[Review] Samsung Galaxy S9+ Elegant Engineering

[Review] Samsung Galaxy S9+ Elegant Engineering

It has been said that you get what you pay for and Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S9+ embodies that proverb in every aspect of its design.

Compared to the smaller Galaxy S9, the Galaxy S9+ is a bit dearer and sports several unique features that elevate it over its smaller compatriot. For starters, it has a larger WQHD+ Super AMOLED display, a slightly bigger battery, 2GB more RAM and depending on configuration, anywhere from 64GB of expandable storage and up all the way to a whopping huge 256GB variant. The clincher is that the S9+ has a significantly upgunned rear camera. Rather than the single rear Dual Aperture camera seen on the S9, the S9+ has an additional secondary 12-MP camera perched just underneath the main one with 2x optical zoom and an f/2.4 aperture for wide angle shots.

Externally, the S9+ has similar design aesthetics to the S9 with an elegantly glass-clad chassis with smoothly rounded edges on the sides, front and back though the telltale difference is its rear dual camera array and the larger display. They’ve listened to feedback and the rear fingerprint reader is now intuitively located beneath the rear camera array to make it easy to find by touch. Our test unit, finished in black looked exceptionally clean and classy with its mirrored reflective finish though it’s also a fingerprint magnet and somewhat slippery to hold.

The right side sports a power button while the left has a volume rocker and a button to summon Samsung’s Bixby virtual assistant. The base of the phone has a 3.5mm audio jack, a USB Type C port and a speaker grille. Up top, the phone comes with a hybrid SIM card slot.

The front display of the phone eschews the frippery of sporting a notched display and has an 18.5:9 aspect ratio 6.2-inch rectangular Super AMOLED screen with 512ppi. It also ditches the  home button much like the S8 with the front being almost all screen with breathtakingly slim side bezels and a gentle curve on the display that’s less pronounced that the older S8 and S7.

In terms of tactility, build quality and design, the Galaxy S9+ knocks the competition out of the water. The glass-shod finish offers an elegant, cold tactility while the precise engineering has resulted in a beautifully balanced heft and feel despite the large display crammed into the phone. The fact that it’s also rated IP68 for water and dust resistance too means you needn’t have to coddle it like a Faberge egg when it rains though you’ll likely want to add a casing when the opportunity presents itself as an extra measure of protection against dings, dents and drops.

Samsung Galaxy S9+ performance

 

The Galaxy S9+ sports a good deal of the existing hardware on its smaller sibling the Galaxy S9 but upguns quite a few aspects to enhance its performance even further. In terms of hardware, the Galaxy S9 comes with an Exynos 9810 2.9GHz octacore processor built on a 10nm FinFET process with Android Oreo 8.0 running under the hood overlaid by their Samsung Experience 9.0  user interface. This is paired with a generous 6GB RAM and, in the case of our test unit, 64GB of expandable storage. Variants with 128GB and 256GB of storage are available for a commensurately higher price tag.

When subjected to synthetic benchmarks, the Galaxy S9+ yielded impressive scores across the board. In Geekbench, it got a single-core score of 3,687 and a multi-core score of 8,869. In PCMark’s Work 2.0 test, it got a score of 5,384. In 3D Mark’s Sling Shot Extreme Open GL ES 3.1 test, it got a score of 3,339 while in Sling Shot Extreme Vulkan it got a score of 3,018. In Antutu, the phone got an impressive score of 253,646. The addition of 2GB more RAM gives the phone a marked improvement over the S9 and it shows with higher performance in all benchmarks across the board. As far as Android phones go, the Galaxy S9+ is easily one of the most powerful phones currently in service at this point in time in terms of sheer performance alone.

Under actual field conditions, the Galaxy S9+ did not disappoint and tackled everything thrown at it with deft aplomb. All tasks, including intensive gaming was handled in a silky smooth and swift fashion. Player Unknown: Battleground was handled on High settings while the likes of Mobile Legends, Hitman Sniper and Asphalt 8 were handled without a hitch.

