There's no bigger event in the Android world than Samsung's annual launch of the latest Galaxy S devices. It is also one of the earliest in the annual cycle when the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 + arrive at the Mobile World Congress in late February. Both devices offer iterative updates for 2018 with upgrades on most fronts as well as some nice and playful additions.
This test focuses on the larger of the two devices, the Samsung Galaxy S9 +. Most of the hardware in the S9 + is the same as in the S9, with the exception of the larger 6.2-inch display (compared to 5.8 inches on the S9), the dual rear camera solution and a larger battery.
As with previous Galaxy S phones, there are two versions of the S9 + for different markets. The U.S., Japan, and China get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 inside, while the rest of the world get Samsung's latest Exynos 9810. Usually there was hardly any difference between the two chips – our test device was equipped with the Exynos SoC.This does not seem to be the case this year, as there are reports of significant differences in performance and battery life between the two in favor of the Snapdragon version .
The Galaxy S9 + has a 6.2-inch Super AMOLED display (2960 x 1440), 6 GB RAM with memory from 64 to 256 GB, a 3500 mAh battery, a fingerprint scanner on the back, USB C, a 3.5mm headphone jack and more. The camera system is a 12 megapixel primary sensor with a double aperture lens paired with a 12 megapixel telephoto zoom camera, both with optical image stabilization.
From a design perspective, Samsung has made no significant changes to the Galaxy S9 +, whether good or bad. The design still looks glass front and back with a metal edge on all sides. The display and the glass curve to the edges on the front and back. And like the Galaxy S8, the 18.5: 9 aspect ratio takes up a significant portion of the front panel without the need for a ridiculous notch.
Samsung has come a long way in improving its phone design and has made some of the best cell phones on the market for several years. The Galaxy S9 + is a beautiful handset, the curved glass looks fantastic, the metal edges feel great and there is an almost seamless, high quality construction.
However, the smoothness of the Galaxy S9 + remains a problem like the Galaxy S8. If there is glass and such thin metal edges on both sides, it is sometimes difficult to have a firm grip on this handset. If you place the device on a surface that is even smoothly distant, the Galaxy S9 + can easily slide around. Not much thought has been given to improving the grip, instead Samsung continues to prefer beauty over function.
Such large panes of glass raise the same concerns about durability as the Galaxy S8 line, particularly due to the curved edges that expose the glass when it falls down. The Galaxy S8 was one of the most fragile phones I've ever seen: forums and social media are littered with complaints about relatively small drops that lead to broken displays and expensive repair bills. I can't see the Galaxy S9 is different in this regard.
Unfortunately, this means that I have to make the same recommendation as last time: A case is required for the Galaxy S9 +. I can use most other phones without protection, but the Galaxy S9 + with its curved edges needs additional protection to protect itself from the pain of a cracked screen. When you spend nearly a thousand dollars on this handset, you really don't want it to break off of minor incidents, and since Samsung's design doesn't protect you from it, you have no choice but a case that unfortunately hides some of its beauty.
And while I'm at it, I can also point out that the connections along the lower edge are not correctly aligned. This is a bit of a sucker, but with a premium handset that is otherwise well designed, it is disappointing to see some alignment issues. On the other hand, I am happy to use USB-C and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. Samsung is still one of the few companies that has not removed the headphone jack.
Samsung has made a handful of significant design upgrades. The fingerprint sensor on the back is now in a reasonable place under the camera: you don't smear the lens every time you try to use it now. There is also facial recognition that uses a combination of an iris scanner and a front-facing camera. It is neat, but not as fast as the fingerprint scanner. Face unlock must be as quick and accurate as face recognition or Windows Hello to make it worth using. The Galaxy S9 + is not quite there yet.
The other important change is the upgrade to stereo speakers, which uses a combination of a bottom-firing driver and the smaller speaker above the display. These are some of the best sounding speakers I've used on a smartphone, with better clarity than a phone like the Pixel 2 XL, which has decent front speakers. The Galaxy S9 + has a slight balance problem, as the lower speaker delivers more bass than the upper speaker. However, this is not as noticeable as expected, even in landscape format.
The ideal implementation is still two front-facing speakers, as it is still fairly easy to block the speaker at the bottom if you hold the Galaxy S9 + in either direction. Still, it's hard to beat the quality of the Galaxy S9 + speaker solution.
It's great to see Samsung continue to offer IP68 water resistance for up to 1.5m of fresh water for 30 minutes, although you shouldn't be using the phone in salt water. There's still a microSD card slot that complements the internal storage options (especially good if you can add 128 GB for just $ 40! Bring iPhone owners with you), and there's also a heart rate monitor to use with Samsung Health.
Unfortunately, there is still a Bixby button that cannot be assigned a useful element in the stock software, although it can be deactivated. The frequency with which I accidentally pressed the Bixby button was quite high. Therefore, I would prefer if this button was either not available or could simply be programmed to open any application. Bixby is improving, but it's not good enough to ensure a dedicated hardware button on a smartphone with limited storage space.