Samsung is kicking off 2018 with style, introducing two new devices (Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus) that will provide stiff competition to Apple’s iPhone X. Last year, Samsung came this close to making the perfect smartphone. How has the formula changed?
The goal this year wasn’t to reinvent the wheel. Samsung was close to perfection last year, so it only had to make a few changes to create the best smartphone it’s ever made. That means putting the fingerprint sensor in a new location, improving the camera, and further slimming the bezels.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus.
Two paths diverge
Samsung today introduced a smaller Galaxy S9 and larger Galaxy S9 Plus, which was expected; the company packed a one-two punch last year, too. But the approach is different this time around.
When the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 were announced, the only discernible difference was screen size and battery size. It meant Samsung customers got the very best experience no matter which size they preferred. Today, that changes.
The smaller Galaxy S9 (5.8-inch QHD+ Super AMOLED display) is every bit as elegant as its larger brother, but it’s not quite as powerful. That’s because the Galaxy S9 Plus (6.2-inch QHD+ Super AMOLED display) features a dual-camera setup, larger battery, larger screen, and more RAM. In other words, if you want the very best Samsung has to offer, you only have one option.
Samsung’s strategy isn’t too dissimilar to the approach Apple has adopted. By offering a model that’s slightly less powerful, Samsung is making a conscious decision to go after two sets of customers. The Galaxy S9 will appeal to a wider audience because of its comfortable size and more affordable price. The Galaxy S9 Plus is for enthusiastic Samsung fans who can afford a little more.
Largely, the two phones are the same. That means you’ll get Android 8.0 Oreo, a Snapdragon 845 processor (Exynos 9810 for international customers), IP68 water and dust resistance, and a quartet of color options, including Lilac Purple and Coral Blue. Both models will also feature stereo speakers, improvements to Bixby, and support for 960fps @ 720p.
The fingerprint sensor relocates
Good news: Samsung heard your complaints and chose to relocate the fingerprint sensor. Now, rather than sitting beside the camera, Samsung has moved it to a much more convenient location just below the camera. This is great for a number of reasons.
Not only does the change adhere to what has become pretty standard across the Android market, but its relocation is so much easier to use. But convenience is only half the battle.
When the Galaxy S8 hit, people complained about the fingerprint sensor’s location because it meant accidentally smudging the camera lens. It also meant the sensor was a little more difficult to use for folks who were left-handed.
Now, there’s an even playing field for everyone. In our short time using the Galaxy S9, it really did make a difference. That goes a long way toward improving the device’s overall user experience over the Galaxy S8.
About that Bixby button…
Bixby was a mess when it first launched with the Galaxy S8. It wasn’t fully baked, making it feel like a poor imitation of Google Assistant. Worst of all, the Galaxy S8 featured a dedicated Bixby button that many users quickly learned to hate.
Unfortunately, Samsung is sticking with the Bixby button in the Galaxy S9. You can still disable the button’s sole purpose by fiddling with the phone’s settings, but then you have a button that does nothing. The least Samsung cando is allow users to remap the button to something else, like Google Assistant.
In other words, if you didn’t like the Bixby button before, you’re not going to like it now. But it isn’t surprising to see Samsung stick with the Bixby button, as the virtual assistant has evolved into an increasingly powerful and important part of Samsung’s ecosystem. As such, there are a few Bixby updates worth talking about.
When Bixby launched, the virtual assistant focused on four core tenants: talk, see, recommend, remind. Now, the technology will become even more powerful by adding features like live translation and the ability to provide users with nutritional information.
Even though its launch was rocky, Bixby is a powerful tool and it’s integrated very well in Samsung’s devices. An optimist would say the button is conveniently there to quickly perform actions using Samsung’s virtual assistant. Others might lament how the button clashes with the S9’s beautiful design.
A closer look at the cameras
Samsung devices regularly offer excellent mobile cameras, and the Galaxy S9 will be no different. The big innovation this year is Samsung’s adoption of a variable aperture, which will allow users to take more dynamic shots, whether at the beach or in a dimly lit bar.
The Galaxy S9 features a 12-megapixel sensor with optical image stabilization and a variable aperture of f/1.5 and f/2.4. Basically, the wider the aperture (f/1.5), the more light beams onto the sensor. Additionally, a wider aperture allows users to capture greater depth of field.
Samsung told us the Galaxy S9’s camera will jump between both apertures depending on the scenario. If you’re taking a landscape shot, using the f/2.4 aperture is more fitting. But lower light situations will warrant the use of the f/1.5 aperture. That means blurry low light images should be a thing of the past.
