Five gold stars lined up

Reviewing the Samsung Galaxy S9

Possibly the Best Android Phone Currently Available

Thankfully, Samsung has continued the successful design and appearance of the Galaxy line in the S9. Most of the changes you won’t see, but you will notice in better overall performance.

Of course, there has to be enough new features to bait you to upgrade. Hey, Samsung has to have something to fill the ad space! If you’re willing to pay the unlocked price of $720 (or $840 for the S9 Plus), the Samsung Galaxy S9 is likely the best Android phone available this year. Here’s why:

Display
Both the S9 5.8-inch screen and 6.2-inch S9 Plus display are the best Android screens available, with high resolution, vibrant OLED panels and great viewing angles. The screen’s tall viewing ratio, curved edges and brighter display minimizes edge appearance for a great full-screen experience. Other manufacturers, including Apple, however, have minimized the top and bottom bezel even more for a greater immersive display.

Cameras
The vibrant display will come in handy when viewing images, because the most significant changes this year revolve around the S9’s cameras. Other than size and memory, the S9 and S9 Plus are very similar devices.

Both have a front facing camera. But the S9 has one rear camera while the S9 Plus has two, allowing features such as Live Focus and Dual Capture by pairing a wide-angle primary camera and a telephoto camera for close-ups. One can still achieve an enhanced depth of field on the S9 and previous models with Samsung’s Selective Focus software, which works well. So unless Dual Capture is really important to you, the additional camera alone on the Plus probably isn’t worth the extra cost.

Multiple people using cell phones and holding coffee

What is an intriguing improvement is Samsung’s new dual aperture feature, designed to capture images more like the human eye. In darker environments, the aperture opens up to f/1.5, just like the iris of your eye widening. For bright shots, the aperture narrows to f/2.4, providing enhanced detail. You can use these settings automatically or adjust manually in Pro Mode. Adjusting ISO or shutter speed, in combination with the widest aperture currently available on a smartphone, can produce incredible low light shots.

The camera features appear well-thought out, with RAM dedicated to the S9’s image sensors to process multi-frame noise-reduction quickly. Brands use slightly different processing technology, however, so while improved, images will look different than iPhone X or Pixel 2.

There is also a super slo-mo feature, which can be manually triggered. Climbing from 240 frames per second on previous models to 960 frames per second sounds like a cooler feature than it is. The higher frame rate slo-mo can only be recorded for two seconds, and really only works decently in very well-lit shooting situations. Numerous industry tests found this feature interesting but not very practical.

Form
Curved glass on both the front and back make the S9 a pleasure to hold, while keeping the form narrower than other devices with similar screens. Like its predecessor, the S9 is not available in a flat screen. Some find the curved shape slippery and a fingerprint magnet, but since most will use a case and screen protector, that may be a moot point. Thankfully there is a new location for the fingerprint sensor, which now sits below instead of beside the camera, so no more accidental fingerprints on the camera lens!

To be competitive with Apple’s Face ID system, Samsung launched a new combination face-scanning / iris-scanning feature that can be used as an alternative to the fingerprint scanner when unlocking the phone.

Processor & Battery Life
The specs on the S9s new Snapdragon 845 processor indicate double the performance of the Pixel 2. This improved processing means handling multi-tasking well, such as jumping between apps, creating AR Emojis or browsing on split screen windows.

Snapdragon 845 claims to squeeze 30 percent more life out of the battery than last year’s 835. With the same size batteries as the S8s, road tests show the S9s lasting at least a day-and-a-half before throwing up a low-battery alert.

Virtual You
You likely have already seen a few of these on the internet—animated talking characters that resemble people you know. You can now make your own augmented reality (AR) Emoji on the S9. Based on an image of you, you can customize your emoji, then add a host of reaction animations that can be inserted in messages as GIFs. You can even make and send of video of yourself speaking through your emoji, which is pretty fun to play with.

Brunette woman in blue shirt smiling and using cell phone

Sound
New this year is a stereo speaker array, one emitting from the bottom edge and one on the screen. Overall, this boosts the S9s volume, making sounds and dialog in calls and videos easier to understand. Audio quality has also been improved through Dolby Atmos-enhanced virtual surround sound.

A 3.5mm headphone jack is still included. While other brands such as Apple try to force consumers to use proprietary headphones, you can still use your favorite 3.5mm headphones with the S9 models.

Other Hardware
Samsung has retained fast wired and wireless charging and IP68 water resistance, as well as a feature that has gotten mixed reviews when introduced on the S8—Bixby.

Samsung is still trying to push customers toward, Bixby, the brand’s virtual assistant app. Premiering on the S8, the Bixby button still appears on the S9, just below the volume buttons on the left side. At least you can now disable it from launching the Bixby app, but the button cannot be reprogrammed for any other purpose. Some might want to explore using Bixby, as the software has been improved, including better sync to contacts when using voice dial and fun camera interface options.

Advice
Making a few incremental improvements, while retaining the best features of the Galaxy line, the S9s are strong options among the current top smartphone flagships. The phone is an excellent choice if you’re upgrading from an older Galaxy, or any other Android phone. The S9s are also solidly positioned among top competitors, but we are yet to see what Apple and Google come out with later this year.

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