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Samsung Galaxy S9 Review: First essential smartphone of 2018?

If you’ve seen our Galaxy S9 vs S8 comparison, you’ll know that Samsung’s 2018 flagship phone looks like a direct clone of last year’s model. Of course, as well we know, it’s what’s on the inside that really counts. So is the Galaxy S9 an essential smartphone, or should you save a bit of cash and grab the Galaxy S8 instead? Here’s our full review.

Samsung Galaxy S9 Review: Design

The Galaxy S9 may well give Samsung fans a serious sense of deja-vu when they first clap eyes on one. However, there’s no denying that the Infinity Display design still looks bloody lovely a full year on. This new flagship phone can be grabbed in a couple of gorgeous new hues, including the splendid purple finish and a subtle ‘coral blue’ colour too.

Like last year’s model it’s fully water resistant and also proves impressively rugged. I didn’t slap a case or cover on the Galaxy S9 in the ten days I used it as my full-time phone and it emerged unscathed. No scratches or scuffs to be seen on any edge.

The rear-mounted fingerprint sensor has thankfully shifted to a more central location. At first this still proves a little awkward, as it feels like you’re accidentally tapping the camera lens to unlock the phone. However, once you’re used to the positioning, you’ll rarely mis-tap. And as you’d expect, it’s a perfectly responsive and accurate sensor. Although admittedly that unlocking action isn’t as fast as we’ve seen from rivals such as Honor, with handsets that are significantly cheaper.

Samsung Galaxy S9 Review: Display and media

So it’s true that the Galaxy S9 offers no real upgrade over the Galaxy S8 when it comes to that display. Not only does the screen sport identical dimensions, but you get the same Super AMOLED tech, complete with Quad HD+ resolution and support for HDR10 video.

To be honest, we’re not really sure what Samsung could do to improve on the S8 when it comes to the visuals. Like last year’s handset, the S9 boasts incredible media performance. Movies and games still look absolutely stunning, especially when streaming some HDR-ready content. And you can tweak the output in the Galaxy S9’s settings, with the likes of the Video Enhancer feature.

The stereo speaker setup supports Dolby Atmos audio, so you can get some quite impressive sound from Samsung’s blower. We’re not going to be using the S9 to supply our party soundtracks any time soon, but it’s perfectly fine for watching a bit of YouTube in a noisy environment. Or annoying the hell out of everyone else on your bus, if you decide to go sans headphones.

Speaking of which, Sammy’s latest handset does include a 3.5mm jack, for your wired ‘phones. Else, you can connect wirelessly using Bluetooth 5.

As for storage space, you get a generous 64GB of room for your apps and media – although 14GB of this is already used up by the OS and pre-installed software. No worries however, as you can expand up to a further 400GB using a microSD memory card.

Samsung Galaxy S9 Review: Features

Google’s Android Oreo OS comes packed onto the S9, yet Samsung has absolutely loaded this phone with a ton of bonus features. Many of these help with the general everyday running, or aid in the usability. For instance, you get a nifty one-handed mode, along with plenty of gesture support. As ever, customisation remains very strong. You can tweak almost every little part of the S9’s software to get it just how you like.

Check out our full Galaxy S9 tips and tricks guide to see some of the best features, old and new, in action.

Security has always been an important part of Samsung’s smartphones and the S9 doesn’t break tradition. On top of that fingerprint sensor, you can use a combination of iris and facial recognition to unlock this handset. That’s double the security of most rival phones, for anyone who’s truly paranoid about randoms snatching up their Galaxy.

Of course, if you do want to use both technologies at once, it helps to be patient. Most times you’ll be past the lock screen in just a couple of seconds, although in low light you’ll often have to move your head about and get the scanning angle just right. Still, you can always drop back to the fingerprint sensor in a pinch. And we’re definitely impressed by the S9’s ability to recognise you even when you’re wearing hats, glasses and massive headphones.

Samsung Galaxy S9 Review: Performance and battery life

Depending on your region, the Galaxy S9 will either serve up one of Samsung’s own Exynos chipsets, or Qualcomm’s shiny new Snapdragon 845 platform. In either case, you can expect the very best performance from a modern mobile, as well as impressive energy efficiency.

Here in the UK it’s the Exynos model hitting stores and we had no qualms with the everyday experience. Apps load instantly and any game you throw at the S9 plays with a perfect frame rate.

As for the battery life, Samsung’s smartphone didn’t let us down there either. On a full charge we easily lasted a full day, even with some pretty intensive use. That includes a fair bit of gaming and camera play. Of course, if you do find yourself running short, the Galaxy S9 has plenty of battery saver features to play around with. As well as those two power modes, you can monitor each app’s battery usage and cull any juice guzzlers.

With fast charge support, you can fully power up Samsung’s flagship in under 90 minutes. And as usual there’s wireless charging support, if you can’t be bothered to plug in the Type-C USB cable.

Samsung Galaxy S9 Review: Cameras

At a surface level, little seems to have changed with the S9’s camera hardware, compared with the previous model.

The new S9 once again sports a 12-megapixel main shooter, complete with ‘Dual Pixel’ Phase Detection Autofocus and OIS. In other words, it’s pretty speedy when it comes to taking snaps, just like the S8, while obliterating any unwanted blur from hand shakes.

However, Samsung has upgraded the Galaxy S9 with a rather funky and innovative new feature: namely, the ability to swap between two lens apertures. That means the S9’s camera can alter how much light is sucked in for each photo, depending on the environmental conditions. You also now get a nifty Super Slow Motion mode to capture footage at a stunning 960 frames-per-second, just like Sony’s premium smartphones. And if you’re one of those emoji-obsessed people, you can even turn yourself into a gurning cartoon monstrosity.

Want to see how the Galaxy S9’s camera tech stacks up to last year’s S8? Check out our full S9 camera review. And you can also see more on the new bonus features in our S9 camera tips and tricks guide.

Samsung Galaxy S9 Review: Verdict

So, should you consider buying the Galaxy S9?

If you already own last year’s S8, we’d say take a pass. This blower doesn’t offer any essential new features compared with the previous flagship, and it sure ain’t cheap either. However, if you’re tempted by a Galaxy and you have money to burn, we’d say go right ahead. The Galaxy S9 is a sexy, lovable bundle of seriously premium tech, and it should certainly stand the test of time.

Read next: Galaxy S9 UK price and release date