Samsung Galaxy S9+ Review: The One to Beat

The last Samsung phone I used as a daily driver was the Note 5. While I’ve been interested in trying one ever since, I have been pushed away by the constant claims that Samsung has a terrible software experience. The Galaxy S8 looked compelling, but I know that something as simple as the fingerprint sensor placement would have made me hate that phone. So the release of the S9, while otherwise very similar to the S8, excited me.

So I dove in with Samsung’s latest flagship, the Galaxy S9+, and surprised to find that there were only a few software “features” that I wasn’t interested in, and found quite an incredible phone otherwise.

Design

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I was never able to use a Galaxy S8 extensively, but I always admired the amount of screen that the S8 could pack into such a svelte footprint. That was earlier in the new generation of phones though, and now every manufacturer has a relatively high screen-to-body ratio flagship that is at least comparable to the S8 and the S9. That being said, I certainly don’t think that it’s a bad thing that Samsung did not largely change the design from the S8 series. At this point, I’m not sure how much more can be done. Yes, the bezels could be reduced even more to more align with the iPhone X, but I don’t think that is a significantly better design. I prefer to have a little bit of separation between the bottom of the interface and where the phone rests on my finger – Apple solves this by raising a number of their interface components like the keyboard some distance above the frame – a software bezel of sorts.

I also tend to prefer the glass back of the S9+ over aluminum backed phones (few and far between they may be now) but am disappointed by the number of fingerprint smudges that cover the back of the phone even after a few minutes of use. My preferred solution to this is a lighter colored phone, but it unfortunately wasn’t an option for me with the S9.

The rounded circle design language that can be found throughout the phone (screen, body, camera housing, fingerprint sensor) isn’t ideal for me, and I prefer phones that have more circular designs (such as the Huawei Mate 10 Pro), but that’s a matter of preference.

The S9 is so thin at its edges that it feels like you are holding the dull side of a knife. I would not describe that as comfortable by any stretch of the imagination. I think many other manufacturers have much more ergonomic phones.

 

Display

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Everyone knows that Samsung makes the best displays. The S9+ is no exception. The colors are great, and the brightness is great, but I don’t think that makes the difference. The biggest difference I see is the fact that text looks a lot more crisp and flat. It doesn’t feel like you’re looking at a screen.

The only issue that I see is the curved edges. When you are standing under florescent lights, it’s distracting how much glare comes off the edges of the display. I hate it, and I still think it’s a poor design decision.

 

Software

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Many Pixel fans will tell you that Samsung software is the worst thing in the world. I’m not so convinced. There are many good features of Samsung phones that can’t be found on other phones.

While it’s not discussed often, Samsung’s default keyboard is actually getting a lot better than when I used it a couple years ago. The predictions in many cases are actually better than Gboard’s, because it will save a lot more of your custom entries.

I tried really hard to use the Edge screen functionality, but it really felt half baked. Quite often, I would activate it accidentally, and then I would try and swipe back outwards to close it, but that only swipes through the page options. You have to tap elsewhere to close it, which feels very unnatural. The people edge does not connect to chat apps like Messenger and WhatsApp.

 

Performance and Battery Life

While many people claim that Samsung’s phones experience heavy lag due to the software, but I did not notice a significant amount of lag any time during my testing. The S9+ felt fast and fluid from the first day to the last that I used it, and at no point did I feel like switching back to the Pixel 2 XL.

On the other hand, at no point in my review period I was impressed in with the battery life I was getting. It was actually quite disappointing compared to my experience with the Huawei Mate 10 Pro and the Pixel 2 XL. I certainly could make it through most days without running out, but it’s nice to not have to worry about charging your phone every night.

 

Bixby

Many people criticize Bixby before even getting the opportunity to use it. Bixby, like other voice assistances, is only as good as you make it. If you disable it day one, then you will see the Bixby key as a useless addition to the Galaxy S9+. I decided to give it a full try, and keep it active for at least a few days. My results were mixed. I disabled the feed entirely the day that Bixby included a specific ad for flowers. Granted, it was Mother’s Day, but if I want to buy something, I will buy it myself. That being said, I found a few specific use cases for using the button as a walkie talking and saying a command. Bixby’s commands can get a lot more complicated than the Google Assistant’s – for example, I would tell Bixby “Open up Facebook Messenger and send a message to [insert name]: I’m on my way”. Bixby could quite reliably get it. The best part is, I could retrain Bixby to do the same task with a shorter command.

While the Google Assistant is able to send a message, it does not have compatibility with Facebook Messenger, and the state of messages on Android forces me into using a chat app like Messenger.

After a couple weeks, I turned off the one touch functionality of the Bixby button, because the ratio of unintentional presses to intentional presses was over 10:1.

 

Camera

Samsung Galaxy S9+ on left; Google Pixel 2XL on right.

This year, Samsung took a huge step in camera technology by developing a lens with dual aperture. I’m no camera expert, but I do know that this does wonders for making the camera capable in both good lighting and bad lighting. One morning I was trying to take a picture of a tag on a pair of pants I have (not while wearing them), and realized that no other phone I had could successfully brighten up the image enough to see the detail.

Outside of the incredible low light performance, the S9+ produces a lot less colorful images than the Pixel 2 XL. I think in many cases, this is a good thing, because I found the Pixel 2 XL to blow out colors way too much.

 

Other

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  • The fingerprint sensor on the S9+ is not very good. The positioning is a marked improvement from the S8+, but I would prefer a round fingerprint sensor.
  • I purchased my S9+ at a discount because the back glass was cracked. After looking around online, I found replacement glass for less than $30 that I installed myself. That is a testament to the longevity of this phone. Apple charges you $500 to replace the back glass of the iPhone X, whereas you can do the same with a S9+ for a fraction of the price.
  • It was nice to not have to use a headphone dongle or bluetooth headphones, since all of my headphones just worked.
  • Wireless charging should be included on all devices now. It is incredibly convenient.
  • While the Always on Display mode is a great feature, it’s not as usable as I would like. I would prefer just a black and white version of the lock screen with notifications, similar to the way the original Pixel did it. I would like to be able to swipe away notifications without waking the screen.
  • I really prefer having the volume buttons on the right side of the phone, rather than the left side.
  • The haptic feedback on the Galaxy S9+ is better than most other phones. That makes it much easier to accurately and comfortably type on the keyboard without the distraction of a big rattling vibration motor.

Bottom Line

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I really enjoyed my time with the S9+. There is clear evidence to why Samsung is the number one manufacturer of phones in the world. The design is incredible, the performance is great, and the software is bearable. I wish that the phone was a little bit more ergonomic. This will not become my long term daily driver, but I’m very excited to see what’s next for Samsung.

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