Samsung Galaxy S9 Preview: The 2018 Flagships Have Arrived

Posted on February 26, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 45 Comments

Samsung Galaxy S9 Preview: The New Flagships

Mehedi previously described what’s new in the Samsung Galaxy S9. Here, I’d like to provide a broader overview of its entire feature-set, with an eye towards a future review of the product.

Note, too, that I earlier applauded Samsung for focusing on its revolutionary new camera system in the recently-announced Galaxy S9. But this new handset family isn’t just about the camera. There’s a lot more going on here.

Here’s what I’m seeing.

Pricing. Many pundits were claiming that Samsung would “pull a Google” by raising prices and mimicking Apple’s $1000 pricing because, well, they can. Well, they didn’t. The Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ are priced at exactly the same levels—$720 and $830, respectively—as their predecessors.

Availability. Unlike Apple, which held off on offering an unlocked version of the iPhone X for a month, Samsung is offering its new phones through carriers and in universal unlocked form immediately. Nicely done.

Headphone jack. ‘Nuff said: The Galaxy S9 still includes a headphone jack for friction-free listening. God bless them for this.

Performance. Apple routinely touts double-digit performance jumps with each generation of the iPhone: The A11 in the iPhone 8/X has two performance cores that are 25 percent faster than those of the A10, while the two efficiency cores are 70 percent faster, allegedly—But Samsung is using the best that the Android world has to offer, the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, with its eight cores (four performance and four efficiency). It is 30 percent faster, overall, than its predecessor, the Snapdragon 835.

Storage. Disappointingly, the S9 comes with only 64 GB of storage, just like its predecessor. On a more positive note, however, you can add up to 400 GB of microSD storage to the devices.

Wireless connectivity. The S9 sports gigabit LTE connectivity for speeds of up 1.2 Gbps, depending on carrier. What I’d like to have seen, of course, is Project Fi compatibility. But I’m a dreamer.

Fingerprint reader. The placement of the fingerprint reader on the Galaxy S8 was a crime against humanity. This year, Samsung got it right: Now it’s under the camera, where it belongs, and where your finger naturally falls. It’s tough to applaud this one because it was so screwed up last year. But this is obviously a win.

Design. As I noted previously, Samsung’s tall, bezel-less design is still unmatched by any competitor, thanks to the curved sides of the display on the S8/S8+, Note8, and now the S9/S9+. It’s gorgeous, fits well and feels right in the hand, and has arguably the best OLED display in the market. (Apple may disagree, as the Samsung-made iPhone X display has been judged to be superior.)

Colors. Tied to the design, Samsung offers the Galaxy S9 in three fun colors: Midnight Black, Coral Blue, and Lilac Purple. The world isn’t just black and white.

Display. The Galaxy S9 has a 5.8-inch 18.5:9 display with 570 ppi. The Galaxy S9+ has a 6.2-inch 18.5:9 display at 529 ppi. Have I mentioned the curves yet? Good.

More camera. I focused on the crazy mechanically-adjustable apertures in the Galaxy S9 in my previous write-up, but there’s more going on with the cameras than that. Samsung has also added a hardware-assistant slow-mo (960 fps!) capture mode, and AR Emojis, which, yes, mimic the Animoji feature in Apple’s iPhone X. I’m no fan of this kind of nonsense, obviously. But you know it’s going to sell some phones.

Stereo. Like the fingerprint reader, it’s hard to applaud something that should have been fixed years ago. But with the S9 finally offering stereo speakers, we can chop another complaint off the list. And they provide surround sound that is “enhanced by AKG” with Dolby Atmos. Oh, and Samsung even includes headphones in the box.

Water and dust resistant. While we’re checking off things, let’s add an IP68 rating for water resistance (good for submersion in up to 5 feet of freshwater for up to 30 minutes). Plus dust resistance too.

Wireless charging. Samsung has supported wireless charging for years. So yes, the S9 features this technology too.

