Some phones are expected to be a little more exciting than others. After several years of testing smartphones of all ranges and quality, it’s still a little feverish as we approach the new iPhone and the new Galaxy S. This year won’t change that. After a preview in February and then a new contact at the MWC, it is still with a touch of anxiety that these lines come to us.
S9 is the successor to S8, which will have had a slightly shorter than usual lifespan since it was launched on April 21, 2017, i.e. 11 months. It’s short enough to give birth to a new flagship, even if the gestation period lasted longer. We have no doubt about that.
Because if visually the two products are very similar, Samsung has nevertheless made a small revolution on the photo side: for the first time on a smartphone (if we put aside some exotic products) we have a variable aperture thanks to a physical diaphragm. A feat that should not be overlooked and which must not have been easy to develop.
Thus, a bit like an iPhone S, the Galaxy S9 appears to be a model of transition, bringing innovations that are more technical than aesthetic. It still has to be done right. That’s what we’re going to see in this test.
Nothing looks more like a Galaxy S8 than a Galaxy S9. From the front, it is simply impossible to distinguish between the two. Samsung may have said that the edges have been refined, but it’s hard for the eye to see a difference. When the products are placed side by side, a very slight reduction can be seen, but it remains negligible.
Continuity is good, however: the Galaxy S9 is beautiful, just like its predecessor. While these curved side curbs are unnecessary, they still have an effect and give the newer Galaxy S (and Note) an element of distinction from the rest of the market. This is all the more true since it is difficult to imitate, unlike the notch of theiPhone X which will become as popular in the coming months as the 18:9 screen has been in recent months.
At the back, the design teams didn’t work hard either, since the only noticeable difference is the location of the fingerprint sensor. He is being deported under the NPA and no longer on his side, as seen on the Galaxy A8. The main advantage is to make it more accessible, or simply usable in reality.
In short, the physics of the Galaxy S9 isn’t new, but it’s far from ungrateful. That’s the main thing, and unlike Apple, which has been dragging the ” iPhone 6 ” curves since 2014, Samsung’s curves have only been there for 11 months, too early to really get tired of them.
Samsung has been offering AMOLED displays since the first Galaxy S, so the company has had time to master the technology perfectly, we have new proof of this. As has been the case for several years, the S9’s slab is perfectly adjusted and one can take advantage of the infinite contrasts of the technology. On the other hand, the use of the “basic” mode is recommended in order to have the most accurate colors. The adaptive is probably a little cold by default, but it has the merit of adjusting to the environment.
No change for the definition, we are still in front of a 2960 x 1440 panel (at the ratio 18.5 : 9) in the best case, this resolution of 567 ppi brings nothing visually compared to the FHD+ (2220 x 1080). It is therefore this definition that is recommended to relieve the SoC and thus save battery power. You’re going to need it, we’ll see below.
It is now a known fact that, with more display space, the 18.5:9 format is not suitable for most video content and games. While waiting for platforms and publishers to adapt to this ratio, which has become a near-normal in record time, we will have to suffer black bars or crop part of the screen. You have only the embarrassment of choice.
To power its S9, Samsung relies on one of its in-house SoCs: the Exynos 9810. It is an 8-core chip etched at 10 nm and clocked at 2.7 GHz for the four fastest cores. It is supported in this case by 4 GB of RAM which will help with multitasking. Thanks to the reinforcement of the Mali 960 GPU, the trio plays with virtuosity the most delicate scores.
Nothing resists him, as the benchmarks show very well. We expected nothing less from Samsung, so much so that we sometimes wonder what we’re going to do with all that power. We’ll answer that it’s better to have too much than not enough, it makes the smartphone a little more “future proof”.
By default, the S9 comes with 64 GB of storage, enough for the average person. If that’s not enough, you can opt for 256 GB and even add aSD card. This year – and for the first time on a European Galaxy S – the smartphone will be able to accept a second SIM card instead of the SD card. This will prove useful for travellers and users of two mobile lines.
Once again, Samsung is certifying its IP68 smartphone, which will allow it to spend 30 minutes underwater at a depth of one meter without suffering any damage. It is always a valuable plus that prevents certain accidents and is practical in everyday life, especially as summer approaches.
The A-Series has been shining for a few years with its autonomy, but unfortunately Samsung is struggling to do the same on the S and Note. It must be said that the brand has chosen a 3000 mAh battery, which is as much as the A8… with significantly lower performance. So we’ve got S9 that’s going to provide the bare minimum.
It will be relatively easy to keep up a day’s work with routine use. But if you use your phone a little too regularly during the day and risk playing on the transport, you could find yourself in the red zone in the early evening. It’s a real shame about a high-end phone.
Fortunately, there are simple ways to reduce the S9’s power consumption: reduce the screen’s definition to FHD+ as we said earlier, and above all, disable the Always-On display, which once again consumes a bit too much compared to the usage benefits it offers.
