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Samsung Galaxy S9 Review : The Best of All Things Samsung

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Fresh on the market is the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus, a flagship phone from one of the world’s leading mobile phone manufacturers. For Samsung/Android devotees, this is an excellent device, packing all the great features Samsung users know and love, many at their best ever. There’s not much that’s strikingly different about the Galaxy S9, but it’s a polished device that could be a fantastic upgrade for your next mobile.

 

Let’s dive in.


The Specs:


  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Processor
  • 5.8” (S9) 6.2” (S9 Plus) Super AMOLED Display, resolution: 2960 x 1440 pixels
  • 4GB RAM (S9)
  • 6GB RAM (S9 Plus)
  • Operating System: Android 8.0 Oreo
  • Dimensions: 5.81 x 2.70 x 0.33” (S9) 6.22 x 2.91 x 0.33” (S9 Plus)
  • 64GB internal storage with a microSD expansion card slot
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, Barometer, Fingerprint Sensor, Gyro Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, Hall Sensor, Heart Rate Sensor, Proximity Sensor, RGB Light Sensor, Iris Sensor, Pressure Sensor
  • 3,000 mAh battery (S9)
  • 3,500 mAh battery (S9 Plus),
  • Quick Charge 3.0 and fast wireless charging
  • Colours: Midnight Black, Lilac Purple, Coral Blue, Titanium Gray
  • Water resistance: IP68 water and dust rating


The Look:

The Samsung Galaxy S9 has a massive infinity display, stretching an impressive 5.8 inches across the phone (6.2” with the S9 Plus). With its curved edge, the device has a wraparound screen, an effect which is quite pleasing to the eye. Many expert opinions have proclaimed it as the best smartphone display currently available. The S9 Plus boasts a screen-to-body ratio of 86.2%, which means this display is definitely a commanding presence!

 

The glass and metal composition so popular in smartphone design today adds a premium look to the S9. Unfortunately, this does sacrifice some durability, and, like other Samsung devices, the S9 may be prone to collecting fingerprints and enduring scuffs or scratches. For this reason, it’s a smart idea to invest in a skin as well as a case to add extra protection to your device.

This device has a nice hand feel and an appropriate weight. It sits well in your hand and the curved glass (something of a Samsung signature) allows the phone to sit snugly in your palm.

 

While there’s not much variation in the S9’s look when compared with the S8, you may notice smaller, less obtrusive bezels. This is a nice touch, as it gives the phone a more streamlined appearance. The black outer edges also appear to be a more seamless part of the whole package.

 

In many ways, the S9 is an iteration of the S8. Placed side-by-side, the two models look nearly identical from the front. But there’s a new placement of the fingerprint scanner on the back, which lots of reviewers are already really excited about. This shows that Samsung has listened to customer criticism, taken note, and made the requested changes. There are also a few upgrades with the new S9 and S9 Plus, the jewel of which is the added camera features. We’ll talk about these elements next.


The Performance:

Want to watch gorgeous videos in Quad HD? This is the ideal device for that. With a super vivid screen across the entire front of the phone, you can enjoy sharp, dynamic high-quality video. The colours pop and  You’ll have to head into settings and make an adjustment to be sure you’re taking advantage of this Quad HD, however, as the device out of the box will be displaying in full HD+ resolution.

 

You can turn your screen up 15% brighter than with an S8 device. This is startling brightness; you may want to reserve that level of brightness for outdoor phone usage. But you can also dim the brightness down to a very comfortable setting, which is perfect for reading in bed at night.

 

Audio is quality, too. With the S9, Samsung is now introducing stereo speakers, a radical change from the S8 Plus. The sound is crisp, clear, and even fuller, creating an overall enjoyable listening experience.

 

General performance of the S9 is quick and dependable. The Snapdragon processor makes for very fast usage speeds,

 

Multiple security features are found in this device, including an iris scanner, rear fingerprint reader. This sensor has been moved to the middle of the phone, instead of directly next to the camera, which is appreciated by many Samsung users. This makes it easier to avoid accidentally touching the camera with your finger. The sensor is also raised slightly, so you can identify it more easily. Registering your fingerprint requires a quick roll over the sensor and it reads it extremely quickly.

 

Iris scanning is now a security feature for the S9, and while this is a slightly slower process, it’s more secure than face scanning alone. There’s also intelligent scanning, which combines both facial recognition and iris scanning for access, depending on which will perform better in the given light conditions.

