Samsung Galaxy S9+ review: An awesome flagship done the Samsung way

Deccan Chronicle.  | Amritanshu Mukherjee

Technology, Mobiles and Tabs

The Galaxy S9+ improves on the already brilliant Galaxy S8 with exceptional cameras and audio quality.

The S9+ is also a reply to Apple’s ‘top-notch’ iPhone X, showing the Cupertino-based iPhone manufacturer how a flagship smartphone is manufactured without unwanted notches and an open-source operating system that defines the last word in customisation.
Rating: 4/5

Since the dawn of this decade, Samsung has been at forefront of making high-end Android smartphones. Tech enthusiasts have been looking up to the Galaxy S series of smartphones as devices that can make a statement with outrageous features and iconic designs (except for the Galaxy S5). It’s 2018 and Samsung has a new Galaxy S device in store for all — the Galaxy S9 series. Similar to some of its recent predecessors, the S9 comes in two variants and differs in features — the S9 has a smaller 5.8-inch display with a single rear camera and the S9+ flaunts a larger 6.2-inch panel with a dual rear camera setup. We got our hands on the S9+ and we have put this South Korean beast through its paces to see what’s Samsung’s definition of a perfect Android phone in early 2018 (the Galaxy Note 9 is still a long way).

If you’re wondering why we termed the S9+ as an important device, then here’s our clarification — the Galaxy S9+ has to fend for Samsung against all the big names in the industry, at least until their rumoured Galaxy X foldable concept comes into existence, which is expected sometime early next year. Additionally, the S9+ is also probably a reply to Apple’s ‘top-notch’ iPhone, showing the Cupertino-based company how flagships can be procured without the need of unwanted notches. It also shows that flagships don't necessarily have to demand exorbitant prices — the Galaxy S9+ starts at Rs 64,990 for the 64GB variant and goes up to Rs 72,900 for 256GB variant. Therefore, it should fare well against the flagship forces of the tech world, shouldn’t it?

Design, Build:

The glass and metal sandwich makes for a premium smartphone — this has been the South Korean giant’s Holy Grail ever since the Galaxy S6 Edge rolled out of its stables. The S9+ continues that philosophy with a sexy all-glass, curved body and a superior metal frame holding them flush against each other.

However, if you have been following the world of smartphones for the last one year, you would argue that the Galaxy S9+ is almost identical to last year’s Galaxy S8+. In fact, place the two beside each other and it’s impossible to determine which is the newer one. While most tech communities and media houses have blamed Samsung for recycling last year’s design, the Galaxy S9+ still manages to be an immense attention seeking beauty. And the best bit is that the premium aesthetics can protect the internals from water and dust — thanks to a class leading IP68 water and dust resistance.

The rear panel is slightly different, thanks to the new dual camera assembly and the repositioned fingerprint sensor (which we think has been finally placed correctly). The lock button and the Bixby key on the metal frame are also a tad bigger, which enhances ease of usage. And surprise-surprise — the 3.5mm headphone still jack stays, making it the only flagship other than the LG V30+ to offer the luxury of a dedicated audio port. Additionally, Samsung has also retained an expandable storage, and this time up to a whopping 400GB.

However, one can notice that Samsung has shaved additional bulk here-and-there from the S8+’s design — the metal frame is a tad flatter than before and the curves on the display are slightly refined. The speaker grill is new as well. The changes are so fine that they can only be noticed when kept beside the S8+. As usual, the Gorilla Glass 5 panels are hungry for smudges, despite an oleophobic coating. They are also delicate and prone to scratches from scuffs — iFixit has once again declared that the S9+ is very difficult to repair, just like its predecessors.

Nonetheless, you can't deny the fact the Galaxy S9+ is one of the most beautiful smartphones existing in 2018 and it seems that this title will be retained by the S9+ for a considerable time.

Also read: Samsung Galaxy A8+ (2018) review

Display:

Since the Galaxy S9+ is based heavily on last year’s Galaxy S8+, it’s hard to decipher the difference in the display. Samsung has carried forward the 2K 6.2-inch Curved Infinity Display from the Galaxy S8+, with Gorilla Glass 5. While the display is without doubt one of the best (if not 'the' best) in the business, Samsung has made the efforts to make the Super AMOLED panel 15 per cent brighter, if we are to believe their claims.

