The first set of Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ reviews are out ahead of their retail availability next week. Given that the Galaxy S9 packs modest improvements over its predecessor, how good are the phones when compared to their predecessors? And is Samsung’s latest flagship better than the iPhone X?
Let’s see what major publications have to say about the Galaxy S9 in our review roundup?
Samsung Galaxy S9 Review Roundup
The publication calls the Galaxy S9 Samsung’s most “predictable” handset yet, with its design and display being its strong points but the software remains a weak point. Despite having a similar design as the Galaxy S9, the S9 is definitely impressive to look at and hold.
Though the overall design and appearance of the S9 pair are the same as the S8’s, it’s no less attractive or impressive to look at. Even hardened gadget bloggers, like Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel, were still impressed with the S9’s appearance when I first showed it to them. The phone has a seamless, infinity pool effect that, combined with its extra-tall aspect ratio display, makes it feel like you’re just holding a screen.
The relocated fingerprint scanner is easier to reach but it is still too small compared to fingerprint scanners found on other devices.
The S9’s scanner has been moved to just below the camera, which makes it much easier to reach, especially on the larger S9 Plus. It’s still small, especially compared to scanners on other phones, and it’s still too close to the camera. I’ve found myself frequently swiping on the camera lens when I try to use the gesture to open the notification tray.
The Intelligent scan feature which combines iris scanning and face unlock into one is slow and simply not as good enough as Face ID on the iPhone X. The stereo speakers are also a nice improvement, though they are far from the best speakers you will find on a smartphone. Performance is also impressive thanks to the powerful internals that the Galaxy S9 packs. The battery life, sadly, is average and you will not find any major improvement in this regard compared to the Galaxy S8.
The Galaxy S9’s camera is its highlight with its variable aperture design. Samsung has also made improvements to its image processing and used a newer image sensor which should help the S9 offer much better imaging performance. Sadly, while the camera’s performance is definitely an improvement over the Galaxy S8, it is still not that much better than the iPhone X or the Pixel 2.
Samsung claims significant low-light improvements with the new camera, thanks to its new lens that can capture more light and improved signal processing to reduce image noise. In my experience, the S9 can certainly take great photos in low light, but they aren’t necessarily better than what Google’s Pixel 2 or even the iPhone X can capture most of the time. There’s less noise than images from the S8 and the colors are pleasing.
As for that variable aperture? It hardly makes any improvement in terms of image quality.
Based on my testing, there isn’t an appreciable difference in sharpness between the two apertures. Since the small lens and sensor already have very deep depths of field, closing down the aperture on the S9 has a minimal effect on what’s in focus. Further, the amount of aperture control provided isn’t enough for advanced photography techniques, such as long-exposure shots during the day, so you still have to rely on add-on accessories for those.
Worse, the secondary telephoto lens on the Galaxy S9+ is no good as well.
The S9 Plus’ second telephoto lens is similarly gimmicky: Samsung’s Live Focus portrait mode isn’t as good as Apple’s or Google’s at separating a subject from the background, and in challenging lighting conditions, the image quality is rather bad. You should buy the S9 Plus over the S9 if you want a bigger screen or longer battery life, but not for its second camera lens.
The review concludes by praising the Galaxy S9’s hardware and saying that “the whole package makes for a great phone” but Samsung’s poor software history is a big point of concern.
The Galaxy S9’s design is striking despite being similar to that of its predecessor.
Like the S8 before it, the Galaxy S9 is a very striking phone from a perspective of sheer industrial design appreciation. It’s incredibly sleek and tightly put together, giving the phone a precious quality Google’s Pixel 2 or HTC’s U11 just can’t live up to.
But the relocated fingerprint scanner is still not perfect as its very hard to feel due to its glossy surface which feels “exactly like the lens cover glass over the camera module.” The Galaxy S9’s display is one of its strength despite packing modest improvements over the panel used on the Galaxy S8.
Samsung, if nothing else, knows how to make a truly excellent display. As I sit here in a cafe typing our review, I find my eyes a little transfixed by the perfectly-even tone of the display, which barely shifts in color or brightness at any angle. Samsung’s OLED panels really are a marvel, and the Galaxy S9 is the best showcase yet for Samsung Display’s handiwork.
The primary 12MP camera on the Galaxy S9 is definitely a step up from the Galaxy S8 and even the Note 8. In low-light, the Galaxy S9’s camera performance rivals that of the Pixel 2 in terms of noise and details.
First off, the S9’s primary rear sensor (that is, the variable aperture one) is a very notable improvement over the one on the S8, S8+, and Note8. Scene exposure balance is superior, fine detail is very clearly improved, and processing is less aggressive. Photos on the S9 generally, though not always, look less overdone to me than they have on previous Samsung phones, giving them a more natural, less touched-up appearance.
