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Tech review: Samsung Galaxy S9 has a familiar design, hides a few surprises inside

The Dallas Morning News — By Jim Rossman The Dallas Morning News

March 13-- Smartphone consumers have come to expect miracles from phone manufacturers.

For years, there was enormous pressure on companies like Samsung, Google and Apple to outdo each other with bigger and better phones.

That's not sustainable.

After a few successful years, phone companies start slowing down on their phones' design changes as features become refined and even familiar.

It's like the old saying-everything old is new again.

If you are familiar with last year's Samsung Galaxy S8, you'll certainly recognize this year's Galaxy S9.

The S9 looks almost exactly like the S8, but that's hardly a bad thing.

Apple kept the same design for the iPhone 6, 6S, 7 and 8. That's four years of the same look.

But wait, didn't Apple introduce the iPhone X with a buttonless design?

Yes, it did, but that edge-to-edge screen design was also a feature on the Galaxy S8 (and now the S9).

Sure looks familiar

Last year, I called the S8 an almost perfect phone. My only real knock was the placement of the fingerprint sensor directly next to the main camera lens.

So right up front, I'd like to thank Samsung for moving the fingerprint sensor on the S9. The sensor is now directly under the lens, which is light years better. If I were the designer, I'd have lowered it a little more, but I'm quite happy with the placement.

The S9 and S8 share the same 5.8" Super AMOLED screen, and they both have 4 gigabytes of RAM and 64 gb of internal storage with a microSD card slot for adding your own storage. The S9 also has the same 3,000 mAh battery.

The S9 is IP68 dust- and water-resistant. It can be submerged in up to 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes.

So what's new?

The S9 has a faster processor-the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845-and is a bit wider and heavier. The button placement is the same, but the S9's buttons are a bit larger and have slightly different spacing, so S8 cases will not fit the S9.

The S9's operating system gets a bump to Android 8.0 (Oreo).

The S9 also gets a new audio system powered by AKG. The new setup has two speakers and features surround sound with Dolby Atmos.

I was impressed with the speaker sound, but a side-by-side comparison with my iPhone 8 Plus was a tie.

Samsung includes a pair of AKG earphones, but they didn't fit my ears very well, so they sounded less than great to me.

Camera improvements

The biggest improvement in the S9 is in its cameras.

Let's face it, we use our phones as cameras way more than we use them to make telephone calls. When is the last time you heard a phone manufacturer tout its cool new voice calling features?

The S9's main camera has a 12-megapixel sensor and something called a dual aperture lens.

Most lenses have a maximum lens opening of f/2.5. The S9's camera has an aperture that self-adjusts from f/2.4 to f/1.5, a wider opening that collects more light.

The S9 does an outstanding job with low light scenes.

It has optical image stabilization and selective focus (background blur) and an answer to Apple's Animoji called AR Emoji that uses facial scanning to put your facial expressions on a cartoon animal or even a cartoon version of you.

Video capture looks great with video digital image stabilization.

Video is captured at up to 4K resolution at 30 or 60 frames per second. The S9 really excels at slow motion, including a mode to shoot 720p HD video at 960 fps, which is really, really slow motion.

Other features

The S8 unlocks via facial recognition or fingerprint. The S9 raises the bar by adding a mode called Intelligent Scan that combines iris scan and face recognition for enhanced security.

The face scanner and fingerprint sensor were absurdly easy to set up. Adding the iris scan was simple, and while you remove your glasses to set up the iris scan, I found it unlocked the phone even when I put my glasses back on.

Samsung is trying hard to get some traction for its intelligent assistant Bixby. The S9 has a dedicated Bixby button.

Bixby can do some cool things, like language translation (point it at a sign and get an instant translation) and photo recognition of places or items (point the camera a local landmark). You can point the camera at your favorite bottle of wine to learn more about it or pair of shoes to find more like them online.

The S9 measures 5.81 by 2.70 by 0.33 inches and weighs 5.75 ounces.

The S9 features fast charging wirelessly or wired through its USB-C data/charge port.

Connectivity includes 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 5.0 with the ability to stream to two Bluetooth devices at once.

The S9's Internal storage can be expanded up to 400 gb via microSD card and it features an always-on display with separate edge display.

The screen has a resolution of 1440 by 2960 pixels and is covered in Corning Gorilla Glass 5.

And it still has a headphone jack.

Pricing and availability

The Galaxy S9 is available for preorder for delivery March 16, which is also when you can buy one from your wireless carrier, directly from Samsung or at big box stores like Best Buy or Walmart.

Verizon provided the S9 for my review.

The price from Samsung is $719 for the S9 and $839 for the S9 Plus. Check with your carrier for deals or trade-in offers. Prices and terms will vary.


The S9 is like an old friend. Take all the goodness of the S8 and add increased security, a better fingerprint sensor location and a much-improved camera, and you have a flagship smartphone that's hard to beat.

I'm not sure the camera improvements are a good enough reason to upgrade if you're carrying a Galaxy S8, but if you have anything older and you're ready to upgrade, this is the phone you want.

If you'd like a bigger screen, the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus has all of the S9's features but with a 6.2-inch screen and a dual-lens camera. I'd say both S9s are at the top of the Android phone mountain.

Pros: Great screen, increased security, familiar design.

Cons: None.

Bottom line: Familiar design, but improvements inside make it a worthy upgrade.



Jim Rossman writes for The Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at


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