Samsung Galaxy S9 hands-on review: Love at second sight – Hardware reviews

Samsung Galaxy S9 design and build quality

At first glance, the Galaxy S9 is less daring in terms of looks than its predecessor. The 18.5:9 format has remained, as well as the Infinity display, the button layout (including the Bixby button) and the ports (including a 3.5 mm headphone jack). The fingerprint sensor is now placed under the back camera, which is definitely a welcome change. Gone are the days of having to master finger yoga to unlock the smartphone.

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Thank you Samsung! The Galaxy S9 puts an end to finger yoga. / © AndroidPIT

Great attention to detail in the design

In addition to these obvious changes, there are some subtle changes to details. For example, the bottom loudspeaker is recessed in the body. This tweak is probably thanks to the sound professionals at AKG who worked on the audio system and speakers of the Galaxy S9. 

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The loudspeaker has a new location. / © AndroidPIT

A similarly minute detail is hidden in the front and back of the Galaxy S9: The gaps between the display and the very narrow bezels above and below the AMOLED panel are barely visible. Samsung has tweaked the shades of black so that the display and bezels are nearly indistinguishable, giving the impression of a totally bezelless display. Only when you wake up the S9 can you tell the bezels are there. A nice side effect: the front camera and iris scanner disappear subtly into the upper frame thanks to the change.

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Little has changed in the design of the Galaxy S9 compared to the S8. / © AndroidPIT

On the back, Samsung has made another change in addition to the already mentioned repositioning of the fingerprint sensor. The unsightly but required CE logos, together with the other written information, has now been incorporated onto the back of the Samsung device almost invisibly. That may sound trivial, but together with the other aforementioned changes, it makes for a more coherent smartphone design overall. 

Thank AKG and Dolby: The Galaxy S9 finally sounds good!

In terms of audio output, there was hardly a Galaxy S smartphone from the past which could touch the S9. In the Galaxy S9 and also in the larger S9+ model, it is apparent that Samsung has made a strategically good decision for the S series through the acquisition of Harman Kardon and the audio specialists from AKG. 

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Stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos tuned by AKG. The Galaxy S9 should sound good. / © AndroidPIT

While the Galaxy S8 was limited to adding a headset optimized by AKG, AKG’s sound engineers were able to work on the loud speaker for the Galaxy S9, too. The result is a good sounding and loud smartphone, which like the Razer Phone or the ZTE Axon 7 can output Dolby Atmos Surround sound. Of course, the Galaxy S9 again comes packaged with the well-known AKG-tuned headset in the box.

Dual aperture for better low light photos

The camera of the Galaxy S8 was very good, but the demands of users are getting higher. Better image quality is no longer enough to compete and win these days. A potential Galaxy S9 buyer expects new features from Samsung that no other smartphone can offer. There’s one such unique feature for the S9 which sits between the lens and the image sensor in the form of a variable aperture.

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Here you can see the difference between the different aperture sizes. / © AndroidPIT

But why did Samsung give the camera of the S9 dual aperture, which goes from f / 1.5 to just f / 2.4 when necessary? Extremely bright optics tend to struggle more with image defects, as the comparatively large lenses have to refract the incoming light towards the edge more and more. 

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The variable aperture can be switched back and forth manually in Pro mode. / © AndroidPIT

Since light refraction depends on the wavelength, there are also stronger artifacts such as chromatic aberrations (color fringes) or spherical aberrations (unsharpening). So it might be a good idea to change the light intensity by reducing the aperture for image quality’s sake. In Pro mode, this is manual, otherwise Samsung’s Automatic mode sits at about 100 lux. This makes sense, because over 100 lux gives a sensor even with smaller aperture enough light for good picture quality still.

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Samsung extends the features of DeX: you can use the Galaxy S9 as a touchpad and keyboard./ © AndroidPIT

Sony technology refined with Samsung software

The sensor also has an innovation compared to its predecessor. Thanks to built-in memory in the sensor, the Galaxy S9 can now capture in slow motion with 960 frames per second in HD, according to Samsung. Just 0.2 seconds of real-time recording becomes a sequence of almost 6 seconds. That might sound familiar. Sony introduced the Motion Eye Sensor with the same specs last year with the Xperia XZ Premium. 

Of course we spoke with Samsung representatives about these similarities during our hands-on time. There was no clear confirmation that Sony had produced a modified Motion Eye Sensor for Samsung, but there were hints from both sides that they had entered into an exclusive image sensor deal for the Galaxy S9 and S9+. But, in the course of the MWC, we will have the chance to ask for further background details on this matter. Stay tuned…

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The Galaxy S9 helps to trigger the slow-motion recording: as soon as an object enters the detection field, the recording begins. / © AndroidPIT

What good is an image sensor with a cache for slow-motion shots, if the software can’t tease out the best possible results? Samsung must have taken a close look at Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium and took on our criticism about the handling of those super-slow motion recordings. While Sony only allows the extreme slow motion to be triggered manually, the Galaxy S9 also has an automatic release mechanism. The user first selects an image section, then as soon as an object enters this previously defined image section, the slow motion is automatically triggered. At least our first impressions show that this works surprisingly well.

