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Samsung Galaxy S9+ review: The best just got (incrementally) better

Samsung has taken the impressive Galaxy S8 and refined it into the best Android phone of 2018 so far

Samsung's flagship Galaxy series of smartphones appeared to have found its feet by the seventh and eighth iteration.

The South Korean company has been giving its customers high-performance components lovingly sandwiched between slabs of ever-widening Gorilla Glass over the last couple of years.

Announced at Mobile World Congress, the Galaxy S9 (and S9+ which the Mirror has been given to review) continues the trend.

The new handsets have been updated for 2018 in such a way as to keep them cutting-edge, but not enough that anyone holding an S8+ or a Galaxy Note 8 with a year left on their contract will be left annoyed.

It's a trick that Samsung's arch-rival Apple mastered some time ago.

After some initial time with the S9 and S9+ at the Mobile World Congress event, I've been testing out the day-to-day reality of the new phone. As you would expect, it's pretty damn good.

And, with a £870 asking price for the 128GB S9+, it still manages to fall between Apple's comparative iPhone 8 Plus handset which costs £799 for 64GB and £949 for 256GB.

Suffice to say, it's also cheaper than the £999 64GB iPhone X.


The Samsung Galaxy S9+ (Image: Jeff Parsons)
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The Galaxy S9+ is, in design terms, not much of a surprise. It's almost impossible to distinguish it from last year's S8+.

Both models are unblemished with the likes of a home button or even a "notch" into the screen like on the iPhone X. Instead you have remarkably thin bezels at the top and bottom so Samsung's "Infinity Display" is given total prominence.

The lack of bezels means the S9 boasts a 5.8-inch screen with an 18.5:9 aspect ratio and the S9+ has a 6.2-inch screen again with the same ratio. Both feature the same "Quad HD+" screen, translating into a resolution of 2960x1440 pixels. The viewing angles and colour reproduction on these screens are brilliant.

It's no wonder that most of us take to watching Netflix on our phones rather than our TVs, even when we're sitting at home on the couch. My only annoyance with this layout is that some apps aren't taking advantage of it. You might have a beautiful screen, but there are still ugly black bars on the top and bottom.

The big hardware changes worth mentioning include the fact that Samsung has moved the fingerprint scanner from the side of the camera lens to below it.

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A frequent complaint from last year was user's inadvertently jabbing at the camera lens while trying to get to the scanner. This new positioning kind of solves the problem, although I did find it was a bit too far down the body of the phone. I had to hook my finger to use it otherwise I would end up tapping blindly at the camera lens.

Samsung has also added dual stereo speakers to the device for the first time - which have Dolby's surround-sound Atmos technology built-in for giving audio and video even more punch.

And better yet - Samsung has opted to KEEP the 3.5mm headphone jack. Despite the likes of Apple and Google dropping it from their flagship handsets, Samsung will let you plug in your old headphones and keep listening dongle-free.

I know the way the industry is moving but I'm still prepared to hold out and say that keeping the 3.5mm jack is worthwhile.


(Image: Jeff Parsons)
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This is a flagship Android phone from one of the biggest tech manufacturers on the planet so performance isn't going to be a problem.

This thing is so powerful, it can even function as a desktop computer.

First revealed last year, Samsung DeX is a cradle for the phone that lets you plug in a monitor, keyboard and mouse and use the S9+ to handle documents, browse the web and play games. Samsung says that its DeX cradle has been redesigned this year, allowing the phone to lie flat and act as a touchpad or even a keyboard. The South Korean company is targeting this more at industry users than consumers and says it already has interest from a few financial companies.

Even if you don't want to use it as a full-blown computer, the S9+ runs very quickly indeed. For the statistically-minded among you, both phones run on a 10-nanometer octa-core processor developed in-house, backed by 4GB RAM on the smaller S9 and 6GB on the S9+.

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The Samsung Galaxy S9+ (left) and Samsung Galaxy S9 (right) (Image: Jeff Parsons)

In fact, if there is a downside, it's that there are too many options. You can get swallowed in menus trying to configure every conceivable part of the phone. For hardcore tech fans, it's brilliant - but less enthusiastic users may get frustrated with all the settings.

The only other hiccup that I noticed was when I was using the S9+ to make actual phone calls. During longer calls, usually over twenty minutes, the S9+ would apparently cut out for maybe 4-5 seconds, during which I couldn't hear the recipient of the call. I experienced this issue on at least four separate occasions in two different locations (home and office) both with strong 4G cellular reception. It happened whether the phone was in a shell case or if I was holding it on its own.

