Samsung Galaxy S9+ review: Better late than never

Android / Hardware Reviews / Mobile / Reviews

Samsung’s smartphone designs have been a real pleasure to behold over the past few years.

TA-ratings-96

Yes, it is January 2019 and in just a matter of weeks, Samsung will be announcing the Galaxy S10 and S10+. We actually have an invitation to attend the event but no way of getting there this time. Maybe next year. So what in blue blazes are we doing pushing out a review on the Samsung Galaxy S9+ this late?

Well, our friends over at Verizon Wireless thought a late-in-the-game review wouldn’t be all that bad. They sent us a unit to test and have a look at just before I left for CES 2019. I’ve been using the Samsung Galaxy S9+ for the past few weeks and this is the better-late-than-never Samsung Galaxy S9+ review! Thanks to Verizon Wireless for providing the S9+, which was connected to their network.

Specifications

The Samsung Galaxy S9+ has the following features and specifications:

  • Display:
    • 6.2″ Super AMOLED
    • 84.2% screen-to-body ratio
    • 16m colors
    • 1440×2960 resolution
    • 529ppi
    • HDR 10
    • Corning Gorilla Glass 5
    • Always-on display
  • OS: Android 8.0 Oreo (upgrading to Android 9.0 Pie)
  • Chipset: Qualcomm SDM845 Snapdragon 845
  • CPU: Octa-core (4×2.8 GHz Kryo 385 Gold & 4×1.7 GHz Kryo 385 Silver)
  • GPU: Adreno 630
  • Memory:
    • Internal – 64 GB, 128GB or 512GB
    • External – microSD, up to 5112GB
    •  RAM –6GB
  • Cameras:
    • Front – 8 MP, f/1.7, 25mm (wide), 1/3.6″, 1.22µm, AF, dual video call, Auto HDR
    • Dual Rear –
      • 12 MP, f/1.5-2.4, 26mm (wide), 1/2.55″, 1.4µm, dual pixel PDAF, OIS
      • 12 MP, f/2.4, 52mm (telephoto), 1/3.4″, 1.0µm, AF, OIS, 2x optical zoom
    • Video front – 1440[email protected]
    • Video rear – [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], HDR, dual-video rec.
  • Audio:
    • 3.5mm headphone jack
    • Dual-stereo speakers
    • 32-bit/384kHz audio
    • Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
  • Connectivity:
    • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot
    • Bluetooth 5.0, A2DP, LE, aptX
    • NFC
    • GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO
    • USB 3.1, Type-C 1.0 reversible connector
  • Sensors:
    • Iris scanner
    • Fingerprint scanner
    • Accelerometer
    • Gyro
    • Proximity
    • Compass
    • Barometer
    • Heart rate
    • SpO2
  • Features:
    • Samsung DeX
    • Fast charging (Quick Charge 2.0)
    • Qi/PMA wireless charging
    • ANT+ support
    • Bixby
    • Samsung Pay
  • Battery: Non-removable Li-Ion 3,500 mAh battery
  • IP68 certified: Dust/waterproof over 1.5 meters and 30 minutes
  • Dimensions: 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm (6.22 x 2.91 x 0.33 in)
  • Weight: 189 g (6.67 oz)

What’s In The Box

  • Samsung Galaxy S9+
  • SIM removal tool
  • USB-C to USB-A charging cable
  • Fast-charging brick
  • USB-A to USB-C adapter
  • AKG earbuds
  • Manuals and documentation
Samsung Galaxy S9+
What’s in the box, our review unit was missing the headphones.

Design

Samsung’s smartphone designs have been a real pleasure to behold over the past few years. They also don’t change very much from one year to the next. On occasion, there is a big design shift but, for the most part, they’re relatively the same. Take the S9 and the S9+, they aren’t that much different than the S8 and the S8+ but let’s go over a few new design elements in this section.

Probably the single biggest change on the Galaxy S9+ is the relocation of the fingerprint sensor. The squall Samsung created with the fingerprint sensor placement on the S8+ and the Note8 was epic. It was overblown in my opinion, but Samsung got the point and moved the sensor. It is now located right under the camera, which honestly, is the ideal place for it.

Walking around the rest of the phone you’ll find mostly screen on the front. There is a chin and forehead but they are very slim and side bezels are pretty much non-existent. One minor gripe about the side bezels is that sometimes you do get unintentional input when you hold the phone. The bezels are so thin the palm of your hand can sometimes trigger the screen.

The forehead houses the earpiece/speaker as well as the front camera and proximity sensors. The screen to body ratio here is 84.2% and it is worth noting (no pun intended) that the Note9 sits at 83.4%. The siblings also house similar screen sizes at 6.3″ for the S9+ and 6.4″ for the Note9.

Along the right side of the phone is the power button. Along the top is the SIM card and SD card tray and a mic. Along the left side is the volume rocker and the infamous Bixby button. Along the bottom is the USB-C port along with the main speaker and the headphone jack. Around back is the fingerprint sensor, dual cameras, and flash.

