NEW DELHI: There’s always a great sense of anticipation when a smartphone brand launches a new flagship device. This anticipation grows multifold when it’s South Korean tech giant Samsung. Be it for their innovation or the fact that it’s the closest competitor to Apple, the SamsungGalaxy S line up is always one to watch out for – even if you don’t care too much about other happenings in the smartphone market. It is the shiniest star in the galaxy of Samsung smartphones. So it came as no surprise that at the Mobile World Congress 2018, the Samsung Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+ smartphones were the belle of the ball.
Over the years, it has become abundantly clear that India is a key market for Samsung and it came as no surprise when the latest flagship devices were made available in the first wave of launch. With so much brouhaha over them it’s not difficult to decipher that, the devices come with an eye-watering price as well. The 64GB of Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ cost Rs 57,900 and 64,900 and the 256GB of both cost Rs 65,900 and Rs 72,900 respectively. Though priced high, they have nearly the same price tag in India what the Galaxy S8 and the S8+ were launched at last year.
As a brand, Samsung has always been vocal about its innovations in software and hardware of its smartphones. With Galaxy Sand S9+, there are changes but a majority of them can perhaps be categorised into the blink-and-miss space. Instead of a drastic makeover in hardware design and UI, Samsung has made numerous subtle changes that make the smartphones even more powerful from the inside while flaunting the same beautiful design. We have been using the Samsung Galaxy S9+ (64GB Midnight Black variant) since over a week. Let’s see if factors like specifications, performance and price strike a balance this time or not.
Design and display
Even if you are the harshest of Samsung’s critics, you can’t take it away from them that the company gets it spot on when it comes to design. Just like the Galaxy S8+, the Galaxy S9+ too looks beautiful and is the most aesthetically pleasing smartphones in the market right now. It’s clear that Samsung is following the adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ as it retains the critically appreciated design second time in a row. While a few critics and skeptics might say that there’s nothing new in the look, we don’t have any issue with that. It still looks modern and something that may stay popular in the bar phone segment for at least a couple of years.
The Midnight Black variant we received doesn’t need a breakdown on how good it looks and how it still attracts scratches and smudges easily, something that is a nightmare for those who like to keep their smartphones clean and shining. This time what is new in the appearance is the inclusion of a new colour variant called Lilac Purple. Rest of the design story remains the same.
Skimming through its design and build, the IP68 rated smartphone has a curved glass body, which is comfortable to hold but slippery. The smaller-sized Galaxy S9 is much more compact and lightweight. Samsung is still not ready to forego the 3.5mm headphone jack. It is placed at the bottom alongside the USB Type-C charging port and a speaker. The Bixby button and volume buttons stay where they are – on the left side, while the power button is on the right. SIM and MicroSD card slot sit comfortably on top.
A small but much-welcome change is that the Galaxy S9+ (and Galaxy S9) have Dolby Atmos stereo speakers tuned by AKG. One, as we mentioned above, is on the bottom side. The other one is right where the earpiece is. They are well-tuned and are loud enough. The front camera is placed beside the iris scanner above the screen along with the notification LED light and a bunch of sensors.
A major amendment in the Galaxy S9+ is that it has dual rear cameras. This is also the first in the Galaxy S series to sport two cameras at the back. Below the vertically aligned cameras is a fingerprint sensor, which is thankfully much easier to reach now and results in lesser smudges on the camera.
Definitely the Galaxy S9+ (and the S9 too) are fragile and may burn a hole in your pocket if dropped from a couple of feet. Since it has both sides made of glass, minor scratches and cracks on the slightest drops are expected. We highly recommend you to buy a TPU case for your Galaxy S9+ or S9.
With over a week spent with the smartphone, we hardly used the fingerprint sensor though as most of the times the Iris and Face scanner worked perfectly. Since we had smart lock feature switched on based on our location and devices connected with Bluetooth, even the Iris and face scanners were hardly used.
Like the design, the display too largely remains untouched from that of the Galaxy S8+. The saturated Super AMOLED 6.2-inch display does one hell of a job in reproducing vibrant colours and acting as the best multimedia smartphone. While the Galaxy S9, has a small screen and doesn’t require much of a thumb exercise, the S9+ though featuring a thin strip of bezels above and below the screen, still may make you stretch your thumbs at times for certain functions.