It was an annoyance - for a gadget as expensive as this, I would expect the call quality and stability to be rock solid.

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Gadget reviews

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  • PlayStation 4 Pro
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  • Google Pixel
  • Honor 7x


(Image: Jeff Parsons)
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Samsung is focusing on the camera performance for the Galaxy S9+ and has introduced a couple of new features that mean it takes some of the best pictures I've seen on a phone.

The larger S9+ has dual lens 12MP cameras on the back, while the S9 makes do with a single lens.. They can both handle super low-light with an F1.5 aperture setting which kicks in automatically, the same way the pupil in your eye expands to let it more light in dark surroundings.

Video has been improved too. Now, as well as optical image stabilisation and 4K resolution, you have the option of shooting "super slow-motion" at 960fps. This works by displaying a yellow square in the middle of the screen that will activate the slow motion as soon as something passes through it. You only get a couple of seconds of slow-mo but you can string clips together to make longer sequences.

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Samsung has shifted the fingerprint scanner below the camera lens (Image: Jeff Parsons)

The S9 also has an 8MP front-facing camera that boasts auto-focus and advanced facial recognition, both for unlocking the phone and controlling the new Samsung "augmented reality" emoji - basically a 3D cartoon version of your face.

It'll pick up 18 different expressions. Just like Apple's face-controlled Animoji, you'll be able to record small clips and send them through WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

Have a look below for a couple of picture examples taken with the Galaxy S9+ camera compared with the same pictures taken on an iPhone 8 Plus:

iPhone 8 Plus

A brightly-lit wide shot taken with the iPhone 8 Plus on automatic setting (Image: Jeff Parsons)

Galaxy S9+

The same picture taken on the Samsung Galaxy S9+ (Image: Jeff Parsons)

Galaxy S9+

A close-up picture taken with the S9+ on automatic setting (Image: Jeff Parsons)

iPhone 8 Plus

The same picture taken on Apple's iPhone 8 Plus with automatic settings (Image: Jeff Parsons)

iPhone 8 Plus

Colourful flowers pictured with the iPhone 8 Plus on auto settings (Image: Jeff Parsons)

Galaxy S9+

The same picture taken on the Samsung Galaxy S9+ with auto settings (Image: Jeff Parsons)


Samsung's Bixby assistant (Image: Samsung)

Bixby is Samsung's virtual assistant (like Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, Alexa) and it's not particularly better than any of them.

Despite this, Samsung has given Bixby its own dedicated hardware button on the side of the S9 and S9+ and thrown in a couple of new features that make use of the camera. Before proceeding you'll need to set up and register a Bixby account.

Bixby vision is a real-time translation tool that uses the camera to swap foreign words into English. Useful if you're trying to make sense of a menu but obviously you'll still need a data connection.

It will also tell you the calories in your lunch or identify landmarks by consulting with GPS. The feature is built directly into the camera so you just have to tap the button in the camera app to activate it. In my experience it took a little time to latch on, but seeing foreign words translated in front of your eyes is very impressive. It's an exciting look at where this technology may be heading.


(Image: Jeff Parsons)
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If you want the top spec, you're going to be paying top prices.

While the Samsung Galaxy S9+ is about as expensive as they come, it's also got some of the best components and features on the market.

Alternatives to look at are the excellent value handsets from the likes of OnePlus and Honor. They're around half the price and offer similar big-screen Android action. If you're a frequent upgrader then one of their new handsets should do you for the next year or two.

But if you want to buy big and forget about having to upgrade for the next few years, the Galaxy S9 is going to be the phone to go for.

The entry-level S9 comes with 64GB of storage and costs £739 SIM-free although there are a range of contract options to spread the price. The larger S9+ will set you back £869 with 128GB of storage.


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The Samsung Galaxy S9+ is, hands down, the best Android phone available to buy at the moment if you're looking for the top-end flagship.

Other brands offer you comparable design and performance for a few hundred quid less, but they don't match the quality of Samsung's work here.

I would argue that we're too far down the iOS/Android ecosystem road for anyone to realistically defect from an iPhone 7 Plus to this rather than an iPhone 8 Plus.

But the fact remains this is certainly equal - if not slightly superior - to Apple's offerings from September last year.

Samsung has focused on the things that we care about - a great design, excellent performance and a brilliant camera. It's not as big a step forward as the S8 and S8+ was last year, but it's still got an awful lot to recommend it.

The Samsung Galaxy S9 is available to pre-order now from Samsung and is also available from selected operators and retailers including Carphone Warehouse, EE, Three, O2, Vodafone and Sky Mobile.

The phone will go on sale on March 16.