A Solid Upgrade

It’s finally here. After all the hype and buzz from the last two weeks, the rubber finally hits the road. Samsung’s 2018 flagships – the S9 and S9+ – pick up the baton from 2017’s S8 twins. If there’s one thing we learnt from the product unveiling at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress a fortnight ago, this device rides heavily on its camera. Is this ‘the’ smartphone camera of the year and more importantly is this the shiniest smartphone of them all?

Just like they did in 2017, Samsung has opted for a flagship duo. Except this time around, the taller twin comes with more than just a larger display. Most potential customers are likely to gravitate towards the S9+ because of its dual camera, it is one reason why we put this device under the scanner. The S9 and the S9+ look almost identical to their predecessors. That’s not entirely a bad thing. The S8 reimagined the form factor of a smartphone with its infinity display sans bezels. It inspired a wave of clones, suddenly the infinity display has become the new gold standard. The S9 stays in the same comfort zone. The only minor change is at the rear of the device.

The never-ending display pushed the fingerprint sensor on the S8 to the rear of the device. The placement of the fingerprint sensor is awkward to say the least. The S9 thankfully fixes our pet peeve. The sensor moves below the camera lens and is easier to locate. You don't run the risk of smudging your camera lens each time you unlock the phone. The S9 sports a 5.8-inch display while the S9+ boasts of a 6.2-inch display. The display specs are the same as last year – a gorgeous Super AMOLED screen that crams 529 Pixels per inch (1440 x 2960 pixels) with an immersive 18.5:9 aspect ratio. Samsung claims that the display is 15 per cent brighter than the S8, and when we put both these phones against each other, the S9’s screen looked more vibrant.

It is not just the display that grabs your attention, the all-glass form with its perfect curves makes a strong statement in a new set of colours that include lilac and a cool blue. The S9+ is powered by a 64-bit octa-core processor (2.7GHz Quad + 1.7GHz Quad) and 6GB of RAM. There’s a choice of 64GB and 256GB internal memory options with room for a Micro SD card (up to 400 GB). Not surprisingly, the device was blazing fast in all our tests and multi-tasking challenges. The 3500 mAh battery doesn't represent a major leap from the S8 but you are more than covered for a whole day in the office as long as you are not playing catch up on Netflix all day.

The S9+ follows the same dual cam strategy we saw on the Note 8, this is the key difference between the S9+ and the S9. The camera is the biggest talking point and features a variable aperture, a first for a smartphone cam. In simple terms, the rear cam automatically senses the available light and flits between a f/1.5 and an f/2.4 aperture. It certainly impacted low light photography results during our tests. The dual cam (12MP + 12MP) on the S9+ offers multiple possibilities that include optical zoom, better portraits and also DSLR-style depth of field images. The other change you will notice is how the camera menu is much simpler to use, allowing you to effortlessly switch modes. You are likely to reach for the slow-motion mode a lot. The S9 can shoot slow-mo videos upto 960 FPS (frames per second). There is also a clever reverse slow-mo mode that can enliven everyday moments.

The 8MP selfie cam will please selfie fiends, a dual selfie cam with portrait possibilities would have made them even happier. It is a feature that quite a few lower priced smartphones have added to the mix. While the selfie cam may not be a radical overhaul, the sound on the device breaks new ground for Samsung. The AKG-tuned stereo speakers augment the entertainment prowess of the device. Add these speakers to the bold display and you have the perfect device for binge watching on the go. Samsung holds on to the 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can still plug in your favourite pair of headphones. We were not entirely impressed with the S9’s other new feature though. The S9’s AR Emoji is Samsung’s answer to the Apple Animoji. Samsung opts for an avatar-based emoji that creates an animated emoji that still needs some work.

The Samsung Galaxy S9+ is one of the best smartphones out there; we were very impressed with the primary camera. While that may not be a compelling reason for S8/S8+ owners to move up, there’s little doubt that Samsung has a winner on its hands. If the S8 broke new ground, the S9 is the finished product.

The Samsung S9 costs Rs 57,900 / 65,900 (64 GB / 256 GB) while the S9 + costs Rs 64,900 / 72,900 (64 GB / 256 GB).

The devices will be available in India along with the rest of the world on March 16.

Pre-bookings are already open.