Samsung Galaxy S9/S9+ first impressions: tweak, tweak till you succeed

Samsung Galaxy S10 to have 3D camera

“That was fast,” proclaimed a good friend from the industry at the Samsung Galaxy S9 launch in India. He was alluding to the fact that Samsung was quick to bring the phone to India immediately after its launch at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) last month. In fact, the marketing blitzkrieg has already started across major cities in India. You can easily spot your neighbourhood stores taking pre-bookings for the phone. If we have to read between the lines, Samsung is evidently taking the fight to Xiaomi, especially since its Chinese competitor poses a serious threat to Samsung’s domination. 

All that analysis notwithstanding, I had the chance to spend some time with both, the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+, at the launch event. At first glance, these phones look like iterative upgrades but in reality it is a refinement of a formula that required very few “fixes” in the first place. 

Design-wise not much has changed. Both the phones come with the same Infinity design like last year and look stunning. And of course, the all-glass bodies of the phone continue to be major fingerprint magnets. I was constantly cleaning it to get a good picture. The bigger Samsung Galaxy S9+, with its large 6.2-inch display, is still tough to use with one hand easily. 

Thankfully, better sense prevailed and Samsung has moved the fingerprint scanner to a more convenient location below the camera module. Talking about the cameras, the Galaxy S9+ comes with 12MP dual cameras now just like the Galaxy Note 8. The secondary telephoto camera can shoot 2x lossless zoom images and can also do a neat depth-of-field effect. 

Samsung Galaxy S9/Galaxy S9+ 2

Samsung Galaxy S9/S9+ first impressions: all about the new cameras

That said, the calling card of the Galaxy S9+ and the Galaxy S9 — the reason why Samsung has a tagline that reads “Camera. Reimagined” — is the new rear camera with a variable aperture. Now, Samsung’s camera coupled with its intelligent hardware can switch between f/2.4 and f/1.5, on the fly, as the situation demands. Obviously, I had no time to test that at the demo booth but from whatever few camera samples that I’ve seen posted online by prominent tech bloggers and journalists, the results in low light look super impressive. Also, let’s not forget that f/1.5 is the widest aperture we’ve seen on a smartphone camera yet. For what it is worth, Atul Kasbekar – a very prominent photographer and filmmaker – was also impressed with the camera. 

Samsung Galaxy S9/Galaxy S9+ 3

Another new addition to the camera is the super slow motion recording. It can shoot 960fps super slow motion video at 720p resolution. While this is a lower resolution than what the newly launched Sony Xperia XZ2 can achieve, it is still a great feature to have. In my limited time with the phone, I noticed that actually shooting a super slow motion video is plain and simple. In the Auto mode, the camera tracks a subject that is in focus (as defined by you) and shoots automatically when it moves. This worked really well. In the Manual mode, you can choose when you want to shoot and what you want to focus. I would ideally love to spend more time with this mode to see how it actually performs. 

There’s also the new AR Emoji feature, which is not even remotely as good as the iPhone X’s FaceID-based Animojis. Firstly, when I tested the feature at the event, my caricature looked nothing like me. And secondly, it is a bit confusing to use. Maybe, I need to spend more time with it. 

Samsung Galaxy S9/Galaxy S9+ 4

Samsung Galaxy S9/S9+ first impressions: refining the hardware to near perfection

One of the other key features of the new phones are the dual front-facing speakers tuned by AKG. The speaker also comes with support for Dolby Atmos. While I did test it at the show floor, it was a little too crowded for actually testing the sound quality.

The phones now run Android 8.0 (Oreo) with Samsung’s new Experience UI 9.0. It is clean, but a lot of Samsung’s first party apps still crowd up the internal storage. As far as internal storage is concerned, you can get both the phones in 64GB and 256GB options. This can be further expanded by up to 400GB using a microSD card. Moreover, the Galaxy S9 comes with 4 gig of RAM and a 3000mAh battery. And, the Galaxy S9+ comes with 6GB of RAM and a 3500mAh capacity battery. In India the phones come with Samsung’s new Exynos 9810 10nm 64-bit, octa-core processor. 

Samsung Galaxy S9/Galaxy S9+ 5

I didn’t notice any stutter or lag in my limited time with my phones but it is too soon to tell if the phones will maintain the performance over an extended usage period. Just to remind you: last year’s Galaxy S8 was notorious for slowing down. 

Closing thoughts

The Samsung Galaxy S9, Galaxy S9+ have impressive camera upgrades worth testing out fully. I can’t wait to get my hands on a review unit actually. But I know one thing for sure, if you already own a Samsung Galaxy S8, there is no pressing need for you to upgrade to the new phone.

If you do plan to buy the phone, Samsung is making it easier for you with multiple carrier tie-ups and cashbacks. For more information, head to our story which has all the details. 

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Ershad Kaleebullah

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?