It’s the same great phone now as it was on Day 1.
Amazingly, our original Galaxy S9 review was published over three months ago. There was a good amount of hype ahead of this launch, despite all the leaks, and the phone lived up to an overwhelming majority of it. Now, three months later, I want to go back to the phone with fresh eyes and months of experience to see how it’s held up after that initial review period.
Certain parts of the phone experience just don’t lend themselves well to a two-week review period, but in an effort to provide buying advice to as many people as possible in a timely fashion with our review. But that’s also why we come back and revisit these phones on a regular basis. To show you what’s held up over time, what flaws have been uncovered, and how the phone stands in the market with a little age behind it. This is how the Galaxy S9+ has managed its first quarter in the wild.
Same as it ever was
Galaxy S9+ What’s held up
Aside from a few brief breaks, I’ve been using this U.S. unlocked Galaxy S9+ since it was announced. I’ve carried it in my pocket nearly every day, and traveled to a half-dozen countries with it. And thankfully, as I’ve relied on it, it’s been a rock-solid phone the entire time.
The GS9+ has been a rock-solid phone I can rely on.
You know what you’re getting with a Samsung phone. It’s beautiful, albeit a little slippery and potentially fragile. Mine has spent probably half of its time in a case, so I haven’t faced many scratches, nor any scuffs or cracks in three months. I suspect most people will do the same, but if you decide to go naked you’re going to feel some anxiety around how slippery the Galaxy S9+ is in particular. And in return you’ll get to use this finely sculpted object every day. Yes the design is a bit stale at this point, as it’s effectively a derivative of the Galaxy S6, but you can’t argue that Samsung’s execution isn’t perfect.
And yes, the fingerprint sensor is totally usable now and hasn’t given me any of the same troubles the Galaxy S8 did.
Further on the hardware, I just can’t emphasize enough how awesome it is to have such a great display in your hand. Unlike every other phone, I never pull down the notification shade on my GS9+ to adjust the brightness. The automatic brightness tuning is good, and the range of screen brightness when paired with the high contrast makes it visible in any lighting condition. And other hardware features that I normally feel I can live without, the headphone jack and wireless charging, are just added bonuses I love having around. I use Bluetooth headphones every day, but now and then I need that headphone jack and it’s there. Likewise for wireless charging — it’s simple to charge with a cable, but it’s even easier to just drop the phone on a pad.
Nearly four months in, I haven’t had a single performance hiccup or slowdown.
I’ve regularly complained about how Samsung’s phones, even the latest models, tend to deteriorate and slow down over time. At least right now, nearly four months into using this Galaxy S9+, I haven’t experienced that this time around. Performance has been absolutely fantastic in everything I’ve done with the GS9+, and I can’t recall a single instance of reboots or software crashes. Apps of all kinds have been quick and smooth — and while I’m not a big time Android gamer, everything I’ve thrown at the phone has been handled without a second thought.
Now what about the cameras? For some, the hype around the Galaxy S9+’s photographic improvements settled down quickly after launch. I’m not in this camp — I think it’s still a fantastic camera. I haven’t found a situation or scene type in which I can’t reliably expect a high-end photo, and this comes without meddling around in the Pro mode to tweak settings. Samsung has this camera dialed in, and I love the results.
Hyped or not, this is a great camera capable of awesome shots in any situation.
Colors are punchy, and HDR processing does a great job — the only intermittent issue is the GS9+’s tendency to slightly overexpose some shots. Really, that’s a small nit to pick, considering the rest of the camera’s prowess. The low light performance, in particular, has just been fantastic. We’ve argued back and forth a bit here at Android Central over whether it’s better than the Pixel 2 considering how it is extra-sharp and therefore sometimes unnatural looking, but I actually prefer the GS9+’s sharp look.
The only part of the camera experience that ended up being a bit of a bust is the variable aperture. Though about half of the photos in the above gallery were at f/2.4, in my testing and experience over the last few months there doesn’t seem to be any appreciable difference in quality in daylight over just shooting at f/1.5 instead. Having f/1.5 in low light has been a fantastic addition, but f/2.4 doesn’t really seem to add anything when the lighting is good.
