The Samsung Galaxy S9+ is an incremental upgrade to the Galaxy S8+. But if you’re in the market for a shiny, new smartphone (maybe one that is from 2018), this might be the perfect device for you.
The design is nearly identical to the previous model but there are some subtle changes that help really polish this device. The bottom chin, for example, has been slimmed down so the screen-to-body ratio has actually been increased ever so slightly. Also, the curved edges are more subtle than they were before. The aluminum sides and glass back can still be found here. We also still have a microSD card slot for expandable storage, wireless charging support, a USB-C port for wired charging, a headphone jack, heart rate monitor, and fingerprint scanner. This phone just has about all of the bells and whistles minus an IR blaster and maybe a removable battery. But you don’t really find those features too often these days.
The fingerprint scanner on the S9 has been dragged and dropped to beneath the camera sensors. This seemingly significant design change is actually one of the things that makes the Galaxy S9 so much more enjoyable to use than the S8. You can actually reach the scanner with your index finger and you won’t smear up the camera lens as much as before. The fingerprint scanner itself is still fairly narrow and rectangular in shape but it does work well and is still my preferred option to unlock the phone. Samsung also does have several other options to unlock your phone such as Face Unlock and an iris scanner. They also have this feature called Intelligent Scan that uses both iris and face data. So depending on your environment and various other factors, it will switch between Face Unlock and the iris scanner. It might not be as secure as an old-fashioned password or PIN but it’s one of the quickest ways to unlock the phone so you’re going to want to decide whether it will be convenience or security.
Samsung makes the best mobile smartphone displays on the market and each year the company manages to improve upon them. While the differences between this year’s display and last year’s is minor, the improved brightness and color accuracy are appreciated and truly make this phone all the more enjoyable to use and to look at. It’s worth saying that the jump in display performance is nowhere near as big this year as it was with last year’s S8. So if you value the display above everything else, you might just want to find a good deal on a Galaxy S8 or S8+ because those displays have the 18:9 aspect ratio, they are large, beautiful, and have curved edges. You can’t go wrong with those displays.
The Galaxy S9+ is running Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box, which brings several new features to the handset that weren’t available before. We actually made a separate video highlighting some of these new features on the Galaxy S8 because Android Oreo was pushed to the S8 right when the S9 launched. Aside from Android Oreo’s security and bug fixes, as well as improved stability and performance, I really liked the integration of Google’s AutoFill API. Google or Samsung, depending on which one you choose, will now be able to remember your usernames and passwords for some of your favorite apps so you don’t have to keep typing that info in each time you install an app for the first time. As a phone reviewer, this saves me a ton of time.
There’s a Picture-in-Picture mode that will let you multi-task by shrinking the app to a smaller window so you can still see what’s going on while you navigate a different app. A good example of this would be when navigating Google Maps. You can press home and look up an address without ever closing out navigation. This feature doesn’t work with all apps but I’m sure it will be supported with more apps as time goes on.
The Apps Edge feature has been on Samsung smartphones for years now but a feature that has made its way to non-Note smartphones is a feature called App Pair. You can create a shortcut for a pair of apps so that when you tap on the shortcut, both of those apps will open up together at the same exact time. This saves a lot of time and definitely improves productivity.
As a whole, I don’t mind the skin running on top of Android, at least as much as I thought I would. The home screen is fairly minimal with a swipe up or down to open up your app drawer. Since the Galaxy S9+ is sporting a Snapdragon 845 octa-core processor with 6GB of RAM. Everything is very smooth and fluid. I have noticed a couple instances where apps would freeze up and not load content. Snapchat was a big offender in this area but hey, overall, the Galaxy S9+ is a performance beast. It’s just hard to say how well it will hold up after a year or two, given the heavy software skin on top of Android.
Now I really despise Bixby and I wish I could swap it out with the Google Assistant. I can’t tell you how often I’ve accidentally hit the physical Bixby button on the left hand side of the phone thinking it was the volume down button. I don’t know about you but I have absolutely no need for Bixby, I have no need for this physical button, and I have no need for the Bixby home screen. I think some on board solutions to customize this button would be appreciated.
The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are both unique in that they feature variable apertures, meaning the aperture of a lens can change depending on the environment. What’s neat about the S9+ in particular is that in addition to this dual aperture, it features an additional 2x telephoto sensor similar to the iPhone X and Note 8. So there are two apertures-- a wide f/1.5 aperture for low light and f/2.4 aperture when there’s more light. In my testing, I didn’t find the f/1.5 aperture to offer significantly better image quality when compared to the f/2.4 aperture. The subject gets brighter but its sharpness curtails. In a nutshell, the dual aperture cameras are nice to see and are cool from a hardware perspective. But just don’t get too overly hyped up with the clever marketing surrounding them.
With that said, the Galaxy S9+ is the better option for those of you who want one of the best mobile cameras on the market because of these dual apertures and dual camera sensors, which the S9 doesn’t offer. The Depth of Field, Dynamic Range, and colors were all extremely pleasing.
Samsung also has a lot of different camera modes that you can play around with. One of the newest ones is called AR Emoji, which is Samsung’s take on Apple’s Animoji. It creates an AR avatar that is supposed to resemble you and match your facial movements. It’s really silly and I never found myself using it. There’s also a super slow motion feature that will capture 960 frames per second at a 720p resolution and the results are pretty incredible.
Now, even with everything mentioned earlier, there’s still more to love about the S9+. It features dual stereo speakers. The call speaker actually doubles as a loudspeaker that works in conjunction with the bottom speaker. They aren’t tuned by AKG, for whatever that’s worth. They’re not the best mobile speakers I’ve heard but they are much better than what was available previously from Samsung so I’m very glad that Samsung has finally embraced the stereo speaker trend.
Last but not least, battery life. The S9+ features a large 3500mAh battery that supports fast charging and wireless charging. It is capable of lasting you a full day on a single charge but it’s going to depend on how many smart features you have enabled. I cranked up the resolution on this handset to a full QHD resolution, which uses more power compared to the scaled back HD resolution. Even with some of these features turned on, I was able to get a full day worth of battery but you might be able to get a little longer if you really conserve battery life; if you turn off some of these extra features and lower the display resolution.
If you’re in the market for a new smartphone, I can definitely recommend the Galaxy S9+. If you’re coming from an older Samsung phone like the S7 and/or you don’t mind Samsung’s software skin running on top of Android, then by all means, this will be a great upgrade. The relocated fingerprint scanner and dual stereo speakers are the most appealing new features to me and truly help round this phone out. The hardware is so spot on that it’s hard for me to even try and offer improvements to its successor. Most of my issues now just stem around the software.