Tech Guide went hands-on with Samsung’s brand-new flagship Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ smartphones at the launch event at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
While the devices don’t look too different from last year’s smash hit Galaxy S8, they still have a raft of new features under the hood including a camera that’s been beefed up considerably with a host of new abilities.
Despite the minimal changes in design, the Galaxy S9 with its 5.8-inch Infinity Display and the larger Galaxy S9+ with its 6.2-inch screen, there is still a sense of newness to the products.
The biggest changes are on the rear panel with a reconfigured camera lens and fingerprint sensor layout.
Interestingly, the S9 has a single lens 12-megapixel camera while the larger S9+ has a dual lens set-up.
What is consistent with both is that Samsung has sensibly relocated the fingerprint sensor to the centre of the panel where the user’s finger will naturally rest to unlock the device.
What really impressed us were the new colours including Coral Blue and the bold Lilac Purple which we believe will be a massive hit with the ladies.
And of course there’s Midnight Black which would still be our favourite.
With the naked eye the screens look the same as last year’s devices, but the Samsung Galaxy S9 has slightly thinner bezels at the top and bottom of the screen.
The quad HD Super AMOLED screen quality is, as you’d expect, absolutely dazzling.
The camera is the real star of the show with the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+.
Sure, it still takes amazing images but it’s the other capabilities which have been introduced that will quickly grab your attention.
A really impressive new improvement is with low light photography.
You’ll be surprised how many photos we take in low light inside and outside and the good news is Samsung has made some spectacular improvements in this department.
It’s due to its new dual aperture camera which operates at f2.4 and f1.5. What also helps with the heavy lifting is its new multi-frame noise reduction.
A byproduct of trying to capture pictures in low light is heavy grain on the image.
With the multi-frame noise reduction, the camera actually takes several pictures at once and combines them to eliminate that annoying grainy look.
For our hands-on demonstration, the new Galaxy S9 was positioned next to Google’s Pixel 2 smartphone and aimed inside a darkened box which had an image inside.
The Galaxy S9’s image was far brighter and more detailed than the Pixel 2 despite Google’s smartphone being judged as having the best camera in the world.
We had a lot of fun with the AR Emojis which scans the user’s face and creates an animated replica which can imitate your expressions and emotions.
Didn’t quite get me I think….
We gave this a try and while it didn’t quite nail the likeness it was still a lot of fun.
It got the chin right, complete with my dimple, but the rest of the face just didn’t look like me.
If I have attached that to a message to my wife, I’m not sure if she would have recognised me.
But I know you can refine the image with different hair colours and outfits but it was the eyes that needed adjustment and that option wasn’t there for us.
This is going to be a feature that will be a real novelty for users and a fun new way to communicate.
A cool new addition to the camera options is Super Slow Mo which lets you capture a video at a staggering 960 frames per second.
The 0.2 seconds it captures when played back at normal speed stretches out to six seconds with some really impressive results.
We’ve seen this feature on other smartphones and it was a bit of a hit or miss proposition.
But Samsung has nailed it with the S9.
Users can select an area of the image where the object will be the full auto motion detection kicks off the capture.
We tried it with a water balloon dropping onto a thumbtack and the results were amazing.
Bixby Vision has also had an upgrade with some added camera abilities.
One useful new feature is real-time translation.
In our hands on look at the S9, we aimed the camera at a menu written in a foreign language but all we could read on the screen was that same menu in English.
Another Bixby Vision feature is being able to read the amount of calories in certain types of food you can see through the camera.
We didn’t have any food on us to test this feature but in the demo, the S9 came up with a calorie figure when it was looking at some donuts.
If this is as accurate as Samsung leads us to believe, it could be a game changer for anyone who is on a diet or being careful about what they eat.
With the impressive displays on the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+, users are going to use that space to enjoy their content on the move.
So not only will what their viewing look great it’s also going to sound great as well thanks to the improved speakers tuned by AKG.
Another addition is Dolby Atmos which creates an amazing 3D surround sound effect where noises appeared to be coming from around you and above you.
We watched a short video on the S9+ and was amazed at the sound quality and volume which happens to be 40 per cent greater than the S8.
But that’s okay when you want to watch something in a quiet space but how often do we do that?
We’re hoping the Dolby Atmos surround sound experience can also be heard through headphones.
We’re assuming that’s one of the reasons why Samsung decided to stick with the headphone jack on both the S9 and the S9+.
That will be one of the first things we try when we receive our review device.
On the memory side, Samsung has decided to offer two variants for both the S9 and the S9+ – 64GB or 256GB – the same memory options for Apple’s latest iPhones.
But the big difference here is that Samsung has also included expandable memory once again with the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9.
Samsung says it can handle a memory card with an additional 400GB of storage so users can have a lot of storage for their photos, videos and apps.
Another massive improvement is with Samsung DEX which allows the smartphone to be used as a desktop computer while still having access to the device’s screen which can be used as a trackpad or as a keyboard.
The phone now slides into the DEX unit instead of sitting inside it and putting the screen and headphone jack out of reach.
We don’t think anyone who purchased Samsung’s Galaxy S8 or S8+ is going to rush to buy the S9 or the S9+.
They look quite similar and the S8 and S8+ still offer flagship quality almost a year after their release.
But Galaxy S7 customers coming off a two-year contract are sure to embrace Samsung’s new Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ like a long lost relative.
Standby for Tech Guide’s complete review in early March.
* Stephen Fenech travelled to Barcelona as a guest of Samsung