It has been out in the global market for a few days now, and while reviews are just beginning to flow in (ours is coming too), the overwhelming sentiment about Samsung’s latest flagship, the Galaxy S9+, is that it is very similar to its predecessor, the S8+. And well, that is largely true, especially in design terms, where the devices are (colors apart) pretty much dead ringers for each other. The biggest difference, it would seem, apart from the newer processor in the S9+, is the camera set up. Samsung has gone to town about how the S9 and S9+’s cameras could redefine photography. So you cannot blame many for thinking that the camera is actually the main point of difference between the S8+ and the S9+.
We think that is wrong.
Before people get into outrage mode and start quoting specs and numbers, we would like to clarify that we are not saying that the camera of the S9+ is bad. Far from it. It is an excellent camera and is as good – if not better – than what the competition can offer (more in our review, rest assured). No, what we are saying is that while the camera on the S9+ is excellent, it is not, in our very humble opinion, the biggest move forward for the S9+ from the S8+. And that is not its fault – the S8+ had a very good camera too and we are coming to the stage where it is becoming increasingly difficult to spot differences in camera performance at flagship levels.
No, the biggest difference between the S8+ and the S9+ is something far more basic. Something for which phones had been actually made.
No, it might not have been promoted as heavily as the camera, but the fact is that the S9+ is perhaps the first Samsung flagship in recent times to finally up the audio ante, and comes with dual speakers and stereo sound. As well as Dolby Atmos. And it is not a paper tiger, mark our words. It actually works. And in our opinion, makes a much bigger difference than the aperture and its tweaks.
It is supremely ironical that audio has been a slightly neglected part of smartphones when you consider that phones actually were first made for transmitting – well – sound! The word ‘phone’ itself is derived from a Greek word which means “speech or sound.” Yes, we have seen HTC/LG try to highlight this at the high end and Lenovo on the affordable segment, but by and large, if you want to enjoy good audio on a phone (be it during a gaming session or while watching a film or a video), you would be advised to head for a pair of headphones.
Not with the S9+.
Whether is the specially tuned stereo speakers by AKG or Dolby Atmos, the fact is that the sound on the Galaxy S9+’s dual speakers (one at the base, and one at the earpiece) is amongst the most impressive we have seen on the Android side of the smartphone world. And can lay siege to the super speakers on the iPhones (who took the stereo path in late 2016). They are not spectacularly loud but the sound quality is excellent, and if ambient sound is not too much you actually can almost sense the sound coming from different places, which makes this easily the best implementation of Dolby Atmos on a smartphone. That said, we still do not know why Samsung had to hide Dolby Atmos in the settings and keep it turned off by default. It is brilliantly hidden too – searching for “Dolby Atmos” in the Settings gives you a “No results found.” Lenovo used to do a far better job by throwing in a shortcut on the homescreen itself.
But yes, once you do turn it on, the difference in sound is simply staggering. Enough for us to say that while the S9+ might claim to come with “the camera reimagined,” but is the sound of its speakers rather than the sight of its pictures that impressed us more. We just hope it inspires other smartphone manufacturers as well.