Samsung Galaxy S9 Review


17 April 2018

Samsung Galaxy S9 Review: The Verdict

Samsung's latest Galaxy is probably its best, even if it's just a minor update on the winning formula we saw last year in the Galaxy S8. Which makes you wonder whether you should save a few bucks and buy last year's phone instead?

What we love
  • The world's best smartphone screen
  • Incredible low-light photos
  • Lots of security options
  • Packed to the gills with tools and features
What could be improved
  • Battery life could be better
  • Expensive 
  • Not a huge leap forward from last year's model
The essentials
  • Performance: First-class performance
  • Battery: One full business day 
  • Screen: One of the best displays available right now 
  • Camera: Great shots, even at night 

*Editor's note: we used for the Galaxy S9+ 64GB model for this review and it is the handset you see in our photos.

Every year we waited for Samsung to draw back the curtain on its latest Galaxy S flagship. Some years we've been flawed by the new technology; other years we've seen a great phone minus a meaningful step forward in design or features.

The Galaxy S9 and S9+ fall into the latter category. Both are beautifully crafted phones with all the latest features, but neither are the sort of phone that demand you upgrade the phone you have in your pocket.

If you've been following the launch of the Galaxy S9 you'll know what I mean. The headlines focused on how the fingerprint scanner has moved (about 2cm) and is now easy to use, and about how the new handsets come in a plum-colored purple. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff. 

There was also a lot of conversation about the aperture in the phone's camera, which is something to discuss in more detail below.

Though I have to say, the fingerprint scanner is easier to use, and its peculiar, pinky shade of purple is quite fetching. It's certainly unlike the various variations of Rose Gold we see from the other phone makers. 

The headlines do overlook the things we might take for granted. For instance, the phone is a pleasure to use. It's about as fast as any phone I've seen lately, the qHD resolution display is gorgeous to look at, and the silky glass chassis is nice to hang onto all day. These elements are the core of the smartphone experience, and Samsung nails it again.

Not exactly sci-fi secure

Building on the introduction of iris scanning phone security introduced last year, Samsung introduces 'Intelligent Scan'; a combined face detection and iris scan. The result should be something to rival Apple's superb Face ID scanner in the iPhone X, but in practice it is slower and less accurate. 

It's fairly quick and easy to set up both elements, and you'll know that it is trying to work by the big, red light that appears on the front of the phone when you wake up the display. A successful scan usually take a bit of teamwork. While the phone tries to scan your bits, you need to gently tilt the phone, and your head, and try to line it all up.

It just isn't accurate enough to replace a fingerprint scan. Especially now that the fingerprint scanner is easier to find without looking. Meanwhile, the iPhone X can scan almost instantly even when the phone is facing you at an acute angle. 

Happily, the Samsung system still allows for multiple security methods to be active at the same time. For me, I have Intelligent Scan, Fingerprint Scan and a pattern password set up at the same time, and use whichever is easiest to get to in that moment. It is usually my fingerprint.

If I were a gambling man I'd say that Samsung is probably just 12 months from having a full 3D face scan, like Apple's Face ID, in its phones. It certainly seems like the future of biometrics for now. 

Rapture for aperture

Arguably the best feature in the Galaxy S9 range is the new aperture shifting cameras. Both the S9 and S9+ have rear-facing 12-megapixel cameras, and if you fork out extra for the S9+ you get a second 12-megapixel camera lens designed to shoot at 2x zoom; something we've come to love.  

Both phones feature the same aperture-shifting tech in the primary camera though. If you're not a serious shutterbug, the idea of having two mechanical aperture settings is designed to address one of the greatest bugbears of smartphone photography -- problems with low-light.

The S9s have two aperture settings: f1.5 and f2.4. The first is a larger option that lets in more light and improves night time shots. The second is smaller, but better at getting sharper images for at times when light is better.

Samsung excels by not making this another setting for users to fiddle with. In Auto shooting mode the camera detects when it needs to shift back and forth, so you can just line up the shot and snap away. In Pro mode there is a button to toggle between the two settings if those who know what they are doing.

The results speak for themselves, the photos we took are great, and required very little effort. Colors are vibrant, most of the images are sharp, and the 'Auto' mode did most of the work.

Most impressive is the shots we took at night. It's only a slight exaggeration to say that some of them look like they were taken in the middle of the day. Some shots capture more light than you can actually see. It certainly feels like a big step forward for night owls and vampire photographers. 

Sample photos

Battery Blues

In most ways, the Galaxy S9+ operates like a smartphone at the top of the pile. The screen is spectacular, audio performance is great and processing is fast. But battery life is, on the whole, disappointing. 

Not that the battery life is deal-breaking bad, but the S9+ is a phone that needs to be charged every day, and in 2018 I want more. Competitors, like Huawei, have managed to extend the battery in other models to a full two days, or even more. That the S9 and S9+ are two of the world's most expensive phones suggests that you should expect class leading power management.

It really boils down to priorities, and Samsung has focused on power draining features despite the number one complaint from users across the world being battery life. 

We did manage to find a few battery saving tips that seemed to work. Turning off the 'Always On Display' made a noticeable difference, and shifting the screen resolution to the lowest setting contributed to a longer time between charges. But this took a bit of fiddling and experimenting, and sacrifices a few useful features, and we don't think that we should need to make trade-offs like this to keep the screen on longer. 


It does seem like Samsung is holding back and saving itself for a major Galaxy S10 launch next year. The Galaxy S9 is a fine phone, but it follows closely on the coattails of the Galaxy S8, with only minor changes to consider and no change in the hefty price tags. 

The thing is, we don't expect the Samsung boffins to come up with breathtaking new features from year to year, but we would like more attention paid to the basics. Generally phones are fast enough, small enough, with screens that are bright and clear enough; what we need is a phone with battery life that last for longer than the 12 hours between 9am and 9pm. 

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plans

Samsung Galaxy S9
  • By the Day Unlimited Evenings and Weekends
  • No Data Included
  • Prepaid (1 Day)
  • $1 + $1,019 Upfront
Freedom Mobile
Freedom Mobile
  • $25 Talk & Text Plan
  • No Data Included
  • Outright
  • $20/mth + $960 Upfront
  • Prepaid Text & Data 25
  • 250MB Data
  • Prepaid (1 Month)
  • $25 + $984.99 Upfront
  • $25 Non-Shared Plan with 100MB
  • 100MB Data
  • Contract (24 mths)
  • $25/mth + $599 Upfront
Koodo Mobile
Koodo Mobile
  • $25 - 100 Minutes Plan
  • No Data Included
  • Outright
  • $25/mth + $980 Upfront
Virgin Mobile
Virgin Mobile
  • $25 BYOP Plan
  • No Data Included
  • Outright
  • $25/mth + $1,019.99 Upfront



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