Samsung’s latest shot at greatness, the Galaxy S9, is officially upon us. And, thanks to our friends at Verizon, I’ve had the pleasure of testing it over the past month. If you’re still on the fence about upgrading to Sammy’s 2018 flagship, have a look at my review below before you decide.
(Note: This is a review of the Samsung Galaxy S9, not the Galaxy S9+ – I wasn’t lucky enough to get both units at once, likely due to high demand.)
Galaxy S9 unboxing
As always, let’s kick things off with a proper unboxing so you can see the device up close and personal.
These specs were borrowed from Samsung’s official Galaxy S9 specifications page. Be sure to check that out for full details. Here are the highlights most folks will want to know about:
As of launch, we’ve got four colors to choose from. Lilac Purple, Midnight Black, Titanium Gray, and Coral Blue.
In my book, Samsung has long been the king of delivering top-notch devices, in terms of hardware design, anyway. Sure, the company has its downfalls when it comes to software design and system updates. But, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better-looking display or a more superior premium feel. And this year is no different than previous years, as expected.
The Galaxy S9 looks and feels sleek and sexy, although there’s absolutely nothing that comes as a surprise. It’s rocking the same rounded corners and edge-to-edge display we saw with last year’s Galaxy S8. It’s got that same glass backplate I’m not a fan of because it because it forces me to use a case.
Another downfall of the glass backplate – it’s a fingerprint magnet. It looks great when it’s wiped clean, but all it takes is a simple touch to screw that up. This is one thing I’ve come to love about my Pixel 2. I don’t have to constantly wipe it down to get rid of smudges. When it’s not in my Moment case, that is.
In reality, very little has changed in the design category this year, aside from placement of the fingerprint scanner, which is finally down underneath the camera rather than next to it. To be honest, it could have been placed even lower – in the middle of the device, maybe – but at least it’s moving in the right direction, I suppose.
That being said, not much needs to change for Samsung to remain the top dog in device design. I don’t care what you say, Galaxy phones look and feel the best. But keep in mind, looks can be deceiving. Looking the best and being the best are two different stories.
The headphone jack returns – but, do you really need it?
The headphone jack, or lack thereof, has been at the center of heated debates over the past year or so. Luckily, there’s nothing to debate about with the Galaxy S9. The headphone jack is back, and if you don’t want to use it, Bluetooth is always an option. To be quite honest, I haven’t missed having one on my Pixel 2, and I haven’t used the one on the Galaxy S9. But, for those who need one, it’s still there.
Water resistance isn’t new to the Galaxy S lineup, but it’s still one of my favorite features. When you’re spending flagship phone money, the last thing you want/need to worry about is losing your device to a spilled drink or other unwarranted liquid damage.
The Galaxy S9 is IP68 rated.
Here’s what that means:
Samsung’s latest Galaxy devices both earned themselves a rating of IP68 in the IEC 60529 tests. While a very high score — higher than the 2017 line of iPhones’ IP67 — these phones are not waterproof, just water resistant.
- IP: The abbreviation of “Ingress Protection,” the rating system for a device’s dust- and water-resistance.
- 6: An IP rating’s first number represents a device’s dust protection rating. A “6,” although smaller than the S9’s second IP number, actually means the device is completely dustproof.
- 8: Water resistance is denoted by the second number of the rating. An “8” shows that the S9 devices can be fully submerged in water as deep as 1.5 meters for up to 30 minutes. For reference, the iPhone X, which scored a “7,” can be submerged for 30 minutes at 1 meter deep.
IP68 info via: GadgetHacks
Does that mean you should jump in a swimming pool or in the ocean with your shiny new Galaxy S9?
Keep in mind, IP ratings don’t take into account the chemicals in pool water or the salt in sea water, both of which can have detrimental effects on your device. However, there’s no need for a panic attack should you fall prey to a spill or get caught out in the rain. The S9 holds up just fine in these situations.
Say hello to Intelligent Scan and a better fingerprint scanner
The Galaxy S9 offers four modes of authenticating your identity: iris scanning, facial recognition, the fingerprint sensor, and the newly added Intelligent Scan.
