Samsung Galaxy S9+ Review Part 1: Design, Hardware, and Specs

Posted on April 10, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 18 Comments

Samsung Galaxy S9+ Review Part 1: Design and Specifications

Make no mistake: The Samsung Galaxy S9+ is the single best smartphone available today. It boasts a gorgeous design, a superior camera, and some truly useful and unique software and services. It’s even reasonably priced compared to other flagships handsets.

What’s not to love?

Design

In this age of copycat designs, Samsung’s flagships remain, ahem, a notch above the competition. Yes, the market has flocked to adopt the tall, 18.5:9-ish edge-to-edge displays that Samsung pioneered. But none have duplicated, let alone surpassed, the elegance and sophistication of the original.

So Samsung’s design goals for 2018 were simple: Make small design tweaks only because that’s all that was required. And when I compare my Galaxy S9+ to my wife’s Galaxy S8+, I have to look pretty close to see any differences in the basic design.

Like its predecessor, the Galaxy S9+ sports a gorgeous and richly-contrasted 6.2-inch Super AMOLED display running at 2960 x 1440 pixels. That display gracefully curves around the left and right edges of the device in a way that seems almost impossible. And its curved corners elegantly match the device form factor and blend nicely with the minimal bezels at the top and bottom.

According to Samsung, those minimal bezels are even more minimal than before: The display now occupies 83.68 percent of the of the front of the device, compared to 83.32 percent for the S8+. I guess I believe it. But I can’t see the difference.

What does make a difference, of course, is that display. The Galaxy S9+ is far more “all screen” than the iPhone X, which features both thick bezels and an intrusive notch, is the centerpiece of the Galaxy. And it’s far more elegant and pretty than that of any other smartphone I’ve used. It’s what draws you in, and it’s what keeps you there. It is, no doubt, the reason most people buy this handset. And the main source of regret for those who do not.

And it’s not just pretty.

The display is liquidy-smooth to the touch and frictionless in a way that other displays are not. The home screen icons and other on-screen elements seem to float above it as you swipe. The overall effect is magical and mesmerizing.

There are also functional elements to the curved display sides. Samsung, unique among Android phone makers, provides an amazing edge lighting effect for notifications. And there is an edge software panel that—like everything else Samsung makes—can be configured to your heart’s content. Or turned off entirely if you find it to be too busy. Your call. (More on these and the many other Samsung software innovations later in the review.)

It’s not until you turn the Galaxy S9+ over that you see the one meaningful design difference between it and the S8+. Responding to criticism that the rear-mounted fingerprint reader on that device was far too close to the camera and could cause mid-presses and smudgy photos, Samsung moved the fingerprint reader to a better location.

Better but still not ideal. Now, the fingerprint reader is below the camera system, which is good. (It used to be right next to the camera, on the right.) But it’s still too damn close to the cameras. As with the S8+, I’ve found that using a case helps here because your finger can fall more naturally into the hole for the reader.

But it should still be a bit more physically separated from the cameras. I’d leave the reader where it is and move the cameras up to a back corner on future phones, Samsung.

Speaking of a case, the other design element worth discussing is the body material, which is mostly glass with aluminum accents. It’s both beautiful and professional-looking, for sure. But the glass body—which enables wireless charging—picks up smudges far too easily and makes the handset slippery to the touch. So you’ll want a case, not just to protect against smudges, put to protect against the inherent fragility of this design. It’s a shame because I’d love to leave it naked.

Hardware and specs

The Samsung Galaxy S9+ raises the bar for what constitutes smartphone flagship in 2018. (Or, as Ford says of its F150 trucks, it is the bar.) There isn’t a single component in this device that doesn’t scream class and performance.

It starts, of course, with the 64-bit and 10 nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, at least here in North America. This is an octa-core (8 core) system on a chip (SoC) with four performance cores and four efficiency cores, and it runs at 2.8 GHz, compared to the 2.45 GHz of its Snapdragon 835 predecessor. It’s bolstered by an Adreno 630 graphics processor, which is a step up from the Adreno 540 in last year’s flagship.