 

The battery life is solid for the phone, though with heavy use throughout the day, the battery power tends to run out by evening. Fortunately, the phone is equipped for fast charging and wireless charging, so you can grab a quick boost during the day.


The Camera:

Of all the fresh updates to this new flagship Samsung, the camera is perhaps the most exciting. The Galaxy S9 is the first modern smartphone to feature a variable aperture camera. On the S9, this is one single 12-megapixel camera on the back, and on the S9 Plus, there’s the addition of a second 12-megapixel camera with a 2X telephoto lens.

 

The dual-aperture camera is an exceptional feature. Capable of moving between f/1.5 or f/2.4 (the default), the variable aperture will adapt based on the amount of light in the environment. Much like a DSLR camera, the phone adjusts to let in more or less light. In a low light situation, this means a wide open aperture that minimises grain in the photo and creates a smoother, brighter image. With an f/1.5 aperture, you can also achieve that slightly blurry background look, that ‘bokeh’ style that is popular with many photographers both amateur and pro.

 

The front camera has a wide-angle selfie feature that includes solid edge recognition.

A fun and unique element is the S9’s super slo-mo mode, which will allow you to record 960 frames per second. This generates a fascinating slo-mo video which is a lot of fun to play around with.

 

There are lots of options for video recording, so taking videos of your family and friends is simple and yields excellent quality results. Filming is very stable in 4K, shooting up to 60 frames per second.


Some Unique Features of the S9

One feature that may yield a few complaints is the Bixby button on the side of the phone. It’s difficult to avoid accidentally pressing that button multiple times per day and calling up the Bixby screen. However, you can actually disable this Bixby button. When disabled, only the single press function will cease, which means accidental presses of the button will be avoided (yay!).  But you can still press and hold the Bixby button to enable voice commands—quite handy if you need to set an alarm or perform another simple task.

 

Bixby can provide a useful feature as part of your alarms, too. If you enable Bixby Briefing on a given alarm, after your alarm sounds you’ll be read weather reports, daily news, and more. This is a smart tool for those who find waking up in the mornings to be a bit of a challenge.

 

Do you use your mobile device to track your health? There is an endless number of apps that can help you do this, and your phone itself can assist. Past Samsung devices have boasted a heart rate monitor. The S9 includes, for the first time, a blood pressure sensor. It’s still early days for this feature, and while it’s definitely not as accurate as a standard blood pressure cuff, the addition of this feature is still pretty forward thinking.


The Conclusion:

Samsung has focused heavily on the camera features in its marketing for the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus. If a quality camera intrigues you, the S9 could be a nice device for you. It’s going to be especially beloved by those who are already Samsung devotees, as the Galaxy S9 is in many ways, the culmination of all that is excellent about Samsung.

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Samsung Galaxy S9 Review

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Introduction

The Samsung Galaxy S9 sits alongside the S9+ as the latest flagship smartphones from Samsung.

Both phones are notable in that they are the first smartphones to offer cameras with a variable aperture lens, that is one that you can control yourself. You can choose between f/1.5 and f/2.4 depending on the lighting condition, or the camera itself will choose the aperture automatically depending on the shooting mode you’re in.

The standard S9 has one camera/lens, a 12 megapixel sensor, with a 26mm (equivalent) f/1.5-f/2.4 lens. It uses phase-detection autofocus, has optical image stabilisation, and has an 8 megapixel front-facing camera with an f/1.7 lens. 4K video recording is available at up to 60fps, as well as super slow-motion video at 960fps (720p resolution).

For the purposes of this review, we have been loaned the Samsung Galaxy S9 by Vodafone, which offers the S9 on a variety of different contracts.

Ease of Use

The S9 uses a 5.8-inch Super AMOLED Gorilla Glass screen. As is pretty common these days, it uses a display which goes all way to the edge of the screen, being slightly curved for an attractive design. There is a bezel at the top and bottom of the screen – Samsung hasn’t followed in the footsteps of Apple and Huawei by adding a “notch”. While this means the phone doesn’t maximise the available space, you may be of the opinion that the look is cleaner, or uninterrupted.

