might be better with a case. There’s no space at the bottom for anything, thus it uses on-screen Android navigation, with a pressure sensor where the home “button” is, where it will trigger the vibration to simulate a button press if you apply pressure. The top packs the usual bits – the front-facing 8-megapixel camera, earpiece, couple of sensors, LED notification light, and the IR camera. For the S9+ they are less visible to the eye compared to the S8+.

Unfortunately, the Bixby button that we hated is still there tucked on the left just beneath the volume buttons. Since they’ve made all the buttons larger, it is easier to trigger. If you’re a huge fan of Bixby then the button might be the most convenient thing ever, but for others, it’s annoying. Samsung does allow you to partially turn it off, and there are plenty of apps out there which allows you to reprogram it to your desired action, such as toggling the flashlight. The power button is left on the right.

The removable tray above houses 2 slots – one takes a nanoSIM card, the other takes either a secondary nanoSIM card or microSD card. On the other side, the 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C connector for charging and data transfer and one of the speaker channel.

The back panel is where most changes takes place. Gone are the awkwardly placed cameras and fingerprint sensors. They’ve taken the design cues right out of the Galaxy A8+, with the dual 12-megapixel sensors in the middle and they are on top of each other. The fingerprint reader is now below the sensors instead of next to them, and the Galaxy S9+ is the first in the entire Galaxy S line-up to feature the dual-camera setup. Next to it is an LED flash and Samsung’s infamous heart-rate sensor for fitness apps. That’s pretty much it for the back apart from the Samsung branding below it, and some regulatory items towards the bottom.

Our review unit is finished in Midnight Black colour for the ultimate stealth look, while the other 3 colours offered are Titanium Grey, Coral Blue and Lilac Purple.

Specs and Performance

Getting What You Paid For

As usual, Samsung offers the Galaxy S9+ with 2 different processors – their in-house developed Exynos 9810 or Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845. Both are flagship processors, with the Snapdragon model reserved for few markets. The rest of the world, including ours, gets the Exynos model – Samsung’s self-developed flagship processor. It’s an octa-core unit, and unlike the weird setup on the Galaxy A8+, while it is still an octa-core unit, half of it are now primary cores, clocked up to 2.7GHz, while the other 4 sticks at 1.8GHz. Qualcomm’s version of this processor outputs pretty much the same number too.

With a flagship processor, the Galaxy S9+ performs really well. In fact, we can say that it is one of the fastest Android phones out there, even with their own customized Android operating system. It will take any tasks you throw at it with ease. Even with performance-munching tasks such as gaming at high graphics settings, the S9+ rarely complains. It could thermal throttle under high load for a long time, but that’s ought to be expected. In return, it was able to stay pretty cool, and you can barely notice the throttling at all. This is the difference between a real flagship and a mid-range that’s trying to be a flagship. Even Huawei’s Kirin 970 processor couldn’t perform like that. It really performs as well as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips. This new Exynos processor really takes it up another level.

You can also expect the Galaxy S9+ to be a top scorer in benchmark scores. It scored a 3281 for single-core score and 8908 for multi-core. Both numbers tell the entire story.

Much like its predecessor, the regular S9 has to do with 4GB of RAM, while the S9+ receives an extra bump to 6GB. It is good enough for good amount of apps to be in the background, and it will monitor to prevent excessive apps from running and cause battery drain. Most of the time, it uses between 3-5GB on average.

As for storage options, this is where you’re given lots of options. While the S9 is only available with 64GB of internal storage, you have 3 options to choose from on the S9+, which is 64GB, 128GB and 256GB. Whichever storage you’d choose, there’s still storage expandability with a microSD card. Given the price difference, it’s probably more worth it if you get the base model, then pair it with a microSD card, since it will take cards up to 400GB. For the rest of us who’ve already got a microSD card in hand, it’s a no brainer. The only sacrifice that we can see is speed, since the internal storage is of UFS 2.1 standard, you’d easily get around 800MB/s sequential read speeds and 200MB/s write speeds, where a microSD card falls.

A dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac is standard across the board, with the usual Wi-Fi direct and Hotspot functionality enabled too. Bluetooth 5.0 that is first debut on the Galaxy S8+ is here too and ready to use right out of the box. A NFC chip is built-in as well, and it has added functionality for Samsung Pay – their own proprietary mobile payment system. You can just register your card to the device, and use it at any modern credit card terminal with pay wave support. Support for 4G+ is also there which is a bonus. The USB-C port at the bottom is of USB 3.1 standards, and you can expect fast transfer speeds. In terms of connectivity, there’s no cost cutting to be seen.

The fingerprint reader has also received a redesign and relocation, and is now positioned just under the camera lenses, so no more awkward fingerprint unlocks. Setting it up is very quick – all you need to do is swipe your finger down the sensor, and that’s it. It’s not instantaneous when it comes to unlocking – there’s always a 0.5 second delay, but for majority of the time, it is pretty accurate.

The other 2 ways of unlocking is by face recognition or Iris scanning. On the Galaxy S9+, both will now work together, in case the condition isn’t favour to one of the sensors. It is easy to set up both, but in the real world, there’s still a delay. Sometimes it will take up to a couple of seconds for both sensors to make sure it’s you before unlocking the device. For us, the fingerprint reader is still the best. The OnePlus 5T’s face recognition is probably better, but the Iris scanner on the S9+ helps in low-light conditions.

Display

Infinity Display is Here To Stay

There’s nothing much changed in the display department. If you are a big fan of Samsung’s Infinity Display on the Galaxy S8+, well, it’s here to stay on the Galaxy S9+. Nothing much has changed on the Galaxy S9+. It’s still measures a whopping 6.2-inches on the Galaxy S9+. It’s gets its Infinity Display name from the 18.5:9 display, as well as the curve on left and right sides. The rounded corners are there too. Display resolution remains at an astonishing Quad HD+ (2960 X 1440), which is based on regular Quad HD resolution with extra vertical pixels. With a density of 529 pixels-per-inch on the S9+, the display is still crisp, and image is sharp. It is really a blast to look at, and will remind you that paying that extra cash is worth it.

The display panel is also as equally as good. Samsung’s Super AMOLED panel goes really well with the Infinity Display. Colour accuracy is very good, and in typical AMOLED fashion, colours are vivid and really nice to the eyes. There’s no problem using the S9+ under sunlight as well, as the display goes really bright. Overall, it is one of the very best panels out there.

There’s also lots of settings to alter the S9+’s display to your liking. The resolution is set to 2220 X 1080 (FHD+) right out of the box, and you can bump it up to WQHD+ or tone it down to 720p. You can also play with the screen zoom apart from the font size. As for display mode, there’s 4 settings as well – adaptive display, AMOLED cinema, AMOLED photo and basic. You can adjust the colour tone of the display – not only between cool and warm, but there’s also RGB adjustments. Getting confused already? Just leave it at adaptive display. There’s also a video enhancer where it will crank up the brightness automatically when any video apps are launched.

Speakers

Stereo Speakers are Finally Here!

The S9+ is also the first device in their Galaxy S line-up to receive stereo speakers. The speaker setup is pretty familiar – the earpiece acting as one of the channel, and the bottom-firing speaker acts as the other. And of course, they had to be tuned by AKG – a subsidiary of Harman, which is acquired by Samsung not too long ago. It is much louder, much clearer and more true to life. Even though it is tuned by AKG and it has Dolby Atmos built-in, busier tracks at max volume still sounds distorted. Max volume is where we won’t spend too much time at.

On the other hand, the S9+ comes with AKG earphones. It is in-ear style, and it fits comfortably in our ears. Hands-down, it is probably one of the best earphones that comes as standard with a device. It just ticks all the right boxes – good bass and clarity. This is the earphone that we would be glad to carry around with everyday.

