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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Sleek, premium build
Gorgeous Quad HD screen
Loaded with power
Easy to use with one hand
Design is a little dated
AR Emoji have an off-putting look
One year later, the Samsung Galaxy S9 is still an excellent smartphone that’s now available for less.
We purchased the Samsung Galaxy S9 so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
Samsung has taken many cues from Apple over the years, including its recent “tick-tock” development model for the Galaxy S line: one year (the "tick"), Samsung unveils a dramatic design overhaul and sets a fresh tone for the line, while the next year (the "tock") typically introduces modest refinement and enhancement.
When it was released in the spring of 2017, the Galaxy S8 represented that new fresh tone with its extra-tall screen and smaller bezel. The Galaxy S9, released in 2018, is visually very similar. And that’s not a bad thing: Samsung's top-end phone is still one of the most impressive handsets you can buy today. It’s packed with great perks that might nudge you away from its myriad rivals.
We spent more than a week testing the Galaxy S9, including its brilliant screen and considerable processing power, while comparing it to other leading smartphones of today.
As mentioned, the Galaxy S9 lacks the innovative flash of its immediate predecessor, and it doesn't have any obvious design changes at first glance. In actuality, the Galaxy S9 is a tiny bit shorter and heavier than the S8, but they otherwise seem identical.
The Galaxy S9 is an incredibly refined smartphone. Every bit of the design has been polished to precision, with a subtly curved display that looks nearly edge-to-edge, an aluminum frame that tapers down on the sides to meet the glass and add some distinctive flair, and pristine backing glass in a trio of color options: Coral Blue, Lilac Purple, Sunrise Gold, and Midnight Black.
That said, there's been a huge amount of design advancement in the smartphone market since the Galaxy S8 debuted, from the iPhone X notch to the teardrop notch to the growing wave of pinhole camera cutouts. While it’s still very premium-looking, the Galaxy S9 inevitably feels less cutting-edge than it did when it was first released. (And if you don’t like notches and cutouts, then this design throwback is actually a perk.)
The Galaxy S9 does have one functional physical advantage over the S8, however: the rear fingerprint sensor is below the camera module, rather than to the right of it. It's still not perfect placement (you're still likely to smudge the camera glass here and there), but it's in a much better position than before.
An IP68 dust- and water-resistance rating help keep the Galaxy S9 protected against the elements—it can even survive submersion in up to 1.5 meters of water for a maximum of 30 minutes.
The Samsung Galaxy S9 is configured with 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB of storage, and you can also expand it using a microSD card up to 400GB in size. It's a more cost-effective way to add a lot more space for videos, music, games, and more.
The Samsung Galaxy S9's setup process is pretty painless. After connecting to Wi-Fi or sticking with your cellular connection, you’ll check for updates, log into your Google account, and then choose whether or not to restore a saved data backup.
From there, you can select a security option—Samsung suggests its Intelligent Scan feature, which matches both your face and iris before opening your phone. You can also choose just one of those features, use the fingerprint sensor, select a PIN code, or set a password. Facial and iris security setup only take a moment each, as do the other security options. Once that's done, tap through a few more Google-related settings and you'll be up and running on the home screen.
For the North American models, Samsung uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor in the Galaxy S9. It's a top-of-the-line Android flagship chip from 2018 and one of the fastest chips out there, capable of fluid multitasking and excellent gaming performance. The 4GB of RAM help keep the phone from getting bogged down as well.
While it’s still very premium-looking, the Galaxy S9 inevitably feels less cutting-edge than it did when it was first released.
New 2019 smartphones are beginning to roll out with the faster Snapdragon 855, which makes both single-core and multi-core enhancements to handle tasks large and small—but as far as 2018 handsets go, the Galaxy S9 is about as capable as any Android phone available in the region.
Using Verizon's 4G LTE network about 10 miles north of Chicago, we observed download speeds of about 37-40Mbps on average, with upload speeds in the 5-9Mbps range. Results were about as strong indoors as they were outdoors. We also experienced strong Wi-Fi performance, with the Galaxy S9 picking up both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz signals.
Samsung often has the best-looking smartphone screens on the market, and that's true again with the Galaxy S9. This Quad HD+ resolution (2960x1440) 5.8-inch Infinity Display is pin-sharp, packing in 570 pixels per inch to ensure incredibly clear text and images. The screen also gets very bright and stays pretty visible in direct sunlight.
Because it's a Super AMOLED screen, the panel hits deep black levels and has excellent contrast and coloring. It's a little more vivid-looking than some other smartphones out of the box, but you can switch to a more natural setting if you don't like the added punch. The Galaxy S9 also has an always-on display option enabled that shows the time, date, and battery life on the otherwise-black lock screen so you can get that info at a glance without waking the phone.
That pristine display is also ideal for use with Samsung's Gear VR headset shell, letting you strap in your phone to use it as the brains of a mobile virtual reality experience. It's one of the best perks of Samsung's Galaxy phones, and there are plenty of compelling VR apps and games available for download.
The Galaxy S9 delivers impressive sound from its dual-speaker setup, with one at the bottom of the phone and the other up at the top by the earpiece. The result is loud, clear, and crisp audio with audible stereo separation. You won't need to boost it to the maximum volume to play a little music in your home or office.
