Review: Samsung Galaxy S9 is a quiet evolution rather than a revolution
By Chong Jinn Xiung March 9, 2018
- Improvements to placement of fingerprint reader and addition of stereo speakers
- Enhanced camera with better low-light performance and slow-motion video
IT IS uncanny how quickly Samsung is able to churn out flagship phones. It wasn’t too long ago that we checked out the Galaxy Note 8 and now we find ourselves in possession of the company’s latest flagship device, the Galaxy S9.
Samsung certainly hasn’t wasted any time in bringing the Galaxy S9 to market, showing the phone off just mere weeks after its Unpacked event in Barcelona. Understandably, the competition in the smartphone space has intensified considerably over the past year and Samsung is doing everything to stay ahead of the pack.
The big question now is whether the Galaxy S9 has innovated enough for it to warrant that top spot?
At first glance, the Galaxy S9 is near indistinguishable from last year’s Galaxy S8. Both models look nearly identical from the front but turn them around and you will immediately notice the difference in the camera placement and fingerprint reader.
Yes, Samsung has heard the frustrated cries of its fans and made the necessary adjustments to the fingerprint reader to make it easier to reach and more responsive.
There aren’t a lot of surprises in the Galaxy S9’s design but Samsung has made some subtle changes beneath the surface with a stiffer aluminium chassis for better protection and thinning the top and bottom bezels even further to give it a higher screen-to-body ratio.
The Galaxy S9 now has stereo speakers by adding an amplified earpiece to complement the existing speaker on the bottom. The speakers are tuned by audio experts AKG and they have Dolby Atmos support.
Samsung has also given the Galaxy S9’s biometric security features a slight boost with what it calls ‘Intelligent Scan’, that switches between facial recognition and iris scanning automatically to improve unlocking speed. Scanning and unlocking the phone definitely feels quicker even in low light but the fact remains this method is still not as secure as using your fingerprint or a secure password.
Just like before, it features an IP68 water- and dust-resistant body, a headphone jack and expandable microSD card slot.
Samsung has not changed the Galaxy S9’s 5.8-inch display by much but it doesn’t need to because it remains the best-looking OLED display in the business. Needless to say, the Super AMOLED display will leave you impressed regardless of the type of content you are reading or watching.
Coming down to colours, aside from the usual Midnight Black, Coral Blue and Titanium Gray, Samsung has added Lilac Purple to the mix.
The Galaxy S9 comes with an improved Exynos 9810 octa-core processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. As mentioned earlier, the Galaxy S9 accepts microSD cards up to an insane 400GB in size, a capacity that rivals a portable hard disk for your laptop.
Throughout our time with the Galaxy S9, it maintained a smooth and steady performance that is on par with what we have come to expect from a flagship device. Honestly, benchmarks aside, there was hardly any point at which the phone faltered in performance or multitasking so, despite having less RAM onboard, the S9 still holds its own all around.
TouchWiz running over Android 8.0 Oreo hasn’t changed much at all and will be immediately familiar with Samsung users. The interface remains conservatively clean, save for the annoying presence of the Bixby screen when you swipe left to right on the home screen.
While the Galaxy S9 and S9+ share the same processor, things differ slightly with the larger S9+ which comes with 6GB of RAM and is sold in several different variants that offer 128GB and 256GB of internal storage. We found that the Galaxy S9 showed improvements across the board, scoring particularly high on Antutu with 248, 895 compared to last year's Galaxy S8 which scored only 169, 252.
There were also significant improvements on Geekbench and PCMark Work 2.0 with scores that were on average above 1,000 points each. The only benchmark the Galaxy S9 didn't make big gains on was graphics though to be honest the device really has no problems playing majority of demanding Android games from Into The Dead 2, Hero Hunter to Mobile Legends.
It was mildly disappointing to note that the Galaxy S9 maintains the same 3,000mAh battery as its predecessor. Our usual test of running the device over 12-hours put the phone on par with its predecessor if not slightly better raking in over 40% of battery by the end of the work day.
Apart from that, the Galaxy S9’s camera has a few new tricks up its sleeve with the Dual Aperture. For those unfamiliar, Samsung claims that the Dual Aperture nature of the S9 allows it to automatically switch between an aperture of f/1.5 (for dark scenes), that is brighter than the S8’s f/1.7, and f/2.4 (for bright scenes) on the fly resulting in better-looking photos.
To Samsung’s credit, the Galaxy S9 is a terrific low-light shooter like its predecessor. The slightly wider aperture does let in more light so you can capture more details and brighter low-light shots. In everyday situations, the resulting photo quality was noticeably sharper, and more detailed while colours were more vivid and true to life.
The addition of the super slow-motion video mood is nifty if you want to capture fast-moving subjects, helped with the automatic mode that triggers when the camera detects movement. But capturing good slow-motion footage, in reality, is very difficult and the limitation of videos being just HD quality, that makes this feature cool but very likely not used often.
Samsung has also baked in some Bixby features with the camera that let you see your location by pointing the camera down to the ground, check the weather by pointing it up or perform live translation by pointing it at text written in a foreign language.
The 8-Megapixel front camera has the added ability to create AR Emoji’s by simply taking a photo of yourself and letting the camera generate a virtual caricature of you in just a few seconds. The results are a bit hit or miss, but a nice touch if you want to personalise any message as the generated AR Emoji stickers are GIF files that you can share with any messaging app.
Video recording also proved to be strong on the Galaxy S9 with its ability to record up to 4K quality videos, the caveat being that it can only record up to five minutes per clip, but if you are shooting Full HD content this is no big deal. Adding to the fact that you get optical image stabilisation on board for smoother videos, the video quality is some of the best that we have seen on a smartphone.
With that being said, here are some sample photos:
The Galaxy S9 handles high contrast and challenging lighting conditions with relative ease.
Another example of the camera's excellent HDR capabilities.
Colours simply 'pop' in almost every shot.
Indoor environments are lit with the same vibrancy and look just as clear shooting outdoors.
Finally, low light shots posed absolutely no challenge for the Galaxy S9 as it was able to light up scenery that were too dark even for the naked eye.
To be honest, Samsung has played it too safe with the Galaxy S9 in the sense that it is evolutionary but not revolutionary. Not enough has changed in its design and much of it feels too similar to its predecessor from the near identical Infinity Display to the IP68 rated body.
But the improvements made to the fingerprint reader placement and the inclusion of dual speakers cannot be discounted.
Performance-wise it is fast and efficient in handling everyday tasks, playing games and watching videos without breaking a sweat, something you would come to expect from a flagship device.
The camera is probably the biggest upgrade you will find on the Galaxy S9, as it makes taking pictures in low light easier and the quality is a step better compared to last year’s model but just marginally.
In closing, the Galaxy S9 proves that it is Samsung’s best flagship to date but it hasn’t changed a whole lot from last year’s model. It is still a terrific and reliable phone for productivity and play. The camera is better than ever with the new included features and will serve you well if you are into mobile photography.
However, the Galaxy S9 is not an enticing offer if you already own a Galaxy S8 or Note 8, as it is not that big enough an upgrade. But for anyone who is the market to upgrade to a flagship smartphone, you can’t go wrong with this one.