A fingerprint sensor is found on the back of the phone, which you can use to unlock the phone, or you can set up face unlock or an unlock pattern. At the top of the phone is the SIM card tray, which also contains space for a MicroSD card – you can expand the inbuilt memory by adding your own SD card here – this marks it as a point of difference from several other high-profile phones currently on the market, such as the Google Pixel 2, iPhone X and the Huawei P20 Pro.

From the lock screen you can access the native camera app by swiping upwards from the bottom right hand corner of the screen. By default, the app launches in “Auto” mode, which is fine to use for the majority of shooting scenarios. With this, the phone will automatically decide on the best settings for you, meaning you can’t adjust the aperture yourself – you should find that if you’re shooting in low light, it will automatically switch to the wider setting.

Along the top of the app (or to the left when shooting in landscape mode), you’ll see the various shooting modes that the S9 camera app offers. In order to move between them, simply swipe in the main app area. Along with Auto, there’s also Selective Focus, Pro, Panorama, Food, Super Slow mo (video), AR Emoji, and Hyperlapse.

Selective Focus is the S9’s “shallow depth of field” effect, which you can use to create a fake bokeh type look. In order to use it, you need to point the phone at something within 50cm and take the photo. You’ll see that a yellow circle goes around the virtual shutter button while the effect is being applied – you can then see the image in playback. Occasionally, the phone will not apply the effect if it can’t detect a subject – this is usually when you’ve photographed something in the distance (such as a landscape), rather than something close to the camera. When looking at the image in playback, you can change the focus, from near focus to far focus, which can be helpful if the subject hasn’t quite worked.

Rear of the Samsung Galaxy S9

Pro mode is where you can adjust a wide variety of different settings. You can change ISO, white balance, metering, exposure compensation, shutter speed and, the S9’s selling point, the aperture. You can also manually focus, too. In terms of aperture, you’ve only got two options – f/1.5 and f/2.4 – choosing the wider aperture (f/1.5) when shooting in low light, and the narrower (f/2.4) in good light. If you look at the lens while you’re tapping this icon, you can physically see the aperture blades opening and closing. Unlike with some other smartphones at the moment, there’s no option to shoot in raw format.

For Panorama mode, you need to sweep the phone across a scene to create an ultra-wide angle view of the scene. You can choose a standard panorama or a motion panorama – if the latter, you can view your panorama back as a video instead of just a still image.

Front of the Samsung Galaxy S9

As you might imagine, Food mode is intended for photographing food. Basically, it creates a radial blur effect, whereby the centre of the image is sharp, but the rest is blurred. You can also select various points across the frame, not just the centre, if you prefer.

The other three modes are Super Slow-Mo, which you can use to create super slow motion videos. You can set it to either “Multi Take”, whereby you can record multiple “moments” in one video, or “Single Take” where just a single “moment” is captured. AR Emoji allows you to create emojis of yourself, while Hyperlapse is a way to create a time-lapse video.

Whichever mode you’re shooting in, you’ll be able to click on a cog icon in the bottom left hand corner of the screen to change a variety of different settings. The settings which are available are different depending on which mode you’re working in. In the Pro mode, you’ll be able to change the Picture Size, Video Size, Turn on the Timer and so on.

The Samsung Galaxy S9 In-hand

In order to actually take a photo, you can use a virtual button via the app. Just next to this button, there’s another for video recording, and another to view your images in playback. If you’re using the camera app from the lock screen, you’ll only be able to view the images you’ve taken in your current “session”. You can also use the physical volume button to take a shot. By tapping the video record button, it will start recording video immediately. However, if you hold down the video record button, you’ll be able to frame up your shot, before releasing the button to start actually recording.

Along the bottom of the screen you’ll also find the icon you need to switch to shooting with the front facing camera. In selfie mode, you have four different options. There’s the standard Selfie mode, which you can apply Beauty mode to, if you like (or turn it off completely), there’s Selfie Focus, which you can use to create a shallow depth of field effect in your selfies, AR Emoji, and Wide Selfie, which you can use for group selfies to make sure you get everyone in the shot.

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iPhone X Review: What happens if you drop your iPhone X?

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One significant downside to consider relative to other iPhones is repair cost. Like the iPhone 8, the iPhone X’s screen and back panel are both made of glass. In drop tests conducted by warranty company SquareTrade and CNET, both sides of the test phones broke despite Apple’s claims of “the most durable glass ever in a smartphone.” We followed up ourselves, working with Good Morning America to conduct some real-world drop testing, and found that it performed better than expected—more glass does mean there’s more to scratch and crack in an average fall, but it took a long drop to seriously damage the device. But whatever injury your phone incurs, the X costs a lot more to fix than the 8.

