We’ve had the S9 for about a couple of weeks now, and while that’s not quite enough time for a full review, it’s given us plenty of time to check out whats new.
When we first saw the S9, Samsung had a lot to say about its new camera - but just how good is it? Well, let's start by talking about whats new. The big thing they’re pushing this year is the ‘variable aperture’. The aperture is the bit of the camera that changes how much light it lets in - and, traditionally, changing it can make a big difference to how well your photos turn out.
The S9 has two apertures - f1.5 and f2.4, and will switch between them automatically based on how much light there is. If you are taking photos at night, then the larger f1.5 will be used, whereas on a really bright sunny day, the small f2.4 will be used. You can use the camera’s Pro mode to swap between them manually if you want, but the rest of the time the phone will decide for you.
The other new camera related bit is Samsung’s AR Emoji. This uses the camera to take a snap of your face, and then creates an animated version of you on the phone. It’s a lot like Bitmoji and a little like the Mii’s you would create on a Nintendo.
Once you have your animated character, the phone makes a bunch of animations and poses, and you can send these to your friends in messaging apps.
It all sounds good until you come to use it. Unlike the iPhone X, there’s no extra hardware being used here, just the regular front camera. The results vary from OK to downright horrifying. The characters are pretty funny - but not for the reasons Samsung were going for.
There’s no denying that the design of the S9 is stunning. It is thin, light and the gentle curve looks better than ever. Holding it feels nice in the hand, though if your hands are average size, you will find the S9 feels tall.
There’s not much new here compared to the S8, the only thing that’s different really is the fingerprint sensor. It’s been moved from next to the camera to right below it - which makes it easier to reach, but you’ll still end up swiping on the lens a lot.
The curved screen still looks really cool, and you can swipe in from the edge to open up a hidden menu with lots of little widgets and shortcuts. Above the screen is a second speaker, which combined with the phone on the bottom of the phone can be used for stereo sound - great if you’re watching a movie or listening to music. This also uses Dolby Atmos technology to make the sound even better.
If you want to listen with headphones - Samsung have kept this simple by keeping the headphone jack.
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Being the newest Android handset around, it has top-spec in every area. As you’d expect apps and games open really fast and there is never any slow down.
You’ll get 4GB RAM in the standard size S9, and 6GB in the S9 Plus - this is more than enough for everything you’ll be doing, so you shouldn’t have to ever worry about having multiple apps open or swapping between them. The new ‘app-pairs’ feature, where you can pair two apps together so you can see them both on screen at once works great, and make good use of the big screen.
The phone runs the latest version of Android, Oreo, so you’ll get all the latest bells and whistles from that. Samsung’s software that sits on top of it has been tuned up again, and runs really fast and smooth. The only annoying thing is the amount of duplicate and non-removable apps that comes with the phone. Out of the box you’ll get:
For most users this is just going to cause confusion when they open the Email app and can’t find their Gmail, or can’t find their favourite apps to download from one of the app stores.
You can uninstall some of the apps to tidy things up, but I’d recommend trying out the Samsung apps - they’ve got much better recently. The Samsung Internet browser is widely praised as the best browser you can get on Android (and I’d agree).
Due to a partnership with Microsoft, you can’t get rid of the Microsoft apps, only disable them. This is fine, but I don’t like the idea of them still taking up space on the phone. I will never, ever want to edit a spreadsheet on a mobile phone.
Samsung’s virtual assistant Bixby has some improvements - you can now point the camera at pretty much anything and Bixby will try and identify it and give you some info. It still lacking compared to Siri, and feels especially behind Google Assistant or Alexa. You can still use Google Assistant (this is another case of Samsung giving you two of everything), but you can’t change the button to do anything other than open Bixby. You can now turn it off, which is a slight improvement over the S8.
What is the S9 like to use in the real world? It’s really good - probably one of the best Android phones you’ll get. Performance is fantastic, the design is great, and these help you overlook the gimmicks like AR Emoji or under-developed things like Bixby.
If you’ve got an S8, then there’s not much new here - unless you really want the fingerprint sensor in a new position. If you’ve got an S7 or older phone and are looking for an upgrade, then I’d definitely recommend it.