Pros / The dual variable aperture cameras take stunning photos and portraits in both bright and dim conditions.
Cons / Intelligent Scan is not as effective or quick as Apple’s FaceID.
Verdict / The Galaxy S9+ is the best Android smartphone on the market.
The first major smartphone release of 2018, the Samsung Galaxy S9+, is a stunner with its edge-to-edge Infinity display with rounded edges. Though it may look like the S8+, the Galaxy S9+ steps it up, improving on the best aspects of its precursor and adding new features like the dual variable aperture rear cameras and super slow-mo video capture.
The Galaxy S9+ looks remarkably like its predecessor, the Galaxy S8+. There are a few tweaks to the design – notably, the fingerprint scanner moved to a more sensible location – but at a glance, the two phones look the same.
This isn’t a bad thing, as the design is sleek, and the edge-to-edge infinity display is stunning. Its screen is a 6.2-inch Super AMOLED display with gorgeous color payoff. In direct sunlight, the display is brighter than that of any other smartphone we tested, so it’s easier to use outside.
Overall, it’s a beautiful phone that’s comfortable to hold. It comes in midnight black, titanium gray, coral blue and lilac purple. The colors and finishes are striking, though they tend to attract fingerprints and smudges.
The S9+ features two variable aperture cameras: one wide angle and one telephoto with 2x optical zoom. The cameras can sense lighting conditions and switch between f/1.5 and f/2.4 aperture settings to optimize photos taken in both bright and dim conditions.
The main payoff is the S9+ takes better photos in dimly lit spaces than almost any other smartphone camera – the exception being the Google Pixel 2 XL. Something else the Galaxy S9+ brings to the game is its super slow-mo video capture, which can record at 940 frames per second (fps) in short bursts to great dramatic effect. For comparison, the most any other smartphone on the market can manage is 240 fps.
With all the hubbub about rear cameras, manufacturers (including Samsung) forgot about the front camera. It’s the same 8MP camera that was on the face of the S8. It’s fine, but with Apple pulling out all the stops in the iPhone X’s front-facing TrueDepth camera, it seems a bit lackluster. However, our testers did appreciate the front camera’s selfie focus, which makes your skin look flawless.
Let’s talk about AR. The iPhone X does animojis, and we enjoyed them. The Galaxy S9+ does AR emojis, and they could use some work. You can create an avatar that looks a bit like you, though none of our testers thought their AR emoji avatars looked like them. The idea is similar to Bitmoji, but it ends up being a bit creepy – the facial tracking isn’t sublime, so things look twitchy and inaccurate. However, we see a lot of potential.
The S9+ has some pretty impressive innards, featuring the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor and 6GB of RAM. This processor is an upgrade on the 835 model in last year’s smartphone releases, as it’s supposed to be more efficient and handle 4k video capture and playback better than the previous iteration.
The S9+ also comes with 64GB built-in storage, though that’s not much compared to other phones with 128GB and 256GB built in. It does, however, have a MicroSD slot, so you can expand your storage up to 400GB. We really appreciate this feature, as fewer and fewer phones have expandable storage options.
The battery is another area the S9+ stays the same as the S8+. Both feature the same 3500 mAh battery, but the S9+ proved to have a slightly shorter battery life in web browsing tests conducted by our sister site, Tom’s Guide. This is a bit surprising, considering the upgraded processor is supposed to be more efficient. Still, the S9+ has enough juice to get you through the day. If you do need to top up, it supports rapid charging and wireless charging.
There are a few ways to unlock your Galaxy S9+: the back fingerprint scanner, a pin or pattern, or Intelligent Scan. As is, the latter is a bit frustrating. In our tests, it worked about half the time and was nowhere near as effortless or efficient as the iPhone X’s FaceID. Intelligent Scan pairs an iris scan with a 2D facial scan, and Samsung has admitted that it isn’t the most secure option for unlocking your phone, as it can potentially be tricked with a photograph. Thankfully, Samsung relocated the fingerprint scanner, making it a much more viable option for unlocking your phone than it was before.
The S9+ has an IP68 rating, which means it’s protected against dust and can survive being submerged in up to 1.5 meters of fresh water for 30 minutes. It can withstand falling into a puddle or steam from a shower, but it can’t handle underwater selfies. The IP rating is particularly impressive seeing as the Galaxy S9+, unlike most other water-resistant phones, still has a 3.5mm headphone jack. Audiophiles will also be happy with the S9+’s Dolby Atmos-enabled stereo speakers, tuned by AKG.
Bixby is Samsung’s personal assistant AI, and it has a dedicated button on the side of the phone below the volume controls. It’s easy to press the button on accident, which is minorly irritating. You can shut off the feature, but you can’t reroute the button to use it for something else. We see some potential in Bixby Vision, which lets Bixby “see” through your camera and identify objects and locations, but it’s currently a bit buggy and hilariously inaccurate at identifying things in the shop mode.
The Samsung Galaxy S9+ is available from Samsung and all major carriers. Take care when you buy, however, as each retailer sells the phone for a different price. The Galaxy S9+ is undoubtedly the best Android phone on the market and our pick as the best smartphone overall. Even with its gimmicks and carryovers from the previous generation, the S9+ is a stunning device that does almost everything right.