Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

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Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+
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Samsung Galaxy S9+

The Samsung Galaxy S9+ is the second of two Galaxy S9 phones launched by Samsung and on first impressions it’s the better phone of the two. Unlike last year, there’s a little more to differentiate this year’s Plus-sized Samsung flagship than simply a slightly larger display and a bigger battery.

That’s because Samsung has mirrored Apple’s iPhone range and extended the dual-camera capabilities from the Note 8 into the middle model. And the result is that the Galaxy S9+ now has a lot more to recommend it than the S8+ did last year.

Camera, key features and design

Of course there’s a lot more to the Samsung Galaxy S9+ than just that. As with the regular S9, the S9+ looks as pretty as a picture.

It has a 6.2in display with an aspect ratio of 18.5:9 and a qHD+ resolution of 1,440 x 2,560 pixels just like last year’s S8+ so it’s a bit bulkier in the hand than the regular Galaxy S9 – not much, but enough to be noticeable. Samsung has also moved the fingerprint reader on the S9+ to just below the second camera in the middle.

This is much more sensible positioning; Samsung has also improved the fingerprint enrolment process so it takes only two to three dabs of the finger instead of the 16 or so it required previously.

The key selling point, as with its smaller sibling, is the dual-aperture camera. For low-light shots, the camera switches to a super-wide f/1.5 aperture, which captures 28% more light than the S8+’s rear camera, while above 100 lux the secondary f/2.4 aperture comes into play and is used to ensure sharper photographs in good light.

The second camera on the rear, meanwhile, is designed to provide a telephoto view – a zoom, effectively – but has a more conventional single aperture of f/2.4.

Otherwise, both cameras have optical image stabilisation (OIS) and snappy dual-pixel phase detect autofocus, while the front-facing camera is an 8-megapixel f/1.7 unit.

In demonstrations the f/1.5 dual-aperture camera performed astonishingly well, and was able to capture a surprisingly noise-free photograph in less than 1 lux of light – partly due to the bright aperture, but also to the ISP’s (image signal processor) ability to shoot 12 frames in a fraction of a second and combine them to all-but eliminate noise.

If the camera lives up to its promise, we could well have a Google Pixel 2 killer on our hands but Samsung hasn’t stopped there.

The S9+ can now shoot super slow motion footage in 720p resolution at 960fps, just like the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, with object detection tech to help you capture the moment at the right time. You can play back your favourite slow-mo clips every time you unlock your phone and you can use the camera on the front to generate animated GIF-based emojis of yourself to embed in your WhatsApp messages.

Other new features include a user interface that auto-rotates into landscape even on the homescreen, app drawer and settings menus. There’s support for slightly faster 4G – up to 1.2Gbits/sec this time from 1Gbit/sec. The phone now gets stereo speakers, “tuned by AKG” that are more “immersive” than before.

And, finally, Samsung DeX – the phone’s built-in desktop OS – has been improved as well.

There’s a new, cheaper dock for connecting the phone to a desktop monitor: this now holds the phone flat so the screen can double as a touchpad where the previous version held it upright at an angle. And there are new features aimed at IT managers allowing them to block certain apps when DeX is initiated.

Performance and battery

Powering the Samsung Galaxy S9+, just like the S9, is a Samsung Exynos 9810 chip – or the very similar Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 in other countries such as the US. The 9810 is an octa-core processor that comprises twin quad-core processors, one running at 2.7GHz, the other at 1.7GHz. It should be quicker than last year’s chip but the differences are unlikely to be huge.

The screen has the same specifications as the S8+’s and the chip is still manufactured on a 10nm process. The battery is the same size as last year as well (3,500mAh), so anyone looking for a significant bump in stamina is also likely to be disappointed, although to be fair, the battery life of the S8+ is excellent.

Still, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ should be at least as fast as its many rivals in 2018 and the rest of the specifications are as good as you’d expect them to be. The processor is backed up by 6GB of RAM and either 64GB or 256GB of storage, plus a microSD card slot that will support cards up to 400GB in size. Running on top of Android 8 Oreo, the phone felt snappy and responsive when we gave it a short test drive.

Early verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S9+ will be an attractive proposition for anyone with an older Android phone. The question is: is it enough of an upgrade to entice Galaxy S8 or S8+ owners? The dual-camera setup makes it an easier sell than the Galaxy S9 and, coupled with the attraction of ultra low-light photography, it’s clearly set to lead the way in 2018 – at least until the Galaxy Note 9 arrives later on in the year.

It is expensive, however, with outright pricing starting at $1,349 for 64GB of storage or $1,499 with 256GB. Again, you’ll pay a premium for a plan on the major carriers too, with Telstra charging $101 and Optus $94 per month for 2GB of data and the 64GB model – although Virgin offers a similar plan for $74. And again, you’ll get a bonus wireless charger if you pre-order before 12 March (with Telstra offering a tablet too).

Still, if you want the very best phone 2018 has to offer, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ currently looks like it’s the handset to choose.

These reviews are based on Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ articles that originally appeared at alphr.com.

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