Samsung Galaxy S9+ Review: Incremental but effective

Samsung’s Galaxy series of phones has always been popular. After last year’s major revamp, Samsung has gone for an incremental upgrade with this year’s flagship. But that is not to say that the phone doesn’t innovate at all. The Galaxy S9+ serves as an ergonomic refresh who’s main focus is camera, pun intended.

Design and build

As I said before, I felt at home holding the Galaxy S9+. The phone is very similar to the S8+ with its front and back Gorilla Glass 5 finish and curved metal edges. It definitely feels premium and has some heft to it at 189 g but even at 8.5 mm in thickness, it doesn’t feel like it. I think this is primarily because of the dual-edge display I will get to later. Otherwise, the now expected IP68 water and dust resistant rating returns and so does the hybrid SIM slot for external storage expansion. The usual set of volume, power and Bixby buttons are also where you would expect.

But towards the back of the phone, there is a major difference. After the outcry on how uncomfortable the fingerprint sensor was to reach on the S8+, Samsung has fine tuned its design with the S9+ and done very well. It now rests under the dual-camera unit which is much easier to access. But because it is a flat sensor, there is still a learning curve for people coming from phones with the indented and/or circular scanner.

Multimedia

With Samsung’s Infinity display from last year, it had already won the hearts of many. Some may have predicted Samsung to go the Apple route with a notched display but with the S9+, that is not the case.

Up front, you find a gorgeous 6.2-inch Super AMOLED HDR10 compliant display with a resolution of 1440 x 2960 pixels or Quad HD+. The edges to the display give it this immersive feel and the top and bottom bezels are just big enough to accommodate the various sensors and the front facing 8MP camera. Out of the box though, the phone is set standard to a Full HD+ resolution which many might not notice. The reason for this is strange, primarily to save a bit on battery life but even at this resolution, the panel performs well. The colors are vibrant typical to an AMOLED panel accompanied by some deep blacks. Outdoor visibility is also no problem with the visibility of the panel good even when viewed from extreme angles. I think with Samsung’s display color customization, it can be tailored specific to any individual which is great.

But that is not it. Accompanying this display are stereo speakers, a first for a Samsung Galaxy flagship. These are tuned by AKG and powered by Dolby Atmos and serve as a radical change over the S8+. The audio is fuller and clear and helps with the overall media consumption experience. And yet if you are the type who likes to use headphones, the flexibility of the 3.5 mm headphone jack remains.

User experience

We have come to expect flagships to really delivery when it comes to performance. And there is not much concern in this department for the S9+. Inside, you will find the Exynos 9810 octa-core chipset and the powerful Mali G-72 MP18 GPU alongside 6GB RAM. I would say the phone is quite responsive and offers a fluid experience with its Touchwiz transitions. None of the switching or moving around is haphazard and while it may not be the fastest phone out there, it is definitely consistent and refined.

Personally, I do not have much issue with Samsung’s skin on top of Android. The S9+ currently runs Android 8.0 Oreo and we should expect it to get the next iteration of the Android software too once it is made public. With the advantage of the added screen real estate, I enjoyed using Samsung’s Multi Window mode and the 6GB RAM on board is enough to handle the load of multiple applications.

Besides that, there are a few Samsung goodies thrown into the experience as well. Intelligent scan is a new one which uses both your face and iris biometrics to get into your phone. It is quite fast and works in the dark too but unfortunately not under direct sunlight, something we are quite accustomed to here in Dubai. I also played around with Samsung’s Bixby but felt it is not quite to what Google Assistant offers. It is an improved experience with real-time translations and Bixby Vision but the AI is not ready to replace what Google Assistant does for me already. Not to mention, I have pressed the Bixby button on accident quite a few times without intention which has led me to turning it off completely.

Camera

The camera on the S9+ is a dual 12MP camera unit, one of which has a variable aperture between f/2.4 and f/1.5. Both cameras come with optical image stabilization and on paper, DxO mark gave the unit an overall 99 rating.

I think the S9+ does a very good job during the day at handling a wide dynamic range or capturing detail. Its 2x zoom definitely gives it an edge over other smartphone cameras but when using selective focus, there is some loss in detail. Colors too are a little off but that is just personal preference. Everything seems to be air brushed and looks un-natural especially in some portrait photos. As far as low night shots go, the variable aperture helps to reduce noise levels but the difference is not very big.

Another feature to do with the camera is Samsung’s AR emoji. I am not quite set on the whole trend of emoji communication like so yet so I thought it felt like a gimmick. When using it, it picks up on your face and makes an emoji based off of it which is a little bit of fun. To accompany, you can have little animal stickers or record clips of your emoji speaking but all in all, it is a novelty that dies down quite quickly.

4K video though is where I was impressed. The OIS is good but does not eliminate absolutely all jerks and there is some visual disturbance at times. But I played around most with that 960 fps slow-motion video. It only captures video at HD resolution which is 720p but is still very nice for certain occasions bearing in mind the lighting in the surroundings is adequate enough to avoid flicker. Lastly, I want to talk about the 8MP front shooter. The selfies it takes are not bad by any means. They are of good quality but just not accurate enough in terms of colors. But if you are someone who likes to vlog, the 1440p video capture functionality is very useful.

Battery

Packed inside the S9+ is a 3500mAh cell. For its size, it is not the biggest battery we have seen. But at the same time, the juice it provides is plenty. The phone should get you through the day without any problems and averages approximately 5.5 hours of screen-on time. This includes regular browsing, video watching and social media usage over a mixed WiFi and cellular signal. Sometimes, the battery can be underwhelming and tends to drain quickly when used in hot weather.

That being said, it is a good idea to carry the charger around. It supports QuickCharge 2.0 which is not the latest but is faster than any traditional charging method. And for those who rely on wireless charging, the S9+ supports fast wireless charging.

Final verdict

In a true sense, the S9+ is an incremental phone. It is not ground-breaking by any means but nor is it underwhelming. For those already on a previous generation phone, there is no real need to switch. But if you are holding a phone that is older than two years old, this will be a welcome change.

For the 64GB base variant, the Galaxy S9+ retails for Dh 3,499. This is quite a steep price tag but in return, you will receive a premium and refined experience. And I quite like how Samsung has provided various color options including the gorgeous new Lilac Purple.