Pros / The S9 has a variable aperture rear camera, so it takes good photos in low light.
Cons / Its facial scanning feature can’t compete with those on other smartphones.
Verdict / The Galaxy S9 keeps the best parts of the S8 and makes just the right improvements.
The Samsung Galaxy S9, released mid-March 2018, is one of the best smartphones on the market. While there are a few kinks in its more gimmicky features, it’s a powerhouse where it matters most. The S9 and the Galaxy S9+ are similar but differ in size, camera and RAM.
Samsung used the same design for the S9 as it did for the Galaxy S8, with a few alterations. The most notable of these differences is it relocated the fingerprint scanner from the awkward off-center-next-to-camera spot to a more sensible central location. Samsung kept the sleek, futuristic-looking display, and we are pleased the S9’s form factor is similar to that of the S8.
Though similar in appearance, the S9’s display is brighter and supports more of the color gamut than the S8’s screen did – more, even, than the iPhone X and Pixel 2 XL. The S9’s audio also got a boost, with stereo speakers that support Dolby Atmos and are 1.4 times louder than those on the S8. Its inner workings were also refined with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip, which is more powerful and efficient than the 835 processor in the S8.
The Galaxy S9’s camera is a major selling point, and for good reason – this is the first smartphone to feature a variable aperture camera. The rear camera senses lighting conditions and can switch between f/1.5 and f/2.4 aperture openings. The f/1.5 aperture is the widest opening available in a smartphone camera, and it allows more light to hit the camera’s sensors in dimly lit conditions. The camera can also capture super slow-mo video in short bursts. This feature records at an astounding 940 frames per second at 720p resolution for dramatic action shots.
There are two things beyond the phone’s design Samsung carried over from the S8: the 3000 mAh battery and the 8MP front camera. The S9 has a good battery life, though not quite as good as the S9+. The front camera is a bit of a letdown. It’s fine, but with the strides Apple made with the iPhone X’s TrueDepth camera, we were hoping for something a little more dynamic.
The Galaxy S9 tries to mimic Apple’s success with facial scanning and AR. Samsung’s Intelligent Scan is a combination of an iris scan and 2D facial scan you can use to unlock your phone. In our testers’ experiences, it failed fairly often. We ended up turning the feature off for time’s sake and reverted to the fingerprint scanner/pass code combination instead. Compared to the X’s FaceID, it simply falls short.
Its AR Emoji is similar to Apple’s Animoji, but the Samsung version lets you create an avatar that vaguely looks like you instead of just using a standard emoji. We like the potential, though the facial tracking is off and the result is a bit creepy. Both minor shortcomings stem from the different technology used in the two phones’ front cameras.
The Galaxy S9 is available in black, blue and lilac from major carriers, as well as Samsung itself. We recommend shopping around for the phone, as we’ve found over $50 price differences, depending on where we shopped.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S9 is a great smartphone with many of the same features as it’s bigger counterpart, the Galaxy S9+. The main differences are the size, the rear cameras and the RAM. We are huge fans of both models, though if you want a slightly more compact device and don’t mind missing out on the telephoto lens, you’d be hard pressed to find a better phone than the S9.