The Galaxy S9 is almost a bargain compared to the iPhone X
The Galaxy S9 is a bit like the weather report in a sunny state or country: Another boring, beautiful day.
Indeed, the Galaxy S9 is yet another fantastic smartphone from Samsung, but it’s not especially exciting.
The new features Samsung announced at MWC in Barcelona felt like the mundane “waterskiing squirrel” story of a news station that has no news to report. AR Emoji? Waterskiing squirrel. Variable aperture camera? Double backflip waterskiing squirrel.
Still, Samsung made some improvements where it counts, and the S9 is a better phone than its predecessor, the Galaxy S8. Samsung keeps reminding us that it listens to its customers to make improvements, and that clearly shows in the Galaxy S9.
But Samsung is also stubborn with certain things like the Bixby button, which is still unfortunately present on the Galaxy S9.
Check out the new Galaxy S9 from Samsung:
You’ve seen the design before, but it’s still a beautiful phone.
The Galaxy S9 shares the majority of its design with last year’s Galaxy S8, and that’s a great thing. The Galaxy S9 is just as pretty, if not prettier. You get the sleek curved glass edges on the front and back, and this phone feels absolutely solid to hold and use. Samsung also narrowed down the bezels on the top and bottom of the display ever so slightly compared to the Galaxy S8, and the Galaxy S9 looks even better for it when the screen is on. Despite the bezels, the Galaxy S9 looks every bit as sleek and modern as the bezel-less iPhone X. It’s one of the best-looking smartphones you can buy.
The S9 is also the most feature-packed smartphone you can buy, and it likely has what you’re looking for.
If there’s something you want that the Galaxy S9 doesn’t have, I’d love to hear it. It’s just about the most feature-packed smartphone you can buy at the moment. It comes with: – Wireless charging – Fast charging (no separate accessory purchases required, comes included with the phone) – Facial recognition – Iris recognition – A fingerprint scanner – A headphone jack – A heart-rate monitor – Water resistance That’s a longer list of hardware than the majority of smartphones on the market these days.
The Galaxy S9’s facial and iris recognition is better than Face ID on the iPhone X.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the Galaxy S9’s facial and iris recognition offered a much better experience than the iPhone X’s Face ID. In the week I used the Galaxy S9, I never had to use my PIN code to unlock the phone. Meanwhile, I constantly had to use my PIN code to unlock the iPhone X when Face ID didn’t work, and it failed far too often for my liking. Most of the time, I used Samsung’s “Intelligent Scan” feature, which combines facial and iris recognition to unlock the phone, and it works surprisingly well and quickly. And when that didn’t work – which was rare – I simply used the fingerprint sensor on the back, which is also accurate and fast.
Samsung fixed the fingerprint sensor placement from the Galaxy S8.
One of the major complaints with the Galaxy S8 was the poor fingerprint sensor placement right next to the camera. It was hard to reach and hard to tell apart from the camera, which made unlocking the Galaxy S8 a frustrating experience if you opted for fingerprint unlocking. But Samsung fixed that with the Galaxy S9. The fingerprint scanner under the camera is much easier to reach, and I can find it far more easily than the Galaxy S8’s sensor. The Galaxy S9’s fingerprint sensor is fast, but not as fast as the Pixel 2’s. Still, it’s good enough that I wasn’t clamoring for the Pixel 2 XL I’ve been using.
As expected, the camera on the Galaxy S9 is very good.
Photos I’ve taken with the Galaxy S9 so far have looked fantastic, but I’ll need to compare it with other top camera phones like the Pixel 2 and iPhone X to see how it compares.
The Galaxy S9’s camera performance in low-light is absurdly good.
For darker situations, the Galaxy S9’s aperture can switch up to an incredibly wide f/1.5 (the lower the number the wider the aperture). And the benefits of having such a wide aperture in low-light situations are pretty clear in the photos above. The Galaxy S9’s camera can capture a much clearer, sharper, and brighter photo than the Pixel 2 XL and its f/1.8 aperture in a dark scene.
There isn’t much of a difference between the Galaxy S9’s two camera aperture modes, but that doesn’t matter.
Samsung says it added the narrower f/2.4 aperture to the Galaxy S9 for well-lit situations that could be too bright for the ultra-wide f/1.5 aperture. Indeed, when an aperture is too wide and lets in too much light into the camera’s sensor, it could lead to an overly bright photos with bright spots that are void of detail. But I found that the opposite happened. The wide aperture photo below is darker than the narrow aperture photo. Plus, the narrow aperture photo has more overly bright spots than the wide aperture photo, which you can see in the snow towards the center left. If I were to buy the Galaxy S9, I’d use the camera’s Pro mode and set it to the wide f/1.5 aperture mode for photos. It seems to handle ultra bright spots, like that snow, better than the narrower f/2.4 aperture. At the end of the day, you’re not paying a premium for the extra aperture mode, so it’s not a big deal that the Galaxy S9 has this variable aperture feature. You can just let the Galaxy S9 do what it thinks is best by keeping the camera in auto mode and you’ll be fine.
Only the Galaxy S9+ has a dual lens camera, but you’re only missing out on zooming.
The regular, smaller Galaxy S9 comes with a single lens camera compared to the dual lens system on the Galaxy S9+, but you’re only missing out on better zooming. The S9+’s secondary lens is a 2x optical zoom lens that lets you zoom into objects without sacrificing picture quality. Zooming with digital zoom, as you would with the regular Galaxy S9, usually leads to loss of detail and clarity.
I don’t normally comment on smartphone speakers, but the Galaxy S9’s speakers are some of the best I’ve heard.