I don’t feel much of a performance boost in day-to-day usage (where I’m comparing it to the Google Pixel 2 XL with which I’m most familiar). But you can see the results in the Geekbench benchmark, where the S9+ delivers a score of 2325 in the single core test and 8166 in multi-core. By comparison, the 835-based S8+ hits 1807 in single core and 5790 in multi-core. That’s a significant performance boost, particularly in multi-core.

The built-in storage hasn’t changed year-over-year: Samsung still provides 64 GB of internal storage and you can augment that with up to 400 GB of microSD storage, vs. 256 GB for the S9+. Some may argue that this phone should have been bumped to 128 GB, but I don’t see the need: I have never come close to filling the 128 GB in my Pixel 2 XL, and never will.

RAM, however, has improved dramatically: It’s up to 6 GB, compared to just 4 GB for the S8+. That’s a 50 percent improvement and will likely play as big a role in ongoing performance as does the processor upgrade.

Battery capacity, at 3500 mAh, is unchanged year-over-year, and pretty much matches the norm for this class of device. That said, the Huawei Mate 10 Pro provides a beefier 4000 mAh battery that should provide more endurance. That said, I have never experienced any issues with battery life.

The Galaxy S9+ likewise sets the bar from a connectivity standpoint.

It provides LTE-Advanced Pro cellular connectivity at Cat 18 speeds, meaning that it can theoretically achieve 1.2 Gbps download speeds, assuming you can find a carrier that offers such a thing. Not to mention ideal conditions. But the point here is that the S9+ has the headroom to adapt to whatever improvements your carrier may offer in the next few years.

Beyond LTE and the device’s near-universal support for multiple CDMA/GMS/UMTS/LTE bands, the S9+ also provides Bluetooth 5.0 and NFC, and the aforementioned wireless charging, which is of course of the most popular Qi variety.

From an audio perspective, you will find decent-sounding stereo speakers with a bit of bias towards the right (bottom) speaker, which is typical for smartphones. There’s also a headphone jack as God intended, and support for audio over USB-C. I have a growing collection of USB-C audio dongles that I use mostly for testing purposes, and the Galaxy S9+ works with all of them. (The Pixel 2 XL does not.)

But wait, there’s more

In part two of this review, I will focus on the camera system and the device’s photographic prowess. More soon!

 

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Comments (18)

18 responses to “Samsung Galaxy S9+ Review Part 1: Design, Hardware, and Specs”

  1. Jeff.Bane

    How frequently does Samsung get android patches? That’s my fear in buying one over a pixel device.

    • wolters

      In reply to Jeff.Bane:

      Slow but not dreadfully slow. The Note 8 came out in October and received Oreo a few weeks ago.

      • wright_is

        In reply to wolters: Slow but not dreadfully slow. The Note 8 came out in October and received Oreo a few weeks ago.

        So, Oreo was released in August, you got your phone 2 months later and received Oreo in March and you think a 7 month delay isn't dreadfully slow?

        More to the point, how was it with security updates? The last time I had to look after Samsung devices (October last year), the majority of them were 6 months behind on security updates, if they were still getting any at all.

        For me, the feature updates aren't so important, but more than a week or two behind on security updates, especially serious zero days is unacceptable.

    • wocowboy

      In reply to Jeff.Bane:
      The lack of timely updates is what precludes me from considering pretty much any Android phone. With the iPhone, no matter what model you have, unless it is more than 4-5 years old, you get iOS updates on the day/date they are released by Apple, period. No waiting for months while both the manufacturer and your carrier "evaluate" the update, make changes to it, and pile their own bloatware and features on top. Say what you will about iOS updates including bugs, I don't care one bit. If you value your privacy and security, there is no comparison between Andoid and iPhone. This Samsung phone is an absolutely beautiful device, as are lots of other flagship Android phones out there, but knowing that if I buy one it might not receive updates that protect my security, identity, and privacy for months after their release, or even may not EVER receive them, is just sad and cause me to not consider those devices at all.