Camera performance

Much Improved with a Concept that Works

One of the main highlights of the Galaxy S9+ is the camera. It is also the first in the Galaxy S range to receive the dual-camera setup. Like the Galaxy Note 8, both are 12-megapixels, but the secondary pair is a telephoto lens. The wide angle lens is one of the big news about Galaxy S9+, where it had variable aperture. Yes, actual variable aperture. As a fixed lens, you can only choose either f/2.4 or f/1.5, and nothing in between. The f/2.4 mode is used in normal day-to-day photography where lighting is not a problem, and allows sharper photos and better depth of field, while the f/1.5 mode is reserved for low lighting, as it allows more light to reach the sensor, thus improving the low-light photography. It switches between both automatically, or you can toggle it from PRO mode as well. And no, f/1.8 mode doesn’t exists in the Galaxy S9+.

In regular conditions, the Galaxy S9+ performed really well. We had to say, images look really sharp, and has plenty of details. All of these can still be achieved without the monochrome and RGB setup of the Huawei Mate 10. The over-sharpening issue that is present on previous Samsung smartphones in general has been toned down. As for colours, they are definitely on the warmer side, but still there’s good dynamic range, and they are true-to-life. We didn’t miss the vivid settings on the Mate 10 as much, with the Galaxy S9+ already doing a good job. We also allow the HDR to decide when to kick in. As for the telephoto lens, there’s no visible detail loss as well, and it’s a great addition should you require zoom.

With dual-cameras, you can also do bokeh mode, where it applies simulated blur effects to the background of the subject. Like the iPhone X, it uses the telephoto lenses, which is why the field of view isn’t wide. It’s called Live Focus on the Galaxy S9+, and images turned out pretty well, and edge detection is pretty on point. Like other smartphones, stay away from complicated shapes and you’re all good. It also has Dual Capture enabled by default, in which it will take 2 photos – one with bokeh effects, and the other without. The latter also uses the wide angle lens, in case the portrait photo doesn’t turn out to be good, there’s still a regular photo as backup. You can even adjust the background blur before and after the photo is taken, and since we’ve dialed down the settings a little bit, the effect does look pretty real. On the Galaxy S9+, feel free to max out on the settings.

With that switchable aperture, the Galaxy S9+ pretty much excels in low-light photography too. By allowing more light into the sensor, it doesn’t have to crack its ISO and shutter speed up that much, and combining that with their noise-reduction technology and Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), you do get a low-noise, sharp image with pretty much little-to-no motion blur. It is really good for a smartphone photography. Images are still sharp and has plenty of details, and colour accuracy is pretty spot on too. There’s really not much smartphones that gets high praise like this, so Samsung’s way of dealing with low-light definitely works. We’re only hoping that there’s a wider dynamic range. As for the telephoto lens, hopefully you won’t be needing that too much for low-light photography, as it doesn’t have all the things to play with.

The Galaxy S9+ pretty much excels in the video side too. Of course, it will record 4K videos, and you can step it down to 1080p, 720p and so on, with the first 2 resolutions being capable of recording in 30 or 60 frames-per-second. While there’s no quality change between both speeds, there is definitely quality change between both resolutions. In typical 4K fashion, images are really sharp, and very smooth as well. There’s no juddering to be seen. Combining that with the OIS, videos are pretty much spot on. You didn’t loose a whole lot by stepping down to 1080p, but there’s noticeable detail loss. Colours are both equally good. There’s also Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) for all resolutions except 4K 60fps. For some reason, there’s a wobbly effect that can be seen especially in night mode where it switches to f/1.5 aperture. Luckily, it doesn’t tamper too much with the video, and it doesn’t go focus-hunting crazy.

Another big news of the Galaxy S9+ is its ability to record super slow-mo in addition to the regular slow-mo on most phones. Samsung claims that it will record up to 960 fps video, in 720p of course. They’re no the first at doing this, but still one of the first. Unlike regular slow-mo videos where it’s constantly recording and you can adjust where to slow it down, the super slow-mo requires either a manual trigger after the recording is started, or it will detect motion and automatically captures it. Leaving it in auto is probably the best, as it will detect motion in a yellow square box and trigger the super slow-mo, but manual mode isn’t bad either. By default, the Galaxy S9+ will put music over the final video as no sounds were recorded in super slow-mo, and you’ll have a good amount of music to choose from, or you can also mute it. There’s also an option to directly export it as a GIF image, like what we’ve done here.