Gaming and watching movies was a real treat on account of the display which is also HDR10 ready though it’s oddly enough, not Dolby Vision compliant. Playing HDR ready content was a delight on the large, luscious display with exceptionally deep blacks, beautifully lush colours and pin-sharp detail. If colours onscreen don’t quite appeal, you can opt for different settings or even tweak it down to the exact Red, Green and Blue levels. Out of the box, the Galaxy S9+ is set by default to Full HD+ resolution, presumably for battery life efficiency reasons and you’ll need to go into the settings to manually enable WQHD+ mode.

Audio was up to snuff as well with the stereo speakers giving a good accounting of themselves. Audio was pleasantly loud and relatively detailed with the speakers featuring Dolby Atmos support. Even when cranked to maximum there was no distortion which makes watching movies an even more pleasant experience. You’re even able to tweak the audio further to your exact specifications via several equaliser settings.

One interesting aspect of the S9+ which is also extended to the smaller S9 is the implementation of a Secure Folder that allows you to keep content be it apps, pics and other documents locked in a passworded partition that is unlocked separately from the main phone lock screen. More security conscious users will find this handy. Another interesting addition to the phone is their Game Launcher that helps to mute notifications when gaming, prioritise system resources to boost gaming performance, perform screen captures as well as capture gameplay video.

Samsung’s Bixby AI assistant, which can be summoned by means of the dedicated button on the side of the S9+, is a handy way to access and even manually control many aspects of the phone with your voice, especially in sticky situations where your hands are otherwise occupied. Things like controlling brightness, camera settings and even activating apps are all possible with Bixby. 

Bixby can also attempt to identify what you’re looking at via the rear camera. Text in foreign languages can be translated via Google translate though you’ll need data for it to work. It can also read off your existing GPS coordinates to identify areas of interest in your vicinity or what item you’re pointing it at though Bixby’s image recognition is a bit hit and miss. It’s a bit rough around the edges and has yet to reach its full potential as Bixby can’t execute complicated commands but it’s a novel alternative to interact with the phone.

Galaxy S9+ camera performance

 

The Samsung Galaxy S9+ incorporates a dual camera array with the new secondary camera sporting a 12-MP camera with f/2.4 telephoto lens that also offers 2x optical zoom. This secondary camera also allows the phone to have a ‘Live Focus’ mode like the earlier Galaxy Note 8 which offers an artistic blurred background effect.

The primary camera on the S9+ is a 12-MP akin to the S9 that has a mechanical Dual Aperture which can automatically switch between f/1.5 to f/2.4 automatically as needed depending on lighting conditions and a large 1.4µm pixel size. You can manually change the aperture in Pro mode though it’s best to let the phone do its thing. Both rear cameras also sport optical image stabilisation for judder free image capture as well as Dual Pixel phase detection autofocus for faster image acquisition and low light performance.

The camera interface offers all the usual extra modes including a panorama mode, a food mode and one of the signature modes available for the S9 series – a Super Slow Mode that lets you capture 960fps@720P video. This extends 0.2 seconds into 6 seconds of slow motion action. Fortunately, the S9+ also retains the aforementioned  Pro mode that offers extensive settings with the ability to tweak ISO, aperture, shutter speed, white balance and exposure, among many.


Firing up the camera can be done in a matter of seconds by simply double clicking the power button rapidly and in auto mode, the S9+ proved exceptionally competent. Shots taken on the rear camera were superb with spot-on colours and great detail levels. Shots under low light proved some of the best seen from a smartphone capturing hues and detail in conditions that would give lesser equipped phones pause.

The addition of 2x optical zoom allows for additional creative options while the Live Focus mode adds a delightful background defocus to portraiture and up-close shots. Live Focus occasionally gets things wrong with extremely fine details, in particular on subjects with long hair but for the most part, it gets things right in a very competent fashion.