Look past the claims and specifications, and the display will make you fall in love with your content. The colours are lively and accompanied by vivid contrasts — thanks to the AMOLED panel’s natural properties. Viewing angles are good too, however, expect slight bluish tints from wider angles (not as bad as the Pixel 2 XL’s though). Overall, the S9+ joins the iPhone X for offering one of the best displays on a smartphone.

Specifications, Performance:

The Galaxy S9+ is Samsung’s flagship offering for 2018 before the Note 9 breaks cover later this year. Therefore, save for the S Pen and a more capable display panel with 4000+ pressure, and you get the best of silicon Samsung has on offer. There’s a 10nm octa-core Exynos 9810 chipset accompanied by 6GB of RAM. The S9+ is from 2018, therefore Samsung has equipped it with the power of Android 8.0 Oreo, albeit underneath a thick skin of Samsung’s proprietary Samsung Experience 9.0. Looks promising, but does it deliver in the real world?

Out-of-the-box, the Galaxy S9+ is fast — really fast. Whether you scroll through menus or switch between multiple apps, the S9+ doesn’t exhaust itself. Animations are slick — almost zero noticeable delays in response time.

Samsung Experience 9.0 is pretty similar to previous v8.5 that debuted on the Galaxy S8+, therefore the experience is pretty familiar — the iconic weather widget with the elongated Samsung Sans font and rounded icons have been carried forward. The slick ‘infinity effects’ are an eye candy and so is the Always-On Display, which makes productivity so cool. The Edge Panel is still a gimmick and doesn't really add-in much for the convenience.

Even when it comes to demanding applications and resource-intensive games, the S9+ never throws the towel. Games such as Asphalt 8, Need for Speed No Limits, Nova Legacy and all the others run in the highest graphics settings. The Exynos 9810 may not be on par with Apple’s A11 Bionic chip in terms of benchmarks, but the chipset is no slouch in dealing with all the abuse you throw at it. Of course, it remains to be seen how the chipset holds over an extended period of time with all the accumulated software junk, especially if the device carries the ‘Samsung’ tag.

Bixby:

Samsung's polite Bixby is also present here, albeit in a new avatar. We had seen Bixby's capabilities on the S8 and Note 8 last year and were fairly impressed. On the S9+, the new Bixby takes the game further with several Google Assistant-inspired abilities such as text translation and more. Bixby can recognise voices better than before, even in loud environments.

It's so easy to get habituated to Bixby managing most of the device's settings through voice commands such as locking the display, or taking a selfie and sending it to your friend. Bixby's integration with Samsung's software is great and we would love to see the company bring Bixby to more affordable Samsung devices this year. And yes, if you aren't into the AI stuff yet, you can disable Bixby right from its home screen.

Security:

The S9+ also gets an improved next-generation biometric verification system. The iris scanner makes a comeback and can be relied on a contact-less verification system. However, Samsung’s new Intelligent Scan uses both the software-based facial recognition system as well as the iris scanner to unlock the phone — more security here.

The idea is to use the iris scanner in pitch dark conditions and rely on the facial recognition when in bright sunlit scenarios. However, we felt that the iris scanner was working overtime in this mode. If these new systems aren’t exactly to your liking, then the good old-school fingerprint sensor is still available to unlock your S9+ in a jiffy.

However, Samsung's usual array of onboard data protection services are present with fortified algorithms. Samsung Pass is its secured password manager service that saves all account information and auto-fills it for you whenever you need to log in somewhere. Then there's Knox — Samsung's enterprise-level security suite that can protect your data on the device against all malicious sources. Additionally, there's our all-time favourite Samsung Pay, which lets you roam around without carrying debit/credit cards — thanks to Samsung's proprietary MST chip. In fact, Samsung Pay spoilt us in previous premium offerings and it was no different on the S9+.

Also read: How Samsung Pay works

Audio:

Another front that deserves a mention is the audio — the S9+ absolutely nails with its new stereo speaker setup. The audio quality is one of the best ones we have heard from any smartphone till date. The Dolby Atmos surround effect works wonderfully while watching movies or listening to music. The output through the 3.5mm audio jack is rendered good too — thanks to all the clever software trickery on Samsung's behalf. The bundled AKG-tuned earphones complete the S9+, delivering exceptional 'bassy' audio quality with good noise isolation.

Camera:

When the promos for the S9+ were released early this year, Samsung stressed on a 'reimagined' camera primarily. The S9+ features a dual camera setup, making it first the Galaxy S series smartphone to feature a dual camera setup. However, the S9+’s headlining feature is the variable aperture lens that is claimed to improve photo quality in various lighting conditions. The S9+ gets a 12MP Dual Camera Dual Pixel setup which can change the aperture levels on the wide-angle lens between f/1.5 and f/2.4. The secondary telephoto lens has a fixed aperture of f/2.4. Both of them are supported by Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), which means more stable videos in theory.