A chart showing the cost of repairs to different iPhone models. The cost for screen repair of the iPhone X is $279, while the cost of other damage is $549. For the iPhone 8 Plus, screen repair only is $169 and other damage is $399. For the iPhone 8, screen repair only is $149, while other damage is $349.
The prices to fix a broken screen and other damage for Apple’s current phones. Source: Apple Support

We strongly recommend a case for the iPhone X, especially when you consider the astronomical repair costs: Out of warranty, a broken screen will cost $280 to fix, and a broken back panel (or any other damage) is a staggering $550. (AppleCare+, which covers these types of damage, costs a relatively high $200 for the iPhone X, but reduces the price of these repairs to $30 for a broken screen or $100 for any other damage.)

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iPhone X Review: Is the iPhone X worth the money?

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The iPhone X is expensive, no matter how you slice it. But though we always caution people not to spend money they don’t need to, we think that if you are going to spend more, you should do so on the things you use the most. For many people, the smartphone has eclipsed the personal computer as the most important piece of technology in their lives—it’s something they use every day, throughout the day, for everything from communication to productivity to entertainment. Many people spend more time with their cell phone than in their car, their bed, and even their home. So it may be worth spending more on a phone if you think that phone’s features and overall experience are compelling.

Price** Sales tax† Monthly payment‡ Total cost
$450 $38 $19 $488
$580 $49 $24 $629
$700 $60 $29 $760
$680 $58 $28 $738
$780 $66 $33 $846
$920 $78 $38 $998
$830 $71 $35 $901
$950 $81 $40 $1,031
$1,200 $102 $50 $1,302
$1,350 $115 $56 $1,465
iPhone model*
SE (32 GB)
6s (32 GB)
6s Plus (32 GB)
7 (32 GB)
7 (128 GB)
7 Plus (128 GB)
8 (64 GB)
8 Plus (64 GB)
X (64 GB)
X (256 GB)
* Only our recommended storage configurations are listed
** Includes AppleCare+
† Using 8.5 percent as example, paid at time of purchase (not included in monthly installments)
‡ Assuming 24 months of payments

And thanks to widely available finance and “upgrade” programs, you can spread the cost of a more expensive smartphone over monthly installment plans that make the higher price somewhat easier to stomach. (These programs amount to an interest-free loan, so you’re not paying any more over time than if you bought the phone outright.)

Still, if you’re on a tight budget, an extra $10 to $15 per month isn’t inconsequential, so we’re not suggesting you overextend yourself if you don’t want to or can’t afford it.

The confusing array of models in Apple’s current lineup means that now is not the time for budget-minded buyers to purchase an iPhone. But if you’re set on buying something new, and you’re on a budget, an iPhone 7 makes the most sense out of the current lineup—it’s the least you can pay for a great iPhone experience. You might also consider buying a refurbished phone from a reputable source, including Apple.

If you’re willing to spend some money for the latest specs but simply aren’t interested in Face ID or new gestures, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are closest to the X, but in a more familiar wrapper (though like all flagship smartphones, they are expensive).

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iPhone X Review: Do the other new features make a difference?

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If you rely on a phone to take photos, the iPhone X is the best camera Apple’s ever made. Thanks to a dual-lens array similar to the one on the 8 Plus, but with a larger-aperture telephoto lens and optical stabilization on the zoom lens, the X will let you take better pictures in low-light situations or when using the zoom lens. The X is the only non-Plus-size iPhone that gets the Plus models’ double lens system, and it’s a clear upgrade over the 8 in this area, especially in poor light. And the X is the only iPhone with a front (“selfie”) camera that supports Portrait and Portrait Lightning features. For those who use their phone as their primary camera (and that’s many of us these days), the idea that you’re paying more for a better photographic experience may make the X’s higher price more palatable.

The TrueDepth camera array used by Face ID can also be used by third-party app developers, as well as by iOS 11’s Animoji feature: In Messages, you can record and share 10-second video clips of emoji characters that imitate your facial expressions. It’s fun, though not essential.

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iPhone X Review:Does the new display really give you more space?

