Samsung has taken the wraps off the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+, its new high-end smartphones for 2018. The phones are a case of refinement rather than revolution, with the pair sharing a similar design to last year's model, but there's still a couple of interesting new features. These include:
- A variable aperture primary camera
- A secondary zoom lens on the Galaxy S9+
- A more ergonomic fingerprint reader
- Facial recognition with iris scanning, that can also turn you into an animated emoji
Pre-orders will start on February 26 ahead of the phones going on sale on March 16. If you want your Galaxy S9 on a plan, pre-orders will start a day later on February 27.
Pricing for the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ is as follows:
- Samsung Galaxy S9 (64GB): £739
- Samsung Galaxy S9+ (128GB): £869
You'll be able to get them in a choice of Midnight Black, Coral Blue, or Lilac Purple.
Galaxy S9 review in progress
When it comes to high-end smartphones, it doesn't feel like we're actually writing about phones anymore. We're really writing about cameras. Sure, the cameras also happen to be phones, but photo quality is increasingly becoming what sets devices apart from one another. And it's one of the few features that improves year on year.
The Galaxy S9 is the perfect example of this. It's last year's phone with all new internals and an all new camera. Yes, it comes in purple - that's new - but that doesn't stop it from looking like the lovechild of a Galaxy S8 and a Nintendo GameCube.
On the other hand, the Galaxy S9's new camera delivers tangible benefits. Photos look really good - much better than last year. On par, if not better, than the toughest competition on market. It's no surprise the S9's marketing focuses on the "reimagined" camera.
Much like a DSLR lens, the Galaxy S9's primary camera is able to mechanically switch between different apertures: f/1.5 and f/2.4. An aperture of f/1.5 is ideal for improved low-light performance, and also creates a shallower depth of field. An aperture of f/2.4 has more depth, for a sharper image.
In most cases, the S9 camera will automatically pick which aperture to use for the ideal shot. If you want to get fiddly, you can dive into a "Pro mode" where you manually set the aperture, among a myriad of other settings.
As a camera nerd, I love this. It's amazing that Samsung has managed to work DSLR-style lens tech into a smartphone camera. More importantly, this actually makes a difference to photos. Especially in lowlight.
At the of end of last week, we took the Galaxy S9 for an evening stroll around the streets of Barcelona - along with an iPhone X and a Pixel 2 XL - and the results were impressive. The Galaxy S9 easily took the brightest photos (thanks to the wider aperture lens), and in many cases, arguably the most pleasing (our friends from Ausdroid and I literally argued about this for hours, mercifully over sangria).
Differences between the Galaxy S9 and its closest competitors were less pronounced in the day; all three phones have excellent cameras. The results weren’t quite identical - you’ll get very pronounced lens flare while shooting directly toward the sun on the S9, which can look cool - but the S9 didn’t throw any red flags.
Other new camera features include AR Emojis and super slow motion video.
AR Emojis essentially let you create a digital animated version of yourself that I found to be a little unsettling. My AR Emoji kind of looked like me, without actually looking like me. It was an uncanny valley blend of real world facial features (such as the terrible approximation of my beard) and cartoonish elements like hair and clothes.
I’m also a little miffed that Samsung doesn’t let guys have ponytails.
Slow super slow motion video lets you capture 0.2 seconds of video at 960 frames per second, extending it out to six seconds. Results can look incredible, but you'll need a decent amount of light to make it work.
Camera aside, the Galaxy S9 will immediately feel familiar to anyone who's held a Galaxy S8; the phones are almost identical in terms of build, but why fix what's not broken? The only notable physical difference is that the fingerprint reader now sits below the camera, rather than next to it.
This is for the best on the S9, but it can still feel like a stretch on the larger S9+. When we first started using the phone, we found it was still easy to accidentally tap the S9's camera rather than the fingerprint reader, but this improved after we got used to the new layout. Which is great, because facial recognition can be hit and miss.
Day-to-day performance is flagship fast, Bixby still feels like a work-in-progress, and the phone's battery life should comfortably last a day (although this is one area we're we need to do a bit more testing under local conditions).
We're still not quite ready to provide a final verdict on the Galaxy S9, but it's a solid phone with an excellent camera. It takes what was good about the Galaxy S8 and refines it. If you've already pre-ordered, stop stressing about your decision. You've made a good choice.
What's new with the Samsung Galaxy S9?
A variable aperture camera is the Galaxy S9's big new feature. Much like a DSLR lens, the phone's primary camera is able to mechanically switch between different apertures: f/1.5 and f/2.4. An aperture of f/1.5 is ideal for improved low-light performance, and also creates a shallower depth of field. An aperture of f/2.4 has more depth, which means the background behind your subject isn't quite as blurred.
Other new camera functionality includes super-slow motion video shot as slow as 960 fps, and a secondary zoom lens on the Galaxy S9+.
While the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ don't make too many departures from last year's Galaxy S8 family in terms of design, the fingerprint reader now sits underneath the camera, rather than next to it. Thank god.
Last but not least, the phones still have a headphone jack, bucking the industry-wide trend of moving to Bluetooth audio. Both the S9 and S9+ now also have stereo speakers.
Key specifications for Samsung's new smartphones are as follows:
|Galaxy S9||Galaxy S9+|
|Display||5.8-inch Quad HD+||6.2-inch Quad HD+|
|Rear-Facing Camera||12MP||12MP + 12MP zoom lens|
|Price||From £739||From £869|
What's the difference between the S9 and the S9+
While the main difference between Samsung's flagship smartphones used to be screen-size and and battery capacity, this changed this year.
Sure, the Galaxy S9+ is still bigger than the Galaxy S9, has a larger battery, and is a little pricier, but this time there's a few extra additions. There's a secondary camera on the back - a 12MP zoom lens - and 6GB of RAM, 2GB more than you'll find in the S9.
These might not seem like a big deal, but it does mean you have to consider a little more than what size screen you want.
When will the Samsung Galaxy S9 be available?
Local pre-orders for the Galaxy S9 will start on February 26 ahead of a March 16 release date. On contract pre-orders will start on February 27.