 

The 2X optical zoom allows you to capture details like these ants on an orchid

The Galaxy S9+ rear cameras offer great detail even in up-close shots like these ants on a passiflora bud in bloom

The front camera itself is akin to the one on the Galaxy S9 and offers a similar panoply of modes including the whimsical AR emoji mode that captures details of your face to turn into a cartoon version of yourself or to a cartoon character. It’s whimsical though rather gimmicky. If things get too dark, the phone uses the display as an impromptu soft flash. Selfie shots, even under indoor or dim lighting conditions proved pleasing to the eye with good detail and skin tones, helped in part by the bright f/1.7 aperture

In terms of video, the rear camera offers up to luscious 4K video in 30 and 60fps along with lossless 2x optical zoom which can be enabled via a small button on the interface. Videos proved excellent with great colour rendition, details and super dynamic range. Even handheld video was captured in a silky smooth, judder-free fashion. Slo-mo mode was equally impressive as well though it works best in good light.

Live focus mode artfully defocuses the background while keeping the subject in focus

Live focus mode artfully defocuses the background while keeping the subject in focus

The phone’s implementation of the user interface to handle slo-mo capture is markedly better than other competing phones. Rather than a test of your reflexes, you mark out a box on the screen where the action will happen. When something occurs within that virtual ‘box’ the phone starts recording. If you prove to have a fast trigger finger, there’s still a manual mode available.


Of note is that the Galaxy S9+ also has an exceptionally full-featured photo editor that lets you crop images, apply filters, tweak the colour temperature, adjust brightness as well as exposure, contrast, white balance and saturation too. You can also whimsically add in the usual panoply of stickers, captions and the like.

Galaxy S9+ Battery Life, Performance and Conclusion


The Galaxy S9+ comes with a 3,500mAh non-removable battery which is the same size as that found on the Galaxy S8+ though refinements in the firmware as well as efficiency tweaks to the processor ensure that its endurance remains on par with its predecessor, if not more.

Under a standard usage scenario that involved emails, taking liberal amounts of snaps, watching a few streamed videos that included an episode of Westworld as well as heavy use of social media, the Galaxy S9+, on Auto Brightness settings, despite its larger display was able to offer a good day’s worth of use with about 10 plus hours of active usage. Fortunately, the phone has an Adaptive fast charger that can get you a good 50% charge from dead zero in slightly over half an hour; handy if you’re in a hurry. You’ll likely enjoy a good day’s worth of use though keeping a power bank in reserve would be a prudent measure.

While it is not cheap by any means, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ offers up a truly exquisite HDR10-ready display, exceptional performance on account of its powerful Exynos 9810 processor paired with tons of RAM, stereo speakers and, to top it off, one of the best rear dual cameras ever made crammed into its chassis that offers up truly impressive low light performance.

All said, the Galaxy S9+ earns its laurels as Samsung’s best smartphone to date in almost every aspect. It addresses the annoyances of its predecessor while improving performance across the board. If cash is no object and you seek one of the best large-sized phablet camphones that money can buy, this is it. If you’re looking for something smaller, lighter and cheaper, you can opt for its smaller sibling the Galaxy S9 which we reviewed earlier on.

What we liked Superb display, exceptional performance, excellent rear camera, elegant design, stereo speakers
What we didn’t Modest battery life, finish is a fingerprint magnet, not cheap
What we say  The Galaxy S9+ may not be cheap but you get what you pay for as it offers outstanding performance across the board, blending an exceptional rear camera and some of the best hardware available crammed into a slickly designed casing.

 

Specifications

Price RM3,579 (o% GST)
Display 6.2-inch Super AMOLED, 1,440 x 2,960 pixels
Processor Exynos 9810 octacore
OS Android Oreo 8.0
Memory 6GB RAM/ 64GB +microSD card
Camera 12-MP w/ (f/1.5-f/2.4 dual aperture) + 12-MP w/ f/2.4 2x optical zoom + LED flash (rear) / 8-MP w/ f/1.7 & screen flash(front)
Battery 3,500mAh
Size/Weight 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm /189g
* Review unit courtesy of Samsung Malaysia

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