DeX. Innovating where Google won’t, Samsung last year created a technology called DeX that lets its S8 and newer flagships dock and use a PC display, mouse, and keyboard. This year, DeX is expanding with a new DeX Pad that lets customers use their S9 display as a trackpad and even a keyboard while docked. I’m firmly of the opinion that this kind of technology needs to come from the platform maker, not from one phone maker. But with Google busy trying to bring Android apps to Chrome OS and ignoring the other possibility, Samsung has stepped in to fill that role. And viewed in the broader context of Samsung perhaps trying to eliminate Google from the equation as much as possible, DeX is rightfully seen as a platform play. I’m interested to see how this plays out.

Security. This doesn’t get a lot of attention, but one area in which Samsung has innovated is security: The S9 is protected by Samsung’s Know technologies, which helps protect against intrusion, malware, and other malicious threats. And in addition to that fingerprint reader, the S9 provides iris and facial scanning too.

Bixby. I’ve described Bixby as being a crime against humanity. But it, and its stupid dedicated hardware button, are apparently here to stay. Sorry, anyone who has to use this phone. Any other digital assistant would be a better choice.

Accessories. Samsung is, perhaps, the only Android phone maker who provides such an exhaustive set of accessories for its devices. The firm is already selling flip covers, LED wallet covers, premium Alcantara covers, rugged protective covers, silicon covers, and more for the S9, plus the DeX Pad dock, two wireless charging stands, portable batteries, and more.

Again, there’s a lot going on here. I’m looking forward to reviewing the S9+.


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Comments (45)

45 responses to “Samsung Galaxy S9 Preview: The 2018 Flagships Have Arrived”

  1. jrickel96

    Samsung realizes they really can't raise the prices. The Galaxy S series is struggling in sales right now. The combined S8 and Note 8 sales are trailing the S7 and S7 Edge sales at the same point and the S7 was behind the combined S6 and Note sales.

    Fewer and fewer people are buying flagship handsets that don't have an Apple on them. This is a problem as Google is attempting to roll out ARCore and add advanced features. Most of the mid-range and low-end handsets are going to be way behind the iPhones in capability going forward. Flagships only account for about 5% of all Android sales.

    Samsung really can't afford to jack the price up or they risk even fewer people buying the phone and the price differential might not make an impact.

    With the S8 reducing in price and little visible difference between the two, I expect another year of sliding sales for the Galaxy S/Note new phones.

    I doubt Google would ever invite Samsung into Fi. They want people on Android One experiences and Samsung is never going to do that.

    • maethorechannen

      In reply to jrickel96:

      Fewer and fewer people are buying flagship handsets that don't have an Apple on them.

      Fewer and fewer people are buying flagship handsets full stop. Even Apple is seeing a decline.

      • jrickel96

        In reply to maethorechannen:

        Very true. But Apple is seeing a lower decline and their average transaction price went up.

        • Jeffery Commaroto

          In reply to jrickel96:

          There really isn’t much of a reason to upgrade as often if you buy a flagship and keep it in good condition for a few years. The only reason to upgrade for most is if the phone is dead or the screen is cracked.

          Camera aside, nearly every other advancement each year is just window dressing and so little is happening on the OS side to warrant any extra performance. Facebook and Instagram will run just fine with what people have.

          I am happy to see consumers are catching on. Hope the trend continues and it forces some real innovation.

      • shameermulji

        In reply to maethorechannen:

        Apple is seeing a decline in GROWTH, meaning they're still adding new users and growing their user base but at a declining rate. Chances are within the next 5 years, they're user base will reach stability and there will be no growth in new users. There's only so much you can grow when you're going after the premium market.

  2. jbinaz

    So both Bixby and the FPS are a crime against humanity? Man, Samsung is an *awful* company! ;)

    I thought I'd hate the placement of the FPS on my S8, but with a case on it my finger finds it every time. I simply feel where the cutout on the case starts for the camera and FPS starts and the FPS is right next to it. I occasionally miss and hit the camera lens but it usually doesn't smudge it. If it does a cleaning cloth solves that problem. For me, I expected the problem to be much worse than it is and I suspect that may be the same for others as well.