Nonetheless, the Galaxy S9+ has a beautiful screen and we believe those who are into streaming movies and TV shows would love it as well. It can get comfortably bright while using in daylight and has other expected features like blue light filter, font and screen zooming and an option to allow certain apps to run full screen instead of the default mode.
What is slightly confusing is that although the Galaxy S9+ has a QHD+ (2960×1440 pixels) supporting panel, by default you will get it set to fullHD+ (2220×1080 pixels). Maybe Samsung wants to prevent pushing out more pixels on the screen in order to save some power so the handset can run for longer. You can even choose the HD+ resolution as well.
Samsung smartphones are known for their AMOLED screens. Undoubtedly, they are vibrant and show saturated colours, which in turn make viewing a better experience. However, some may call them over saturated and fake while looking at clicked camera shots and videos. It’s subjective though and regular users won’t have any issue with it.
You also get Edge Screens, which can be customised with the apps you like, contacts and more. Other Edge screens can also be downloaded from Samsung’s own store. Some other Samsung-features you will see is the option to ‘Block accidental touches’, Notification LED alerts, button layout, options to show or hide navigation bar and more, something only nit-picks will play around with, not regular users.
Processor, UI, camera and battery
As expected, the Galaxy S9 and the S9+ deliver beastly performance. With the octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor or the octa-core Exynos 9810, you won’t face a single moment where the smartphone hangs or stutters. You can play as many heavy games as you want or edit as many images or videos but at no point the Galaxy S9+ or the S9 will give you a chance to complain.
The performance however, is not just caged to the processor but a lot of it also depends on the GPU and the RAM capacity. All the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+ units that you will get in India will run the Exynos 9810 processor and that’s not bad if you ask us. For end users this doesn’t make any difference. Even the RAM and GPU won’t make its performance drastically better or worse. The S9 comes with 4GB RAM while the S9+ has 6GB RAM inside. On testing it through AnTuTu, we found our Exynos 9810 S9+ unit featuring Mali G72 GPU.
The Galaxy S9+ 64GB unit unsurprisingly scored huge on Antutu with 239802 and according to the benchmarking website’s ranking topped the list. When we first ran the same benchmarks on the Apple iPhone X while reviewing, it scored 228551. On Geekbench, the handset got 3705 in single core and 8795 in multi-core performance.
Apart from the ones powering the innards of the smartphone, what also add up to the performance is the user interface, its features and the operating system. The Galaxy S9 and the S9+ run Android 8.0 Oreo, which is not the latest version now as Google recently announced Android P. Android Oreo is skinned with Samsung’s home-baked Experience 9.0 UI, which is not as good as stock Android though but sure is feature-rich without appearing too cluttered. It’s not a major take off from the previous iteration or the UI you see in cheaper Galaxy models so adapting to it will hardly take you a day or a few hours, depending on your learning curve.
An aspect that we have grown to like about Samsung Galaxy devices is that it gives you a lot to customise: from the colour of your navigation bar to the background colour of the notifications that appear on the lock screen. It keeps you busy for a while. Then there are some other Samsung-features as well such as the Edge Screens, edge lighting when a notification pops up and the company’s own AI, Bixby.
Bixby needs a special mention here. The AI has definitely improved since we last used it in the Galaxy S8 and the S8+ but still has strides to cover to make itself competitive. The platform shows you anything from LinkedIn news to your alarms, Facebook and Twitter feed and more, something that you can still live with if it’s not there. You still get a dedicated physical button to trigger it. We accidentally triggered it every time we held the handset so ultimately had to switch it off. It is integrated inside the camera as well in the form of a small eye-like icon, tapping on which lets you point the camera towards an object and search more about it online. This brings us to one of the major features of the smartphone, the ‘reimagined’ camera.
The Samsung Galaxy S9+ has dual rear cameras and a single front-facing camera. At the back the 12MP+12MP cameras are being touted to be unique in terms of aperture. Samsung has used its ‘Dual Aperture’ camera tech in one of the rear cameras while the other one comes with a fixed aperture just like in any other flagship smartphone. The primary 12MP camera can skip from f/2.2 aperture all the way down to f/1.5, which is the lowest seen in a smartphone till date.
