Test of the Samsung Galaxy S9+: the Best Ad for the Galaxy S8+.


The Galaxy S9+ is an excellent smartphone. The Galaxy S8+ is a great smartphone. Do we really have an interest in choosing the more expensive of the two?

In 2017, Samsung had to make up for the Galaxy Note7 disaster and released a Galaxy S8 that foreshadowed what the smartphone market would become in the months to come. In 2018, the Korean has chosen to stifle the Mobile World Congress with the successor of its flagship, the aptly named Galaxy S9.

As an echo to last year’s general apology, the criticisms were not long in coming: the GS9 and its Big Brother the GS9+ that we are testing would have nothing new to justify a renewal, resembling like two drops of water to the GS8 and having bet on dispensable gadgets. Unlike last year, Samsung’s spearhead has everything to prove. After wandering around with it, here’s our verdict.

Don’t miss the technical test of our colleagues from FrAndroid.

Renewed elegance

We won’t do another chapter on this, I promise. So let’s put it in a nutshell: the Galaxy S9 takes everything from the Galaxy S8 in terms of design and is therefore beautiful. Samsung’s gamble with itsInfinite display is many times successful and we have the feeling that the manufacturer has managed to finditsway.

The screen is difficult to produce, difficult to protect, but what a pleasure to look at! From the interface to the multimedia content, via web browsing or photography, its maximalist side makes us forget that there is a smartphone behind the slab. Samsung has figured out how to get tothe end of touch interfaces: the front panel is now just a touch interface. We love it.

Touch also follows: the Galaxy S9+’s coating is soft, almost silky, and fingers glide easily to reach all parts of the screen. So yes, all this is inherited from the Galaxy S8, but after all, why innovate when you’re already making great products that are hard to match on the Android smartphone market? We may regret the slightly angular edges of the whole, which disrupt the grip, but we remain miles away from a brick like the OnePlus 5T and its less noble materials. Samsung always knows how to make top-of-the-range and takes care of the most highlighted components.

In the back, the Korean didn’t repeat the Galaxy S8’s mistake: the fingerprint sensor is clearly marked underneath the camera sensor, so we don’t accidentally put dirty fingers on the lenses. It was an ergonomic nonsense from the previous version – fortunately it’s been corrected and you soon get used to having to put your finger in the middle of your back.

Beyond that, there is a jack port, which for some will be an advantage over the Applegang and a Type-C USB port on one slice. The volume buttons are placed right next to the button that triggers the Bixby wizard and this may be Samsung’s only big mistake: as they also serve as a shutter release for the camera, Bixby is unintentionally triggered most of the time. The wizard button is much better placed in a normal grip than the volume button… and considering what it does (we’ll come back to this later), it’s a shame.

In short, not too many surprises, good surprise: you’re treading on familiar territory while feeling like you’re holding a really high-end smartphone with a character all of its own.

Interface

Unfortunately, once the smartphone is turned on, everything changes. It’s not clear what went through the minds of Samsung developers to come up with such an unpleasant interface to use. Or rather, to start using. One might think that the first moments are the most important, those that must initiate interactions with the user, bring concepts that are pleasant to use, and so on. On an S9 Galaxy, it’s just the opposite. Nothing makes sense and every step is an ordeal.

The smartphone starts to be configured with two accounts – a Google, then a Samsung. You’d have to create it if you didn’t have one. The steps are cumbersome, require confirmations, bugs at will.

We then go on to import all our data into a new device, which is sold to us as miraculous. We think we’re awesome. We click. We are then asked to download an application on our already owned Android smartphone. We’re running it through Google Play… none of them match the name. We tell ourselves that Samsung made a mistake in the translation, it happens and we download the one with the closest name. It was obviously not the right one and we were on the verge of sending all our data to who-knows-who’s server.

In fact, we had to do a web search and dig through a FAQ to see that our smartphone (a OnePlus 5T, so not the latest obscure supermarket model) wasn’t compatible with the official Samsung application – which therefore didn’t appear in the Google Play search. Never mind, we’ll do without the backup. But how many regular users will have gotten caught? How many will have downloaded not the first app, but an ad scam like the one on Google Play? Samsung makes no effort to mark this trail and has already managed to lose us.

After these initial setbacks, the ordeal does not stop. Samsung’s bombarding us with pop-ups. You have to accept dozens of permissions to run any widget – the first one is read carefully, at the tenth one, you might as well be told that we wrote a blank check with our data. All this first grip is jerky whereas it should be a fluid and pleasant contact.

Then, when you manage to get rid of all the popups and other instructions, accounts to open and things to learn, you realize that the rest is not better. Why does Samsung make everything complex? The button to switch to energy saving mode triggers a complex menu with an explanatory window, three options, lots of info. All it took was a toggle on/off and the operating system did the rest. To the point of absurdity: a pop-up will ask you if you are sure you want to switch to airplane mode (you can hide it for the next few times). All this put together makes the Galaxy S9+ an unpleasant smartphone to adopt. Not wanting to use a product just a few hours after unpacking it is an effect that every user experience designer must have hated.

