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Review

Samsung Galaxy S9+ Review: Better than ever

This isn’t just another smartphone. The Samsung Galaxy S9+ raises the bar once again.

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Samsung Galaxy S9+ 4.5 5
BGR Rating :
4.5/5

Highlights

  • The Samsung Galaxy S9+ starts at Rs 64,900 for the 64GB storage variant.

  • The class-leading camera comes with dual-aperture mode, letting you shoot at either f/1.5 or f/2.4.

  • The phone is powered by the Exynos 9810 and 6GB of RAM, for top-level performance.

The Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ are obviously the ninth edition of the company’s flagship smartphone line-up, and needs no real introduction. Irrespective of whether you closely follow smartphones or not, the Galaxy S9 and S9+ will sound familiar. Whether it’s the series of ads in newspapers or hoardings, the Samsung Galaxy S-series represents desirability. Unless, of course, you’re an Apple fan.

Priced from Rs 64,900 for the 64GB storage variant and going up to Rs 72,900 if you want 256GB of in-built storage, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ is undeniably sitting in premium territory. For the money, you get the best that Samsung and the Android smartphone ecosystem have to offer. With an improved dual-camera setup, beautiful screen-dominated design and only the most powerful chipset on a smartphone today, the Galaxy S9+ is the most promising device of 2018 so far. Here’s our full review of the Samsung Galaxy S9+.

Samsung Galaxy S9+ Design and Display

Samsung doesn’t make huge design changes to its flagship line-up every year. While the Galaxy S6 Edge was the first to introduce the curved-edge display, the Galaxy S7 series were just incremental updates. Similarly, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ were revolutionary in bringing the wider 18.5:9 aspect ratio to the series, and also came with interesting add-ons such as Bixby and face and iris scanning for biometric security. The Samsung Galaxy S9+, while a definite step-up, doesn’t change much in the design department. Despite the large screen size, the phone is on par with classic 5.5-inch screen smartphones, making it easy to grip for the most part.

The phone retains its 6.2-inch QHD+ Super AMOLED HDR-capable screen, with a resolution of 1440×2960 pixels. It looks and feels the same as its predecessor as well, with practically the same screen-to-body ratio and overall size. The device has a metal frame, with glass at the back. Just above the screen, you’ll see the front camera and array on sensors, including ambient light, proximity and iris scanner, as well as the earpiece. The bottom of the phone has the speaker grille, USB Type-C port and 3.5mm jack, while the volume and Bixby buttons are on the left and the power button is on the right. The top has the hybrid dual-SIM tray.

Samsung’s use of AMOLED screen technology has also meant that its version of the always-on display remains better than any other implementation currently available today. Colors can be set, the clock style can be changed and notification icons for the apps that have unread notifications can also be configured. Additionally, you can set the always-on screen to use just the curved edge as well. The home button remains visible even when the phone is on standby, allowing for quick wake gestures.

While this feature is present on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+, it’s worth mentioning again that the Samsung Galaxy S9+ comes with pressure sensitivity, limited to just the home button though. It’s similar to force touch on Apple iPhones, and lets you trigger the button just as you would with a physical button, with vibration to mimic the button press. It helps to quickly wake the phone conveniently, particularly considering that the power button might be a bit harder to reach on this large phone.

The back of the phone does see a few changes from the Galaxy S8+, including a redesigned camera module, improved positioning for the fingerprint sensor, and the heart rate sensor and flash moved to the right of the camera module. Needless to say, despite the lack of significant changes in design, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ still looks current, modern and sharp even in 2018. And importantly, there’s no notch.

Samsung Galaxy S9+ Specifications

Samsung is at the cutting edge of smartphone technology when it comes to hardware, and runs one of the biggest chip-manufacturing foundries in the world. As a result of its collaboration with Qualcomm for SoC development, Samsung gets early access to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset for some global variants of the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus. However, as always in India, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ comes with the Exynos equivalent chipset.

In this case, it’s the new Exynos 9810. Fabricated on a 10nm process, the 9810 comes with eight cores in total, with four custom Exynos M3 cores (clocked at 2.8GHz) and four low-power Cortex A55 cores (clocked at 1.7GHz). There’s also the new Mali G72 GPU and DDR4X RAM support. The Samsung Galaxy S9+ comes with 6GB of RAM, either 64GB or 256GB of internal storage and a 3,500mAh battery with fast charging. You do also get Bluetooth 5.0 with AptX support, NFC, a 32-bit/384KHz DAC linked to the 3.5mm jack and Android 8.0 out of the box. It’s built for flagship-grade performance, and has the specs to show for it.

The sales package includes a fast charger and a pair of AKG in-ear headphones in the box. The AKG headphones are excellent for a bundled headset, and include an in-line remote and microphone for hands-free calling.