Having f/1.5 aperture has a couple of benefits. It clicks a better portrait shot with a much-blurred background. In addition to this it enhances low light shot drastically. We tried the camera in low light up against the iPhone X’s camera and found it reproducing more natural colours without overexposing certain areas and showing noise. However, we also found the shots slightly more brightened than usual in general. The images captured are sharp and the shutter speed is quick enough to get moving objects with enough clarity. However, in most cases, let it be in the Live Focus mode or any other mode, the images don’t show the real colours of the subject. They are good for your Instagram and Facebook feeds but those serious about photography may not like it. For those, there’s always the Pro mode to go to.
Samsung has also focussed a lot on video capturing as well. Like the flagship Sony Xperia handsets, the Galaxy S9+ also comes with 960 frames per second video capture option. But you won’t find it straight away in the camera app. All you will find is the ‘Slow Motion’ feature, which captures videos in 480fps. The ‘Super Slow Motion’ option shows up when you go inside the Camera settings > Edit Camera Modes and switch on the Super Slow-mo option. This is rather interesting as 960fps video mode, one of the touted camera features is kept hidden under the settings.
After Dual Aperture and 960fps video capturing, the third feature that Samsung talked about a lot in the Galaxy S9 launch was the ‘AR Emoji’. This is a new feature wherein users can click a selfie or someone else’s face using the rear camera and make an emoji based on their skin colour, facial hair, shape and more. The emoji then mimic the facial expressions and sound made by the user. These can be shared in the form of gifs with other third-party messaging apps. Many may argue that this feature is influenced by Apple’s 3D Emojis that came last year with the iPhone X. This is true but there are several other factors that make it different.
Here you can tweak with emojis way more than you can do on the iPhone X. It is possible to change the skin colour, type of glasses, clothes and more. The biggest plus point here is that it can be shared through any platform to anyone, something not possible with Apple’s 3D Emoji. Truth be told, the AR emojis are a bit gimmicky and don’t add any value as such. The mere purpose of its existence seems to be counter Apple and offer a way of killing time when you’re bored. Many users may not even end up using it at all. However, it sure can be counted as a feature.
So now that we have talked about the smartphone’s design, display, performance and camera, what remains is the battery. At first when we heard that Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+ comes with the same battery capacity as their predecessors, which is 3000mAh and 3500mAh, it came as a disappointment but then they were not as bad when we started using the device. Our Galaxy S9+ unit on an average delivered around 4-5 hours time on screen, which is not as bad for a flagship with such heavy set of specifications. Samsung may not have increased the battery capacity as it is playing safe ever since the Note 7 fiasco but it sure is making it better optimised and efficient.
Carrying forward from what was there in the S8+, the S9+ has the same fast charging wired charging capabilities. But unfortunately, it is not as fast as OnePlus’ Dash Charge. Although on the other hand, you do get fast wireless charging, which is rare in handsets for now.
In addition to fast charging there are ‘Mid’ and ‘Max’ power saving modes as well like you have in other Samsung smartphones. These extend the battery life of the smartphone by shutting down background tasks and certain features. So if you are a heavy user, you will be searching for a charger by the middle of the day. In case of light users, the handset may have a couple of hours extra juice. So keeping all the battery features in mind, we recommend you to carry a charger with you if you are on the move for more than 6-7 hours.
The Samsung S9+ is a solid upgrade on last year’s flagship. The package not just has a delicate yet premium design but also has saturated and immersive display, good stereo speakers, best in class processor, ample RAM and storage, impressive camera and a well-performing battery.
The focus of Samsung Galaxy S9+ seems to be its “reimagined camera”. We could’ve said it as an all-rounder but somewhere we think the weight on the camera is more than other factors. Somehow it seems like Samsung has taken a leaf out of Apple’s 2017 handbook but forgot to rewrite the iPhone X chapter. How Apple used to upgrade its devices every year, Samsung has done that. The mantra seems to focus heavily on one feature (in this case the camera) and tweak the other features and present a flagship device.
The Galaxy S8+ was a powerful and reliable device and with the Galaxy S9+, Samsung right now is one of the best smartphones you can get. What could be the clincher is that its pricing is close to that of the S8+ when it was launched. At Rs 64,900 the handset is the brightest star in the Samsung galaxy.