First review: Samsung Galaxy S9+
THERE are many reasons to buy Samsung's newest, smartest smartphone.
1. You plan to make your fortune by surreptitiously snapping celebrities in dimly lit nightclubs.
2. Your epic smartphone movie involves several super slow-motion montages.
3. Your personal branding campaign includes releasing an emoji in your likeness.
But, unlike some years, there are solid reasons to avoid upgrading your smartphone for the latest Galaxy too.
2. It offers a very similar screen, speed, and features to the Galaxy S8.
3. It's on par with the most expensive Samsung phone ever released.
Naturally, this has inspired plenty of debate among smartphone buyers. Is a better camera, better sound, and perhaps a better unlocking mechanism worth a total upgrade?
We've been testing Samsung's Galaxy S9+ for a week to find out.
If you're going to buy this smartphone, you'll probably be doing it for that new camera.
It's where Samsung has focused most of its efforts (pun intended), and the resulting snapper one of the best on the market.
The dual 12-megapixel camera rig on the Galaxy S9+ can be used to zoom into a scene or create portraits with artfully blurred backgrounds, just like the last phone, but Samsung has added something entirely new too.
The wide-angle camera on the S9+ features a choice of two apertures - one at f2.4 and a second at f1.5 that will allow more light on to the sensor.
The camera will automatically switch to f1.5 in challenging light conditions and can deliver some surprising results.
Photographing a dark cat in a darkened bedroom, for example, is finally possible with this camera, as is snapping a scene in the darkened laneways of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter.
In case you don't want your camera to decide when to employ this wide aperture, Samsung will let you choose it in Pro mode, alongside other settings such as ISO and white balance.
But there are more preset camera options this year too. Food mode should excite those who choose to upload their dinner before chewing it, Selfie Focus can give self-portraits a professional look (though can be a bit aggressive about blurring hair), and the returning Wide Angle Selfie mode does a surprisingly good job of fitting large groups into one handheld photo.
Video gets an upgrade in this camera too. While it can record 4K video at 60 frames per second (albeit not for as long as the Apple iPhone), it also adds headline-grabbing Super Slow-Mo.
In this mode, the Galaxy S9+ will capture a subject's every move for 0.2 second and stretch it into a six-second video. It does this by capturing 960 frames per second and can produce fascinating results on humans and animals alike. It's amazing and a tiny bit horrifying the faces you pull when no one is usually able to observe them.
Given the difficulties involved in capturing the right 0.2 second moment, Super Slow-Mo mode can be set to automatically trigger when it detects motion in the centre of the phone's screen.
Even with this addition, it can be incredibly tricky to capture the perfect moment and you can't move the super slow-motion sequence after you've captured video on this phone.
In short, if you're going to use this mode, you'll probably be using it a lot before you're happy with the results.
YOUR OWN EMOJI
Can you justify buying a smartphone because it will create emoji in your likeness? Samsung is about to find out.
AR Emoji, in the phone's camera menu, will analyse 100 parts of your face to reproduce it in an animated cartoon character that you can share in text messages.
After a face scan, you can choose whether you want to appear with regular or cartoon-sized eyes, customise your hairstyle and colour, and add the clothing of your choice from a limited range.
The phone will save your likeness in 18 animated preset gifs representing everything from laughing and crying to frustration and hypnosis, and there's a shortcut available to send them in future SMS messages.
The S9 doesn't always get the likeness right, and users with unusual hairstyles will suffer the most, but it's a fun addition that goes one step further than Apple's Animoji.
If you're looking for that rumoured folding screen or dual selfie cameras, you'll be disappointed, but there are new additions to this Galaxy that will please users.
The speakers are now capable of more volume, as well as working in stereo at the top and bottom of the phone.
The S9 and S9+ also comes in two large storage sizes - 64GB or 256GB - even though both have space for a memory card.
And two of the biggest bugbears in Samsung's most recent phones have been addressed.
First, the rear fingerprint scanner now sits below its two cameras, presenting less of a smudging risk.
Second, Samsung combined its less secure but more convenient facial scanner and more secure but less convenient iris scanner in a mode called Intelligent Scan.
The mode promises to use the iris scanner for more sensitive jobs - like unlocking your banking apps - and the face scanner for everyday tasks, like unlocking the phone itself.
In practice, it's certainly faster and more reliable to use, though security experts say it's unlikely to be as secure, in all instances, as the face scanner in the iPhone X.
The biggest downside of Samsung's S9 has to be just how similar it is to its predecessor.
If you're not fussy about phone photography, it's hard to see why you'd upgrade to this model from the last, and particularly at such a high price.
Samsung's voice assistant Bixby has also failed to make obvious progress since its last outing, and regularly flubbed our efforts to use it for basic tasks.
And, no, you still can't reprogram the dedicated Bixby button on the side of this phone.
If you're going to choose just one smartphone on which to animate emoji, Samsung's Galaxy S9 should top your list.
It also bests Apple iPhone in phone photography, particularly in low light situations, has reduced security annoyances, and is a slender, speedy, and sophisticated machine with storage to spare.
However, if you own Samsung's last model, you'd be forgiven for skipping this upgrade, and waiting for something with more enhancements.
4.5/5 stars / $1349-$1499 / samsung.com/au
Launch: Friday, March 16
- Capable cameras with dual aperture setting
- Super Slow-Mo mode
- Louder stereo speakers
- More convenient security
- Best animated emoji
- Very similar design to last model
- Very similar features to last model
- Most expensive Samsung smartphone to date
- Face scanner doesn't match Apple
- Bixby still fails to impress