Not Just a Better Camera

Is the Snapdragon-powered GS9+ the world’s best Android phone?

Samsung’s updated Galaxy phones are available now, and while the external designs – while beautiful – look the same as last year, the Galaxy S9 and S9+ feature faster internals and an improved camera system. Is it worth an upgrade over the Galaxy S8? How does this new flagship from Samsung compare to Apple’s more expensive iPhone X? Read on to find out!

During the Galaxy S9 at Samsung’s “Unpacked” event unveiling the new phones, much was made about the GS9’s camera – and particularly its video recording capability, which features an ultra slow-motion mode. While camera is a vital part of the experience, and can make or break a handset for many people, it is the application processor that constitutes a bigger upgrade from last year’s Galaxy S8 phones.

In the USA, Samsung is using Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 845, while many of the international versions of the phone use Samsung’s own Exynos SoC. We took an early look at performance with the Snapdragon 845 during Qualcomm’s recent media day, and now with shipping hardware and far more time for benchmarking we can really put this new mobile platform to the test. You can take or leave synthetic benchmark results, of course; I can offer my own subjective impressions of overall responsiveness, which is as much a test of software optimization as hardware.

Samsung Galaxy S9+ Specifications (US Version)
Display 6.2-inch 1440x2960 AMOLED
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (SDM845)
CPU Cores 8x Kryo 385 up to 2.8 GHz
GPU Cores Adreno 630
Storage 64 / 128 / 256 GB
Network Snapdragon X20 LTE
Connectivity 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 5.0; A2DP, aptX
USB 3.1 (Type-C)
Battery 3500 mAh Li-Ion
Dimensions 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm, 189 g
OS Android 8.0

Samsung has opted to bring back the same industrial design introduced with last year’s Galaxy S8/S8+, but this was already a class-leading design so that is not a bad thing.

The phone is not exactly the same as last year, however, as the fingerprint sensor is now below the camera on the back, rather than next to the sensor (this is a significant improvement with the smudging of the camera issue now mitigated). But there is a less obvious change, and quite important: a new and thicker glass is being used over the screen for added strength. This adds only slightly to the overall weight of the phone, which went up from 155 grams to 163 grams for the smaller S9, and from 173 to 189 grams with this larger S9+. The thickness of both handsets also increased with the more substantial glass, from 8.0 mm to 8.5 mm with the S9, and from 8.1 mm to 8.5 mm with the S9+.

The fingerprint sensor has been moved, and is now below the camera sensor

Slightly larger dimensions/weight aside, the displays have the same size and resolution as the previous Galaxy S8/S8+, with 5.8 inches for the S9 and 6.2 inches for the S9+, and a screen resolution of 1440 pixels wide and 2960 pixels in height. Pixel density is therefore stil outstanding, particularly from the smaller S9, which offers 570 ppi compared to 529 ppi with the S9+. Both of these numbers are so high that it is not necessary to even use the handsets at their native resolution to have a “retina” effect, and as a matter of fact Samsung’s defaults for these Galaxy phones are to set them to a smaller, non-native resolution to improve performance and battery life.

The iPhone X (left) and Galaxy S9+ (right)

In contrast, Apple’s iPhone X has a lower pixel density of 458 ppi, with a typically odd resolution of 1125 x 2436 at “5.8 inches” (though the display is approximately the same size as the Galaxy S9, Apple’s screen has the infamous notch at the top, which does lower the available display size).

As to color accuracy with Samsung’s AMOLED panel found in the Galaxy S9+ we have for review, I defer to DisplayMate, which has published their findings on the Galaxy S9 (with their highest-ever rating for a phone, no less). In person this is just as impressive a display as last year's, and it rates even higher than before for color accuracy.

Image credit: DisplayMate

Next we will take a look at phone performance for this Snapdragon 845-equipped version using standard benchmarks, beginning with the CPU.

« PreviousNext »