Samsung Galaxy S9 Review: Camera, Battery and Everything In Between

Published February 27th, 2018 - 01:05 GMT
The Samsung Galaxy S9 release date is set for March 16 globally, but you can pre-order the handset right now. (Courtesy of TechRadar)
The Samsung Galaxy S9 release date is set for March 16 globally, but you can pre-order the handset right now. (Courtesy of TechRadar)

Samsung's tagline for its ninth generation flagship phone is ‘The camera. Reimagined.’, and it's keen to let you know it has done a lot of work on its camera.

Why is it so keen to focus on this feature? It may be because, on the surface, there's very little to visually differentiate the new Galaxy S9 from the phone it's replacing – the Samsung Galaxy S8.

A quick scan of the S9's spec sheet shows the same Infinity Display screen size (5.8 inches), resolution (QHD+) and aspect ratio (18.5:9) as its predecessor, and the similarities don't end there.

The Samsung Galaxy S9 also packs the same size battery (3,000mAh), and the same amount of RAM and internal storage (4GB and 64GB), while also retaining the headphone jack and IP68 dust-and-water-resistant rating.

What, you may ask, is actually new about the Samsung Galaxy S9 then? Well, there's Samsung's new Exynos 9810 chipset sitting at the heart of the phone (unless you're in the US, where you get Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845), Google's freshest software in the shape of Android 8 Oreo and the phone's real party piece… the 12MP rear camera with the firm's dual-aperture technology. 

Is this enough to get excited about though? After 2017's Galaxy S8 and iPhone X, the arrival of the Galaxy S9 feels like a far more muted affair, despite this camera still packing the core components of an excellent smartphone.

The Samsung Galaxy S9 release date is set for March 16 globally, but you can pre-order the handset right now. See: Pre-Order for Samsung Galaxy S9 in UAE

Premium glass and metal, very similar to the Samsung Galaxy S8. (TechRadar)

Samsung Galaxy S9 Design

As we said at the outset, the Samsung Galaxy S9 doesn't look all that different to the phone it's replacing.

On closer inspection you may notice that the bezels above and below the display have been trimmed down a little, helping to reduce the overall height of the phone. 

It's meant Samsung has added a few fractions of a millimeter to the width and thickness of the Galaxy S9 to ensure it can still fit all the internal components in, with it measuring 147.7 x 68.7 x 8.5mm, but it's still more than manageable in the hand.

It's heavier than the S8 as well at 168g (vs 155g), but it remains lighter than the iPhone X (174g).

Samsung has made the screen darker when it's off, and hidden the Iris scanner hole in the bezel above the display to allow it to obscure the boundaries between screen and bezel, and to minimize visual elements for a cleaner, smarter and more minimalist appearance.

On the right side of the phone the only interruption to the metal frame is the power/lock key, while on the opposite side you'll find the volume rocker above the Bixby button – yep, Samsung is sticking with its assistant shortcut key.


The SIM/microSD card tray is on the top edge, while on the base audiophiles will be pleased to find that Samsung has continued to include a headphone jack on its flagship device.

That port sits alongside a centralized USB-C port and a speaker – one of two, with the other built into the earpiece on the front of the phone.

The two speakers provide stereo sound, and they've been tuned by Austrian audio wizards AKG Acoustics (now owned by Samsung) to further improve audio quality on the Galaxy S9. Dolby Atmos support is also included, giving you 360-degree sound for a more immersive experience.

We listened to a few demo tracks during our hands-on time with the phone and it sounds great, with a relatively good spacial audio effect. 

We'll have to put the speakers to the test during our full review to see just how good they are; the Razer Phone currently offers a superb mobile audio experience, but the Galaxy S9 has a strong foundation.

It certainly sounds louder – and it should do as Samsung says the speakers on the Galaxy S9 are 1.5 times noisier than those on the S8.

Another positive design point is the location of the fingerprint scanner. It's no secret that we, and many of you, were less than happy with Samsung's placement of the digit reader on the Galaxy S8, S8 Plus and Note 8 last year, and the good news is the South Korean firm has learned its lesson.

The fingerprint scanner on the Galaxy S9 is better placed than on its predecessor. (TechRadar)

It's shifted the location from beside the camera sensor to below it. This is a far more natural position for the scanner, and it easily falls beneath your forefinger for speedy unlocking action.