Overall, the design of the Samsung Galaxy S9+ remains almost untouched from the S8+ but its still a very nice looking device that most people will enjoy having in their pocket.

Samsung Galaxy S9
USB-C port, headphone jack, and main speaker.

Display

As Samsung tends to do, they’ve bumped up the screen size on the S9+ to a healthy 6.3″. That’s not far off from the Note9’s 6.4: screen which makes one wonder why even bother with the Note9. Well, the S-Pen is a big factor in choosing the Note9, but I digress.

There’s no other way to put it. Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays are just awesome. They’ve been making great displays forever now and they’ll continue to make them for the foreseeable future. Of course, not everyone likes these displays. They are oversaturated and colors are punchier than on other smartphones, but I think most will enjoy this display.

Like the S8+, it has the 18:5:9 aspect ratio which pretty much everyone is adopting on smartphones. The display is optimized for 21:9 viewing and you can punch to fill the screen for content that doesn’t support that aspect ratio. That does mean you’ll cut off some of the content, but it’s not too bad.

Pretty much all of the settings you can get on the Note9 are here on the Samsung Galaxy S9+. Adaptive Display, AMOLED Cinema, AMOLED Photo, Basic, and Advanced.

Samsung Galaxy S9
Always nice displays on the Galaxy phones.

Viewing angles are great when the display is set at peak brightness in bright conditions. So the panel does really well in sunlight. It’s not perfect, but bright sunlight is usually the devil when it comes to displays.

Overall, this is what we’ve come to expect from Samsung. Bright, colorful displays with great viewing angles and lots of screen real estate. Also very thin bezels and a high screen-to-body ratio.

Software

The Samsung Galaxy S9+ ships with Android 8.0 Oreo and is expected to be updated to Android 9.0 Pie this year. This is the Verizon variant so updates will come a little slower than an unlocked version. Of course, Samsung has heavily skinned Android with the Samsung Experience. As much as the tech circle jerk hates the Samsung Experience, I’ve found that regular users don’t seem to mind or don’t care. It’s fine for most users. I just replace it with a custom launcher and call it a day.

The multi-tasking on the S9+ is just as robust as the Note9, minus the S-Pen and S-Pen features. Some have said that Samsung often gives users too much choice to the point of overload. It does seem Samsung subscribes to the more is better mentality when it comes to extra features. I guess they’d rather have you covered than not. Some of those features include but are not limited to:

  • Blue Light Filter
  • Adaptive Display
  • Full-Screen Apps
  • Easy Mode
  • Edge Screen
  • Smart Stay
  • One-Handed Mode
  • Finger Sensor Gestures
  • Quick Launch Camera
  • Phone Assistance App
  • Multi Window
  • Smart Capture
  • Palm Swipe To Capture
  • Direct Call
  • Smart Alert
  • Easy Mute
  • Swipe To Call Or Send Messages

Of course there is Bixby as well. Samsung is pushing it and integrating it into their Samsung Experience ecosystem. While I rarely use it, I do think it has gotten better over time, and if you have multiple Samsung smart connected devices, Bixby is going to serve you well. For example, you can control your phone, fridge, TV, washer and dryer, and any other Samsung Bixby connected device very easily. That being said, I’m not sure there are a whole lot of people invested heavily into an entire Samsung ecosystem.

Samsung Galaxy S9
The Bixby button is here, and it isn’t going anywhere.

Overall, the software is what we’ve come to expect from Samsung. Android updates aren’t going to come nearly as fast as a Pixel or even an Essential phone. But for most regular users, that’s okay. The Samsung Galaxy S9+ software is very capable and there are some tricks and goodies there that some may find very useful.

Performance

The Samsung Galaxy S9+ is running on the same Snapdragon 845 and Adreno 630 as the Note9 as well as the same 6GB of RAM. Although the Note9 does give you an 8GB of RAM option.

As expected, the S9+ can fly through multi-tasking and switching between apps. Day-to-day tasks are fluid and seamless on this phone, and web browsing, email, texts, phone calls, YouTube, all of the things most people will do work well here. I saw no lag or stuttering and gestures and swiping all worked fluidly.

Gaming on the phone also held up well. The chassis does get a little warm when using it for a prolonged period of time. The phone come with wireless charging as well as fast charging, nothing new there. The S9+ is also IP68 dust and water resistant.

Overall, the S9+ performs just as well as its bigger brother, the Note9. Samsung does recommend that you restart your phone from time to time and they do that with a notification. I never did restart when it was recommended and everything functioned without a problem.

Samsung Galaxy S9

Speakers/Sound

2018 was the year Samsung finally did something about their speakers. Like the Note9, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ comes with stereo speakers and they are miles better than the previous generation.

One speaker is housed in the earpiece while the second is at the bottom in the traditional location. While there are other phones with better sounding speakers out there, the S9+ speakers are a major improvement for Samsung, and these sound really good.

Overall, Samsung has improved the speakers on both their flagship devices, and this was a big score for them.

Samsung Galaxy S9
Excuse me sir. Did you know you have an elf growing out of your head?