Turning the phone around, there’s an 8-megapixel sensor on the front, which is unchanged from the Galaxy S8+. It has autofocus ability and HDR, so you can your face focused at all times. Dynamic range is not going to be as good as the rear camera, as it’s the same for details. But colours are well rendered, and the HDR works fine here. There’s also selective focus mode, there it applies blur to the background of the subject. There are beautification effects too where you can play around with colour and skin tone, and there are a few presets to choose from.

Another feature that debuts with the Galaxy S9+ is Samsung’s “AR Emoji”. Somewhat like Apple’s “Animoji”, it takes a photo of your face, then turns it into an animated character. It will follow your exact face, eyes and mouth movement, which is pretty cool, but seems like the character that they’ve created for me looks a little creepy (face problem), thus I won’t be including them here. Luckily, there are other stickers/characters to choose from. To be honest, Samsung’s AR Emoji still has a long way to go, as some of the movements are not natural enough like Apple’s.

via GIPHY

The camera app on the Galaxy S9+ has also received some updates. All the available modes are now on the left, and you can switch between them by swiping up or down. There’s not too many modes to play with apart from the essentials. The shortcut toggles are now to the right, along with the shutter, preview and video record buttons. Bixby vision is here too. In pro mode where’s lots to play with – including exposure, white balance, focus mode, photo mode, shutter speed and aperture as well as ISO. It will also detect movement and tracks it to keep it in focus. Lastly, doesn’t matter whether you’re shooting photos or videos, you can capture it in the display’s native resolution in 18.5:9 format.

Software

The Galaxy S9+ is also the first device in their line-up to be shipped with Android 8.0 Oreo, with Samsung Experience 9.0 on top of it. In most parts it looks pretty much the same as it’s 8.5 predecessor, but things are much faster and better organized. Credit where credit’s due, it’s simplistic look, little-to-no bloatware and flagship specifications is what translates it to a good real-world use experience. Some settings that used to be easily accessible are now buried deep down, and luckily the search function in the settings app really helped a lot. Overall, it is a pleasing operating system and really paired well with what the hardware has to offer.

Battery life

The battery on the Galaxy S9+ has been unchanged from its predecessor – a 3500mAh battery is still there. While the Mate 10 Pro gives you a larger battery pack, the Galaxy S9+ doesn’t fall that far either. In fact, the battery life is almost identical to the Galaxy S8+. You can expect more than a day’s of moderate use, with 4-5 hours of on-screen time. Our slightly heavier use returns about 35% after 12 hours away from the charger.

As for charging, Samsung’s Adaptive Fast Charging, somewhat based on Quick Charge 2.0. A 30-minute charge will take a flat battery to around 40%. The Galaxy S9+ also supports fast wireless charging, and is compatible with Qi wireless chargers.

Conclusion

A lot of people seems to have a problem with how little changes the Galaxy S9+ receives, but to be honest, Samsung actually did the right thing. What we loved about the Galaxy S8+ remains, and thus allowing Samsung to spend time perfecting the features that users really care the most. But, to be honest, we’re still skeptical about the pricing that Samsung is asking – especially the RM3799 that our base Galaxy S9+ is priced at, and goes all the way up to RM4399. Huawei’s Mate 10 Pro is a whopping RM700 less, and Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus is just around RM350 more, although their iPhone X is at another level. We still think that they could do a little better on the pricing, but if you are willing to spend this much, the Galaxy S9+ is worth to pick up.

The Pros The Cons
Camera improvements Slower “quick” charging
High end build quality Battery is slightly smaller
Lightweight Android operating system Iris & face recognition is slightly slower
Infinity Display is very nice AKG-Tuned Speakers distorts at high volume
Lots of security options Priced a little too high
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