What's more, the process of registering a fingerprint has been streamlined, with the Galaxy S9 requiring you to swipe your digit over the reader around three times, versus the 16 attempts needed on the S8.

If fingerprint scanning isn’t your style, the Galaxy S9 also offers facial and iris recognition. Rather than two seperate biometric options, the face and eye scanners work in tandem to provide a faster unlock time, and as it uses an IR (infrared) camera it’ll even work in the dark (like Face ID on the iPhone X).

The Samsung Galaxy S9 will be available in three colors: midnight black, coral blue and the new shade of lilac pink.

We're told some countries will also have a titanium grey option, but this won't be available in the US, UK or Europe. 

Lilac pink is a new color for the Samsung Galaxy S9. (TechRadar)

Samsung Galaxy S9 Display

There are no surprises when it comes to the display on the Samsung Galaxy S9, as it's exactly the same as the screen on the S8. 

That means you get a 5.8-inch QHD+ offering with Samsung's eye-popping Super AMOLED panel and the taller 18.5:9 aspect ratio, which is increasingly becoming the norm for flagships after appearing on a handful of phones last year.

It still features the Infinity Display too, ensuring that 90% of the front of the phone is screen, leaving even less bezel than on its predecessor for an excellent viewing experience. 

The curved edges of the screen provide a futuristic finish, and it's a great display for watching movies and playing games. 

Samsung has made it easier to use the Galaxy S9 in landscape mode as well, with the whole UI (user interface) now rotating to fit the widescreen layout, reducing the frequency you need to rotate the phone between portrait and landscape.

The QHD+ Infinity Display is looks fabulous on the Galaxy S9. (TechRadar)

Samsung Galaxy S9 Camera

The big talking point for the Samsung Galaxy S9 is the camera, and more specifically the rear-facing 12MP option. 

It features Samsung's dual-aperture technology, allowing the camera aperture to expand and contract depending on light levels, just as the human eye does. 

In scenarios where the light is over 100 lux – roughly from sunrise onwards – the Galaxy S9 camera defaults to f/2.4, reducing the amount of light hitting the sensor to prevent images from being overexposed.

When the light drops below 100 lux though, the aperture widens to f/1.5, allowing the Galaxy S9 camera to suck in more light – 28% more light than the S8, to be precise. 

The 12MP rear camera on the S9 boasts dual-aperture technology

The difference is dramatic, and we witnessed just how good the S9's camera is with a demo which put it up against the excellent camera of the Google Pixel 2 XL. 

The handset used was actually the Galaxy S9 Plus, but it uses the same technology, which means you can expect the same results from the S9.

In short, the Galaxy S9 Plus beat the Pixel 2 XL comfortably. It wasn't even close: the Samsung captured the far superior image with more detail, more clarity, and less noise (according to Samsung, 30% less noise than its previous generation of cameras). 

Of course, this was in a controlled environment, and we'll be putting the Galaxy S9 camera to the test during our in-depth review, but it's safe to say we're excited by its potential. 

That's not all the Samsung Galaxy S9 camera can do, however – oh no.


The rear camera can also record slow motion footage at 960fps

Samsung has also improved its slow-motion video capture, upping the frame rate to 960fps to match phones from rival Sony such as the Xperia XZ1 and XZ1 Compact.

Slow-motion video at 960fps is recorded at 720p (HD), while 240fps slo-mo can be grabbed at Full HD (1080p) resolution. 

A smart feature that's been included here is Motion Detection. This has the phone do all the work – all you have to do is hold it up to the space you want to film. You don't even need to hit the shutter key. 

That's because the Galaxy S9 will automatically start recording when it senses movement, ensuring you don't miss that fleeting, perfect moment.

Something we’ve struggled with on Sony phones is getting the timing right for slo-mo capture, so this is a welcome addition on the Galaxy S9.

Bixby Vision Camera

Yet another feature in the Samsung Galaxy S9 camera is Bixby Vision. The smart assistant was already baked into the camera app on the Galaxy S8, but this time around it's been given some extra juice.

One of Bixby Vision's features is a live translation mode: point the camera at text in a foreign language and the Galaxy S9 will translate the words into your native tongue automatically.

In the demos we were shown the feature was able to cope with different font types and sizes, and while it did take a short while to get the translation it appeared to work well. 