Samsung Galaxy S9+ Software

While Samsung isn’t the fastest when it comes to issuing software updates, you can usually count on the Korean company to launch phones with acceptable software and an up-to-date user interface. The Samsung Galaxy S9+ comes with Android Oreo, along with the latest version of the Samsung Experience UI. It looks fairly similar to what we’ve already seen, and has a handful of improvements apart from being built to take advantage of Android Oreo.

Changes include the long-press for app menus, an improved stock keyboard, better smartphone search that includes apps, the Play Store and Google, as well as dual-messenger functionality, which lets you have two instances of the same app for certain messenger-based apps. It works with WhatsApp, Facebook, Facebook Messenger and other compatible apps, based on the apps you use on your phone.

In all other ways, it’s the same familiar Samsung user experience, with interesting touches all around. There’s a fair amount of bloatware in the form of Samsung’s own apps, as well as extra apps that overlap with Google options, such as the browser, calendar and clock. You also get Samsung Pay. On the whole, Samsung’s interface is much improved from what it was a few years ago, but fans of simplification and light user interfaces will of course prefer the Google Pixel 2 XL or OnePlus 5T.

Samsung’s attempt at building its own AI-based assistant in Bixby is still a poor one, unfortunately. Bixby is still slow and utterly inept at providing you any worthwhile information, and you’ll be better served by Google Assistant and Google Lens for all your AI-based needs.

Samsung Galaxy S9+ Camera

As has become something of a habit for Samsung, the Galaxy S9+ sets the annual standard for camera performance. While we’re likely to see strong competition from the Apple iPhone and Google Pixel devices that will launch later this year, for the time being the Samsung Galaxy S9+ is the camera champion. With a dual-camera setup, dual-capture mode, variable aperture and ultra slow-motion video recording at 960fps, the Galaxy S9+ takes the technological aspects of smartphone cameras to new heights.

Let’s first take a look at the raw specifications of the camera though. The rear-camera setup uses a 12-megapixel + 12-megapixel arrangement with optical image stabilization on both camera sensors, LED flash and phase detection autofocus. The second camera sensor enables up to 2X optical zoom and depth-effect for live focus (portrait mode) shots. Video can be recorded at up to 960fps (in bursts) at 720p, 240fps at 1080p (continuous) or 4K at 60fps (continuous), along with HDR video recording. The front camera is an 8-megapixel shooter with an aperture of f/1.7, variable focus and AI-based portrait mode.

The 960fps slow-motion video mode isn’t something completely new – the Sony Xperia XZs that was launched last year was the first to bring the feature, followed by the XZ Premium. Just like it was on those two phones, the mode produces some incredibly dramatic slow-motion effects, adding flair to even ordinary scenes. Shooting at 960fps requires immense processing power though, and like the Sony phones, the Samsung can only do a short take at 960fps at a time. However, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ does not need to have the ultra slow-motion shooting manually triggered; it can intelligently detect motion and trigger itself. It works well in practice, but does need excellent light for the best results.

(Camera samples shot on the Samsung Galaxy S9+)

What strikes the attention the most about the camera of the Samsung Galaxy S9+ is the dual-aperture option. While most smartphones come with a fixed aperture setting, the Galaxy S9+ can, through a tap of a setting, physically switch its aperture between f/1.5 and f/2.4. The wider f/1.5 aperture is useful in low-light settings, while the narrower f/2.4 aperture suits regular lighting conditions. When you’re shooting in auto mode, the camera automatically chooses an aperture based on lighting conditions. However, you do have the option to override the automatic aperture settings and manually choose it through the pro shooting mode.

In practice, this works brilliantly. While advanced photographers might prefer using pro mode, most people can safely set it on auto and get the best results. The use of a dual-aperture mode fixes one of the biggest issues with smartphone cameras today; widening the aperture helps with low-light photography but takes away some capability in good light. By having the ability to change aperture according to lighting, this ensures that the Samsung Galaxy S9+ can take the best possible pictures in all settings. And the results really show.

Thanks to the ability to adapt to the best aperture, pictures in auto and pro mode are incredible. Grain simply is not visible, and pictures are as composed as you can possibly imagine them to be for a smartphone camera. When shooting in daylight, the sun’s effect on colors was excellent. The auto HDR mode on the camera does wonders in this regard, ensuring a visible difference between colors in direct sunlight and in the shadows.

(Camera samples shot on the Samsung Galaxy S9+)

In low light conditions, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ automatically triggers the f/1.5 aperture, which is wider than most other mainstream smartphones on offer. This ensures the maximum data capture in images, and allows for detail and a lack of grain in low-light photography. It’s about as close to what your eyes see as a smartphone can get. And while images look great on the Samsung’s fantastic screen, they retain their quality even on a computer and social media.

