The Samsung Galaxy S9 is smaller than the Galaxy S9+, and that's a good thing.
The single-camera setup at the rear keeps up on most counts with the dual-camera setup on the S9+.
There's also less RAM on the Samsung Galaxy S9, but on the face of it that doesn't really matter.
The Samsung Galaxy S range of smartphones is, alongside the Apple iPhone range, the most iconic smartphone line-up in the world. Every year, the new Samsung flagship demonstrates the latest and greatest in smartphone technology, thanks to the sheer technological superiority in the company’s products. From the screen to the camera sensor, everything in a flagship Samsung smartphone is (probably) developed by Samsung.
Since 2015, Samsung’s flagship line-up has adopted an approach of having two flagship smartphones. When this approach started with the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, the differentiating factor was the curved-edge screen. Phones were simpler back then, and that curved-edge screen was beautiful. It was a good enough reason to pick the more expensive option.
With last year’s Samsung Galaxy S8 duo, the difference only came down to the size of the screen and the battery capacity. That made buying the Samsung Galaxy S8 rather uncomplicated; you were purely picking based on the size of the phone you wanted and buying the compact phone didn’t involve any significant sacrifices. With the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ things have changed. I review the Rs 57,900 Samsung Galaxy S9, with the specific intent of figuring out if it’s an option to consider over the Samsung Galaxy S9+.
Screen size matters
Since the Samsung Galaxy S8 duo, Samsung has adopted its current distinct design language. This includes the curved-edge screen, high screen-to-body ratio and 18.5:9 aspect ratio for a taller screen. The phones have also been slimmer and considerably lighter as a result. The Samsung Galaxy S9 is exactly the same size as its predecessor, and quite similar to hold and use.
The high screen-to-body ratio means that the phone packs in a large screen in a device that’s considerably smaller than the screen size would suggest. What you get is a compact smartphone that’s easy to use for someone with small hands (like me), incredibly pocketable and as convenient as it gets in terms of feel.
While I’m quite accustomed to using large phones, I must admit that I had forgotten how convenient it was to have small phones. The Samsung Galaxy S9 makes usability better, and small phones are certainly underrated in that regard.
Performance and specifications that count
Unlike with the Samsung Galaxy S8 duo, there are slightly more significant differences in the specifications of the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+. The larger phone has a larger 6.2inch screen, as compared to the 5.8-inch screen on the Samsung Galaxy S9. However, the screen resolution is the same on both screens, which means that the smaller phone has a slightly better pixel density count of 570ppi, over the 529ppi of the Galaxy S9+.
In practicality, this doesn’t mean anything – both phones have a pixel density count that is incredibly high and far more the approximately 320ppi mark where the human eye can’t discern individual pixels anymore. Another key difference is RAM, and this is one that matters. While the Galaxy S9 comes with a standard 4GB of RAM, the S9+ gets 6GB of RAM.
In most cases, you won’t miss the extra 2GB of RAM, and indeed I did get the flagship performance I expected during my time with the phone. However, there were times that the phone slowed down and froze, which didn’t happen at all when I reviewed the Samsung Galaxy S9+. I don’t necessarily only want to blame the RAM difference for this, but I can’t help but feel that it has something to do with it. And in the long run, more RAM is always a good thing and 6GB is obviously better than 4GB.
The only other difference in the specification sheet, like last year, is the battery. The smaller size of the Samsung Galaxy S9 means it has a smaller 3,000mAh battery, as compared to the 3,500mAh battery on the S9+. While the chunk of that extra battery life goes into powering the larger screen, it does also help in keeping the phone going for longer. I often ran low on battery after a bit of heavy use, and had the charge the phone much more often than I’m used to. In comparison, I was able to get a little more usage time out of the S9+.
