Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus first impressions: Improving upon the S8 Plus just where it was needed

Samsung announced its yearly Galaxy S series update with the S9 and S9 Plus. After a few days of use, it's clear the S9 Plus corrects some things from last year's model while building on the Galaxy foundation. It is sure to be one of the top smartphones of 2018.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

Along with the official announcement, I wrote some of my first impressions after using the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus for a couple of hours during a briefing.

I now have a retail unlocked Midnight Black Galaxy S9 Plus in hand and am able to share more of my experiences before we post a full review later this week. My T-Mobile SIM was inserted a couple of days ago as I use the S9 Plus as my daily driver.

It is clear that the Galaxy S9 Plus improves upon the S8 Plus with the following:

  • Reposition the fingerprint scanner to the center back
  • Enhance audio capability with stereo speakers, tuned by AKG
  • Improve the excellent camera experience
  • Improve the facial unlock and security experience

In addition to the above design improvements, Samsung focused on camera features in the Galaxy S9 Plus. These include:

  • Super Slow-mo: The new slow-motion video capability captures 960 frames per second, with automatic detection mode to help you capture those fast movements.
  • Low light camera: The S9 and S9 Plus has a manual dual aperture design that automatically switches between f/1.5 and f/2.4 to control light. In addition, the camera technology reduces the amount of noise in the shots to make the S9 Plus a candidate for the best smartphone camera.
  • AR emoji: This particular design feature doesn't have much to do with business, but it helps Samsung compete with the iPhone X and its Animoji feature. One nice feature is that the resulting emojis are standard GIFs so can be shared across platforms.
  • Bixby Vision: Bixby continues to be a challenge for Samsung, but when I spend focused time with Bixby I understand its usefulness and capability. With the S9 Plus, we see some features powered by Google and available on other Android devices, but others that are specific to Samsung Galaxy devices. I don't wear makeup, but my wife, three daughters, and I tried out this new Bixby Vision feature and it was surprisingly accurate and useful. At this time, Sephora products can be tested virtually and then purchased right from the Galaxy S9 Plus where ever you are so there is an element here for the future of businesses.

Galaxy S9 Plus Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 2.8GHz 10nm octa-core
  • Display: 6.2 inch, 2960 x 1440 pixels resolution Super AMOLED (570 ppi)
  • Operating system: Android 8.0 Oreo
  • Storage: 64GB internal with microSD expansion card slot
  • Cameras: 12 megapixel rear f/1.5 and f/2.4 super speed dual pixel OIS camera and 12 megapixel telephoto f/2.4 OIS camera. 8 megapixel f/1.7 front-facing camera
  • Water resistance: IP68 water and dust rating
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz), VHT80 MU-MIMO, 1024QAM, Bluetooth 5.0 BLE, ANT+, GPS, NFC
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, Barometer, Fingerprint Sensor, Gyro Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, Hall Sensor, Heart Rate Sensor, Proximity Sensor, RGB Light Sensor, Iris Sensor, Pressure Sensor
  • Battery: 3,500 mAh non-removable with Quick Charge 3.0 and fast wireless charging
  • Dimensions: 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm and 189 grams
  • Colors: Midnight Black, Lilac Purple, Coral Blue, Titanium Gray

The key improvements over last year's Galaxy S8 Plus are the new processor, improved manual dual aperture camera, reconfigured fingerprint scanner, and stereo speakers tuned by AKG. The S9 Plus is 15 grams heavier, 0.4mm thicker, and 0.3 mm wider than the S8 Plus.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus hardware: in pictures

Hardware first thoughts

The first thing I noticed about the hardware, when compared to the S8 Plus, is that the two sides have a wider flat area. This may prevent fewer accidental screen presses on the curved sides of the display. However, some may also find the less rounded sides to be a bit uncomfortable.

Unlike the challenging off-center rear fingerprint scanner on the S8 Plus and Note 8, I hit the center rear fingerprint scanner every time. There is also a much quicker fingerprint training process on the S9 Plus that seems to make unlocking the device more consistent as well.

I've captured quite a few outside shots that look great, but also need to take more low light photos. The slow motion video is interesting and I look forward to discovering more scenarios to capture slow motion footage. This functionality encourages creativity and it will be interesting to see what people do with this capability.

The display is fantastic as Samsung once again sets the bar for smartphone displays with the S9 Plus. It is stunning and watching video content is a wonderful experience.

Software first thoughts

The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus launches with Oreo, but there isn't a ton of apparent differences since Samsung already pushes ahead of Google with its own innovations.

Thankfully, Samsung still includes its own email, calendar, contacts, image gallery, music player, and web browser software. All of these offer more than the stock Google apps and while others move to purely stock Google apps, there is still a ton of value in these Samsung applications that offer more for the enterprise.

A SmartThings app is installed out of the box, but so far I have not been able to get it to connect to my existing SmartThings hub so had to also install the separate SmartThings app. I need to explore this further with Samsung to figure out what the issue is here.

The super slow motion demo I saw at the briefing is also taking me some time to figure out and the ability to create GIFs and then share them is not as intuitive as I saw at the briefing. In order for super slow motion, and other advanced Samsung features, to be useful to the masses then these experiences need to be obvious and intuitive.

Price and availability

It was rather pleasantly surprising to see Samsung announce the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus at nearly the same price as the S8 and S8 Plus, much less than the iPhone X. The $720 and $840 pricing for the S9 and S9 Plus, respectively, is reasonable for the high level specifications and functionality included in these two new phones.

Best Samsung Galaxy S9 cases, accessories, and wireless chargers

Pre-orders launched last week with the devices appearing in stores at the end of next week. Samsung has come a long ways over the last few years in shortening the time between new device announcements and availability, which is something Apple set the bar for and others can still use as examples of how to do things right.

As I continue to use the S9 Plus as my daily driver, I plan to test out the battery life, reception and call quality, dual camera performance, Bixby functionality, and ability to unlock and be used immediately. Please let me know if there is anything specific you want me to test and discuss in my full review.

As much as I enjoy using the iPhone X, it is possible I may visit T-Mobile and exercise the Jump On Demand program to move to a Coral Blue S9 Plus. We'll find out after another week or so using this evaluation unit.

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