Reevaluating the Samsung Galaxy S9+

Posted on October 25, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 43 Comments

Given the issues with the Pixel 3 XL, I’ve been shopping around for a suitable alternative. So why not turn to a recent favorite, the Samsung Galaxy S9+?

Why not, indeed: When I reviewed this phone earlier this year, I did so over three separate articles, which focused on design, hardware, and specs, the camera, and unique software and features, respectively. I don’t normally write that much about a single device, but in examining this handset again, I get it: The Galaxy S9+ was, at the time of its release, the single best smartphone on the market today. And in the wake of the iPhone XS launch, it’s still in the top 2 or 3.

So. Given my background with this handset, what’s the thinking behind this second go-round?

I did consider the Note 9. I spent a bunch of time researching the newer Note 9—by which I mean an afternoon watching Samsung’s launch event video and various reviews on YouTube—and determined that the Note 9’s bigger size and higher price weren’t advantages. And I would never use the few unique features, like the S Pen anyway.

It’s still modern. When it was released earlier this year, the Galaxy S9+ was the first major handset to utilize the Snapdragon 845. Today, handset makers are still putting this processor in their flagships, so the S9+ is still very much modern. And with 6 GB of RAM in the version I bought, the device should be future-proof.

I would keep the Pixel 2 XL. If I do choose the Galaxy S9+, I would also keep my current phone, the Google Pixel 2 XL, so that I can keep up on Android P (and stock Android) and have a superior camera for international trips.

I would have to switch carriers. I would also need to transfer my main phone number from Project Fi to Consumer Cellular (or some other carrier). I would keep my Project Fi account, but only activate it as needed, as on those trips. (Google lets you “sleep” the account when you’re not using it.)

Headphone jack for the win

A new color. I ended up buying the Galaxy S9+ directly from Samsung because that’s the only place you can get the new “Sunrise Gold” color. I kind of regret it, as it looks more copper than gold in real life. But given my experience with the gold iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone XS, I thought it’d be nice. Nope. That’s OK, I am already covering it up with a case.

Configuration. I choose the 128 GB unlocked configuration, for a total price of about $943.39 after taxes and fees. The good news? That includes a free Gear 360 camera, should I choose to keep it. And that price is a savings of $135.68 over the Pixel 3 XL, which cost $1,079.07 after taxes and fees.

Hardware quality. As I noted in part one of my review, this phone is gorgeous and it stands well above the Pixel 3 XL in both build quality and design.

Software. I don’t normally like third-party Android skins, but there’s something special about the Samsung Experience on this device. The bad news? It’s still on Android 8.x, and Samsung is pretty slow about shipping updates. I know there’s a beta version of Android 9 Pie out there for this phone, so hopefully, that will be released soon.

That said, I have already received a system update

Software bloat. Samsung’s determination to replace as much Google on its phones as possible results in a lot of unnecessary duplication. (There’s even a special Samsung store for its own apps, which is groan-inducing.) I feel like I can deal with this. But it’s certainly jarring.

Camera. I care a lot about the camera. And while the Galaxy S9+’s camera is excellent, I still prefer the Pixel 2 XL (or 3 XL). But if I do keep this, I could live with it, and I would certainly spend timing fidgeting with the camera app’s Pro mode to see if I could get better low-light results. This won’t be that painful, really.

Beyond this, I’m looking forward to seeing the OnePlus 6T, which I think will arrive next week. And then, of course, the iPhone XR, which will likely arrive a week or so after that. Put my initial reaction to this new Galaxy S9+ has been so much more positive than my reaction to the Pixel 3 XL, and that was before I had any issues with it. This thing is just a design masterpiece.

More soon.

 

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