The Galaxy S9 is arguably Samsung’s most iterative flagship ever but the plus model makes for a more meaningful upgrade, if only for that new rear dual camera. So, is this a one-trick pony or does it take the fight to the competition on all fronts?
Samsung Galaxy S9+ Review: Design
The 6.2-inch Infinity Display dictates the footprint of this sizeable Samsung. There’s curved Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back with a metal frame dividing these two halves and this time around it’s colour-matched to the hue you opt for. On first impressions, the phone appears identical to last year’s S8+, but whip out a magnifying glass and you’ll spot signs of Samsung’s tinkering.
The phone’s a hair shorter and thicker than the S8+ and as such the bezels above and below are even less intrusive than before. If you’re not a fan of notched screens, the S9+ is one of the best options out there from a design perspective.
The back still holds onto smears and fingerprints as you’d expect but Samsung has at least finally seen sense to relocate the fingerprint sensor so it’s both centrally-aligned and lower down on the phone’s back, fixing one of the big ergonomic pain points on all of the last year’s top-tier Galaxys.
The S9 twins are also one of the few places in flagship land that you’ll still find a 3.5mm headphone jack, which at this level is becoming increasingly rare. Despite such a slick design, Samsung’s not skimped on the water resistance, either with IP68 certification (it can withstand being left in up to 1.5 metres of fresh water for up to 30 minutes) present and correct, just like last year’s phone.
Samsung Galaxy S9+ Review: Display & Media
Last year, Samsung was one of the first to make the jump away from a standard 16:9 aspect ratio and as expected the S9+ retains an elongated 18.5:9 screen. Aside from looking cool, split-screen usage is made more meaningful, as there’s more room to navigate through each app.
The screen is as sharp as last year’s too, with its 2960×1440 resolution, it again supports HDR10, and it’s just as punchy thanks to the company’s fantastic Super AMOLED tech, which promises vibrant colours, some of the strongest overall brightness and excellent contrast.
Although it hasn’t really changed at all from last year’s phones, it hasn’t really had to. Sure, it’s not 4K and doesn’t boast an in-display fingerprint sensor, but neither does 99% of the competition. In truth, this phone packs the display to beat.
Being so big you’d think one-handed use would be a challenge but Edge Sense, which has been part of Samsung’s user experience since the days of the S6, and a dedicated one-handed mode that can be tapped or swiped into existence, negates any troubles you’d otherwise encounter.
Headphone jack aside, Samsung’s put a little more thought into the speaker setup on the S9 series, with both the downward-facing loudspeaker and earpiece now working in concert to distribute a more balanced and richer unjacked audio experience. It should have been this way on last year’s Sammys but we’re glad it’s now part of the equation, all the same.
Samsung Galaxy S9+ Review: OS & Features
Android 8.0 with Samsung Experience 9.0 on top – it’s a powerful combination to be sure and one of the better skinned takes on Android out there. Last year, S8 owners had to wait quite a while to get the upgrade to Oreo, so we’re hoping that Samsung gets whatever the formal release of Android P will be, ready for prime-time a little sooner for the S9s.
That said, as it currently stands the user experience already works beautifully with the hardware. We just wish Bixby wasn’t part of the equation. It again gets its own hardware button – which you can disable but not reprogram, and lives on its own screen to the left of your main desktop. Google’s offering does more of what we’re after from a digital assistant and with a more consistent success rate.
On the biometrics side, you can unlock the S9+ with a fingerprint, your face, your irises or a new hybrid solution called Intelligent Scan. It’s designed to narrow the gap between Samsung’s existing face-unlock tech and the likes of Apple’s Face ID, and whilst it’s an improvement over what the S8 family offered, it’s still a little sluggish and less-secure by comparison to the iPhone’s tech.
Whilst the biggest improvements are hardware-based, there is one new feature attached to the software experience, and that’s AR Emoji. Like Intelligent Scan, it certainly seems like a ‘me too’ feature that, whilst quick to set up and more versatile than the likes of Apple’s equally gimmicky Animoji, doesn’t really justify its presence or the amount of attention Samsung placed on it as a launch feature.
Samsung Galaxy S9+ Review: Performance & Battery
It should come as no surprise that Samsung flagships always prove to be amongst each year’s best and brightest. In the UK you can expect the S9+ to be powered by the company’s own new octa-core Exynos 9810 chipset and a sizeable 6GB of RAM, but other markets swap out Samsung silicon for Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 845 instead.
It brings the fight to Apple’s A11 Bionic chip, even if it still doesn’t match up on all fronts, but in its own right, it’s more than capable of offering a future-proofed experience. It’s able to a dole out top-rate LTE speeds and is perfect for making the most of the mobile gaming scene, with high-fidelity titles like PUBG. You also get an ample 128GB of internal storage, plus microSD expandability up to 400GB.
We were hoping for a super-sized battery inside this year’s Sammys but it’s the same 3500mAh cell size that last year’s phone contained. Thankfully, it’ll consistently get you through a day’s worth of solid use, usually bottoming out at around 15 percent charge come the end of the day.
Where Samsung shines is with its phones’ charging versatility. The S9+ supports the company’s own adaptive fast-charging along with wireless and fast wireless charging. If going wireless is on your next smartphone’s wish list, Samsung’s S9 twins are the best you can buy in that regard.
Samsung Galaxy S9+ Review: Cameras
Our full Galaxy S9+ camera review provides a deep-dive into the photographic capabilities of Samsung’s best a brightest new snapping arrangement but in a nutshell, like the rest of the phone, Samsung hasn’t fiddled with the formula all that much.
The biggest talking points are the Plus’s secondary 12-megapixel telephoto lens, which provides excellent lossless optical zoom and helps with depth data for the phone’s Live Focus portrait mode, along with its new mechanical aperture, which can shift between f/1.5 and f/2.4 to throttle the light hitting the sensor depending on the scenario.
In practice, it’s hard to really tell if this aperture mechanism really adds all that much, although the S9+ is an excellent camera for low-light photography. It also takes some of the cleanest and clearest shots, albeit with an obvious level of post-processing at play and the selfie snapper proves surprisingly competent in tricky lighting scenarios too.
The real head-turner is the new 960fps super slow motion video capture, which tries to trump Sony’s equivalent offering with an automated motion-based shutter for hands-free capture, along with super-simple on-device editing. All of which works exactly as advertised and is a great party piece on an already powerful phone.
The silicon at the phone’s heart also enables up to 4K video capture at 60fps with stabilisation and whilst it’s still not quite as flawless as what the iPhone X can dole out, overall image quality is excellent.
Samsung Galaxy S9+ Review: Verdict
The Galaxy S9+ might be the second-most (after the standard S9) iterative flagship Samsung’s ever made, and yet it might be the most well-rounded flagship you can buy right now.
At £870 it’s not cheap by any stretch, but it goes the extra mile in multiple areas compared to the likes of the OnePlus 6 and Huawei P20 Pro, will outlast the Pixel 2 in terms of performance longevity and unless you’re heart is set on using Animoji, gives you more for your money compared to the iPhone X.