The Galaxy S9 Plus will feature a dual-camera setup similar to what was featured in the Note 8. Users get a wide-angle 12-megapixel sensor with a variable aperture of f/1.5 and f/2.4, along with a 12-megapixel telephoto lens with a f/2.4 aperture. Like the Note 8, the Galaxy S9 Plus supports Samsung’s Live Focus, which artificially blurs a picture’s background to mimic a depth of field effect.
Each camera also supports slow motion at 960 fps at 720p. The best you can get in a smartphone right now is 240 fps. Samsung said the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus cameras feature RAM on the sensor in order to achieve the extreme slow motion. It’s hardware based, so you won’t be able to adjust the timeline once footage is recorded.
What’s cool is Samsung includes a feature that will automatically detect when to record slow motion. There’s a box in the middle of the frame, and once motion is detected, it’ll know to record that. You can see an example in the video above.
It’s notable that Samsung is bestowing the Galaxy S9 Plus with a seemingly better camera. Samsung has reliably kept parity with its flagship devices. Now, if the camera is something you value above all else, yet you value portability, your decision just became very tough.
Samsung takes on Animoji
When Apple launched the iPhone X, Animoji quickly became one of the device’s most beloved features. In fact, the feature gained widespread attention on social media after a number of users performed Animoji karaoke. Apple soon capitalized on the trend with ads showcasing how charming Animoji karaoke can be.
To no one’s surprise, the Galaxy S9 is launching with an Animoji-like feature. The feature, known as AR Emoji, will utilize the Galaxy S9’s iris scanner and face unlock feature to turn users into a cartoon. Samsung says the feature works by analyzing a 2D image of the user and mapping out more than 100 facial features to create a 3D model.
With Animated Emoji, Samsung will animate your face and track precise facial movements. In our brief tests, the feature was capable of tracking eyebrow raises, smiles, and more. It works very well, especially considering the Galaxy S9 doesn’t feature all the fancy technology of Apple’s TrueDepth camera.
The Animated Emoji feature can be turned into shareable GIFs, and there are additional avatar heads to mess around with, along with accessories such as hats, glasses, and more. It doesn’t quite have the charm of Apple’s Animoji, but Samsung’s feature seems well thought out, not something that was slapped together at the last minute.
When can you buy one?
Samsung said the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus can be pre-ordered on March 2, with a launch slated for March 16. Those who pre-order can save up to $350 with a qualifying trade-in device.
As expected, you’ll be able to pick one up at all the major carriers in the U.S. and across the globe, as well as some big box retailers, including Best Buy and Walmart. The unlocked Galaxy S9 will cost $719.99 or $30/month for 24 months, while the unlocked Galaxy S9 Plus will cost $839.99 or $35/month for 24 months.
With devices beginning to approach the $999 barrier, including the iPhone X, Samsung has priced its new devices smartly. We’ll have much more coverage in the coming weeks.
|Samsung - Galaxy S9||Samsung - Galaxy S9 Plus|
|Display Size||5.8-inch, 1440 x 2960 pixel display (568 ppi)||6.2-inch, 1440 x 2960 pixel display (531 ppi)|
|Display Type||Quad HD + Curved Super AMOLED||Quad HD + Curved Super AMOLED|
|Operating System||Android 8 (Oreo) at launch||Android 8 (Oreo) at launch|
|Processor||10nm, 64-bit, Octa-core processor (2.8 GHz Quad + 1.7 GHz Quad)||10nm, 64-bit, Octa-core processor (2.8 GHz Quad + 1.7 GHz Quad)|
|External Storage Specs||
|Main Camera (Back)||12MP||Dual 12MP|
|Secondary Camera (Front)||8MP||8MP|
|Bluetooth||Bluetooth 5.0 (LE up to 2mbps)||Bluetooth 5.0 (LE up to 2mbps)|
|Height||147.7 mm (5.81 inches)||158.1 mm (6.22 inches)|
|Width||68.7 mm (2.70 inches)||73.8 mm (2.91 inches)|
|Depth||8.5 mm (0.33 inches)||8.5 mm (0.33 inches)|
|Weight||163 g (5.75 oz)||189 g (6.67 oz)|
|Colors||Midnight Black, Coral Blue, Lilac Purple||Midnight Black, Coral Blue, Lilac Purple|
|Supported Audio Formats||MP3, M4A, 3GA, AAC, OGG, OGA, WAV, WMA, AMR, AWB, FLAC, MID, MIDI, XMF, MXMF, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA, APE, DSF, DFF||MP3, M4A, 3GA, AAC, OGG, OGA, WAV, WMA, AMR, AWB, FLAC, MID, MIDI, XMF, MXMF, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA, APE, DSF, DFF|
|Supported Video Formats||MP4, M4V, 3GP, 3G2, WMV, ASF, AVI, FLV, MKV, WEBM||MP4, M4V, 3GP, 3G2, WMV, ASF, AVI, FLV, MKV, WEBM|