Samsung has also bundled in Dolby Atmos virtual surround support, with individual settings for movies, music, and boosting voice, as well as an auto setting that detects your audio content and adjusts accordingly. Listening to music with the auto setting engaged, the playback was definitely louder through the Galaxy S9's speakers, but also a bit fuller-sounding. Your experience may vary with different types of music and content, but it provided a solid benefit in our testing.
Call quality was also strong in our testing—we heard others clearly through the earpiece, and those on the other end of the line reported the same.
Samsung resisted the urge to follow the multi-camera trend with the standard Galaxy S9, keeping only one camera on the rear. Instead, the company augmented that single camera with a unique dual-aperture setup that can adjust on the fly between f/1.5 and f/2.4 settings.
Samsung often has the best-looking smartphone screens on the market, and that's true again with the Galaxy S9.
What does that mean? Essentially, the smaller the number, the wider the aperture—which lets in more light when taking photos. The f/1.5 setting is on by default, but if you're in a scenario with plenty of light, it'll automatically switch to f/2.4, which tends to produce crisper, more detailed shots. The Galaxy S9 adjusts on the fly to match the available lighting, thus delivering the best photo it can in each scenario.
In execution, it's hard to see much of a difference in daytime shooting when you have plenty of light. Switching between the settings manually in Pro mode, the images looked almost identical to our eye. As with past Galaxy phones, the shots pack a little more punch than photos taken on competing phones—they're a bit more vivid and are crisp without looking over-processed.
The dual-aperture benefits are more obvious in low-light scenarios, where the additional light pulled in on the f/1.5 setting produces more clarity and detail than we typically see from smartphone cameras. Even so, it's not quite to the level of quality of the Night Sight feature seen on Google's Pixel phones.
The Galaxy S9 also shoots exceptional video at up to 4K resolution and 60 frames per second. The colors are rich and detail is clear. It even does a neat trick with Super Slow-mo at 960 frames per second, which adds some extra smoothness during playback. However, this shooting mode is limited to 720p resolution. You'll get a bit more detail in 1080p, but can only shoot Slow-Mo at 240fps with that option.
The 3,000mAh battery pack is about average for a high-end smartphone of this size, and is rated for 14 hours of Wi-Fi internet usage and 17 hours of video playback. In mixed usage, the Galaxy S9 performed pretty well in our testing. During everyday use, we finished an average day with about 20-30 percent battery life left from a full charge. Playing a bunch of glossy games or streaming media might push you to the edge, but on a typical day, we didn't get low enough to worry about a top-up.
The Galaxy S9 supports fast wireless charging, so you can pop it on a Qi-compatible charging pad to add a bit more juice with ease, along with even faster wired charging using the included power adapter.
The Galaxy S9 currently uses Android Oreo with Samsung's own visual flourishes on top, and it's an attractive tweak to a very functional and fluid operating system without bogging down or overcomplicating the experience. It's easy to get around and access apps and settings, plus Android is a very customizable OS. You can even use a different launcher if you don't like the look and feel of the built-in one.
Google's Play Store offers a wealth of apps and games to download and install, and while Apple's iOS Apple Store sometimes has it beat in terms of exclusive software and earlier releases, the Android store still offers the vast majority of major mobile apps.
If you’re in the market for a high-end Android phone that can fit comfortably in one hand, the Samsung Galaxy S9 is definitely one of the best you can buy today.
By default, the Galaxy S9 uses Samsung's Bixby voice assistant, and there's even a dedicated launcher button on the left side of the phone beneath the volume controls. Bixby is a solid alternative to the Google Assistant, and certainly more capable than the much-derided original version that debuted on the Galaxy S8—but you can also switch to the Google Assistant via the official Google app if you prefer.
The biggest misfire in the Galaxy S9's software is the AR Emoji feature. It's Samsung's answer to Apple's Animoji and Memoji, but these cartoon avatars have a creepy, off-putting look and don’t do a very good job of replicating your likeness. This is definitely not a feature we plan to use much.
The Samsung Galaxy S9 originally launched at $720, which is a significant amount of money for a smartphone but still much less than the rival Apple iPhone X at $999. However, now that the Galaxy S10 is out, Samsung has dropped the unlocked Galaxy S9 price to $599, and it's possible to find it for even less if you’re willing to shop around.
The Galaxy S10 is newer and much sleeker, but last year's Galaxy S9 is still a very powerful and capable handset. If you don't mind something that's not right on the cutting edge, the Galaxy S9 is a great deal for $599 or less.
The Galaxy S9 and Google's Pixel 3 are two of the highest-profile Android phones today, and both provide a premium, high-end experience with a price tag to match. Both have a powerful Snapdragon 845 chip and impressive single-camera rear setups, but there are some key differences between them.
Samsung's phone has some notable hardware advantages, including a higher-resolution screen and microSD support for expandable storage. The Pixel 3, on the other hand, has the latest Android version with a nice, clean interface. Given the Pixel 3's $799 price tag and the ability to find the Galaxy S9 for much less than the original $720 asking price, we think Samsung has the clear edge here.
Interested in reading more reviews? Check out our list of the best smartphones available today.
A high-end Android phone that can comfortably fit in one hand.It's loaded with cutting-edge tech, including an incredible screen, a super-speedy processor, and wireless charging, along with fun perks like Gear VR support. Even if the design is a bit dated, this is an immensely polished and powerful phone that might give you a lot more perks and functionality than a newer, lower-end option.
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