Software, software, software
Galaxy S9+ What hasn’t aged well
I took short breaks from using the Galaxy S9+ to spend a few weeks with the Moto G6, OnePlus 6 and Google Pixel 2 XL (with Android P) — the biggest thing that strikes me about coming back to the GS9+ is the software. I don’t like to be the one who keeps harping on this, considering the market has clearly chosen to accept Samsung’s software, but it just isn’t as good as the competition right now.
I still use the GS9+ despite its software, not because of it.
Once leading the way, Samsung’s always-on display isn’t useful enough anymore. Its lock screen doesn’t feel as connected to the rest of the system as on other phones. The notification shade makes zero attempt to integrate custom-colored media notifications. Samsung’s duplicate apps and services are burdensome. I’ve lost count of the number of annoying settings and notifications I’ve had to turn off just to make using the phone a simple and pleasant experience. Samsung’s launcher has the least-efficiently designed folders ever, and can’t even manage to evenly space out apps and widgets? Some of it is preference, but other parts just don’t make sense at all. "Samsung Experience" feels like it’s in dire need of a product manager that’s willing to hack and slash at this overgrown beast until it’s tamed back down to the basics.
And don’t get me started on Bixby. We’ll just let that one go for now.
You shouldn’t have to choose a specific GS9 model to expect security patches.
As I write this and look through the settings on my U.S. unlocked Galaxy S9+, I see that I’m still on the February 1 security patch — the same patch the phone launched on. That means this phone is four patches behind at this point, and just over a week away from being five behind. That’s still ridiculous to me. Yes I know some other GS9 models are ahead of the unlocked one, but that just exemplifies the point — you shouldn’t have to choose a specific model to expect security patches. C’mon, Samsung.
I struggled around whether to talk about battery life in the first section or down here, because the Galaxy S9+ has never left me stranded without a charge. And well, I’m talking about it here. Though I’m never stranded, the GS9+’s battery scares me on a regular basis, hitting power saving mode well before I expect it to on heavy use days. Like every Samsung phone, the GS9+ tends to just eat up battery at a consistent rate no matter what you’re doing, and just seems incapable of idling and sipping power when it’s not in use. Based on what I read of the smaller Galaxy S9 with its proportionately smaller battery, things aren’t particularly great there either. So battery life is just "okay" here, which isn’t okay for a big-money flagship.
Holding the standard
Galaxy S9+ Three months on
Three months after I first reviewed it, the Galaxy S9+ feels now exactly as it did back then. Its strengths remain, and its initial shortcomings still have the propensity to annoy.
Three months after I first reviewed it, the Galaxy S9+ feels now exactly as it did back then.
The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are beautiful, efficiently designed and well-made. The hardware may be a bit boring at this point, but it’s fantastic to look at and hold every day — even if you just end up putting a case on it. The nice-to-have hardware features don’t grab headlines but are useful, and the top-end specs provide performance befitting an expensive phone. And Samsung still offers the best displays anywhere in the Android world. The cameras are truly great no matter the shooting conditions, making sure novices and pros alike are happy with the results.
The only issues, as ever, are within the software. Some interface elements are still baffling and unintuitive even with months of use, and Samsung’s duplicate apps and services just never go away. The lack of security updates for some models is particularly bothersome for a phone that retails for over $800. But I’ll admit that some people actually prefer Samsung’s software, and with that being the case there’s hardly a problem to point to in the Galaxy S9+.
Even a full quarter after its release, I have no hesitation in recommending the larger Galaxy S9+ in particular, even at its high price. There’s a reason why it’s currently atop our list of the best Android phones. Not only is it a remarkable top-end smartphone with tons of features, but it’s also available just about everywhere in the world — high quality and wide availability are a great combination.
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June 21, 2018 at 03:01AM