Some additional features worth highlighting are AR Emoji and Live Focus. The latter is just Samsung’s word for portrait mode, which lets you capture depth-effect images of both people and objects. It’s available with both the front and back camera; at the rear it uses the hardware capabilities of the dual-camera setup, while at the front it uses AI-based algorithms to detect depth. In both cases it works well, creating excellent pictures that get most things right in good lighting conditions.

AR Emoji is similar to Apple’s Animoji, letting you create custom emoji in the form of GIFs. These can either be caricature versions of yourself, or some of the preset filters. It works well in practice, although the custom emoji may not necessarily look like you. You can create short videos or GIFs to send to contacts, and make custom ones for different occasions. It’s gimmicky, but a lot of users will appreciate the feature.

Additionally, the dual-camera setup also enables up to 2X optical zoom, with both cameras benefiting from optical image stabilization. The result is good, stable photography even with 2X zoom enabled, that captures plenty of detail. In conclusion, I’m happy to say that the Samsung Galaxy S9+ is, without a doubt, the best smartphone camera I’ve had the pleasure of using. Your pictures will just be better.

Samsung Galaxy S9+ Performance and Battery

With the Exynos 9810 SoC and 6GB of RAM under the hood, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ is predictably a star performer. You’re signing up for flagship levels of performance that are arguably ever so slightly faster than even the OnePlus 5T, which is the current performance champion on Android. From quick app loading to multi-tasking to performance with high-intensity apps and games, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ usually doesn’t disappoint.

However, I did come across some stability issues on the Samsung Galaxy S9+. On a couple of occasions, I had to deal with app crashes or slow loading times (which could primarily be blamed on poor internet connectivity). This comes down to early software, and it’s clear that Samsung still has some way to go before it can completely optimize its software to work as smoothly and the lighter software packages of rival phone manufacturers.

We’ve also comprehensively tested the biometric security system of the phone. While rival manufacturers offer a fingerprint sensor or face unlock (in some cases, both), the Samsung Galaxy S9+ goes a step further with iris scanning. You can set up intelligent scan on the phone, which will activate both the iris scanner and the face unlock system and unlock your phone with whichever gives a positive match first. You do also have the option to use the rear fingerprint sensor, which unlocks directly from standby. However, on two occasions, the fingerprint sensor shut down completely for no reason and I had to reboot the phone to get it running again (a part of the issues caused by the early software).

The advantage of the iris scanner over face unlock is that it does not rely on good light to function, and I was able to quickly unlock the phone even in the dark. However, it isn’t quite as quick as the OnePlus 5T at unlocking, and you do need to hold the phone directly in front of your face and look at either the front camera or iris scanner for results. Additionally, the fingerprint sensor can be a bit tricky to find at the back because of its somewhat odd shape and position. Nonetheless, between the three methods, you’ll find the one you’re most comfortable with and start relying on it within hours of setting up the phone.

While the Samsung Galaxy S9+ has a larger battery than the Galaxy S9, battery life isn’t fantastic. A lot of it is down to the large 6.2-inch QHD+ screen, the SoC and the additional features such as the iris scanner, pressure-sensitive home button and always-on screen, which all need a fair amount of power. And with a phone like this you’re likely to use it heavily; gaming, multi-tasking and camera usage will all take a chunk out of the battery.

While battery life is undoubtedly better than it was even last year, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ can’t quite offer the same level of battery life as a lot of competing devices. You’re likely to get a full day of use out of the phone with moderate usage, and the battery does charge fairly quickly to go from near-zero to 100 percent in a little over an hour. However, heavy usage will see you needing to plug in at some point before the day is up.

Verdict

As always, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ isn’t the perfect smartphone, but then what really is? Manufacturers on the Android system have found their niches and specialities; while OnePlus might be known for its performance and speed, Google Pixel phones are reputed for camera and software. Similarly, Samsung has its USPs – camera, screen, performance and technical innovation. All of these make a Samsung flagship smartphone a very enticing proposition.

But it’s also important to point out here that Samsung phones aren’t the best when it comes to battery life and software, and Samsung is still relatively slow at issuing software updates because of the level of testing and quality control required in preparing software packages for the company’s heavily-skinned phones. And let’s not forget, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ comes at a considerable premium, priced from Rs 64,900 onwards.

Whether it’s worth the money or not is entirely up to you and how much you’re willing to spend on a new smartphone. But if you do invest in the Samsung Galaxy S9+, be assured that you are getting top-level performance, technological innovation and a camera that is visibly and comprehensively better than anything else on offer today. You’re also getting a screen that’s excellent, a design that’s modern and contemporary, and an overall package that screams for attention.

The Good

Great Design

The best screen you can have on a smartphone today

Class-leading performance

The best camera on a smartphone

The Bad

Software could be better

Battery life is weak-ish

Bixby is useless

Rating: 4.5/5

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  • Published Date: March 9, 2018 1:06 PM IST