Smartphone speakers are often overlooked, mostly because they never really sound great. But that’s different with the Galaxy S9. Samsung added a second loudspeaker in the Galaxy S9’s earpiece for stereo sound. The sound is rich, full, and clear — at least for smartphone speakers. It’s not as loud as the Razer Phone’s enormous loudspeakers, but quality-wise, it sounds a little better, which is great for phone calls and watching videos.
It opens and runs apps as quickly as you’d expect on any top-tier Android smartphone.
The experience of opening and using apps on the Galaxy S9 is pretty much the same as it’s been for every new top-end phone you buy: It’s fast.
Battery life on the Galaxy S9 doesn’t amaze, but it’s in line with other top smartphones.
The Galaxy S9 has a 3,000mAh battery that I haven’t tested, and the S9+ has a 3,500mAh battery. Based on my brief experience with the phone, though, it has average battery life compared to other top-tier smartphones. There’s no telling how well the battery will hold up over time yet, as I’ve only had the phone for a week.
And now for the bad stuff. Bixby.
Samsung’s home-grown smart voice assistant Bixby is young, and it’s sure to get better over time. But if you’ve already been using Google Assistant, there is no good reason to switch to Bixby. If you want to start using a smart assistant, Google Assistant is also your best bet. It simply works and does so much more than Samsung’s Bixby does, and you don’t have to wait for Bixby to get better. The good part is that you can ignore Bixby and set up Google Assistant, which comes included in the Galaxy S9 in the Google app.
The dedicated Bixby button.
There’s a button under the volume switch that pulls up Bixby Home – the visual part of Bixby – and I wish it wasn’t there. It would be better if Bixby Home was useful, but that’s not the case. I’ve linked Bixby Home with my Facebook, Twitter, and Google accounts, but it struggles to show me content relevant to my interests. Otherwise, it shows you weather information, your calendar agenda for the day, frequently used apps, and news from Flipboard. That stuff can be useful, but Google Now shows me content I’m interested in and does those things, too. The button shouldn’t even exist. Even if it were useful, pressing the Bixby button by mistake happened so often during my week with the Galaxy S9, and interrupted what I was doing so often, that I actively resent it. It’s an obstacle that I ended up trying to avoid while handling the phone on a day-to-day basis. I wouldn’t even change the button to open Google Now if I could, and Google Now shows me content I’m actually interested in. Funnily enough, I used my voice to tell Bixby to turn off the Bixby button. Now I have a non-functional button on the side of the phone.
AR Emoji are hardly worth a mention.
I’ve already spent too much time talking about AR Emoji. It’s not a selling point for this phone. I don’t use these kinds of features – at all – but even if I did, I wouldn’t use AR Emoji. It makes me look angry or sad no matter how much I’m smiling. My AR Emoji looks like he’s been kidnapped and is screaming for help. Thankfully, I can completely ignore this feature, and so can you.
As soon as Google releases a new version of Android, I’ll feel like the Galaxy S9 will be out of date. But that’s not the case for everyone.
Samsung and other smartphone makers are painfully slow at updating their phones with the latest version of Android. In fact, the Galaxy S9 ships with Android 8.0, whereas the Google Pixel 2 XL I’ve been using is running on Android 8.1. This doesn’t bother a lot of people, but it bothers me. There’s always a nagging feeling inside of me when I can’t update a phone to the latest version of the operating system its running on. To be clear, this is a purely subjective gripe. Samsung’s slow Android updates don’t usually affect its phones’ performance, so if you don’t really care about getting the latest version of Android, carry on. In Samsung’s favor, Galaxy phones actually come with their own features that Google hasn’t even adopted yet. And several of those features that appear on Samsung phones first even make their way to Google’s pure version of Android eventually. Samsung also frequently issues its own security updates and supports older phones pretty decently. The Galaxy S6 from 2015 is still getting security updates from Samsung. Still, I just like to have the latest version of a device’s operating system, especially when the operating system is made by one of the biggest and most prolific software companies in the world: Google. And I never really miss the features from Samsung phones when I start using a Google phone with fewer features. I’ll go back to using the Pixel 2 XL after I’m done with the Galaxy S9 and I won’t miss the facial/iris recognition or the wireless charging, for example. With that said, I will miss the headphone jack on the Galaxy S9, which is unfortunately absent in Google’s Pixel 2 phones.
Should you buy this phone?
Overall, the Galaxy S9 feels like the phone Samsung really meant to build when it made the Galaxy S8, and the S8 was already one of the best Android smartphone you could buy. The Galaxy S9 mostly offers improvements in areas where the Galaxy S8 let us down, except for that dreadful Bixby button. Despite the improvements, Galaxy S8 owners don’t have much of a need to upgrade to the Galaxy S9. You won’t be missing out on much unless you really want the zoom lens of the Galaxy S9+, or if unlocking the Galaxy S8 with its inferior fingerprint sensor, facial, and iris recognition is a daily frustration. If you’re looking for a phone with no compromise in features and quality, the Galaxy S9 is the phone for you. It has more features than any other phone, it takes fantastic photos, and Samsung is selling it for under $1,000. Starting at $720, the Galaxy S9 can almost be considered a bargain compared to the $1,000 iPhone X. The Galaxy S9 is an easy recommendation for pretty much anyone, but there are excellent Android phones to be had that cost even less, like the $500 OnePlus 5T and $500 Essential Phone. They’re not as feature-packed as the Galaxy S9, nor are their cameras quite as good, but you won’t mind when you’re saving at least $220 on a premium Android smartphone. Plus, both run a near-pure version of Google’s Android, which I prefer over the “Samsung Experience” layer that runs on top of Android on the Galaxy S9.
The Galaxy S9 is almost a bargain compared to the iPhone X