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Samsung Galaxy S9 Review: The (2nd) Best Android Phone You Can Buy


Damien McFerran

10/04/2018 – 9:11am

Is the standard Galaxy S9 worth a look when the Plus does it so much better? Yes… But only in certain cases

£740.00

We’ve already reviewed the Galaxy S9 Plus, the larger of the two new flagships Samsung has just pushed onto the market; for all intents and purposes, what we said about that particular phone applies to the standard S9 model; it an almost identical set of specifications, runs the same software and has the same resolution display.

However, there are some notable differences – including the price – so have a read through our review of the bog-standard version to see where to splash your cash.

Samsung Galaxy S9 review: Design & Display

From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus are near-identical.

They share the same design language, with rounded edges and a fusion of metal and glass.

The basic design is largely the same as that seen on last year’s S8, which is no bad thing – although those expecting a major facelift will be disappointed.

Samsung has fallen into the same two-year cycle as Apple when it comes to its smartphone designs, it would seem.

It’s only when you set the S9 and S9 Plus side-by-side that the disparity in size becomes apparent.

On its own, the S9 Plus doesn’t feel overly large, like some phablets; that roomy 6.2-inch screen has tiny bezels which give an impressive screen-to-body ratio.

However, there’s still that feeling that it could potentially slip out of your hand, especially when you’re using it one-handed and are straining to reach the top corners with your thumb; there’s no denying that in terms of dimensions, the standard S9 is much more comfortable to use.

It’s still a big device and packs a whopping 5.8-inch screen, but at 147.7 x 68.7 x 8.5 mm, it’s just small enough when compared to its bigger sibling to feel better in the hand.

The 1440 x 2960 pixel resolution, 18:9 “Infinity” display has the same number of pixels as the 6.2-inch screen on the S9 Plus, but they’re crammed into a smaller space.

You won’t really notice the difference, if we’re honest – images look pin-sharp on both phones.

Samsung’s Super AMOLED tech is considered to be the best in the business, and this is no exception. Colours are bright and have real impact behind them; dark areas are also supremely convincing.

Samsung Galaxy S9 review: Software & User Experience

In terms of software and UI, both the S9 and S9 Plus are impossible to tell apart.

Samsung’s TouchWiz UI is running the show, sitting atop Google’s Android Oreo base software.

Samsung has made numerous little tweaks here and there to create the feeling that this phone is 100 percent South Korean and part of a totally detached ecosystem, but that’s obviously not the case. However, the company tries its best to tie you into its own way of doing things at every possible turn; there’s a Samsung payment app, gallery, app store and – of course – AI assistant.

Bixby has improved over the past 12 months but it still isn’t quite as good as Google’s option – which you can of course install the moment you start the phone and access the Google Play Store.

Sadly, you can’t re-map the dedicated Bixby button to use Google’s version – so people who really can’t stand Samsung’s offering will have to make do with disabling the physical button entirely.

TouchWiz doesn’t have the grace of “pure” stock Android and isn’t quite as nice to look at as Xiaomi’s fast-improving MIUI, but it’s nice enough, especially if you’ve grown up with Samsung’s phones.

The ability to install custom themes which change how your icons look is neat, but less welcome is the need to purchase some of these themes from Samsung’s app store, meaning you have to input another set of payment details alongside those already stored for Google’s services.

It feels odd and confusing to have two ecosystems fighting for your attention on a single device, and makes you realise how elegant the Pixel 2 handset – and Apple’s iPhone – really are in comparison.

As is usually the case for Samsung’s flagships, there are a couple of different processor variants depending on which region you’re in.

The models for China, the US, and Canada, are based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845, while for those of us in the UK, our neighbours in Europe, and consumers most other world regions, we’re looking at a Samsung homebrew Exynos 9810 chip.

Both are based on the 10nm LPP (Low Power Plus) architecture and are octa-core CPU setups, and allegedly performance is broadly comparable between models.

