Well, this is it, folks. Years ago, you might have been that guy or gal who joked with your friends about the cosmic potential of the far-distant Galaxy S9 at a time when the S4 or S5 were coming to light and rumors of YOUM display tech were pushing their apple carts from door to door. Looking back, it's pretty incredible to say that we finally made it, and over melancholy hues, it's said that this may be the last handset that carries the near-and-dear S branding that went unbelievable lengths to elevate Android to the standing that it holds today.
We're not here to wax nostalgic though; our eyes are on the future, and the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ are the Next Big Things to rock the mobile world. For the time being, Apple no longer commands the throne to mobile processing power; the ball is back in the Korean tech giant's side of the field. Let's see whose grass is greener in this hands-on review of the two Infinity Display-powered smartphones that grace the world in 2018 at surprisingly affordable price tags. Read on!
Form Factor and Design
For the geeky among us, we know you're gunning to read about their processing punch, but if you were to theoretically purchase the S9 or S9+ right now, the first thing you'll ever do before turning either handset on is pick them up, hold them in your hands and admire the chassis design language. To be honest, what you see is pretty much what you'd expect if you've ever handled the S8 and S8+; the same comfortable assembly is in place as the year prior, and that's really a good thing here. This translates to a nearly identical experience in the palm, but there's one difference worth mentioning: the fingerprint scanner.
Before we get to that, let's sweat the small stuff first. Despite the near-exact matching dimensions of the S9 devices to their S8 brethren, Samsung has managed to pack on pounds for both handsets. It's not major — an extra 11 grams for the S9 and 16 for the S9+. We'd like to argue that it'll help the handsets feel more solid in the hands of users who struggle to keep track of their featherweight pocket computers, but it's strictly preferential. Beyond that, the real difference lies in the more sensible placement of the fingerprint scanner, which rests below the camera on both models instead of off to the side. This means no more smudging the lens while fighting to unlock your phone.
Still, we wish they'd bring back some form of frontal fingerprint scanning, and that's arguably where seven ate nine. This was Samsung's chance to place an in-display fingerprint scanner, but that's surely being saved for the S10 (or Galaxy X as it might be called).
Boy, do we have a shocker for you: The display on both S9 models is simple awesome. Maintaining the same SAMOLED setup across a tall-and-proud 18.5:9 display ratio, you wouldn't be faulted for confusing them with the S8; after all, how do you improve upon perfection? Overall, the screen wasn't an area that Samsung felt compelled to work with in this generation, and that's understandable seeing as the S8 was the great iterative leap into the Infinity Display, which lands us here with the other great improvements that the S9 brings to the table.
Chances are, we won't see the Galaxy display reimagined until either a true bezel-less design happens or 4K becomes the item of talk; for now, screen sizes of less than seven inches will experience virtually zero benefit from a stupendous resolution bump that would no doubt strain the chipset, so we can't fault Sammy for sticking to last year's design here. At the end of the day, you're still getting the hands-down best smartphone display that money can buy, and at the affordable dime that the S9 models are running, that's an astounding deal for those who prefer infinite contrast ratios and mouth-watering saturation on their handheld multimedia monster.
Processing Power, Battery and Software
Next up is the experience of actually putting that 250,000 AnTuTu score to use, and that means everything from launching, general usage and multitasking to heavy gaming will be awesome on the S9 models, right? Well, yes — that about sums it up. Benchmarks certainly aren't everything, and they can't account for user experience as a whole or the efficiency of the UI, but Android and Samsung's reworked TouchWiz ("Samsung Experience" as some are calling it now) have proven butter-smooth, easy on the RAM chips and pleasing to the thumbs. If you're concerned about the S9 or even the S8 because of your past experiences with TouchWiz, you've not kept up much with the news lately.
Coming with Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box, you already have access to the latest in Google's software from the outset, which means security will be top-notch as will the features. Android O brings dramatically faster boot times, further pared-down background app consumption, intelligent tap registration when selecting bodies of text, picture-in-picture multitasking, independent notification dots on app icons that quickly reveal what's new, Instant Apps support and more. Of course, when you pair all of these new features with the raw power of the S9 and S9+, you're getting stupendous results that really take everything Nougat was about and making it even better.
The latest in OS software also brings battery life improvements, and that's where we'd like to dive real quick into the hardware side of things and mention that the S9 models' charge life isn't expected to be radically better than last year's brethren. They stick to the same 3,000 and 3,500 mAh juicers as their respective predecessors; without any notable leaps in FinFET in the S9 variants, the differences in battery power will likely boil down to adjustments in software. That said, charge life was no slouch in the S8 models, and the fast charging technology will unquestionably pick up any slack you may find in this area.
The final talking point in this review is the ridiculously awesome shooter that comes on both S9 models. It's worth noting that only the S9+ comes with a dual-camera setup on the back, which is intended to provide telephoto shooting and optical zoom as well as depth-based image cleanup and lighting improvements. That said, the highlight with these new devices is the variable aperture that interpolates between f/2.4 all the way up to f/1.5, which is an essential aspect of shooting as a whole but particularly for the excellent slow-mo recording that both devices bring — think 720p at 960 FPS all the way down (or up) to 2160p at 60 FPS. This all comes in addition to RAW photography and the usual array of top-tier equipment and software that came packaged with 2017's Galaxies. Step aside, iPhone X: That washed-out 4K isn't fooling anyone.
In truth, the Galaxy S9 and S9+ feel more like refined versions of the S8 and S8+, but there's nothing wrong with that; Samsung's great rework was the stuff of last year, and 2018 is about perfecting their reimagination of a flawless handheld device. Using the still-fresh design language of last year's nearly bezel-less, curved-edges Infinity Display panels in tandem with solid battery life, an industry-leading camera suite and the most potent processing hardware under the hood, this is a handset worthy of gracing leadership in the premium smartphone market today.
The best part is, Samsung actually managed to keep the price down — way down. With that, the Galaxy S9 and S9+ unquestionably bring not only the most powerful pocket-sized computing solution in the world but also the greatest value for those who can afford them. We can't wait to see what the Galaxy Note 9 will bring.