Samsung Galaxy S9 review: Not perfect, but still a stellar phone

  • Editors' rating
    8.9 Outstanding
  • $719.99

Pros

  • Fast, reliable performance
  • It has a headphone jack!
  • Reliable camera

Cons

  • Battery life
  • Super Slo-Mo is good, but not great

Samsung's Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus were announced in late February and went on sale in the middle of March. Since that time, ZDNet's Matthew Miller reviewed the bigger Galaxy S9 Plus, proclaiming the device is "Android perfection achieved."

Read also: Samsung more than doubles storage of Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus

For roughly the past six weeks, I've used the smaller Galaxy S9, using it as my only camera to cover Apple's Education Event, and as my daily device for an extended amount of time.

And while I mostly agree with Miller's assessment, the Galaxy S9 does have some flaws. Just how much of an impact on the overall experience do those flaws have? Let's look.

Sticking with what works

samsung-galaxy-s94.jpg
(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

By all accounts, the Galaxy S9 looks nearly identical to last year's Galaxy S8 lineup. The Galaxy S9 has a 5.8-inch Infinity Display that forgoes almost all bezels and wraps around the sides with a slight curve. On the right side of the phone is the power button, with a volume rocker and a dedicated Bixby button on the left side.

Read also: Samsung Galaxy S9: Everything you need to know

Top ZDNET Reviews

Indeed, just as was the case with the Galaxy S8, the Bixby button on the Galaxy S9 is still just as pointless. Granted, Samsung now gives users the option to disable Bixby and its dedicated button, but we still don't have an official option to use the button to launch an app of our choosing.

On the backside of the Galaxy S9 is its 12-megapixel camera, with dual aperture and a fingerprint sensor. The location of the fingerprint reader is one of the only visual differences between last year's model and the Galaxy S9. Instead of placing the reader next to the left of the camera, the Galaxy S9's reader sits just below the camera. The new position feels more natural and is infinitely easier to reach when using the phone with one hand.

Samsung also left the 3.5mm headphone jack alone, setting its smartphone apart from Apple's iPhone lineup and Google's Pixel 2 devices. A USB-C port on the bottom of the Galaxy S9 is used for charging and syncing the phone with a computer. On top of the phone is the combined microSD card and SIM card tray. The Galaxy S9 still has an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance.

The glass back stuck around as well, allowing for wireless charging and for fingerprints and scratches to muck up the look of your phone.

Performance

samsung-galaxy-s93.jpg
(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

Inside the Galaxy S9 is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 processor, 4GB of memory, a 3,000mAh battery, and 64GB of storage. Starting May 1, customers can preorder a Galaxy S9 with either 128GB or 256GB of storage directly from Samsung. Otherwise, wireless carriers and retailers will only carry the 64GB model.

Read also: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus: This is how much your new phone costs to build

I have no complaints or issues with the phone's overall performance. Apps open fast, scrolling through apps like Facebook or Twitter is stutter free, and movies look amazing on the phone's screen.

Camera

samsung-galaxy-s91.jpg

Apple CEO Tim Cook talks about the company's latest iPad at a special event in March 2018. The photo was captured using the Galaxy S9 on auto mode.

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

The 12-megapixel rear camera on the Galaxy S9 automatically switches between apertures of f/1.5 and f/2.4. Multiple apertures on a single lens is normally a feature found on dedicated cameras.

Read also: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus: Android perfection achieved

The larger f/1.5 aperture is used primarily in low-light situations, while the smaller f/2.4 aperture is more frequently used. When using automatic mode the camera app identifies the scene and switches between the two apertures on its own in an attempt to capture the best shot. Users who like a bit more control can use Pro mode in the camera app to manually select the aperture.

As I previously said, I used the Galaxy S9 as a camera to shoot photos of the Apple keynote in late March. I left automatic mode enabled the entire time, and have zero complaints with the results.

Outside of the awkward lighting situation, I continue to be impressed by the consistent performance of the Galaxy S9's camera. With the iPhone X, I feel as if there are times when I have to do all the thinking about framing, brightness settings, and capturing the shot just right to get the result I want. With the Galaxy S9, I can open the camera app, take a picture, and more often than not, it's going to look how I expected.