    I probably won't upgrade, but I'm assuming the next time I *do* upgrade the FPS will be in the middle and that will actually take some getting used to as it will be further down on the phone which will change how I old the phone. Perhaps if I get the larger of the two, it'll fall in a more natural spot.

    • IanYates82

      In reply to jbinaz:

      Same with me. The FPS was never an issue with my slim case on the phone. The cutout makes hitting the sensor incredibly easy. Can find the heart rate one easily for the same reason too

  3. dbatools

    I had to listen to the presentation twice, because at the beginning one thing was announced that no one seems to have picked up. That is the inclusion of a blood pressure sensor.

    • IanYates82

      In reply to dbatools:

      The s8 has that. The health app is pretty good.

      Oh, maybe I'm mixing heart rate with blood pressure.... Now that I check, I get stress level measuring, and heart rate, but not blood pressure.

      I'll have to read up on that. Thanks!

  4. brettscoast

    Good unpacking there Paul No its not perfect but its pretty darn good.

  5. sprewell

    Regarding Samsung "innovating" with a platform play, you'd be wrong. Stock Android 7.0 Nougat came with a freeform window mode, which any phone maker can choose to enable for "larger devices." All indications are that all Samsung did is choose to enable it with DeX for the S8 and Note 8. Give them credit for running with it where other phone makers haven't, but it comes from google.

  6. NT6.1

    Great hardware. Samsung remains ahead.

  7. Angusmatheson

    Apple came out with their super sexy new iPhone X - whether it is worth it or not, it certainly has all the excitement. I really thought Sumsung - always the fast follower would have a Galaxy X bezelless phone. Clearly the S8 was ahead of the iphone 7 in terms of design, but now everyone is talking about how awesome and different the iPhone X is - and the talk about the S9 is about its sameness (like they said about the iPhone 7 and 8). There are so many exciting awesome android phones right now, it will be interesting to see how if the S9 helps Samsung hold onto their market share.

  8. karlinhigh

    Samsung went for an IP68 rating? Good! Will that curved-glass display will be durable enough to withstand the usage invited by such a rating?

  9. rbwatson0

    Now if they would just get rid of touch wiz...

    • Rycott

      In reply to rbwatson0:

      There is no Touchwiz. The S8 didn't have Touchwiz either.

      And Samsung Experience as it is now is a hell of a lot more optimised than Touchwiz ever was. And to be honest there is nothing wrong with it.

      I replaced the launcher wither either Nova or Microsoft Launcher depending on my mood. But only because I wanted the extra stuff with Nova or because I am a bit more Microsoft centric with my services.

  10. Stooks

    Because of the update situation, Touchwiz and not being able to fully un-install some Samsung apps I would never get one of these.

    My only question is will Samsung surpass Apple to become #1 in smartphone sales? Doubtful.

  11. Minke

    It remains to be seen how the camera performs in the real world, but I am happy they are emphasizing that. I could care less about the video and emoji crap. I love the headphone jack and the waterproofness. Pluses and minuses. I know people who actually prefer the Touchwiz interface, or whatever it is called now. The expandable storage is brilliant! I would say a lot more to like than to dislike.

  12. JimP

    Is there any improvement in GPS? There's supposed to be a new GPS chip in phones that goes from 5-meter​ ​to​ ​30-centimeter​ ​accuracy, consumes half the power and operates in urban "concrete canyon" environments with much better accuracy.

  13. SherlockHolmes

    And again, I dont get it: Why spent almost 1000 $ for a cellphone? Thats stupid. More so: Most of those guys replace that cellphone next year with the next "flagship".