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Although the iPhone X’s 5.8-inch display is bigger on paper than the iPhone 8 Plus’s 5.5-inch screen, the iPhone X is the same width as the iPhone 8—the X’s screen is just a little taller because it goes all the way to the top and bottom edges of the phone. (The only break is a notch at the top of the screen for the TrueDepth camera system—this notch makes the screen look like it has two “ears” or “horns.”) The result is that in apps that focus on text, the physically smaller X shows about the same amount of content as the 8 Plus—less horizontally, but enough vertically to make up the difference. In apps and media that scale to the screen, however, the X feels more like the standard iPhone 8. For example, photos and video look the same size on the X as on the iPhone 8, and smaller than they do on the 8 Plus. And if you tend to increase the size of text on your phone, that text will feel a bit more crowded on the X—just as it does on the 8—than on the 8 Plus. If you’re coming to the X from a Plus-size phone, you may be surprised that the screen seems smaller in some apps.

That said, the new OLED display (Apple calls it a “Super Retina” display, because it has even higher pixel density than Apple’s Retina LED displays) looks excellent, with blacker blacks and support for HDR video. If you have an iPhone 8 or 7, you probably won’t immediately notice the difference unless you look at them side by side—all recent iPhones have had very good screens—but the display experts at DisplayMate call it “the best smartphone display,” describing it as a “superbly accurate, high performance, and gorgeous display!!” (Yes, two exclamation points.) OLED displays do have some downsides, though, and the iPhone X is no exception. When you’re looking at the screen from an angle, rather than straight on, the screen can look somewhat blue. And burn-in is a concern: If an image is left on the screen for a long period of time, it can leave behind a faint shadow. (We’ll keep an eye out for burn-in issues during long-term testing.)

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iPhone X Review: The Smartphone of the Future

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Among Wirecutter staff, the iPhone X just may be the most controversial smartphone ever—but not for the reasons you might think. Most of us agree that it’s the best iPhone ever; many think it’s the best smartphone, period. If you can afford the higher price, the iPhone X is a fantastic phone. It feels like the first “new” iPhone since the original, while the iPhone 8 feels like the last “old” iPhone.

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Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus review:

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  • Galaxy S9: Buy this one if you want to spend the least, if you prefer a smaller phone and if you don’t plan to take portrait photos.
  • Galaxy Note 9: It has the longest battery life and double the starting storage capacity of the other two. Its camera automatically adjusts to your scene, but otherwise uses the same lenses. The Note 9 also has an S Pen stylus and costs hundreds more.
  • Galaxy S9 Plus: Essentially the Note 9 with a slightly smaller battery, half the storage and no S Pen, but it has the same fast processor, about the same screen size and dual cameras. You can also expand your storage capacity using a microSD card. Its cost falls between the Note 9 and Galaxy S9.

By giving the Galaxy S9 one rear camera, the larger Galaxy S9 Plus two rear cameras, and the Galaxy Note 9 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 88 Plus and iPhone X.

Read this: Sorry, this is why your phone is going to get even more expensive

If you’re deciding between the S9 and S9 Plus, the Plus is objectively the “better” phone, and the one power users who don’t want the Note 9 should get if they can’t choose between the two. I like the larger battery and the ability to take a portrait shot when you want to — you can’t always predict when those moments come up.

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, especially if you or your subject move.

That said, photo quality is open to interpretation, and this is a terrific resource for comparing top cameras.

There are other variations between the Note 9, S9 and S9 Plus in size, weight, battery life and RAM, but core features are the same, including the 12-megapixel dual-aperture camera that makes its industry debut with these Galaxy S9 phones.

However, don’t buy any phone just yet. With the Google Pixel 3 and Apple’s 2018 iPhones around the corner, it’s prudent to wait. And if you can hold on to your phone for 7 more months, Samsung’s expected to pull out all the stops with 2019’s Galaxy S10 phones, which could include an in-screen fingerprint reader and other goodies befitting a 10th anniversary phone.

Read this: How to buy a new iPhone, Galaxy or OnePlus phone right now

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. You can read my full Galaxy Not 9 review here.

Editor’s note: This review first posted March 8, 2018 and was updated August 24, 2018.

 

Portrait mode

You could use the 12-megapixel telephoto lens to take photos, but 99 times out of 100 you’re going to want it for portrait mode.

The same setup as on the Galaxy Note 9, 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.

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