In particular, low-light performance has seen a positively massive boost. The S9’s f/1.5 wide aperture mode, combined with the enhanced multi-frame composition on the camera, manages some extremely impressive results in dim conditions. I’ll tell you now: in a dark room, the fine detail and contrast of the Galaxy S9 and S9+ are often noticeably superior to even the Pixel 2. The sensor is gathering more light, and the result is sharper, brighter, and more vivid images. The Pixel 2 can manage overall scene balance – especially highlights – better, I’ve found.
In daylight though, the Pixel 2 manages to capture better photos with better dynamic range than the Galaxy S9 thanks to its HDR+ algorithm. Overall, its the Pixel 2 which continues to take better photos than the Galaxy S9.
Talking about performance, the Galaxy S9 does fairly well thanks to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 chipset. In certain aspects, the phone is even faster than the Pixel 2, though, in typical Samsung fashion, animations are still a bit janky and stuttery. Samsung’s Intelligent Scan is no good when compared to Apple’s Face ID as well.
Overall, the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ are better versions of their predecessors but given the relatively minor improvements, they pack, existing Galaxy S8 owners should not look forward to upgrading to it.
The S9 and S9+ are damn good, and I’m giving them our Most Wanted award. They may not be revolutionary, but when you’re at the top of your game, you don’t need to rewrite the rules every year.
The Galaxy S9’s display, build quality and overall design are truly one of its strengths.
The Galaxy S9 is near-indistinguishable from the Galaxy S8, but the hardware is still absolutely a strong point. This is a beautiful, modern design that looks great and is functional in terms of getting a ton of screen in a relatively small package. The standard Galaxy S9, in particular, is downright compact by modern smartphone standards.
And sadly, Samsung’s software is still a mashup of its old TouchWiz and a new version of Android.
Yes I’m being somewhat nitpicky on a few things here, and there are far more people out there who are accustomed to Samsung’s software than any other single flavor. But it just strikes me every time I pick up a new Samsung phone how many hoops I have to jump through just to get it to work the way I want — sometimes you can go overboard in offering options, and Samsung is walking that line. I doubt the software bloat will actually dissuade anyone from buying these phones, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t filled with potential frustration points.
The Galaxy S9’s performance is good but if you are coming from the Pixel or Pixel 2, you will notice those dropped frames.
As far as using the phone every day, it doesn’t feel any different from the Galaxy S8 using Oreo, or the Note 8 using Nougat for that matter. Anyone who’s spent time with a Pixel 2 or even last-gen Pixel will be able to sense moments of dropped frames or stutters on the Galaxy S9, but let’s be honest it just isn’t that big of a difference. The Galaxy S9+ handled everything I threw at it without any hesitation, and I experienced zero slowdowns, app crashes or system instability. The phone’s been rock solid, and I just hope it stays that way over time.
The battery life on the Galaxy S9+ is just about good enough to last a day of heavy use.
Samsung’s promise of “all day” battery life holds true in my use, if just barely, with the 3500mAh capacity inside the Galaxy S9+. Without fail, I got 17 to 18 hours of battery life each day, including 3 to 4 hours of “screen on” time, at the point when I settled into bed and tossed the phone on its wireless charger.
The Galaxy S9’s camera can take some great photos but it cannot beat the Pixel 2.
On the whole, I’d say both phones have great cameras that anyone would be happy to shoot with. The Galaxy S9+ isn’t going to dethrone the Pixel 2 as the “best” camera out there in my opinion, because things are just more nuanced than that, but it does just as good a job in most situations and has plenty of features the Pixel 2 doesn’t. I was consistently amazed by the photos I took with the Galaxy S9+ — and at that point, whether it took the “same” photo as the Pixel 2 in any given situation is basically irrelevant to me.
Overall, the Galaxy S9 is a great phone but it might not be for everyone.
The real question is, for the discerning buyers out there who don’t want a phone that does everythingbut wants one that does certain things best, and will put up with a couple compromises, whether they’ll be better served by a phone like the Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL. They may not have the brilliant display or mountain of features, but their software experience and simplicity are undeniably better — and that’s important for some people. If you’re willing to look at the details, you may be better served by those phones — but statistically most people will buy a Samsung phone, probably one of these two in 2018, and they’ll undoubtedly love it.
And since videos speak louder than text nowadays, check out some video reviews of the Galaxy S9 below.
So, it looks like Samsung’s latest flagship is more of an ‘s’ upgrade rather than offering something new. It also fails to beat the five-month-old iPhone X in many key aspects including camera and face unlock. Are you still looking to jump ship to the Galaxy S9?