The new method combines facial and iris scanning, which means you don’t have to pick between the two when one method fails; the S9 simply defaults to the other. Samsung said iris scanning tends to fail in direct sunlight and that facial recognition can be spotty at night, so Intelligent Scan combines the two for a lower failure rate.
In my testing, Intelligent Scan worked well on the Galaxy S9, although it’s obviously not the most secure method. It even performs well in low-light situations. But, what I really appreciate is that the fingerprint scanner works very quickly and rarely has any issues reading my prints. And now with its new location, I don’t have to risk smudging the camera lens as often to use fingerprint unlock. With all of that said, Intelligent Scan isn’t exactly a selling point for me.
Another thing worth mentioning is the fingerprint scanner registers fingerprints extremely fast. In my previous experiences, you have to press the sensor multiple times from multiple angles to register a print. On the S9, it takes just one swipe and it registers almost immediately. This is pretty impressive and I hope to see this technology on more phones in the future.
The blood pressure sensor you’ll probably never use
In addition to the heart rate sensor, which has been around for quite some time now on Samsung phones, there’s also a blood pressure sensor included on the Galaxy S9. The catch here: you’ll probably never use it, and that’s if you even know it’s there in the first place.
First off, it’s recommended (not required) to calibrate the sensor using an actual blood pressure cuff. You know – because we all have a spare blood pressure cuff laying around, right?
You also have to download a third-party app to use it. Again, you may not even know to do this, and I wouldn’t have either if it weren’t for the Internet. Here’s a link to save you some time.
And then there’s the fact that it doesn’t work well for “users with certain skin pigmentation.” So, that means one of the devices that’s likely to hit the most hands on the planet has a feature that may or may not even work with all of said hands.
Sounds a bit shady and gimmicky to me.
(I didn’t use the blood pressure sensor for this review.)
In the software department, there isn’t a whole lot that’s new, either. The “Samsung Experience” (It’ll always be TouchWiz to me) is still a clusterfuck of an OS skin that’s overloaded with useless “features” and is still way more confusing than it needs to be. On the plus, the S9 runs Android 8.0, although Oreo is already well on its way to being obsolete with Android P now in the works.
Bixby still sucks
I’ll be quite honest here: I’m not a fan of Bixby. I rarely used it when I reviewed the Galaxy Note 8, and the same can be said about the Galaxy S9 now. It has a few updated features, but I can’t tell you what they are because it’s just not my cup of tea. Google Assistant will always be my go-to, but if you prefer Samsung’s own half-baked option, at least it’s receiving updates, I suppose.
Hey, hey! The Samsung Keyboard is (slightly) better!
I’ve long been a fan of Google’s keyboard offering, now known as GBoard. I’ve also been a long-time hater of Samsung’s clunky and difficult-to-use keyboards. I’m happy to say the latter has improved a bit with the Galaxy S9 and I actually made it through this entire review without switching to the former. This may not sound like much, but for me, this is quite impressive.
Typing accuracy has improved greatly with Sammy’s latest offering, both in “peck” and in “swipe” functionality. It also offers helpful features like GIF keyboard, full emoji support, and stickers (for those who care about such things).
Verizon still loves cramming phones with apps nobody needs
Big Red is known for adding tremendous amounts of bloatware to its devices; apps you don’t need, want, or you’ll rarely ever use. These unwanted apps take up precious internal storage. Such is the case with the Galaxy S9, unfortunately.
On a positive note, you can uninstall most of the stuff you don’t want to keep and disable the rest. It’d be nice to not have to do all of that, though. Especially when considering newer smartphone owners who might not know this is even a possibility.
Out of the box, there are 11 apps that I’d remove or disable if I were to purchase this device. Of course, that number may vary depending on your own personal needs, but really Verizon? 11 extra apps I need to get rid of is a bit much.
One area Samsung has dominated for years is cameras. Up until recently, there wasn’t even any competition in the game, as far as I’m concerned. But then the original Pixel phone came along, and now the Pixel 2, and the game changed completely.
Samsung also likes to be the first to bring new features and technologies to its flagship devices. In many cases, they are considered to be a trendsetter. This time around, the company is going all-in with its “Camera Reimagined” campaign, and the Galaxy S9 is the first mainstream phone to offer a camera with a variable aperture.
