Samsung Galaxy S9 vs Samsung Galaxy S8: Which should you buy?

The Samsung Galaxy S9 was revealed at this year’s MWC tech conference, and secured a solid four-star rating from our reviews editor, Jon Bray. It might be a great phone, but the question is, is it worth upgrading if you have a Galaxy S8, or even the Galaxy S7?

In some ways, the Galaxy S9 is a serious step up from last year’s effort. In particular, its new 12-megapixel f/1.5 rear camera performs far better in low light than its predecessor. Its new Exynos 9810 processor also promises significantly faster performance.

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However, the Galaxy S9 looks a lot like last year’s S8 and rather than reinventing the wheel, builds on previous accomplishments. Consider the fact that Samsung’s latest flagship will cost you £739 SIM-free – which is £60 more than the original launch price of the Galaxy S8 and as much as £230 more than its current price – and it becomes very tricky to know which phone to buy.

To help you decide if you really need the refinements that come with the Samsung Galaxy S9, or whether you should opt for last year’s Galaxy S8, we’ve put together this handy comparison between the two latest generations of Galaxy phone.

Samsung Galaxy S9 vs Galaxy S8: Design and display

The Galaxy S8 and S9 look so alike that you’ll probably struggle to tell them apart. As it’s done many times in the past, Samsung may have only made minor tweaks to the S8’s design, and that’s certainly no bad thing because the S8 is still one of the best-looking phones we’ve seen. For the S9, the top and bottom bezels have been reduced in size ever so slightly, so its screen-to-body ratio is slightly higher than the S8.

Otherwise, it really is almost the same phone as the S8. There’s a 5.8in 18.5:9 QHD+ (2,960 x 1,440) display like the one found in Samsung’s previous flagship, which looks brilliant. Along the bottom of the phone, you’ll find a USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack (hurrah!) and on the right side, there’s a power button, volume rocker and dedicated Bixby button, just like on the S8. Both phones share the same microSD and nano-SIM card slot and also feature IP68 dust- and water-resistance.

Essentially, the phones look so similar that neither one has the edge over the other.

Winner: Draw

Samsung Galaxy S9 vs Galaxy S8: Performance and battery life

The main differences between the Galaxy S9 and the S8 are on the inside. The S9 is powered by an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor – although UK models come equipped with Samsung’s 2.7GHz Exynos 9810 equivalent – paired with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, expandable via microSD.

While the Galaxy S8 also features 4GB of RAM, the S9’s new processor makes it much faster than its predecessor. In fact, it’s the fastest Android handset we’ve tested from any manufacturer so far.

It scored 3,659 and 8,804 on single and multi-core Geekbench 4 tests, which represents improvements of 45% and 25% over the Galaxy S8. It’s a similar story with GPU performance, too. Running GFX Bench’s on-screen and off-screen Manhattan 3.0 test, the Galaxy S9 achieved average frame rates of 45fps and 77fps at native resolution, compared to the S8’s 40fps and 60fps averages.

However, all this power takes its toll on the Galaxy S9’s battery life. With the screen set to our standard 170cd/m2 brightness and flight mode enabled, we were able to watch 14hrs and 23mins of video before battery levels fell flat. This is a solid score, but it’s some two and a half hours behind the S8.

Which phone is the right one for you will therefore depend on how you use it. If you want plenty of power and speed above everything else, then opt for the new Galaxy S9. However, if you’d rather have slightly longer between charges, then the S8 is the better choice.

Winner: Draw

Samsung Galaxy S9 vs Galaxy S8: Camera

At first glance, the Galaxy S9’s camera specs look very similar to what you get with the S8: there’s a single 12-megapixel sensor with dual-pixel phase-detection autofocus and optical image stabilisation and as with the S8, there’s no secondary 2x telephoto zoom lens on the regular-sized handset.

Where things differ is that you get a much wider f/1.5 aperture on the S9. This allows much more light to the sensor, brightening up shots and capturing more detail. Best of all, you don’t need to do anything to use it, because the camera automatically widens the aperture once the lighting conditions hit below 100 lux (which is about the same as a gloomy, overcast day).

For brighter scenes, it’ll just switch back to f/2.4, so you get a bit more depth of field and higher image quality. If you want to manually switch from one aperture setting to the other, you can do this from the camera’s Pro mode.

The video hardware gets an upgrade too. The S9 can now record 720p footage at a ridiculous 960fps, stretching 0.2 seconds of activity out into six seconds of video. It’s extremely easy to use: you just draw a box on the screen and the slow-motion recorder kicks in whenever movement is detected within that space.

So, in terms of camera specs, the S9 is a clear winner. But that’s not to say the S8 doesn’t have a solid camera in its own right. In fact, if you’re taking shots outside in good light, you probably won’t notice the difference between the two devices. It’s only when it comes to low-light and shooting slow-mo video that you’ll real see a difference.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9

Samsung Galaxy S9 vs Galaxy S8: Features

One subtle update that gives the Galaxy S9 an edge over its predecessor is to do with the phone’s iris and facial recognition systems. The Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus introduced these biometric login options last year, but the Galaxy S9 brings them together, under the name “Intelligent Scan”.

If you enable this, the phone unlocks using one method, falling back to the other if it fails. It’s a simple idea, but we found it greatly reduced the occurrence of failed recognition attempts. The fingerprint enrolment process has also been improved, so it now takes only two swipes of your index finger to register instead of the 16 dabs it required previously.

Samsung’s smartphone AI platform, Bixby has had an upgrade too: it can now translate text in real time via the rear camera. That’s an ability that Google’s Translate app has had for years, but we found Samsung’s implementation faster and more accurate.

So, the Galaxy S9 has the edge over its predecessor as far as features are concerned, but no single difference should be important enough to weigh heavily on your decision. Having said that, the S9 is also likely to get software and security updates for longer than the S8, so if you always want the latest version of Android, the S9 will keep you happier for longer.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9

Samsung Galaxy S9 vs Galaxy S8: Price

Obviously the S9 cannot compete on price against a year-old phone. SIM free, the S9 is available for pre-order at £739, while you can now pick up the S8 for little over £500 on Amazon. 

That’s a saving of around £240 if you pick up the older phone, or to look at it the other way around, nearly a 50% price hike to get the Galaxy S9. The S9’s price might drop a little over the coming months, but given that it’s started at £60 more than the S8’s original asking price, you shouldn’t expect a bargain any time soon.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S8

Samsung Galaxy S9 vs Galaxy S8: Verdict

If you’ve been keeping count, you’ll already know the Galaxy S9 is the overall winner – but it’s a much closer run thing than the scores suggest. The designs of the two phones are so similar that this needn’t factor into your buying decision, and although the S9 is more powerful than the S8, for most people, this extra clout is probably much more than you’d need. What’s more, the super-fast processor also means the S9 has worse battery life – something that’s probably more important to the average user than sheer processing power.

You get a few camera improvements and software refinements with the S9 too, but nothing you’d lose sleep over missing out on. Finally, the Galaxy S8 is so much cheaper than Samsung’s newest flagship that this arguably makes up for all of the above shortcomings. If money is no object, the S9 is undoubtedly the better phone, but until the price of the S9 comes down a little, the S8 is the more sensible option. Essentially, you get largely the same phone for a whole lot less money.

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