It has been the uncrowned king of the Android smartphone kingdom – no phone has been more compared with Android’s bête noire, the iPhone, for more than half a decade now. But recent times have seen Samsung’s iconic Galaxy S series face an increasing number of challenges not just from Cupertino but also from its own Android brethren, especially with the arrival of relatively affordable flagship level devices from a number of Chinese manufacturers (most notably Xiaomi and OnePlus). And this is reflected by the flood of queries that accompanied the launch of the latest S series flagship, the Galaxy S9+. Which is why we decided to go for a question and answer format for our review of the device. Here is our attempt to answer all the queries we have faced about the Galaxy S9+.
How does it look? Does it not look exactly like the S8+?
This is an accusation that we think has been leveled a trifle unfairly at the S9+. A more logical question would have been: does the S9+ look good? Yes, the broad design language is similar to what we had seen in the S8+ with the tall 6.2-inch display dominating the front, tapering over the sides, and button placement (including the Bixby and volume buttons on the left side) being largely similar. That said, we need to stress this: the S8+ was a very good looking phone and the S9+ is just as stunning. The S9+ looks beautiful and very distinct, with its glass front and back (we got the black model, and it certainly is a head turner). It also squeezes in the same sized display into a shorter frame – 158.1 mm long as compared to 159.5 mm in the S8+. Yes, it is slightly thicker (8.5 mm to 8.1 mm) and a smidgeon wider (73.8 to 73.4 mm) and is distinctly heavier at189 grams as against 173 grams of its predecessor. Perhaps the most evident design changes from the S8+ are the presence of the dual cameras at the rear and the much more easily locatable fingerprint scanner on the back (just below the cameras instead of being next to them). It is still a relatively large device and not easy to handle with one hand, but then that is what the “+” in the name is there for.
But make no mistake – this is a very premium looking device, pretty much the tuxedo among the Android suits. The added weight makes it feel more solid although we would still advise against dropping it – there is Gorilla Glass all around it and a metal frame in between, but it still looks a little on the fragile side. Thankfully, Samsung has included a case with it in the box. And yes, with an IP68 rating, it is dust and water resistant.
How is it different from the S8+ then?
Well mainly in terms of hardware. Yes, the S9+ does have a similarly sized display with a similar resolution, but it comes with a newer Exynos 9810 processor, and also comes with 6 GB RAM, unlike 4GB on its predecessor. The S9+ also gets into stereo speaker territory with dual speakers. The most highlighted aspect, however, is the dual cameras on the back of the device – the first time a Galaxy S device has had dual cameras. Interestingly, unlike the S8 and S8+, which were distinguished mainly by size, the S9+ is clearly better specced than the S9, with more RAM and an additional camera on the back.
Everyone has been raving about the camera(s) of the S9+. “The camera reimagined” is the line that has been used time and again. Does their actual performance justify the hype – the changeable aperture and super slo-mo and all?
Let us make one thing clear – the dual 12.0-megapixel cameras on the S9+ are not just as good as any of the competition it faces, they even outgun them in some areas. The problem, however, is that give the hype around them, one had pretty much-expected photography on the S9+ to add a completely new dimension to phone photography as we knew it. This, unfortunately, it fails to do.
Once again we would like to stress that the S9+ has very good cameras. The S9+ is the first device in the Galaxy S series to feature dual cameras – both are 12 megapixels, and the main one has the dual aperture. Yes, in best Samsung tradition, they do tend to lean a trifle towards oversaturation – reds and browns seem richer and brighter than they actually are – but the to actually switch apertures on a phone camera detail is also captured in plenty. The dual aperture which switches from f/1.5 to f/2.4, depending on light conditions is amazing in tech terms. To be able to actually switch apertures on a phone camera is a tribute to Samsung’s tech muscle. However, in actual usage, it is a bit of a mixed blessing – it is absolutely amazing in very dark conditions, where it delivers detail that even you did not know existed; but move it to conditions are on the darker side rather than pitch dark and you see some smudges come in, perhaps a consequence of Samsung being too aggressive in cutting down noise. The result is that shots in the same conditions from the likes of the Pixel 2 XL and the iPhone X are slightly more grainy but sometimes seem to have more detail. Super slow motion, which lets you capture videos at 960 FPS, is great when it works, but the manner in which it works is iffy – the action that you want in super slow motion has to be captured in a tiny box in the centre of the viewfinder, so you almost have to anticipate the position of what you want to record, which sort of reduces the potential for spontaneity.
