Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus Review: No Notch Needed

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus Review: No Notch Needed

Samsung has once again made the best Android smartphone currently available

This year’s current crop of flagships have been polarizing, to say the least. While we all openly mocked Apple’s decision to use a prominent notch on top of on otherwise handsome looking full-screen panel, little did we know that the next generation of flagships would have that same notch, or at least, something like it.

Not Samsung though. The Korean decided to simply iterate and refine the design that they utilized last year, and their flagship is all the better for it. The Galaxy S9 Plus may not be all too different from the phone that dropped at the first half of the year in 2017, but there’s enough new things inside that would warrant an upgrade for people who desperately need to chuck their two-year old phones.

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus specs

  • Samsung Exynos 9810 octa-core processor/Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 octa-core processor
  • ARM Mali-G72 MP18 GPU
  • 6GB RAM
  • 6.2-inch WQHD Super AMOLED display, 2960 x 1440 resolution, dual curved edge
  • 64GB/128GB/256GB expandable storage, via microSD
  • 12-megapixel rear camera, f/1.5 and f/2.4 variable aperture, with Dual Pixel, OIS, 960FPS Super Slo-Mo video, 12-megapixel secondary camera with 2x optical zoom lens, f/2.4 aperture
  • 8-megapixel front camera, f/1.7 aperture, AF
  • Dual SIM
  • 3G, LTE
  • Fingerprint scanner, iris scanner, facial recognition, heartbeat sensor, IP68 certification, USB Type-C port, Bixby AI, 3D Emojis
  • 3500mAh battery with fast charging
  • Android 8.0 Oreo (TouchWiz UI)

Refining perfection

The Galaxy S9 Plus’ design isn’t a huge change from what we saw last year. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to distinguish this year’s phone with last year’s. That’s no biggie, since Samsung’s Infinity Display with its curved glass body is what we feel peak smartphone design, at least for Samsung. The curved, 6.2-inch QHD display that runs off the sides of the phone as well as the metal frame on the side that supports it plus the all glass back still looks as good now as we first spotted it last year.

There are small design tweaks, with the biggest is the re-positioned fingerprint scanner on the rear. Samsung’s taken feedback from customers and moved that fingerprint scanner to the bottom of the module, not on the side, so you won’t be smudging your phone’s lens when you reach for it. Samsung’s also put in two new cameras on the rear of the S9 Plus, mimicking the dual-camera setup of the Note 8, with one of the snappers for general wide angle work and the other is for 2x optical zoom closeups.

Full screen display with a full suite sensors WITHOUT a notch. Manufacturers, please take note

There’s been other tweaks as well, such as the slightly thinner bottom and top bezel which still contain all the requisite cameras and sensors. Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus is proof that you can still have a beautiful, massive display WITHOUT having to use a notch on your phone. Kudos, Samsung.

Watching our favorite YouTube players have never been this good

Display is still as great as we remember

Speaking of the display, there hasn’t been major changes to the one in the new flagships. The Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus still use Samsung’s gorgeous QHD+, Super AMOLED 5.8-inch and 6.2-inch panels wrapped with Gorilla Glass 5. There have been a few improvements, most notably the overall brightness, as the new panels are brighter than last year’s offerings, and Samsung’s adaptive contrast enhancement tech make them look prettier depending on the light available around you.

There’s really not much to say here other than the display looks amazing still on both phones. Colors are rich and vibrant, contrast is super deep and the display is still clearly readable under the sun. In short, the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus have the best screens of any Android phone available today.

Wickedly fast

As is the norm every year, Samsung packed the best and fastest mobile processor into their newest flagships. For US customers that means Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 845 processor, while the rest of the world gets Samsung’s home-brewed Exynos 9810 chipset with a Mali-G72 MP18 GPU. The S9 only gets 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, while the S9 Plus gets 6GB of RAM and a host of storage options starting from 64GB all the way to 256GB.

AnTuTu benchmark tests give the phone an almost insane score, and honestly running numbers on the phone is pointless, as its currently the fastest phone we’ve ever used. Not that a regular person would really feel the difference in performance in say, a Galaxy S8 versus Galaxy S9, but if you’re the sort of person to care about the numerical value of your phone’s number-crunching prowess, rest assured that the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are the fastest phones you can currently buy.