The two drops correspond to prolonged use of the display
Here we have the first problem with this S9, it really does the bare minimum. That’s unfortunate. We’ll have to see if the Galaxy S9+ with its 3500 mAh battery does better (spoiler: a bit). We will be comforted by the presence of the quick recharge: a little less than 2 hours for a full recharge. Wireless recharging is also part of the game and is practical for putting a smile back on the batteries during the day at the office, for example.
Now we come to the main course of this S9: the photo. As we said in the introduction, the S9 is the first modern smartphone to offer a diaphragm. Modern, because Nokia had already tried it on the N8 in 2007. Samsung thus offers two openings for its 12 mpx sensor inherited from the S8: f/1.5 or f/2.4, allowing more or less light to enter. This opening has no equivalent on the market for the moment, with LG G6 reaching only f/1.6 and S8 f/1.7. Samsung announces 28% more light than the previous model, or Note 8 which has the same main sensor.
This light gain allows Samsung to lower the sensitivity (a little) and thus reduce the grain in low light. Note that in automatic mode the switch from one aperture to the other is made at 100 lux, which corresponds roughly to a moderately lit room, such as a bedroom. Samsung succeeds, at least in part. By examining the EXIF files of the various shots for comparison with Note 8, the S9 does lower the ISOs or reduce exposure time depending on the circumstances.
Visually, the shots from S9 are generally better than those from Note 8. One will mainly appreciate the noticeable reduction of electronic noise and brighter colours, however, there could still be a little more detail. The smoothing, although less aggressive, can also tend to create some errors like we had already noticed in our first comparison. These approximations fortunately go unnoticed most of the time. In broad daylight, we took advantage of the reduced aperture to get a little more stitch on the images, but that didn’t strike us either. In the end, the smartphone keeps a good part of its promises, but there are areas for improvement. Samsung’s invention is nonetheless promising and we can’t wait to see how the firm will develop it on the next models.
The noise is clearly lower on the S9. Crop 100%; full images: Galaxy S9; Galaxy Note 8
Samsung also features a slow motion mode at 960 frames per second. While we appreciate the technical prowess, we are still not convinced of the real value of such a function. The latter always appears as a gadget that is quickly forgotten once the effect is discovered. This was all the more true because despite the automatic slow motion trigger when an object passes in the field, it is still difficult to set up. This can last only 0.2 seconds in a row, sometimes a little short. Slow motion requires a lot of light to work properly. 960 frames per second means that each image is captured at 1/960th of a second, which does not leave much time for the sensor to print.
Samsung has also worked on smartphone sound, having it tuned by AKG, and labeled Dolby Atmos. The device has good sound management: it is more detailed than usual and the proposed volume is quite impressive. On the other hand, the spatialization is not the most obvious. Nevertheless, the sound produced by the S9’s speakers is probably the most audible on the market today.
On the software side, Samsung couldn’t help but give in to the fashion for augmented reality emojis that Apple has initiated. Samsung, however, preferred to offer to recreate your avatar in three dimensions rather than slipping into the skin of a panda. While it may not be helpful, we will admit that it amused us for a while. On the other hand, they are less animated than Apple’s, mainly due to less efficient sensors.
Speaking of sensors, Samsung has decided not to offer a three-dimensional facial recognition system, unlike Apple. To compensate, the Korean offers a solution combining iris and face recognition. The unit will select the option deemed most effective based on the environment. It’s pretty fast and we encountered few errors in a week of testing, a good point.
Not much change on the OS itself: the S9 comes this year with Android 8.0 Oreo behind the usual overlay. The part is unchanged or almost unchanged. We only have full management of the interface in landscape mode, i.e. the navigation buttons are always placed at the bottom of the screen regardless of the orientation of the device. All the other differences come from Oreo, including the commendable better management of notifications.
Bixby and his dedicated touch are always present, but the assistant still doesn’t speak French and his other contributions are perfectly dispensable. Bixby is once again just this dedicated key that causes the assistant to launch unintentionally. It’s wearing out over time. Luckily, we can disable it this year… but we have to set up Bixby before we can do that. (ツ)_/¯
So what about this Galaxy S9? Without a doubt, the terminal ticks all the boxes of a top-of-the-line smartphone of the moment, from performance to design to screen or photo. Is it really a great leap forward compared to its predecessor? No. The evolutions are obviously welcome and the photo part is improving, but it is not revolutionary and we regret that the smartphone loses in passing autonomy. Clearly, this is a transitional product for Samsung and as with all transitional products, their purchase is rarely justified from one year to the next.
An even clearer conclusion when the price is taken into account: as the Galaxy S8 is now regularly offered at around 520 euros, it’s hard to see how we can justify paying 339 euros more for an S9. For Samsung and Apple, the best option is to go with the previous generation. However, this finding should not call into question the intrinsic qualities of S9. It is an excellent product… but it is only recommended for those who are not looking at the price and want the latest fashionable product.