  14. lilmoe

    With all the Samsung hate around the internet from Apple fanclub websites (and they're MANY, and big, and now are being backed by Google fanclubs), it really is a breath of fresh air to hear someone give credit where credit is due. Samsung has been leading the pack in hardware, for a long time, earning a true "flagship" title for their S and Note series. All with non-compromised best quality parts. They've been held back in software thanks to Google who are turtles in innovation. Want to hear some irony? When Google decided to fix Android's camera API, they did so exclusively on their Pixels.... Wow. No worries, looks like Android OEMs are doing what they do best, and that's bringing more hardware features to "fix" Android.

  15. wocowboy

    How about Android OS updates and the monthly security/privacy/identity updates? Will they each be available for installation on the S9 and S9+ day/date they are released as they are on iOS for all compatible devices? And for how many years?

  16. Tony Barrett

    I think the S9 is just refining what was already great with the S8. It is/was a fantastic premium handset, and Android has matured into a very good, stable, flexible OS. I think what Samsung are doing here is saving the attention for the first truly foldable phone, which is rumoured to launch later in the year (Galaxy X, or possibly even a new name). That will be revolutionary, and will get a lot of media coverage. If Samsung can keep the wraps on it, and stop the leaks that plague this market, they will have something pretty special to reveal.

    No, for the record, I don't own a Samsung phone. Last 'Galaxy' I owned was the S2.

  17. GT Tecolotecreek

    Anandtech early benchmarks show the A10 outperforms both the Exynos 9810 and Snapdragon 845. With the A11 in the current gen iPhones it is like they are a generation behind. Not much of a performance jump for the $$$$ compared to the A11 performance bump.

    Can someone explain the security approach? You need/use all three (FP, Iris, Face Scan) to have a secure phone?

  18. wolters

    "Bixby. I’ve described Bixby as being a crime against humanity."

    This is no exaggeration. Bixby is in the way...I never found much use for it when I am fully entrenched in the Google Assistant Ecosystem. Even with the cool video language translator, I just don't want to have to avoid Bixby.

  19. Omega Ra

    "Security. This doesn’t get a lot of attention, but one area in which Samsung has innovated is security: The S9 is protected by Samsung’s Know technologies,"

    Supposed to be Knox

  20. wright_is

    I though the new S9 was using the Samsung Exynos 9810? That is certainly what it is being advertised with, over here. The benchmarks for the S9 with Exynos 9810 show it being around 20% faster than the S8 or the Kirin 970 powered Hauweis.

    "Before presenting the benchmark results, first we have to explain the chipset we are dealing with.

    The Exynos 9810 is the latest Samsung SoC, built on the 10 nm FinFET wafer. It has octa-core CPU with four 3rd gen Mongoose cores, clocked at 2.8 GHz for performance, while the other four are Cortex-A55 at 1.7 GHz. The GPU onboard is Mali-G72. The chipset supports Cat.18 speeds with maximum download of 1.2 Gbps and 6CA.

    On theory, the 9810 supports 4K video at 120 fps, but Samsung decided to disable the feature, otherwise it would give an unfair advantage over the Snapdragon 845 that currently shoots 4K at 60 fps."

  21. rc

    I use an s8 daily and I honestly think the new fingerprint sensor position might be worse. I've gotten used to the s8 sensor and find that my index finger finds itself over it naturally when I'm holding the phone normally. Having it down in the middle there requires sliding your grip down towards the bottom and touching the center of the back of the phone, which seems like it would be awkward and/or painful, especially with larger hands. Maybe on the s9+ it wouldn't be as bad, I'm not sure.

    I was kind of hoping they'd have some way to get a sensor behind the touch screen or a better face scanner like with surface book in the s9. Ah well, almost no reason to upgrade as far as I can tell.

  22. Bats does the analysts/blogger keep getting it wrong?

    Samsung's Note line is the real flagship phone.

    Second, Google not innovating with DeX? LOL...isn't DeX supposed to be like Continuum? did Continuum work out? In a space of $600-$1000 phones, how much was that HP Continuum phone? Did people buy it?

    Do people actually like to have messy accessories around their physical desktops?