Camera

Samsung cameras are among the best out there right now. They stand neck and neck with the competition with subtle and subjective differences. The Note9 and the S9+ share components and they give pretty close to the same results.

The Samsung Galaxy S9+ has a dual camera setup like the Note9. Both lenses have optical image stabilization (OIS). OIS is great in helping to deliver clean shots. It helps eliminate the shake in your hand or the bounce in your steps in video shots.

The dual cameras in the back.

Like the Note9, Samsung has packed the camera app with a bunch of stuff including the following:

  • Hyperlapse – This is basically a timelapse mode where you can make a video that looks as if it’s in fast motion.
  • AR Emoji – Here you can make an AR emoji of yourself and use it in your text messages and other places. The software works okay but I felt it didn’t really capture my likeness all that well.
  • Super Slow-Mo – This is basically what it says it is, slow-motion video and it works very well.
  • Auto – This is the default setting and the one where the Note9 will adjust the camera settings for you. Most people will use this setting.
  • Live Focus – This is like a portrait mode which blurs out the background and brings your subject into the foreground emphasizing them.
  • Pro – This is for those who want control over the ISO, f-stops, shutter speed and other PRO user tools. Most people won’t be using this mode much at all.
  • Panorama – Exactly what it says it is, panorama picture taking.
  • Scene Optimizer – Sometimes it’s hard to know the best color for catching different scenes. Should you use a warm or dark color for capturing that sunset? Luckily, the Note9 has a new feature called Scene optimizer, which automatically adjusts the color settings to match the scene or subject matter. It has everything from Food to Beaches.
  • Flaw Detection – Have you ever taken what you thought was a great picture, only to realize later that you blinked? That won’t happen anymore with Flaw detection on your Note9’s camera. You will get a popup notification when there’s a flaw in a picture, such as a blurry face or that dreaded blink.

The S9+ camera delivers everywhere a flagship camera should deliver. Low light shooting is good. Yes there are better phones out there but the S9+ won’t disappoint most users. Of course the vibrancy of the photos is off the charts as Samsung tends to oversaturate their end product. Many people love this about Samsung cameras.

You have 4K video and slow-motion capture, panorama, and all of the things flagship cameras should come with. The front facing camera is also top notch. Selfies are crisp and clean and it does pretty well in low light as well.

Overall, the cameras on the Samsung Galaxy S9+ are where you should expect a flagship phone camera to be. Yes, other phones compete very heavily but I think most users will be very happy here.

Reception/Call Quality

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi reception are both excellent here, nothing much to report. Call quality and Verizon network capability was excellent. Everything worked as it should and the network worked everywhere I went, even at CES 2019.

Battery Life

The S9+ houses a sizeable 3,500mAh battery, about 500mAh smaller than the Note9. Still, it got me through my day without issue.

My use case is generally, Wi-Fi on all the time, Bluetooth on all the time connected to a variety of devices, GPS on all the time, and screen brightness set to 90%. My day is usually 15-16 hours long and I was able to get through my days without a problem and still have 10-20% in the tank. That’s less than I had left on the Note9 but still not bad. I used the S9+ like any of my other phones, email, browsing, gameplay, social media, streaming Apple Music, streaming YouTube and pretty much everything else.

Overall, this a decent battery and it should get everyone through a full day no problem. If you’re a real heavy media user you may be cutting it close.

Price/Value

The Samsung Galaxy S9+ is priced around US$929 on Verizon’s network. That’s not cheap, but most flagships aren’t cheap anymore anyway. The Samsung Galaxy S10+ and S10 are due to be released very soon, coming up in February. So prices for the S9+ will likely drop and you might wait until then to buy.

While the new phone is coming and it will most likely have a new design and new specifications, the S9+ is still a phone with value. If you don’t want to spend the money the S10+ is going to be commanding, then this is a good option.

Wrap Up

Bottom line. This phone is for you if:

  • You can wait a month or two for the price to come down
  • Don’t want the latest Samsung phone
  • Don’t care that the latest Samsung phone will have a new design
  • Are upgrading from an older S7 or below

The Samsung Galaxy S9+ is a great phone and it will be upgrading to Android 9.0 Pie. So if you can wait a few weeks or months, this could end up being a real good deal in the end.

*We received a review unit of the Samsung Galaxy S9+ for the purposes of this review.

Samsung Galaxy S9+

US$929
9.6

Design

10.0/10

Display

10.0/10

Software

9.5/10

Performance

9.5/10

Speakers/Sound

9.5/10

Camera

9.5/10

Reception/Call Quality

10.0/10

Battery Life

9.5/10

Price/Value

9.0/10

Nailed it

  • Samsung design continues to be great
  • Build quality is equal to the Note9
  • Actually more comfortable to hold than the Note9
  • Samsung's displays still blow me away
  • Great battery life
  • Fingerprint sensor placement is much better
  • Stereo speakers, finally
  • Some still care for the headphone jack

Needs work

  • Flagship pricing, some may not like the $900+ price
  • Bixby isn't for everyone and you can't use it for Google
  • Glass slabs are fingerprint magnets
  • Bezel-free phones can sometimes register slight unintended touches on the sides

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