Update: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is now available. Here’s what we thought of the newest Android phone with a large screen.
The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus just launched and it’s the most advanced big phone you can buy today thanks to its oversized screen and superb cameras, even if it all looks identical to last year’s S8 Plus.
Without dramatic changes to the design, it’s only an iterative update to the S8 Plus – but it’s an iterative update to an Android phone that’s been sitting near the top of our best phones list for the past 11 months. That’s important to remember.
We’ve tested the Galaxy S9 Plus for several weeks now, and its low-light photos and big screen are the two most obvious highlights. It’s still Samsung’s grandiose 6.2-inch curved ‘Infinity’ display that will sell you on this more expensive phone over the 5.8-inch Galaxy S9, but both handsets have an improved 12MP camera that boasts a f/1.5 maximum aperture.
This is the first camera phone with such a wide aperture, giving the S9 and S9 Plus low-light and noise-defeating powers that, in many situations, are more advanced than those of even the Google Pixel 2, our previous best phone camera.
The S9 Plus benefits from rear dual-lens camera, too, giving it the same telephoto capabilities as last year’s Note 8 (the S9 has one lens on the back). Its primary lens can also capture super-slow-motion video at 960 frames per second if you’re serious about video and, if you’re not, uses its 8MP front-facing camera to paint your face with AR Emoji props and masks. It’s Samsung’s spin on Apple’s Animoji, but don’t get too excited about it. It’s rather unimpressive, unlike the rest of the phone.
Samsung has listened to the negative feedback regarding last year’s handsets, and has wisely moved its offset rear fingerprint sensor to a center-aligned position. It’s a more natural location, although you may not even need it thanks to the face unlock and iris scanning onboard and working at the same time. Addressing another shortcoming of the S8 Plus, Samsung finally gives its flagship phones stereo speakers for superior sound.
If you’re thinking a sudden emphasis on stereo speakers, face unlock, AR Emoji and vertically stacked 12MP dual cameras sounds as if these are Samsung’s take on iPhone X features, you’re right. The S9 Plus tries to match everything Apple can do, but at a larger screen size and with a 3.5mm headphone jack – and it also bests the Google Pixel 2 XL’s low-light photography in some scenarios.
What’s interesting is that Apple’s and Google’s handsets aren’t the fiercest competition for the S9 Plus – it’s Samsung’s own phones. The now-cheaper Galaxy S8 Plus is an incremental downgrade, ideal for anyone put off by the high S9 Plus price, while the Galaxy Note 9 is likely six months away, perfect for early adopters who have ample cash and a penchant for the S Pen and a slightly bigger screen. That positions the S9 Plus at the top temporarily.
Watch our Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus hands-on video below
Samsung Galaxy S9 release date and price
- Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus release date: March 16
- $840 (£869, AU$1,349) marks a jump in price
- It’s still cheaper than an iPhone X
SAMSUNG GALAXY S9 PLUS SPECS
Dimensions: 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm
Screen size: 6.2-inch
CPU: Snapdragon 845 / Exynos 9810
Storage: 64GB or 128GB (region dependent)
Camera: Dual 12MP rear, 8MP front
The official Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus release date was Friday, March 16, two weeks after pre-orders opened on February 25 (UK and Europe), and March 2 (in the US).
Its price is more expensive than last year’s S8 Plus in the US and UK. In the US, it costs $839.99 for the S9 Plus unlocked through Samsung’s official website. That’s only $10 more expensive than the S8 Plus at launch, but it’s now $120 more expensive than the normal-sized S9. The gap is widening between the two sizes.
Of course, US carriers like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint will break this full price into digestible monthly fees, though Verizon and AT&T charge $100 more in the long run. But just about all American carriers offer $350 for recent phone trade-ins.
In the UK, the Galaxy S9 Plus costs £869. That’s a big price hike over the S8 Plus, which cost £779 at launch. That’s £90 more in one year. Ouch. In Australia it costs AU$1,349.
EE in the UK has announced that the S9 Plus is now available for pre-order. Its Essential plan starts at £150 up front and £63 per month for 4GB of data. If you upgrade to the Max plan you get 60GB of data plus two years of access to the BT Sports app for £78 per month. Additionally, buyers can get £250 off by trading in their Samsung Galaxy S7 or Galaxy S7 Edge.
- Samsung’s elegant-looking glass-and-metal smartphone design returns
- Small changes: center-aligned rear fingerprint sensor; stereo speakers
- You won’t notice the dimension differences from the S8 Plus
The Galaxy S9 Plus is the most stylish-looking smartphone you can buy thanks to Samsung continuing its design ethos of melding two glass panels with a metal frame. It doesn’t look very different from the S8 Plus, but that doesn’t matter unless you’re upgrading every year and demand annual newness.
Samsung has made small, but meaningful, changes on the back of its new phones. You’ll find the fingerprint sensor on the rear again, but now it’s aligned in the center, below the camera. The S8 Plus had a much-maligned offset scanner adjacent to the camera, and it was hard to blindly unlock your phone without smudging the camera lens. This is an improvement, although we found the fingerprint sensor pad smaller than the ones on most other Android phones.
You can choose one of four colors, including the new standout Lilac Purple. Other S9 color options at launch include Midnight Black and Coral Blue in the US, UK and Europe; there’s also a Titanium Gray hue available in other countries. Our Midnight Black review unit was a mess with fingerprints, even though we wiped it down between photos. It’s another reason to invest in a stylish Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus case.
And that’s it design-wise – you won’t readily notice anything else that’s new on the outside of the S9 Plus. The dimensions have changed by a few millimeters to reduce the top and bottom bezels, making the phone a tiny bit shorter than the S8 Plus, but it’s still a really big phone.
You’re still going to have to stretch your fingers to touch the corners of the screen furthest from your grip – navigating Google Maps on the go, for example, can be a cumbersome affair – so if you’ve been hesitant to buy into big-screen phones your best option is the smaller Galaxy S9. This is a big phone meant for big mitts.
Unlike many of its rivals, Samsung is standing by both the 3.5mm headphone jack and the microSD card slot. It’s also giving us a second year of the Bixby button on the left side of the phone to call up its digital assistant. No, you still can’t remap this button to your liking without third-party software and, yes, you’ll still hit it thinking it’s the nearby volume-down key.
- 6.2-inch Quad HD+ Super AMOLED curved screen
- 90% of the front of the phone is now screen
- No in-screen fingerprint sensor here
Samsung’s 6.2-inch display on the Galaxy S9 Plus is as expansive as it is impressive. It’s unchanged from the company’s previous Infinity Display – but that’s held up to be a fantastic screen, so that’s okay with us, too.
Its tall 18.5:9 aspect ratio has set the standard for all-screen smartphones. It can display a Quad HD+ resolution, yet it still looks outstanding at the default Full HD 1080p. It’s the combination of the futuristic-looking curved edges, vibrant colors, and high contrast ratio that make it pop.
We also appreciate the fact that Samsung has created a screen that fills 90% of the front of the S9 Plus. There’s very little bezel here, and no notch whatsoever, which makes it feel like you’re holding one large, beautiful light beam in your hand.
That beautiful beam of light is prone to occasional false touches, which we experienced due to a combination of the curved screen and our firm grasp of such a big phone. It’s no fun watching text messages disappear only because our pinky finger glanced the backspace key (which happens to be right near the edge) while we tried to clutch this massive 6.2-inch display.
There’s no in-screen fingerprint sensor, even though we’ve seen Chinese phone makers debut the technology already. That highlight may be saved for the Note 9, or perhaps the Galaxy S10.