Moving on to other things, the new flagships also sport dual stereo speakers, which are new for the series. The speakers are probably the loudest we’ve ever encountered on a smartphone, and even on full volume they don’t distort too much.

The iris scanner is still there, and have been tweaked to be a little bit faster, but if you’re not a fan of that you can go for the much faster (and not as secure) facial recognition unlock option as well.

Cameras are the best you can find on any Android phone

While Samsung may have only tweaked the outside of their new phones, they’ve completely overhauled the cameras in them. The main rear camera that’s found on both phones is a 12-megapixel Dual Pixel deal that has variable aperture technology, allowing the camera to shoot in either f/1.5 or f/2.4. The Galaxy S9 Plus gets a secondary 2x optical zoom plus the same sensor and a fixed f/2.4 aperture lens.

Samsung’s idea behind the dual aperture lens is simple, as they’re designed to mimic how the human eye works. The f/1.5 lens is for low-light environments while the f/2.4 lens is for bright environments, though you can’t pick f-stops in between the two.

The software in the camera determines which aperture it uses when it takes shots, but you can override that and choose for yourself in pro mode.

The idea is that the camera and software can pick the best settings when you’re out and about shooting, and for the most part that’s what we got. Images shot on the Galaxy S9 Plus looked amazing, with even exposure and vibrant colors. The phone makes shooting the city of Barcelona more of a treat than it already is.

Since the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus can pull in more light, it’s more capable when it comes shooting in low-light and artificial light. The shot was taken indoors, at 4 am today with only the fluorescent light on in our room, which is usually isn’t conducive to shooting toys.

New this year is the capability of the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus to shoot in super-slow mo video, up to 960 frames per second. It’s not a ground-breaking feature since Sony beat Samsung to it with their Xperia XZ Premium but Samsung’s implementation is a little easier to use. You can manually trigger slow-mo shooting via a button or through a user-defined area. Super slow-mo images are only taken in HD resolution and the darker the room, the worse the image looks unfortunately.

Another new feature is the ability to create custom animated emojis based on your facial features, which you can then send to other people via third party apps like Facebook Messenger. It’s a nice little feature that’s obviously meant to rival Apple’s Animojis, but don’t expect them to be vastly better than Apple’s implementation.

Samsung’s Bixby AI is a little more fleshed-out, and actually proved useful while we were in Spain. There’s now automatic translation, useful when trying to order in local cafes.


Battery life is a little better than before

The Galaxy S9 Plus has the same battery as last year’s iteration, clocking in at 3500mAh. While there’s no bump in capacity, we felt that the phone lasted a bit more than last year’s iteration, thanks partly to the more power-efficient processor in the device. The phone lasted us all day during our week-long stay in Barcelona, Spain. We’ll update this review once our PCMark Battery benchmark finishes today (it janked out the last time).

Verdict: It’s another slam dunk phone from Samsung, but price is starting to become an issue

It seems like every year we declare Samsung’s flagships the best ever in their class. It’s becoming repetitive, but it doesn’t make it any less true – the Korean chaebol’s newest flagships are the best to come out so far this year and their best ever. Obviously 2018 has barely started and there’s yet another flagship announcement in the horizon, but Samsung has a good chance of retaining that title until the end of the year – that’s if the Note 9 fails to impress, which is unlikely. 

As good as Samsung’s flagships are, price is starting to become an issue for even the most die-hard fanatic. The Galaxy S9 costs Php 45,990, significantly more than what Samsung asked for the S8 last year. The Galaxy S9 Plus is even worse, with the base 6GB/64GB version costing more than the Galaxy Note 8, at Php 52,990 with the higher capacity versions costing significantly more. The 50K barrier for flagships has been thoroughly smashed, and Samsung looks like it’s willing to push the boundaries of smartphone pricing to the limit, especially for the Galaxy Note 9 later this year. 

The question now is should you upgrade? If you’re still holding a year-old flagship, our advice is to hold off buying unless you really want that camera performance. The Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are great phones, but they’re not great enough to warrant a purchase if you already have a 2017 flagship. That being said, Samsung’s new hotness is the phone to beat this year, and erases any doubt in our minds that the company is out to forge their own legacy and not piggyback off of the success of their competitor. 

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