Keep your expectations grounded, however, and the Galaxy S9+ cameras deliver in spades. In good light conditions, you are going to get shots that are sensational and right up there and sometimes even significantly better than what the iPhone X and the Pixel 2 XL, the current market favorites, can offer. Color production erred on the brighter side, but we cannot see too many people complaining as this often results in photographs that look pleasant – we think that the S9+ easily takes the “best looking” pictures we have seen. The 2x zoom added by the second camera is a handy rather than a killer feature, but we really think Samsung should talk more of its Live Focus, its take on the much talked about Portrait mode in other devices. Not only does it deliver some very decent bokeh, but it gives you control over the level of blurring as well. We got some very good selfies off the 8.0-megapixel front-facing shooter too – again, perhaps it got a trifle overlooked. We also found the camera UI a bit on the complicated side. But then, we have yet to find the perfect camera UI – the ones that give you too many options end up being confusing while the basic stock Android ones do too little (we are looking at you, Google!).
All said and done, the S9+’s most hyped feature – the camera(s) – tends to underwhelm just a little. Not because it does not perform well – it is brilliant and among the best out there, but simply because the hype around it had generated expectations that now seem unrealistic. Part of the blame should also be shouldered by its predecessors, the S7 and S8, which had surprised everyone. The S9+’s cameras are definitely a step forward for Samsung, but not a giant leap for cameraphonekind.
While we are on the cameras, how well does Face Unlock work?
Samsung has not gone in the notch direction design wise (Thank God) but it has bundled in both iris and face recognition in what it calls Intelligent Scan. In normal light conditions, it works like a charm and is very smooth indeed. However, dim the lights a bit and things get complicated. In complete darkness, we rarely were able to unlock our S9+ using just our face and iris. The silver lining to the cloud, of course, is the presence of that fingerprint scanner on the back, which works speedily enough and while still a bit difficult to reach (this is a tall phone, remember, well over half a foot long), it is very effective. But yes, the Face Unlock crown so far remains very much with the iPhone X.
What about the AR emojis? How do they compare with Animojis on THAT phone?
Well, honestly, they struck us as being a little gimmicky. Yes, the process of creating an AR emoji is relatively easy, and unlike an Animoji which basically maps your facial expressions on to an existing character, the AR emoji tries to create a likeness of you. The key word here is “tries” though – mine was blonde (some have had greater success)! A huge factor in favor of the AR emojis is also the fact that they can be used in just about any application and are not restricted to the iMessage app, as Animojis are. And yes, the AR emojis also are dressed (although what they wear has nothing to do with what you yourself are wearing) and have a bit of an upper body, unlike Animojis which are all face. But there the comparison ends, because thanks to packing in more sensors, the iPhone X’s Animojis map your facial expressions much better in most cases as compared to AR emojis – a notable exception being the case when you raise your eyebrows, which AR emojis captured spot on as compared to an Animoji.
How well does that cutting-edge hardware perform? Does the device handle games and multi-tasking well? Any heating issues?
Samsung has released the Exynos powered version of the Galaxy S9+ in India, so Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 fans might feel a little disappointed. That said, the Exynos 9810 chip allied with 6 GB of RAM pretty much ensure that whatever you throw at the device will be handled with elan. Our unit had 64 GB storage, which could be expanded using a microSD card provided you were ready to sacrifice one of the two SIM card slots in the device. Connectivity wise, we were well covered – 4G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and NFC are all there.
We experienced absolutely zero lags in our usage, whether it was playing PUBG, Asphalt or switching between a dozen apps. Samsung remains in a zone of its own when it comes to displays and we have to say that the 6.2-inch Super AMOLED Infinity Display is right alongside the iPhone X as one of the best displays we have seen on a smartphone. Ally that with the stereo speakers, with supper for Dolby Atmos, and the S9+ comes across as perhaps the best multimedia phone out there in Androidland. And no, there were no heating problems whatsoever in our time with the device – it can heat up mildly during extended photography and gaming sessions, but then, all phones do in those conditions, and the temperature never reached a level that seemed even remotely alarming. This is flagship material, and in terms of sheer smoothness of performance, in a zone of its own in the Android world, well ahead of the likes of the Pixel 2 XL and LG V30+. We can safely say it is the best Android phone out there in terms of sheer performance.