In the real world, the S9+’s camera impresses high-time. The photos captured in broad daylight are simply spectacular — natural colours and contrasts all around. The photos are sharp and ample details are captured in images. However, as with all smartphone cameras, low light conditions take a toll easily on quality. The photos do pick up a considerable amount of noise in extremely dark conditions, but it’s still usable enough in comparison. With the f/1.5 aperture, the camera hogs in a lot of light and the sensor does an appreciable job of processing it in the best way possible. Details are lost but as we said, the pictures can definitely be framed as Instagram-worthy.

The bokeh mode is decent as well, however, not on par with the Google Pixel 2. The bokeh portraits are soft and the distinction between the foreground and the background isn’t as refined. However, if you are dissatisfied with a portrait shot, the S9+ takes a wide-angle shot of the same, thereby giving you something that can be used.

In the video department, the S9+ comes out with flying colours, giving out good quality videos. Thanks to OIS on both the rear cameras, shaky videos are almost non-existent. However, the 960fps slow-motion video doesn’t deliver as promised. The ultra slow motion works for just 2 seconds at a time before going back to normal mode. The super slow motion videos are recorded only at a resolution of 720p, which makes it good enough for uploading only on social media.

Also, the capture time is erratic, i.e. you need to be good with your shutter click time to capture the moment, otherwise you lose out on the actual moment. The only saving grace is the auto mode, which is detects action and records automatically. However, in normal slow motion mode, videos can be continuously shot at 240fps, with a resolution of 1080p.

Therefore, you only get 2 seconds of 960fps slo-mo footage in 720p resolution, which in our opinion isn’t enough. The major reason behind this limitation is the presence of an older DRAM chip on the sensor, which is made by Sony and found on the Xperia XZs. Current technology's limitation restricts the DRAM to only record as much as 960fps@720p. However, with new sensors tagging along more DRAM, there will be a huge bump in the video quality.

The 8MP selfie camera also does a decent job of taking selfies but is no match to Pixel 2 when it comes to image quality and portrait mode. The colours are good in broad daylight with decent contrasts. Samsung’s AI-based portrait mode sort of works, but tends to soften the image.

AR Emojis are simply gimmicks — the tracking system is two dimensional and isn’t as refined as the iPhone X counterpart. Most of the facial features are tracked and replicated on the cartoon characters, but it feels that Samsung should put more efforts into the system to make it stand on par with the rival. Thankfully, one can share the AR emojis with other users as GIFs on various messaging platforms.

Also read: Apple iPhone X review

Battery:

While the S9+ is an upgrade in the performance and camera department, the same battery rating is carried over from the old S8+ and Note 7. It still retains the 3500mAh battery with the same battery performance — less than a day on a single charge with considerable usage.

The considerable usage includes texting, web browsing, short YouTube sessions, selfie sessions, slow-mo video shooting and audio streaming. It’s still advisable to carry a power bank for those desperate moments when the going gets tough. Luckily, Samsung’s Adaptive Fast Charging fills up the S9+ pretty fast, especially when the battery indicator goes red — both whilst wired or wireless charging.

Verdict:

The Galaxy S9+ is a true Android gem. It checks all the boxes that an Android flagship needs to fulfil in 2018 — a sexy avatar, breathtaking performance, superb cameras and certain miscellaneous flagship-class conveniences. Surely, at Rs 64,900 for the base variant, the S9+ gets into the iPhone 8 Plus' territory while the top-end 256GB model is pretty shy of the iPhone X' rounded-off price of Rs 1 lakh. Both the iPhones are still more powerful than the S9+ (Synthetic benchmarking in particular) and both are known to receive better software support from Apple over the years as compared to Samsung's support for their flagships. 

However, look at it this way — the Galaxy S9+ adds flair and charisma to a flagship smartphone with its beautiful design and a software experience that makes you feel special every time you grab it in your hands. You get to enjoy a phone that basically lets you do anything imaginable with a modern smartphone while making a style statement. And that's what differentiates the S9+ from its arch rivals, making it a compelling choice for the Android enthusiasts. If you are looking to upgrade or switch to a smartphone that can do most of the things you expect from an expensive smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ is presently one of your best bet.

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