Bixby Vision can translate a menu live. (TechRadar)

It's worth noting that you need an internet connection to use live translation, so if you're roaming abroad you'll want to keep an eye on your data usage.

Something else the Bixby camera can do is tell you how many calories are in your food, although we were unable to test this feature out during our hands-on time with the phone so we can't vouch for its accuracy. Keep an eye out for our full Samsung Galaxy S9 review where we’ll put this feature to the test.

Bixby Vision is also location-aware, and can suggest places to go and provide information on landmarks you point the camera at, while the make-up mode allows you to harness the 8MP front-facing camera to give yourself a mini makeover.

AR Emoji

Another big feature for the Galaxy S9, and another that's linked to the camera, is AR Emoji.

It's a reaction to Animoji on the iPhone X, but the Galaxy S9 does things slightly differently by snapping a selfie of you and then creating a 3D animated character in your likeness. 

The quality of the likeness varies quite a lot, and you may question if the character on screen is really based on you. 

You can select a hairstyle, glasses and clothing for your AR Emoji, although the options here are limited to 12 outfits and seven types of spectacles. We were disappointed with the overall look of our AR Emoji as its hairstyle and clothing didn’t fully reflect us. It's a bit of fun, but there could be more on offer here.

Once you've created your style, you can then start gurning at the screen and your AR Emoji will begin to mimic your expressions as the Galaxy S9 tracks and maps over 100 facial movements.

We found the expressions our avatar pulled to be a little wooden though, as Samsung has limited the feature to just 18 actual expressions. Pursing your lips or acting surprised comes across well, but more subtle expressions sometimes get a little lost.

From there you can snap a picture of the avatar, or record a video (with sound) of you speaking/singing/shouting as your AR Emoji mimics your actions. These are then saved as GIFs for easy sharing on any third-party social or messaging application.

The Samsung Galaxy S9 also creates 18 preset emoji from your avatar and adds them to the Samsung keyboard. You can then call on them whenever you're typing, allowing you to quickly and easily share your feelings with an image of yourself.

Samsung Galaxy S9 Battery

For those of you hoping for an improvement in battery life on the Samsung Galaxy S9, we've got some bad news: there isn't one. 

Samsung has equipped the Galaxy S9 with the same 3,000mAh battery as the S8, and we're told this will offer similar performance to the S8. 

That's not a terrible thing though, as we found the Galaxy S8 could easily last a day on a single charge, even with moderately high usage. 

And there has been an upgrade in the power department, with the Samsung Galaxy S9 packing the firm's own Exynos 9810 chipset everywhere apart from the US. 

Due to the need for specific carrier network support, the US variant of the Galaxy S9 will use Qualcomm's flagship Snapdragon 845 system-on-a-chip to ensure it works with all the major carriers. 

Both chipsets are paired with 4GB of RAM, which is 2GB less than what's inside the Galaxy S9 Plus, but it still provides enough grunt to keep the Android 8 Oreo operating system running smoothly. 

Samsung's Touchwiz UI has been plastered over the top of Oreo, although it's a much lighter presence these days compared to the versions running on the likes of the Galaxy S2 and S3. It means Android is still familiar, and operates in a natural and fluid manner. 

There's 64GB of storage packed into the body of the Galaxy S9, while a microSD card port supports cards up to 200GB, allowing you to expand massively on the internal offering. 

The USB-C port at the bottom of the S9 is flanked by a speaker and headphone jack. (TechRadar)

Samsung Galaxy S9: Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S9 is a top-notch flagship, and has the potential to be the best phone in the world. 

It's no secret that this is a decidedly incremental upgrade from Samsung, which makes the price hike harder to accept, and it's unlikely to set pulses racing in the way its predecessor did which could make it a trickier sell. 

It does have an ace in the hole though: the camera. 

While further testing is required to find out just how good it is, the early signs are extremely positive. If smartphone photography is important to you, watch this space. 

MWC (Mobile World Congress) is the world's largest exhibition for the mobile industry, stuffed full of the newest phones, tablets, wearables and more. TechRadar is reporting live from Barcelona all week to bring you the very latest from the show floor. Head to our dedicated MWC 2018 hub to see all the new releases, along with TechRadar's world-class analysis and buying advice about your next phone.

By John McCann 

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