The Galaxy S9 ($695 at Amazon.com) is great, but the Galaxy S9 Plus is objectively the better phone, and the one power users should get if they can’t choose between the two.
In previous years, the Plus model was the same as the Galaxy S, but bigger, with a larger battery, too. This year, the S9 Plus comes with an extra feature that the S9 doesn’t have: A second camera lens on the back. It’s this 12-megapixel telephoto sensor that blesses the Galaxy S9 Plus with the ability to take depth-of-field portrait photos that blur the background so that the subject of your photos stands out.
There are other variations between the two in size, weight, battery life and RAM, but if screen size isn’t important to you, the second camera is the reason you’d shell out more for the Galaxy S9 Plus. All other core features are the same, including the 12-megapixel dual-aperture camera that makes its industry debut with these Galaxy S9 phones.
Interestingly, the Galaxy S9 Plus is only Samsung’s second phone to get a dual camera, falling in line after last August’s Galaxy Note 8 ($335 at Amazon.com). Samsung came to the trend more than a year late, so its phones are still making up for lost time. The fact that this dual-camera setup is absent on the Galaxy S9 tells us that Samsung sees the photo feature as a high-end differentiator.
In fact, by giving the Galaxy S9 one rear camera, the larger Galaxy S9 Plus two rear cameras, and the Galaxy Note dual cameras plus a digital stylus, Samsung can justify three price tiers that match each phone’s features. The model makes sense, and mirrors Apple’s own structure with the iPhone 8 ($330 at Cricket Wireless), 8 Plus ($340 at Cricket Wireless) and iPhone X ($355 at Cricket Wireless).
Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus: Sizzling photos from every angle
Unfortunately, despite the addition of the second telephoto lens on the Plus, the main camera carries over the same weaknesses of the S9’s promising dual-aperture lens: It tends to overexpose photos in low-light situations, and they’re not as sharp, either. That said, if you’re going to get a phone in the S9 family, you’ll want to pay up for the Plus.
This review highlights the differences between the S9 Plus and S9. For all other features, including the 12-megapixel dual-aperture camera (not to be confused with the dual-camera setup you’ll find on the S9 Plus), Snapdragon 845 processor and AR Emoji, see my full Galaxy S9 review.
Editors’ note: Ratings are tentative until we complete final testing, including ongoing camera and battery tests.
The same setup as on the Galaxy Note 8, the S9 Plus’ portrait mode app is called Live Focus. You’ll have slider control over your blur intensity and “skin tone,” which used to be called “beauty mode” and airbrushes your features.
Samsung’s portrait mode falls behind the iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus in lighting extras. Those phones let you set the lighting tone from natural to dramatic. But what’s unique about Samsung’s portrait mode is that you can adjust the blur as an edit after taking the photo.
You can also swap between the depth-of-field portrait (the close up) and the unblurred, wide-angle version of the same shot. The shooting process may not be quite as theatrical as it is on the iPhone X, but I do like the practicality. And you can still apply over a dozen filters in the photo editor.
Larger screen size
The Galaxy S9 Plus has the advantage of a larger 6.2-inch screen, which gives you more space to view media and interact with what’s on the screen.
A bigger screen makes for a more sizable phone to stretch your fingers around. I find the S9 more comfortable by and large, but the taller, narrower dimensions that Samsung introduced with last year’s Galaxy S8 ($299 at Amazon.com) keeps it from feeling like you’re tapping on a roof shingle — even with my smaller hands.
Like last year’s models, the S9 Plus also comes with a higher-capacity battery than the S9: 3,500mAh compared to 3,000mAh.
The S9 Plus averaged just under 17 hours on two runs of our looping video test in airplane mode. That’s actually an hour less than last year’s 18-hour Galaxy S8 Plus ($288 at saleholy.com) average, so we’ll continue testing on other units and update these results.