On the contrary, at Samsung, we have them on every floor. The apotheosis may be embodied by Bixby. Because nobody uses his assistant behind those of Google, Amazon or Apple, Samsung decided to gamble Bixby. You gain experience by using it, you unlock levels… in short, you are forced to use it. With one detail: in 2018, the assistant is still not available in French. Which means you’ll have to make do with the English voice. Yes, a final product sold for several hundred euros arrives in a semi-localized version.

Bixby is not finished, but is at the heart of the Samsung experience.

And Bixby isn’t a little avoidable trick: it’s at the heart of the Samsung experience. It is found everywhere in the interface, but especially under the thumb. This is perhaps the hardest part: the project is so dear to Samsung that a physical button on the slice is dedicated to it. Since you don’t want to use it, you will have no choice but to make the button useless. This button is ideally placed: as we have already mentioned, we systematically confuse it with the camera’s shutter release (volume button). A plague that has enraged us so many times…

…but didn’t discourage us. Because if Samsung has tried to put obstacles in the way of its users for some unknown reason, we must admit that after the first few days, the experience is pleasant. In particular, the play on transitions is perfectly executed, which allows the smartphone to always be fluid and responsive. You never find yourself in the sometimes unpleasant brutality of a poorly integrated Android. Samsung has tidied up its copy and added small features that will be hard to do without – think of thescreen always on or the many intelligent gestures of the interface that simplify actions.

Beyond that, the experiments highlighted in the GS9 presentation, notably the AR Emojis, are just gadgets that are at the limit of the valley of the strange. You miss the fun potential and immediately forget about them, as they malfunction (front tracking is not as accurate as the iPhone X’s, which has many dedicated sensors). And then they freak us out.

Finally, we may finally retain the Dex mode, which can be useful to do without a computer – an article will be devoted to it – and Samsung Pay which, like Apple Pay offers home-made wireless payment. Both are available on other high-end Samsung smartphones

Photo and video

The GS9’s camera has been presented as a marvel and it must be acknowledged that it is an engineering gem. Mounting a dual-aperture sensor in such a small cabin is a technical feat and Samsung has integrated it very well.

Theoretically, the double aperture will allow you to capture more light and therefore take pictures in low light – the weak point of most smartphones. In practice, if you take the same daytime picture with the f/1.5 or f/2.4 lens, you won’t see the slightest difference.

In auto mode, the most suitable aperture will be activated in almost complete darkness. Then we will see the difference, but we will have to show interest. Otherwise, our confreres from FrAndroid showed us how to see a difference between the two openings: take a macro picture and have a far field behind. The texture of the blur changes. Is that what this is all about? It would seem so, although one can only agree that low-light photos are very successful. Feel free to participate in our blind test on the subject.


The rest is Samsung: almost perfect if you leave out tones that turn blue a little too often, lots of easy to use modes that allow you to take amazing or funny photos and videos (think of ping pong gifs) or a Pro mode that will allow you to control the settings as well as possible. In short, the GS9’s camera largely justifies the price difference between the smartphone and mid-range devices.

But what about the much-vaunted super slo-mo mode? Capable of shooting video at 960 frames per second, it turns out that this is once again a gadget that is difficult to handle. If you leave the automatic mode, you will have to create a movement in a yellow square in the center of the screen.

In other words, 90% of your shots will be missed: break an egg in front of the lens and the software will record the seconds your hands separate, but not the egg’s fall. It still takes a long time to understand the organization of the Samsung apps settings to find a manual trigger mode and succeed a few takes, in 720p, with a little automatic elevator music.

The Galaxy S9+ costs €959. The Galaxy S8+, much less.

Here are the top 10 best phones of 2018 according to our colleagues of FrAndroid:

In brief

Samsung Galaxy S9+

Indicative note : 3/5

The Galaxy S9 and its Big Brother the Galaxy S9+ are high-end smartphones that don’t tarnish their status. That said, in practice, one really wonders if one Galaxy S8 from last year is not enough. Cheaper and just as versatile, the Galaxy S8 loses only rarely used gadgets to the newcomer. For its part, the S9+, compared to the S8+, has a “zoom” type sensor. 

So the Galaxy S9 is a neat smartphone that’s coming to a low point at Samsung: what to do after the excellent S8 that marked its generation? So far, not much. But we’re already looking forward to the next generation: what the giant has outlined here bodes well for the future. And then it’ll be a chance to take out a Galaxy X to mark the occasion.

Top

  • The design
  • The speed of the system
  • The camera

Bof

  • The interface
  • Killer features that are gadgets
  • Why GS9 instead of GS8?

Article originally published on 29 March 2018

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