    Does Google make processors? 

    Does Google make screens?

    Here the kicker question of them many people actually use this DeX feature? BTW, does DeX come free? Do people want to pay extra for DeX.

    Is the analyst/blogger, truly a professional? LOL...this is the guy who said that people need a PC to do "real" work, AND THEN he sees his friend Harry McCracken do "real work" on an iPad.

    LOL...Google's approach is very simple. One Google Account, accessed through everywhere.

    For a guy who now champions Progressive Web Apps, which Google first started (see ChromeDev 2015), the "analyst" is promoting Samsung's version of the failed Microsoft/Continuum initiative?

    Oh Please!

    On a final note,...

    People buy Samsung Phones, because of great marketing and a great brand. They don't care about Oreo or Nougat the rumored Pistachio Ice Cream. People who do, know that there is only one kind of phone that provides that.

    The "analyst" know the answer to that.

    • PeteB

      In reply to Bats:

      Tip: the more LOL's in a post, the more unhinged you look. You undercut any points you have because people just scroll by.

      Subtlety and brevity are the key. Now GTFO of my office.

    • JCerna

      In reply to Bats:

      So I may be in the minority but I did but the 950xl with dock and then the HP elite with laptop and desk dock. I still use them to this day and the docks although not perfectly also work with my Note 8. Being able to leave my laptop at work and just know I can get 100% of my work done on my phone when I dock it at home is awesome. As this technology matures I would argue it's the future.

      • Angusmatheson

        I wonder about phone docking. I’ve just started docking my laptop at work to replace my desktop, and rather like it. In terms of solutions 1) a device that you carry with you and it allows you to plug it in to become your form factor of choice (Continium style) or 2) always connected to the cloud and any device you log into becomes yours (chromeOS style). I really do think the future is the second. Especially when you think about all the devices we will use - phone, computer, connected speaker, car. (Another option of version 2 uses a worn device with NFC to identify. It in this world of improving biometrics that seems like such a simpler solution). I want every screen I am near and every speaker in earshot to know me and be set up how I want it and to continue whatever I was doing before. In reply to JCerna:

    • Chris_Kez

      In reply to Bats:

      I think it is important to have a diversity of viewpoints but can I request fewer line breaks and more editing?

    • jbinaz

      In reply to Bats: does the analysts/blogger keep getting it wrong?
      Samsung's Note line is the real flagship phone.

      If everyone else is getting it wrong, it's probably not them, it's you. The Galaxy line are flagships.

    • curtisspendlove

      In reply to Bats:

      I would absolutely love to have a single device, smart and powerful enough to be a mobile system when I’m mobile and able to drive a set of desktop accessories when I “dock”.

      But it I think we are a ways out on that still.

      I think people want fewer devices, not more.

      Paul’s analysis is spot on, that kind of “continuum” functionality needs to be part of the platform. It needs to be part of iOS or Android.

      Although, assuming that PWAs *are* the answer, DeX should work fine with them, no? When docked you can access your browser, and should be able to hit any “pinned” PWA.

      I'm also curious to see how this works out.

      • Stooks

        In reply to curtisspendlove:

        "Although, assuming that PWAs *are* the answer"

        I think PWA's are the blogger topic of 2018. I am extremely doubtful they will ever fully replace native apps and if they do I think in some cases that will NOT be for the good.

  23. Atoqir

    There is only one thing missing in this list, coming from a guy who always had Samsung Galaxy phones.

    Software updates: atrocious. Get new OS updates 10 months later...if you are lucky. And with 'new' we mean the .0 version, not the latest and greatest version.

  24. mrdrwest

    Don't make Bixby angry. You won't like the S9 if you make Bixby angry...and it comes in Lilac Purple?!...see what I did there?

  25. Chris_Kez

    I wish Apple would offer that purple color.

  26. ChuckOp

    Typo alert: "The S9 is protected by Samsung’s Know technologies, "

    I believe you mean, "Samsung's Knox technologies".