I would normally never do this.
When I’m reviewing a device, it’s usually my policy to use it like an everyday, normal person would, preferably for at least a couple of weeks, before passing judgement.
When it comes to the best phone in the world, sometimes you have to make an exception.
As far as I’m concerned, Samsung’s been leading the pack for several years now, with both the S and Note series. Granted, the more flammable Note7 wasn’t perfect, but overall, the flagship handsets from Samsung have pioneered advances in screen technology, wireless charging, water and dust resistance and camera quality.
I’m breaking my routine and publishing this review on the day the Galaxy S9 and S9+ have been launched because I was lucky enough to have a brief sneaky peek at these new devices before they actually go on sale in a few weeks’ time. Although I only had about an hour to play with them, some of the new features made such an impact on me, I thought I’d give you my take which may be of assistance if you’re considering pre-ordering a shiny new S9 or S9+.
Available in black, blue and for the first time, lilac (which I can assure you, is definitely not pink) the latest models in the Samsung Galaxy line are again the most beautiful phones I’ve ever seen. The (by now) trademark curved edges of the all-glass front and back, now recess slightly into the bezel making the S9’s easier to grip than their predecessors. Like the S8’s, the fingerprint sensor is still on the back but to placate last year’s moaners, it’s been centered to a more sensible position below the camera instead of beside it – so no more accidental fingerprint smudges on your camera lens.
The camera features wider aperture capabilities than ever before – right down to F1.5 in fact, which as far as I am aware makes it the widest aperture lens currently available. This should mean the best low-light shots ever seen from a smartphone and while I didn’t have the opportunity to try it out myself, I saw some very nice shots taken in near darkness that certainly looked the goods. If you prefer a dual-lens configuration, you’ll have to go for the larger S9+. For some reason, I assume budget, the S9 has just the single rear-facing lens although it seems to offer most of the same photo-functionality as its big brother.
One of the new and perhaps the most exciting photographic features is Super Slow-Mo video recording. This means you can create your own GIFs that transition from normal time to slow-motion and back again effortlessly. I had a good play around with this feature and it’s the real deal. Think capturing that kid crossing the finish line, blowing out the birthday candles or throwing a bucket of water over your dad – the S9 handsets can easily record these moments in super slow-mo and then they are instantly shareable.
While you’re sharing things, you might want to create your own AR Emoji – one selfie is all it takes to convert your image into an animated 3D avatar that can be attached to messages or sent in a variety of emoji GIFs. Personally, I hate emojis, but I have to admit – when they look a bit like me and they blow kisses, cry tears of laughter or have bright ideas, they’re a lot more fun.
This facial scanning technology also lends itself to an enhanced facial unlock, which combined with the retina scanner makes for a more reliable and secure phone all round.
For the first time, thanks to its recent partnership with Harman audio, Samsung now introduces AKG-tuned stereo speakers to make the most of what you’re watching or listening to. The result is genuinely loud and crisp, perhaps the best I’ve heard from phone speakers to date. Although there’s also a very nice pair of AKG earbuds included in the box, I imagine there’ll be situations when you won’t even plug them in and choose to use the speakers instead, especially watching Netflix etc – the sound really is that good.
Some things haven’t changed much since the S8’s of May last year. Both versions are more or less the same size as their 2017 counterparts (within a millimetre or so). The screen sizes remain the same; 5.8inches for the S9 and 6.2inches on the S9+. Unusually, the battery size hasn’t changed either, although because the S9’s now feature a faster, more intelligent processor, the team at Samsung assure me they’re getting better performance from the battery than ever – obviously, there was no way for me to test this in the hour I had with the devices so we’ll just have to wait and see.
There are a few software tweaks I like too: you can now pin multi-tasking shortcuts to the homescreen (previously you could only do this with the edge-screen). This means you can open two apps at once, eg: browser and email. What I’ve only just discovered though, is you can also open the same app twice. Why? How about moving files from one folder to another? It’s a lot easier to do if you have both those folders open on a split-screen. Yes, the processing power of these new phones rivals a more conventional desktop PC experience. What’s more, both models come in 256GB variants with the option to expand that storage via microSD. There are now 400GB microSD cards on the market, so potentially these phones can hold over 650GB of stuff. That’s better than most laptops. Crazy.
Samsung’s virtual assistant, Bixby is also being constantly refined. I already find Bixby’s voice and text recognition capabilities indispensable, but the latest version has been pimped up to perform even more clever tricks, like helping you find nearby points of interest just by holding the camera up, translating foreign text in real time and even giving you the weather by pointing your phone skywards.
As I have mentioned, I haven’t used these phones long enough to share the full experience, but even this small taste pretty much blew my mind. As usual.
Whether you choose the S9 or S9+, no matter what your previous phone was, I’m already convinced these handsets will not disappoint.