Although key rivals like LG and Huawei haven’t announced new phones at MWC 2018, Samsung hasn’t let us down by introducing the Galaxy S9. As usual there are two models and it’s the plus size that’s got more to offer. Here’s our Samsung Galaxy S9+ hands-on review.
(Also read our Samsung Galaxy S9 review.)
The Galaxy S9+ might not be the biggest upgrade compared to the Galaxy S8+ but it’s perhaps better than having to wait longer for a new device. The LG G7 and Huawei P20 are still weeks away at the least.
Overall you might struggle to tell the new Galaxy S9+ apart from its predecessor, apart from the new purple colour, but there are improvements namely in the camera department which Samsung says it has ‘reimagined’.
PRICE AND RELEASE DATE
Along with the regular model, the Galaxy S9+ is available to pre-order from 25 February at 6pm. The phones then have a release date of 16 March so there’s not too long to wait.
Customers who pre-order the phone will get it early on 9 March.
Samsung has given the 2018 flagship range a price hike so the smaller model will now cost you £739 and the Galaxy S9+ now has an increased price tag of £869 (up from £779) – more than the equivalent iPhone 8 Plus but cheaper than the iPhone X.
That’s quite a big difference between the Galaxy S9+ and regular S9 for price, but you’re paying for things like a bigger screen, dual cameras, a larger battery and more storage.
DESIGN AND BUILD
Since the Galaxy S9+ is an incremental upgrade from last year’s smartphone, there’s not a huge amount to say when it comes to design and build.
Samsung hasn’t changed much about the handset at all. In fact, you might struggle to figure out which one is the new model in a side-by-side test unless you’re looking at the new Lilac Purple colour.
There’s also Midnight Black and Blue Coral to choose from and we’ve spotted what looks like a silver/grey colour in some Samsung demo videos which we assume will arrive later.
At the front, the phone looks near enough identical to the S8+. It’s really no surprise Samsung is sticking to the gorgeous design that features the Infinity display. The firm has made the bezels a tiny bit smaller but it’s not something noticeable.
The main giveaway that this phone is the Galaxy S9+ and not an old model is at the back. Firstly there are dual cameras, something that was previously a feature only available on the Note 8. We’ll talk about the camera tech later on.
The other tweak is the placement for the fingerprint scanner, which is now below the camera array rather than to the side. This was a bugbear on the S8 phones, especially the S8+ where the senor was quite a stretch to reach.
So with a near identical design, Samsung is sticking to an aluminium band with glass front and back. The Galaxy S9+ still offers top-end IP68 waterpoofing and gladly hasn’t ditched the headphone jack.
We don’t even mind that the device is a bit thicker at 8.5mm. Although the S9+ has more tech to offer, it’s worth noting that it is still a bit unwieldy, especially for those with smaller hands and weighs in at 189g so isn’t exactly a featherweight.
SPECS AND FEATURES
If you can deal with, or even actively want, the larger size of the Galaxy S9+, then you do gain various advantages over the smaller S9 model. Yes it costs more, but it’s easily the more technically advanced and exciting device.
The display remains the same as last year so opting for the Galaxy S9+ gets you a 6.2in screen over the 5.8in display on the regular S9. It’s Samsung’s now trademark Infinity Display so you get an 18.5:9 aspect ratio and curved edges on both sides.
A Quad HD+ resolution means everything is once again as crisp as you like and it’s no surprise Samsung sticks to its bright and colourful SuperAMOLED technology.
As usual the screen is always on so displays useful information without consuming much battery while the screen is ‘off’. You also get the edge panels, which bring shortcuts to apps, contacts and far more by swiping in from the side.
Processor, memory and storage
Like the regular S9, the Galaxy S9+ is powered by the new Exynos 8910. The chip that’s still octa-core but gets a bump in clock speed to 2.7GHz for the faster four. This is the model we’ll get in the UK but other markets such as the US and China will get the S9+ with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845.
Either way these are brand-new processors, where rivals like the Nokia 8 Sirocco are using the older Snapdragon 835.
Power users will be pleased to hear that the S9+ has more memory and storage compared to the S9 with 6/128GB. That’s an extra 50 percent in RAM and double the storage. We have seen a spec sheet with a 128GB S9 but assume it will be hard to find.
So performance on paper is better and there’s less need to use the microSD card slot, which now accepts up to 400GB.
Fingerprint and Iris sensors
As mentioned earlier, the fingerprint scanner has been moved to a much more sensible location below the camera. It’s a lot easier to find with your finger without stretching too much, although there’s still a risk of smudging the lens.
Samsung has also made it easier to add fingerprints as you only need to swipe three times per finger.