As an aspiring photographer, I was immediately curious about the Galaxy S9’s “Dual Aperture”, but I had my suspicions.
For starters, the available apertures are f/1.5 and f/2.4, so there’s not a major difference in terms of extra light being let in. And then there’s the following fact: this is brand new technology, so it likely comes with its fair share of faults and shortcomings. So, since the camera is the main “upgrade” the Galaxy S9 offers, that leaves us with one burning question:
Does dual aperture mode live up to the hype?
In short, it does not.
I’m not going to drag this out and bash Samsung or its camera, so let’s be clear here: the Galaxy S9 has a great camera, and it’s awesome that they’re changing the game with this new technology. But even with its Dual Aperture, the Galaxy S9 camera is still second-best, behind the Pixel 2, which works its magic with the help of machine learning.
Take a look at some test shots in the gallery below. All of these were taken using straight up Auto mode.
Here are some examples of photos taken using Dual Aperture. These were taken using Pro mode and switching back and forth between f/1.5 and f/2.4 – see if you can spot any difference. I can’t, but maybe my eyesight isn’t what it used to be now that I’m over the hill and rolling.
I also did several side-by-side comparison shots and shared them on Google+, with the Pixel 2 taking the lead spot on nearly every photo.
Super Slow-Mo video
The Galaxy S9 shoots ‘Super Slow-Mo’ video at a whopping 960 frames per second. Apple’s iPhone X only shoots at 240fps. Unfortunately, the feature isn’t all that user-friendly, as you can see from my sample video above. This was the best video I could produce in my time with the Galaxy S9 – and this was with a tripod in a fairly well-lit room.
The final new “feature” the Galaxy S9 has to offer is AR Emojis. Think personalized Snapchat mask filters that you can use to shoot silly photos or videos. Apple has a similar feature, called Animoji, which (sadly to say) puts AR Emojis to shame. So, essentially, we have yet another half-baked and gimmicky feature, but this one was at least fun to play with. For a few minutes, anyway.
The above video, albeit from AppleInsider, shows exactly how much better Apple’s rendition is over Samsung’s. As much as I’d like to say Samsung did it better – I’d be a liar in doing so.
Don’t get me wrong – AR Emoji are cool. For a few minutes. They’re certainly not a selling point, though.
As I mentioned in the specs, the Galaxy S9 has a 3000mAh battery. This is the same size battery we saw in the Galaxy S8, so there’s no upgrade here unless you take into account the battery optimizations that Android Oreo offers. This is a slight bump from the Pixel 2’s 2700mAh battery, but with the S9’s larger screen, it’s safe to say the two devices get similar battery life.
In my testing, normal to heavy usage left me running out of battery before the day’s end. On the plus, the device does charge fairly quickly thanks to USB-C fast charging, so it didn’t take long to top off enough to make it home for a full charge at the end of the day.
It’s a bit disheartening that we’re still not seeing smaller devices that can handle more than a full day’s heavy usage in 2018, but such is life, I guess. With that in mind, battery life here is just so-so. Depending on your usage and needs, you’ll likely be at least somewhat satisfied here.
The Galaxy S9 is a beast, thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor it houses. I never experienced any lag or slow-downs, even while playing memory-intensive games. I normally consider benchmark scores taboo, but for those who care, the phone scored a 2006 in single-core and an 8299 in multi-core in tests ran using Geekbench 4.
Performance is one area I’d give the S9 a slight advantage over the Pixel 2, as everything seems just a hair smoother, but not by much.
Wrap-up and final rating
One thing is for sure: Sammy still knows how to make a stunning device. But, does that mean it’s the best phone you can buy right now?
In my opinion, it’s not. That nod still goes to the Pixel 2 – at least in my book, anyway.
That being said, Samsung delivers a top contender once again with the Galaxy S9. If you’re a Galaxy S8 owner, there’s no need to upgrade right now, but folks with older devices or those making the switch from a different platform will likely fall in love with this phone.
You can snag the Samsung Galaxy S9 from Verizon for about $33.33 per month (credit approval required), or you can buy it outright for $799.99.