What about call quality?
Call quality on the Galaxy S9+ is very good indeed. We are not going to put it in the same league as what we have heard on the Nokia 8 and the Moto Z2 Force, which have the gold standard out there, but it is definitely not too far behind. We did not experience any random call drops and those we were conversing with never had any problems hearing us.
The battery size is the same as on the S8+. Is battery life any better?
In terms of sheer numbers, the S9+ has pretty much the same battery as the S8+ – all of 3500 mAh. Our experience with the S9+ was however much better than with the S8+. While with the S8+, we had struggled to get through a day of use, here a single charge saw us comfortably through a day of heavy usage – and that generally meant using those amazing cameras a fair deal and using those speakers for music and audio. There is support for fast charging (the phone gets charged in about an hour and forty-five minutes, give or take a little) and for wireless charging as well. Battery life was initially a little inconsistent, with the battery going from 75 percent to 50 percent rather swiftly, but a few software updates seem to have fixed that.
Software has always been a mixed bag on the Galaxy S series. How is the Samsung Experience UI on the S9+?
In a word: it is complicated. Yes, it is a whole lot less cluttered than it used to be in the past, and not as notoriously loud and colourful, but even then, all said and done, in an age where the stress seems to be on making software as clean as possible, the UI on the Galaxy S9+ can seem a little overwhelming at times. There are fewer duplicate apps, although you still have two browsers and two digital assistants, and the settings are still a nightmare to understand. The fact that you have to have a Samsung account to even change the wallpaper, for instance, can be annoying.
And Bixby for all the additional utility it provides still does not do enough to deflect a Google Assistant user or actually even merit a dedicated button in our opinion. But on the flip side, we are sure people like features like being able to swipe from the side to access a group of apps that you use frequently. Similarly, the camera app comes with a plethora of shooting options, which allows you to do a whole lot more than stock Android would. The critical part is that even though the Samsung Experience UI seems a tad cluttered (as per stock Android standards), it is still very fast indeed. Yes, your device will not boot up as quickly as a Pixel would, but when it is working, you will seldom encounter a stutter or a lag. We also have to hand it to Samsung for serving up updates to improve performance – we have had a couple of updates in the month. We just hope they keep this going.
At Rs 64,900, it does cost a pretty penny. Is it worth it? Is it a compelling update from the S8+?
If the price is not a problem and you are looking for a high-quality Android device, the S9+ is a no-brainer. The device delivers a very high-quality flagship experience and will handle pretty much anything you throw at it. And yes, Samsung continues to boss the display zone when it comes to Android – the 6.2-inch Super AMOLED display is fantastic. Allied with great sound over the stereo speakers (you can actually hear the change when you activate Dolby Atmos, which by some software quirk, is not activated by default) and the excellent cameras, the S9+ is pretty much the ultimate premium Android flagship. If you are not short of cash, we would have no hesitation in recommending it – it is a very well rounded out product. And looks and performs in a classy manner.
Is it a compelling update from the S8+? That is a tougher one to answer. For, brilliantly though the S9+ performs, some might feel that it does not go significantly – and that is a very subjective term – ahead from where the very good Galaxy S8+ or the Galaxy Note 8 left off. Perhaps far too much stress was placed on the cameras, which do not exactly massacre the competition as many had expected (and the camera was any way exceptional even on the S8+). Yes, the S9+ looks very good indeed, works smoothly and has no real flaws (unless you want to complain about the UI, which is always a contentious issue), but in our very honest opinion, does not outperform the budget flagship segment (led by the OnePlus 5T) which is laying siege to it by the huge margins as it did in the past. Yes, we would recommend it ahead of the Pixel 2 XL comfortably, simply for that brilliant display and cutting-edge design, but when compared with the likes of a OnePlus 5T, the difference in overall performance at times does not seem as great as the price of the S9+ would warrant.
Yes, the Galaxy S9+ manages to retain the series’ title as the Best Android Flagship out there, but the gap between it and its rivals is closing.
Oh and one more question, should I buy this or the iPhone X, or the OnePlus 5T or the Pixel 2XL…or…
That is another story. Stay tuned to our site for the answer. Comparisons are coming up.