There’s still an iris scanner, something which we’ve not been a fan of on previous Samsung phones. However, Intelligent Scan means you can use it in combination with facial scanning.
We’ve yet to try this out but hopefully it improves the situation and we’ll have plenty of time once we get a final review sample.
Connectivity and Audio
Top-level connectivity means the S9+ is packed with the tech you’d expect, including dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC and GPS.
There are also plenty of sensors including the pressure sensor in the screen that is used a sort of physical home button. The Galaxy S9+ still comes with features like a barometer and heart rate monitor.
The change comes in the audio department as the smartphone now has stereo speakers. They’re still tuned by AKG and Samsung has also teamed up with Dolby to offer Atmos, a feature you can toggle to provide a bigger, more spacious sound.
As teased with its ‘The Camera. Reimagined’ campaign ahead of the launch, it’s the camera on the Galaxy S9 phones that’s had the biggest upgrade.
The rear Super Speed Dual Pixel camera is still 12Mp but has an innovative mechanical aperture akin to a dedicated DSLR. This can automatically adjust between f/2.4 down to f/1.5 depending on the lighting conditions you’re shooting in.
The Galaxy S8 was an already impressive f/1.7 so this is a nice step up. Samsung says it means 28 percent more light. The phone can also now use information from 12 photos shot at once to reduce noise by 30 percent.
After some hands-on time the camera seems excellent and the Galaxy S9+ has the added bonus of a second lens not available on the regular model. It’s 13Mp telephoto with an f/2.4 aperture. Both cameras have optical image stabilisation so there’s a lot of scope for different kinds of photograph and video.
Speaking of video, the Galaxy S9+ can now match Sony for super slow motion at 960fps (at 720p) which means you can watch 0.2 seconds of footage over 6 seconds.
Such a short period of time can be hard to capture, as we found on the Xperia phones, but Samsung has a clever motion detect which automatically starts the super slow motion when it, er, detects motion in a user selected area of the frame.
Selfie fans will still get decent photos from the front facing 8Mp f/1.7 camera which now has a feature to rival the iPhone X’s Animoji. Samsung’s version is called AR Emoji and created a character based on you.
It instantly created 18 preset gifs but you can customise your own with the front camera, winking and frowning to your hearts content. You also don’t need to worry about who you’re sending them to as they don’t need an S9 too.
Bixby Vision is an existing feature but it’s now improved with things like live translation, better recognition for places and food features like calories and recipe suggestions. It all seems good but we need to test it in the real world.
Another advantage over the regular Galaxy S9 is that you get a larger battery here, so carrying around the extra weight might be well worth it. While the Galaxy S9 has a 3000mAh battery, the S9+ offers 3500mAh.
We’ll need to spend time with both phones to test how much difference this makes.
Once again you have the option to charge over USB-C or with wireless charging – both offer fast charging.
SOFTWARE AND APPS
Moving onto software and the Galaxy S9+ comes pre-loaded with Android 8 Oreo, the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system. That’s no surprise and nor is the fact that Samsung uses its own interface.
Things are pretty much they same as last year with only small tweaks, the main things come inside the camera app which we’ve already detailed.
Samsung has pre-loaded the Galaxy S9+ will plenty of apps but nothing too annoying or intrusive – they’re the usual selections from Google and Microsoft so you’ll likely use most of them regularly.
Tweaks come in the form of a new landscape mode so you can carry on using the interface lengthways to browse your homescreen panels or your apps. A notification system means you’ll still see what’s going on but in a subtle way at the top.
A new SmartThings app is a nifty way, similar to Google and Apple Home apps, to combine multiple apps into one. It means you have one place to handle all the connections to and features of other Samsung devices like TVs.
Those wanting to use the Galaxy S9+ for productivity can make use of the new DeX dock which means the phone can be easily plugged into a monitor for a desktop-like experience.
The docking station is now flat so the screen can be used as a trackpad or keyboard and it will be around two-thirds the price of the original.
- Android 8.0 Oreo
- 6.2in Quad HD+ (2960x1440) 18.5:9 SuperAMOLED Infinity Display
- Exynos 8910 octa-core processor
- 6GB RAM
- 64/256GB internal storage
- Micro-SD card slot (up to 2400GB)
- 12Mp rear-facing camera with OIS and f/1.5-24 + 12Mp telephoto
- 8Mp front camera
- Pressure sensitive home button
- Fingerprint scanner (rear mounted)
- Heart rate monitor
- 11ac dual-band Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX
- 4G LTE Cat 16
- Headphone jack
- 3500mAh non-removable battery
- Wireless charging
- IP68 dust & waterproof rating