Woman holding purple Galaxy S9

First Look: Samsung Galaxy S9

Last year’s Samsung Galaxy S8 is a very good phone, though it had its flaws, notably the placement of the fingerprint sensor. The new Galaxy S9, and the larger S9+, are refinements of the S8, fixing all those problems and turning a very good phone into an excellent one. (For simplicity, I’ll use S9 to refer to both the S9 and S9+.)

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The first change I noticed was the fingerprint sensor has moved from the right of the rear camera to below it. This small move makes the sensor much easier to use and the camera lens less likely to get smudged. The sensor is also easier to reach with both hands, not just your left, which was the case with the S8.

The camera is the biggest update. The S9’s rear camera (the S9 has a single rear camera, the S9+ has dual rear cameras) has a new feature that controls aperture size. The camera will automatically change between F1.5 and F2.4, letting in more or less light, depending on conditions. This means your photos are less reliant on shutter speed to control the amount of light on the sensor (check out our Digital Camera page for more information on shutter speeds and apertures).

I tried this out after the night-time launch in Auckland. While the quick auto shot was OK and captured details, it was a bit bland. However, after playing around with a few in-camera settings, I was able to take a nice image that better captured the mood I was after.

Auto settings, left, vs. adjusted settings.
Auto settings, left, vs. adjusted settings.

The other major update is in the form of super slow-mo video. The S9 shoots 960 frames per second (fps) at 720p (the lowest form of HD). For context, that’s 40 times faster than regular video (which plays at 24fps). This makes it good for capturing sports or other moments that happen in the blink of an eye (think of a cricketer swinging a bat or a balloon popping). Disappointingly, the phone can only shoot the super slow-mo in 0.2-second bursts. You’ll need good lighting as the faster the images are collected, the less light hits the sensors. You can’t use this feature with fluorescent lighting as the camera captures the flicker from those lights.

There is also a flaw in how you capture the footage. Super slow-mo has 2 modes: manual and auto. Manual requires you to start recording then press the slow-mo button, at just the right moment, to start the 960fps capture. The auto version sets a zone on the screen and if the camera sees motion in that zone it starts the slow-mo capture. This means sometimes you’ll miss what you want to film if the camera doesn’t think there’s motion. And after it’s triggered, the camera takes a little time to reset, so if it starts early, once again, you miss the action.

I tried to set up some shots, with mixed success. I found I needed to plan well ahead to capture what I wanted and get the timing perfect, meaning I had to recruit a helper to coordinate shots. Even simple shots required multiple attempts, sometimes due to timing mishaps, sometimes because of focus issues. Interestingly, there wasn’t much difference in shooting handheld or with a tripod.


The S9 now has speakers at both ends of the phone, which in theory should make showing friends your favourite YouTube clips even better. While the sound is a little louder and clearer, I found the results underwhelming.

Finally, and this is in the eye of the beholder, the S9 is a very pretty phone. It’s been released in 3 colours: black, purple, and dark blue. Overseas consumers have had access to interesting colourways for a few years, but here it’s generally been hard to get a flagship phone in bright colours, so it’s nice to see Samsung leading the way in New Zealand.

First Looks are trials of new and interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons. The writer was flown to the launch event and loaned the S9 and S9+ phones by Samsung.

Profile

  Galaxy S9 Galaxy S9+
Price Starting from RRP $1,399 Starting from RRP $1,399
OS Android 8 (Oreo) Android 8 (Oreo)
Display 5.8-inch 2960x1440 Curved Super AMOLED (570ppi) 6.2-inch 2960x1440 Curved Super AMOLED (529ppi)
Body 147.7mm x 68.7mm x 8.5mm, 163g, IP687 158.1mm x 73.8mm x 8.5mm, 189g, IP687
Camera Rear: Super Speed Dual Pixel 12MP AF sensor with OIS (F1.5/F2.4)
Front: 8MP AF (F1.7)
Rear: Dual Camera with Dual OIS
Wide-angle: Super Speed Dual Pixel 12MP AF sensor (F1.5/F2.4)
Telephoto: 12MP AF sensor (F2.4)
Front: 8MP AF (F1.7)
AP 10nm, 64-bit, Octa-core processor (2.8 GHz Quad + 1.7 GHz Quad) 10nm, 64-bit, Octa-core processor (2.8 GHz Quad + 1.7 GHz Quad)
Memory and storage 4GB RAM
64GB/128GB/256GB + Micro SD Slot (upto 400 GB)
6GB RAM
64GB/128GB/256GB + Micro SD Slot (upto 400GB)
SIM card Single SIM: Nano SIM
Dual SIM (Hybrid SIM): Nano SIM + Nano SIM or MicroSD slot
Single SIM: Nano SIM
Dual SIM (Hybrid SIM): Nano SIM + Nano SIM or MicroSD slot
Battery 3,000mAh
Fast Wired Charging compatible with QC 2.0
Wireless Charging compatible with WPC and PMA
3,500mAh
Fast Wired Charging compatible with QC 2.0
Wireless Charging compatible with WPC and PMA


By Hadyn Green
Technology Writer