Samsung Galaxy S9 :: First impressions

by Volker Weber

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Management summary: solid update to the S8.

If you like a Samsung Galaxy S8, then you will like the S9 even better. It already has the Oreo Update, its fingerprint reader is finally in the right position, the screen is brilliant, the camera is solid. I don't see it superior to the other flagships like iPhone 8/X or Pixel 2. I also find these comparisons completely irrelavant. The differences are so little, that you can choose whatever your heart desires.

If you don't like Samsung phones, you can still find enough things to dismiss it. New features like the ARemojis are a terrible miss. Example in the photo above. This is supposed to be me. You can literally see the product manager trying to one-up Apple on their Animojis. S9 simply does not have the face tracking the iPhone X provides.

Same thing goes for the unlock with the front facing camera. Samsung combined two of last years features into one: face recognition, which works well in well-lit environments, and Iris recognition, which works well in low light, into one face unlock. Its false positive rate is high enough, that Samsung does not let you authorize purchases with it. But hey, face unlock. Check.

The 960 fps Slow Motion is a total gimmick. It only records a quarter of a second and renders those 240 frames into a six second 720p video. The Samsung PR rep was unable to shoot a single one indoors in normal lighting. Motion detection would not trigger, and without motion detection you will miss the moment. If you want to record 240 fps slo-mo in 1080p, you can do it for 5 minutes after which the S9 will stop recording to avoid overheating. The iPhone 8/X is more efficient and will record as long as you want, but I never wanted more than a minute, so that limit is irrelevant to me.

Do these gimmicks matter? Not in the least bit. They are just present as ammunition for people who like to one-up their friends. What did matter to me was better cases than Samsung presented with the S8 on launch. There is a really nice Alcantara Case that will protect the corners and covers the fingerprint magnet backside. It still leaves the rounded screen edge open. This is a good tradeoff between usability and protection.

Comments

As you rightfully said "you can choose whatever your heart desires", but it baffles me, how bad Samsung is at Software.

Then again, Apple seems to be losing its edge on Software lately, driven by the urge for annual updates and a ridiculous focus on emoji. So let's hope, they're refocusing again.

Axel Borschbach, 2018-03-04

Nicht das ich mir ein Samsung wünschen oder zulegen würde (nach jetziger Sachlage), aber seit dem S8 ist zumindest optisch nichts mehr gegen diese Geräte von meiner Seite her einzuwenden. Im Gegenteil, die verlinkte Zubehörseite sieht extrem stylisch aus, gefällt mir wirklich gut, sowohl Hardware als auch Zubehör. Und ich glaube, ein sehr guter Nebeneffekt des Trends zu höherer Screen-Body-Ratio ist, dass man nicht mehr ständig mit "SAMSUNG" oder dergleichen optisch angeschrien wird …

Heiko Wolf, 2018-03-04

Volker do you have any insight if project treble will have a tangible effect on Android updates (https://www.googlewatchblog.de/2018/03/schnelle-updates-samsung-galaxy/)?

My contract is up for renewal next week and I’m torn between the Pixel 2 XL and S9+.

I spent some time with the S9/+ this week.
HW quality is excellent. It looked and felt even better than S8 and especially my current S7 edge. Camera seems good but hard to judge indoors. Devices were tethered to an alarm with a short cord so there was very little range to test the cameras and slomo auto detect (I did not get that to work, neither). The variable aperture needs more testing before I can judge.
I like the HW zoom afforded by the dual cameras in the larger S9+.
The Dex feature may be interesting for some.
You forgot to mention the Bixby improvements: translation and calorie guessing from photos ;)
What I did not like: The AR emoji, my selfie impression looked like a caricature. I would not send this to my friends.
It also comes with Android 8.1 whereas Google devices are on 8.1 already.
My main griefs with the current S7 edge are
-the finger print sensor which does often not do its job
-suboptimal palm rejection on the edges
-cases. You either get clunky cases with good protection or flimsy shells which expose the edges and corners
-slow major OS updates (still on 7), security patches sometimes behind by a month or two
Could not test the FP sensor on the demo unit. Problem two seemed to be gone already on the S8.

What may be important is that one can probably expect Samsung phones to work with carrier features like WLAN calling, VoLTE, gigabit LTE, NFC SIM etc.

Overall I liked the S9+ a lot. More than I thought I would since it is similar to last year’s S8/+.

The Pixel 2 XL hardware design is not on the same level. You could also read about the OLED screen being grainy and prone to burn in.
But you get guaranteed three years (2.5 to go) of day one updates, also for major OS releases. I’m hearing only good things about the camera so the 2x HW zoom may be expendable.
WLAN calling and VoLTE work but Google does not support payment systems that use SIM encryption. Which is a pity since I grew fond of using one in the past months. Gigabit LTE is throttled to 800Mbps but that is rather a theoretical problem.

Overall I am leaning towards the Pixel due to the updates and pure Android, but oh boy is the S9 HW nice.
Question is if project treble will accelerate updates for non-Google devices.

Tobias Hauser, 2018-03-04

„Literally“? You as well Volker? So it‘s settled then literally broke the chains of its original meaning. ;)

Mariano Kamp , 2018-03-04

Tobias, that is a difficult choice.

Samung:
+ Better hardware
+ Better carrier support
+ Larger ecosystem of third party support and accessories

Googe:
+ Much leaner software
+ Day one updates
+ Outstanding camera software
+ Assistant instead of Bixby

There is no winner.

Volker Weber, 2018-03-04

+Samsung: Their launch trade-in deal allows you to jettison old Windows phones

Tobias Hauser, 2018-03-04

Volker, thanks for your analysis. Could you say, that the fingerprint reader is faster than on the S8 and Note8?

Hubert Stettner, 2018-03-04

No, I could not. Is the old fingerprint reader slow?

Volker Weber, 2018-03-04

It seems not to be the fastest around, not like a Huawei, e.g.. Also I need to position my finger several times on S8+ and Note 8 (not due to positioning of the reader, using covers which have a guiding effect), sometimes.
Maybe I am 'holding it wrong'. Will see on Thursday, if there is a difference.

Hubert Stettner, 2018-03-04

Thanks for analysis. S9 has dual aperture camera for f1.5/f2.4, did you explore this at all? Im curious as to what difference it makes in practice in low light situations and whether it is indeed better than the iPhone 8/X in low light.

PS: s/forth/quarter

Andy Mell, 2018-03-05

Nice hair style!

Thomas Langel, 2018-03-05

There are no more huge gains in cameras on smartphones. In a "first experience" I can only say that it shoots decent images, like all the other top smartphones. Advancements today are mostly in software, that is why we call it computational photography.

The normal tradeoff is between light and sharpness. A sharp photo is a better photo than a blurry one. That is why under normal lighting with a traditional camera you would shoot a fast f/1.4 lens at f/2.8 to f/4.0 most of the times. Only if you need to balance against shutter speed, you will open up the aperture. Or if you are trying to have a very shallow depth of field.

I would expect the S9 to shoot most photos with f/2.4 almost all of the time, and sacrifice sharpness only when absolutely needed by going to f/1.5. That is the theoretical gain. However, there are so many ways to gather more light or compute more sharpness out of all the frames modern cameras shoot before and after what becomes your photo. I expect this to have a much bigger impact than a variable aperture.

Volker Weber, 2018-03-05

Das ging jetzt genauso aus, wie von mir beschrieben: https://heise.de/-3988165 Es macht kaum einen Unterschied.

Volker Weber, 2018-03-07

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