The rest of the specification sheet is the same as on the Samsung Galaxy S9+. You get the Exynos 9810 Octa SoC (for devices sold in India), 64GB of storage, iris, fingerprint and face scanning for biometric security, Samsung Pay with MST support, IP68 dust and water resistance, HDR10 compatibility for video, a 3D-touch home button, always-on display, expandable storage and Samsung’s proprietary fast charging standard. As you can see, it’s a flagship phone through and through.
The difference with S9+ camera
While last year’s duo of smartphones didn’t have this as a difference, it’s something to consider between the two Galaxy S9 devices this time around. The larger Samsung Galaxy S9+ comes with a dual-camera setup at the rear, while the Galaxy S9 has a single-camera setup. And in the age of dual-camera setups on even affordable phones, it does sound a bit strange for a Rs 58,000 smartphone to have just one camera sensor at the back.
However, if there’s anything that we learned from the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, it’s that dual-camera superiority is not necessarily a thing. With the right software tweaks, one camera can effectively do what other smartphones might need two cameras to achieve, and indeed that is to some extent true even with the Samsung Galaxy S9.
The primary camera has the same specifications as the one on the S9+, and indeed ensures the same level of performance on most fronts. Additionally, you also get the same dual-aperture mode, which lets the camera select between shooting at a wider f/1.5 aperture or narrower f/2.4 aperture. You can also manually control this through pro mode, but it’s best to let the auto mode choose on its own for best results.
That second sensor on the Samsung Galaxy S9+ does have a couple of key features enabled by its presence – 2X lossless zoom and true-stereo depth effect for portrait shots. That’s not to say that the Samsung Galaxy S9 doesn’t do portrait shots; it’s just that it uses software to achieve the effect. However, the lossless zoom is a definite shortcoming that can’t be spun any way other than a feature that is lacking in the smaller phone.
Apart from that, there’s really nothing to complain about with the camera. In all conditions, the Samsung Galaxy S9 excels at photography, similar to what we saw on the Samsung Galaxy S9+. What particularly stands out is the detail and color in pictures in all conditions. In good light, you see pictures being sharp, realistic and accurate in portrayal. Even nuances in the image, such as the way sunlight falls onto surfaces, are excellent.
A key visible difference is in the portrait mode. It exists on the Samsung Galaxy S9 despite the lack of a second camera sensor at the back and works using software. It works decently as well, but admittedly not as well as the Samsung Galaxy S9+ which uses its two cameras for this. So if good portrait mode is very important to you, you might want the S9+.
(Camera samples shot on the Samsung Galaxy S9)
As before, the Samsung Galaxy S9 comes into its element in low-light conditions thanks to its variable aperture mode, taking pictures that capture the essence of any scene even if you’re functioning with very little non-natural light. Street scenes at night are excellent, as are pictures taken inside a fairly dark lounge here in Mumbai.
The details and lack of grain in low-light images are incredible, and indeed the camera more than lives up to the standards already set by the Samsung Galaxy S9+ when it comes to most use cases. The ability to switch to f/1.5 aperture when needed, and the automatic system that correctly picks out the ideal aperture, makes all the difference in good shots in any condition.
WATCH: Samsung Galaxy S9+ Review
Verdict – The choice between the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+
There are a couple of really good reasons to buy the Samsung Galaxy S9, the biggest of which is its size. The compact dimensions, comfortable form factor and overall quality of the package make a lot of sense, particularly considering that there’s also a Rs 7,000 price difference between the two phones.
If that size advantage and the price difference are big factors, then yes, the Samsung Galaxy S9 is worth your while. The camera is almost entirely as good as on its larger sibling and 4GB of RAM is the right amount to have right now, making the S9 a good option on its own.
But then again, if you can afford to spend Rs 57,900, you can probably also afford to spend Rs 64,900. That Rs 7,000 extra will get you the second camera sensor for lossless zoom and better portrait mode. It’ll also get you 2GB more RAM, a larger battery and a phablet-sized screen that might actually be useful to a lot of people. When you consider all of that, Rs 7,000 doesn’t sound like a lot of money, and the Samsung Galaxy S9+ would actually be the better phone to buy.