We can, of course, only comment on the Exynos model, as that’s the one we’re testing.

The Exynos 9810 is an absolute beast, easily capable of multitasking over fifteen applications at once, not to mention the split-screen mode which is also handled deftly.

The S9 has 4GB of RAM compared to the S9 Plus’ 6GB, but in all honesty, it’s hard to spot this difference, unless you’re running loads of very intensive applications at once.

Samsung Galaxy S9 review: Battery, Memory & Camera

There’s a 3000 mAh battery inside the S9, which will be more than enough to get most people through an entire day.

It’s not a massive gain on the battery that came with the S8, but Samsung is clearly being cautious when it comes to this kind of thing – lest we forget the fiery disaster that was the Galaxy Note 7.

To conserve juice there are a range of power-saving aids you can trigger, but we didn’t really find we had to make use of them; a typical day of web-browsing and music-playback didn’t take the power cell too much, and it’s only when we ran Pokemon GO for an entire day (connected to the super-handy Pokemon GO Plus accessory) that the phone really began to gobble up that power.

Even then, by the end of the day we still had enough in reserve to avoid any kinds of panic. Sure, we’ve seen phones with better stamina but the S9 can hardly be considered a slouch in terms of battery power, either.

With 64/128/256 GB versions available – each scaling in price, as you might expect – the Galaxy S9 gives you plenty of options when it comes to storage. 64GB will be enough for most users, but 128 is likely to be the most requested model, as you have plenty of breathing room for data.

It’s worth noting that you can add more memory using MicroSD cards, so even if you opt for the cheapest variant, you’re not stuck with “just” 64GB.

The big news this year is the camera, which Samsung has equipped with a variable aperture system.

This operates quite similarly to such setups on full-blown DSLR cameras, with a series of mechanical sliding components that mimic the human iris’ ability to expand and contract, in order to allow in more or less light depending on the ambient light around you.

The phone reads the situation and toggles between a wide f/1.5 aperture size (which is wider than Samsung’s older f/1.7 aperture) and a narrower f/2.4 aperture size.

In most of the standard shooting modes, this is all automated, with the phone figuring out for itself which size to use – it’s only in the Pro shooting mode, where you can manually control everything, that you can dial in which aperture setting you want.

This combines with Samsung’s existing suite of effective imaging technology; the Dual-Pixel Phase Detection Autofocus makes a welcome return once again together with optical image stabilisation, a large sensor size and large pixel size.

All of this allows the maximum required amount of light in for a given shot – not too much, not too little – with the autofocus being some of the fastest seen anywhere, enabling the whole setup to deftly avoid overexposure or noise while grabbing as much detail as possible.

The resulting imagery is noticeably sharper than what is produced by its predecessors – and that was already impressive to begin with – capturing tons of incredibly fine and crisp detail with excellent contrast and dynamic range.

There’s also 4K video and Super Slow Motion recording, which takes video at a staggering 960 frames per second.

Of course, Samsung has to give you a compelling reason to buy the more expensive S9 Plus so there’s no telephoto lens on the standard model – you’re stuck with a single 12-megapixel setup.

It’s not the end of the world and the resultant images are just as good, but it’s a shame that the dual-lens configuration couldn’t have been fitted to the smaller model as well.

Samsung Galaxy S9 review: Conclusion

Smaller, cheaper and lacking that second camera lens, the Galaxy S9 may not have all the trimmings like its big brother but for many this won’t matter; it may not look that way in still images, but the difference in size is noteworthy and will be welcome for those who feel smartphones are just getting too darned big.

The S9 is a pocket-friendly device despite its massive screen, and many will be able to live without that second camera to get a phone they can carry with them without needing to borrow a pair of MC Hammer’s trousers.

The fact that it’s also slightly cheaper will add to the attraction, but if you’re keen to get the best possible phone available, the Plus-sized model is perhaps a better choice.

Samsung Galaxy S9 review unit kindly provided by Mobile Fun.

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