    • Cosmin Tătaru

      In reply to Jeff.Bane:

      Patch-wise they are a shame for such a large company. I have an unlocked Samsung Galaxy Note 8 (I am in Europe) and I only received Oreo this Monday, with 3 months between the security updates, phone being updated to March security update while getting the Oreo update.

    • dspeterson

      In reply to Jeff.Bane:


      Samsung has committed to monthly security patches for unlocked phones (although I'm not sure if they are delivering on that or not), carrier phones still have to go through them for approval.


      I'm hoping they push their Enterprise pledge to all unlocked models here at some point:


      "Enhanced Security & Business Continuity: The Galaxy Note8 Enterprise Edition brings traditional PC-class product lifecycle support services to the smartphone. Devices receive regular monthly security updates for up to three years, and purchase assurance that they can buy the same device model up to two years from availability."

    • Nicholas Kathrein

      In reply to Jeff.Bane:

      They aren't monthly yet and OS updates are averaging around 6 months to a year and you get the 1st big update but not the 2nd usually. So you'll get Android 8 with it and Android 9 around 6 months after releases it but won't get Android 10. A Pixel 2 I bought last year came with 8 and I'll get 9 and 10 for sure as well as years 2 to 3 I'll still be getting my monthly security patches.

    • brisonharvey

      In reply to Jeff.Bane:

      Since receiving the Unlocked version, I have gotten two system updates. One was definitely security related, the other was buggy firmware I believe.

  2. willisus

    I've been looking forward to this review as I just got my S9+ as a replacement to my 950XL. I'm looking for to this review, and I agree that it will take me some time to get through all that this phone can do. I have made many changes to the user interface to get all my Microsoft "stuff". One of my first tweaks was to move the back arrow to the left side of the screen where I'm so used to it.

  3. jboman32768

    Good to see Paul review a Samsung - even if he hated it (which it doesn't look like he does) its good to get his take on it.

  4. Maesh

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  5. RossNWirth

    Paul - ditch the case and get a skin.


    I've had my Note 8 for about a year, with a skin on the back, which provides texture and grip, but not bulk and weight.


    It also has a skin for the camera enclosure, making the finger print reader slightly easier to hit - but it's still terrible and almost never recognizes the first time, my iPhone 6s+ was faaar superior in that regard.


    Aside - god I miss Windows Phone autocorrect - how was it so much better than anything else available, iOS, Android, Google keyboard are all just terrible!

  6. jdawgnoonan

    The curved screens are why I left Samsung phones. Does it seriously not disturb your eyes when web content in the browser is in the curved portion of the screen? Also, there is no good (and effective) case for a Samsung phone with a curved screen. I do agree that Samsung phones are the sexiest on the market from a distance. For me, the issue with the curved screen occurs when I actually use it.

  7. Boris Zakharin

    What's the point of a bezel-less screen if you need a case, presumably with added bezels. I'm still waiting for someone to come up with a shatter-proof screen. Covering the whole device with shatterable glass, by the way, is a step in the *opposite* direction.

    • CaymanDreamin

      In reply to bzakharin:

      That's why I went with the Moto Z2 Force when I left Windows phone, for the shatter proof screen. Has the same internals as the S8 and near stock Android. Got the Oreo update before Samsung too. I don't believe the camera is as good, but I can live with that.

  8. RobertJasiek

    Presumably it is a nice phone for those preferring its aspects. I don't. I have no use for a tall, bent display. Lots of cheap phones would do it better for my taste, if we ignored the OS problem.

  9. johnh3

    Almost bought a Samsung Galaxy S9+. But I went for the Sony Xperia XZ2 instead. The reason was that it got a flat display and a more stock like android interface.

    And Sony got Project Treble/Seamless updates installed out of the box like the Pixel phones. I am not sure if Samsung got it? So the risk are that it will take a long time before the Samsung units will get android P when it will be released.



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