The Galaxy S9 Plus boasts dual rear-facing cameras, which is one feature I do wish Samsung had included in the standard Galaxy S9.

Super slo-mo

Not one to settle for regular slow-motion, Samsung opted to add 960fps slow motion capture to the Galaxy S9 lineup. The feature is found in the camera app and has two different capture modes: Manual or auto.

Read also: Galaxy S9: Best and worst features about Samsung's phone

With Auto selected, you set an area on the display where you expect the motion to take place. Once the camera detects motion, it begins recording 0.2 seconds of video. That seemingly minuscule amount of time is extended to six-seconds of video because of slow motion. When using manual mode, as soon as the shutter is pressed, the phone records the same 0.2-second video.

When Super Slo-Mo works, the end result is impressive and gives you a way to see things in motion like you've never seen before. However, conditions have to be just right. For example, a well-lit area -- such as outside during the day -- is practically required. I tried creating a slow-motion clip in a moderately lit restaurant at one point, and the end result was a far too dark video clip.

I've experimented with both manual and auto mode and found that manual mode is the most consistent way to capture a clip. With auto enabled, either the clip started way too early and missed what I wanted to see in slow motion, or the motion was missed altogether.

On the flip side, manual mode takes practice in order to get the timing just right.

Battery life

This is where the Galaxy S9 falls short of perfection. During my time with the phone, I've consistently had to charge the phone shortly after dinner in order to make it until I go to bed; and that's with sitting at my desk, using the phone sparingly throughout the workday.

Read also: 10 reasons why Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is the best

I rarely experienced any battery life issues with the Galaxy S8, despite it having the same exact size of a battery.

Perhaps Android Oreo has something to do with the rapid drain on the battery, or there's something else Samsung has done with the Samsung Experience tweaks, which the company makes to Android, that's causing poor battery life.

The Galaxy S9 Plus has a bigger battery at 3,500mAh, and would likely be the device I would purchase if I had to make a decision tomorrow.

Android's best?

samsung-galaxy-s92.jpg
(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

The Galaxy S9 is one of the best Android phones currently available, but is it the best? No.

Read also: Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus: The 12 most exciting features

The title goes either to the Galaxy S9 Plus or Google's Pixel 2 XL.

For me, the Galaxy S9 does a lot of things right. Considering the display, the camera, overall performance, and flexibility of Android the Galaxy S9 is a top-notch phone. But poor battery life left me with frustration, and on one occasion, without a phone for an entire evening in a completely different city.

If you refuse to pay extra for the Galaxy S9 Plus, or simply don't want a phone that big (I can't blame you), and opt to go with the smaller Galaxy S9, I recommend picking up a Mophie Juice Pack. I have one and don't leave home without it.