As with Sony, multiple slow motion periods are allowed in a video. The system takes just under three seconds to clear the cache integrated in the sensor. The Samsung system is even more sophisticated post-recording, because these slow motion videos can be converted into GIFs for better sharing on social networks or used as wallpapers. So, the spectacular and elaborate shots won’t just sit in a folder on the Galaxy S9 where no one can appreciate them.

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Nice idea from Samsung: slow motion pictures can also be used as a background. / © AndroidPIT

Putting the camera through its paces

In Barcelona, we had the opportunity to test the brand’s ‘Reimagined Camera’ with its unique variable aperture that Samsung boasted at its press event. Our first impressions were great, but there seems to be some kind of software error in the pre-series devices. If you want to read more about this, you can find all the details in our initial review here:

AR Emoji: A pinch of Nintendo mixed with Apple’s Animoji

Brevity is the soul of wit. In order to achieve the greatest impact as fast as possible, photos and text messages can be enriched with the help of emoji. Or, since the presentation of the iPhone X, both can be combined with Animoji. Anyone who owns a Galaxy S9 in the future, will be able to conduct their conversations with “AR Emoji”, via WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter or in emails. These have a more personal touch with Samsung than with Apple: After a face scan, the S9 generates a kind of personal Miitomo with 18 different moods.

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Whether AR Emoji can assert itself in the long run remains to be seen. / © AndroidPIT

Bixby is getting better bit by bit

Yeah, yeah, Bixby. You say what you like about it, but the assistant and non-configurable hardware button are still here in the 2018 iteration of the Galaxy S series. Bixby Vision now has the ability to translate texts, recognize phone numbers, display the caloric value of your food and show points of interest in the camera display via AR overlay. How well all this works will be checked once we can test the Galaxy S9 in everyday life.

More options for business customers thanks to Samsung DeX

Many of the aforementioned features are very much tailored to private use of the Galaxy S9. But since the presentation of DeX for the Galaxy S8, Samsung is also increasingly targeting its top smartphones to business customers. Employees on the go can dock the smartphone in the office and virtually conjure up a PC replacement from their pocket. This certainly saves the purchase of additional laptops and software licenses in some situations.

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Bixby Vision can now detect new info, such as phone numbers, which you can also use in the Dialer App. / © AndroidPIT

For the Galaxy S9 and S9+, there is a new docking station, which not only looks different, but also brings some novelties. On the one hand, a docked smartphone can now be quickly charged up via Fast Charge. For this, however, the DeX mode must be turned off. DeX mode only works without Fast Charge. 

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The resolution can only be changed using the new Samsung DeX. / © AndroidPIT

Along with the new docking station come the options to use the Galaxy S9 as a touchpad, to change the resolution and – exciting for the IT administrators among you – to restrict the apps available in DeX mode. The new DeX station is said to be available around the S9 launch, but Samsung didn’t share a price yet. 

Reserve the Galaxy S9 now

Samsung is now allowing customers to reserve the S9 and S9+ on its US website. The Galaxy S9 is available in several color versions and two storage configurations. A Galaxy S9 with 64 GB costs $719.99. If you need more internal memory, namely 256 GB, it’ll cost you 949 euros, which is about $1167. Unfortunately, for now, the US pricing for the 256 GB version is still unknown. The Galaxy S9 is available in the colors Midnight Black, Coral Blue and Lilac Purple.

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The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are available in three colors. / © AndroidPIT

Early Verdict

At first glance, the Galaxy S9 looks unspectacular, because apart from the repositioning of the fingerprint sensor, Samsung seems not to have changed anything on the surface. Only after you hold the Galaxy S9 in your hand and compare it side-by-side to the Galaxy S8 are the changes in detail noticeable. In addition, Samsung gave the Galaxy S9 a useful hardware update under the hood. Especially the camera with its dual aperture and SuperSlowMotion function, along with the stereo speakers, make the Galaxy S9 a very interesting smartphone for the first half of 2018. 

Overall, the Galaxy S9’s design looks more coherent to me than the Galaxy S8. Samsung has addressed many of the critiques of the Galaxy S8 and changed things with the S9. In addition, Samsung seems to have looked around the market and observed where the trends are going. The slow motion function and AR Emoji certainly belong to these trends, even though the latter appeals to me the least, likely because of my age. But before delivering a final verdict, I’ll have to take a second look at the Galaxy S9 to find out if the initial enthusiasm turns into an enduring love in my final review.

What do you think of the Samsung Galaxy S9? Was it love at first sight for you?

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