Specifications

Cellular
Technology CDMA2000 1X / GSM / WCDMA (UMTS) / TD-SCDMA
Type smartphone (Android OS)
Integrated Components digital player, front-facing camera, navigation, rear-facing camera, stereo speakers, voice recorder
Navigation BeiDou, GLONASS, GPS, Galileo
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900 / CDMA2000 1X 1900/800 / TD-SCDMA
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Cricket Wireless, Unlocked
Operating System Family Android
Operating System Android 8.0 Oreo
Payment Technology Samsung Pay
Intelligent Assistant Bixby
SIM Card Type nano SIM
SIM Card Slot Qty single-SIM
Input Device Multi-touch, capacitive
Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call, flight mode, voice dialing, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, proximity sensor, barometer, gyro sensor, hall sensor, RGB sensor, heart rate, pressure sensor, geomagnetic sensor
Additional Features Multitasking, Face Unlock, Wi-Fi Miracast, Multi Window, MU-MIMO technology, Fast Charging, Samsung KNOX, High AOP Mic, Samsung DeX support, Bixby Vision, Intelligent Scan
Security Devices Fingerprint reader, eye scan, face recognition
Details
SAR Value 1.59 W/kg (simultaneous), 0.96 W/kg (body) / 0.63 W/kg (head)
Integrated Components Rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, voice recorder, stereo speakers, navigation, digital player
Body Color Midnight black
Messaging & Internet
Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Yes
Miscellaneous
Sensors RGB sensor, accelerometer, barometer, geomagnetic sensor, gyro sensor, hall sensor, heart rate, pressure sensor, proximity sensor
Communications
Data Transmission EDGE, FDD-LTE, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA, LTE, TDD-LTE
Wireless Interface ANT/ANT+, Bluetooth 5.0 LE, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
Bluetooth Profiles Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP), Bluetooth low energy (BLE), HID Over GATT Profile (HOGP), Hands-Free Profile (HFP), Headset Profile (HSP), Human Interface Device Profile (HID), Message Access Profile (MAP), Object Push Profile (OPP), Personal Area Networking Profile (PAN), Phonebook Access Profile (PBAP), SIM Access Profile (SAP)
Processor
Clock Speed 2.8 GHz
Type QUALCOMM Snapdragon 845
Processor Number MSM8998
Manufacturer QUALCOMM
Processor Core Qty 8-core
64-bit Architecture Yes
Display
Technology Quad HD+ Super AMOLED
Display Resolution 2960 x 1440 pixels
Color Depth 24-bit (16.7 million colors)
Pixel Density (ppi) 570
Diagonal Size 5.8 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 14.7 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 5.8 in
Protection Corning Gorilla Glass 5 (scratch resistant glass)
Color Support color
Features Always-on display, Edge Screen, HDR display, Infinity Display
Media Player
Supported Digital Video Standards MKV, VC-1, FLV, AVC, AVI, MPEG-4, WMV, ASF, 3GP, H.264, H.263, M4V, WebM, HEVC, MP43, 3G2, WMV8, VP8, VP9, H.265, WMV7
Supported Digital Audio Standards WAV, WMA, AAC, PCM, AMR, MP3, FLAC, AAC-LC, XMF, AAC +, OGG, eAAC+, MIDI, APE (Monkey's Audio), M4A, apt-X, DSF, DSD, MXMF, OGA, 3GA, AWB, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA, OPUS, DFF, MID, AMR-WB, AMR-NB, Vorbis, DSD64, DSD128
Memory
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDXC - up to 400 GB
Battery
Run Time Details Talk: up to 1860 min
Standby: up to 84 hrs
Digital Camera
Self-Timer Delay Yes
Special Effects Bokeh effect, Grid Line, HDR, Motion Effect, Stamp, Stickers
Header
Brand Samsung
Product Line Samsung Galaxy
Model S9
Edition SM-G960U1
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Touchscreen Technology capacitive
Features
Sensors RGB sensor, accelerometer, barometer, geomagnetic sensor, gyro sensor, hall sensor, heart rate, pressure sensor, proximity sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert, voice control, voice dialing
Security Devices eye scan, face recognition, fingerprint reader
Additional Features Bixby Vision, Face Unlock, Fast Charging, High AOP Mic, Intelligent Scan, MU-MIMO technology, Multi Window, Samsung DeX support, Samsung KNOX, Wi-Fi Miracast, multitasking
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards 3GA, AAC, AAC-LC, AMR, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, APE (Monkey's Audio), AWB, DFF, DSD, DSD128, DSD64, DSF, FLAC, IMY, M4A, MID, MIDI, MP3, MXMF, OGA, OGG, OPUS, OTA, PCM, RTTTL, RTX, Vorbis, WAV, WMA, XMF, apt-X, eAAC+
Supported Digital Video Standards 3G2, 3GP, ASF, AVC, AVI, FLV, H.263, H.264, H.265, HEVC, M4V, MKV, MP43, MPEG-4, VC-1, VP8, VP9, WMV, WMV7, WMV8, WebM
RAM
Installed Size 4 GB
Technology LPDDR4 SDRAM
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 64 GB
Max Supported Size 400 GB
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDXC
Rear Camera
Sensor Size 1/2.55"
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty
Full Contract Period 1 year
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 8 Megapixel
Lens Aperture f/1.7
Focus Adjustment automatic
Features Motion photo, Quick launch, Stamps, VDIS (Video Digital Image Stabilization), location tags
Front Camera
Sensor Size 1/3.6"
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty

Top ZDNET Reviews

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Where To Buy

Samsung Galaxy S9 (Midnight Black)

Part Number: 610214656070
Price
$719.99

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All