Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus at Mobile World Congress on Sunday evening. Both devices look a lot like the S8 and S8 Plus — and for good reason, as those were some of the best smartphones released last year. But the new models also boast a number of upgrades, including a nicer camera, better fingerprint scanner placement, more color options... and some creepy AR Emoji nobody has defended yet.
Maybe you’ve been eyeing these new phones since the first leak, or perhaps you’re wavering on waiting for the Note 9, which is speculated to be revealed in August. While it’s impossible to compare phones that don’t exist yet, we’ve highlighted the best and worst features of the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus. The phones are available for preorder on March 2nd and will arrive in stores by March 16th. The S9 starts at $719.99 and the S9 Plus starts at $839.99. Here’s a look at some pros and cons.
Easier-to-reach fingerprint reader
The biggest immediate difference from last year’s S8 and S8 Plus is that Samsung has listened to customers and moved the fingerprint scanner from the right side of the camera to underneath, for easier access.
Those with larger hands may not notice this quality of life improvement as much, but for others, it’ll be an improvement over the old. It also just makes more intuitive sense to not have to stretch one’s pointer finger to the side of a camera to unlock a phone, risking a lens smear along the way.
Taller, brighter displays
This benefit might seem incremental to some, but it is notable that the 5.8-inch S9 and 6.2-inch S9 Plus are some of the biggest and brightest smartphones on the market, even if just by a slight margin. The iPhone 8 Plus, Apple’s largest flagship phone, is only 5.5 inches, although the Note 8 is 6.3 inches.
Samsung is still using Super AMOLED panels with 2960 x 1440 pixel resolutions (the same as the Note 8), but both phones have extra tall 18.5:9 screens this year, and they’re slightly brighter. They also have edge-to-edge displays with slim to no bezels, and they’re water resistant just like other flagship smartphones. There’s no iPhone X notch on top of the S9 or S9 Plus.
The camera can change aperture
The S9 and S9 Plus also get Samsung’s second camera that can use software to sense the level of light and automatically switch aperture. (The first was a luxury flip phone mainly sold in Asian markets.) So, if there’s enough light around, the camera will switch to the f/2.4 aperture and capture more of the background in a photo. In darker conditions, the camera will remain at a bright f/1.5.
The camera app has also been redesigned so that it’s easier to swipe through different modes, and there are other slight improvements like better autofocus, multi-frame noise reduction, and higher slow-motion video quality up to 720p. Between the S9 and S9 Plus, although the cameras have similar specs, the S9 Plus features an additional wide-angle camera, for dual rear-facing cameras, while the S9 has a single 12-megapixel rear camera.
So if you’re a photographer or camera geek who is looking for a phone that can deliver, the S9 and S9 Plus are certainly worth consideration. Again, for those who aren’t paying attention to camera specs or who already rely on a DSLR for their photos, the S9 and S9 Plus’ cameras may not be a major draw.
There’s a headphone jack
Even the biggest dongle enthusiasts have had bad days when they lose a dongle or two and misplace their wireless headphones. Okay, maybe that hasn’t happened to everyone, but headphone jacks can still be extremely useful. The option is good, even if you elect not to use it!
The S9 and S9 Plus have retained their headphone jacks, unlike other phones in the class, including the iPhone X, 8, and 8 Plus, Pixel 2 XL, or the Huawei Mate 10 Pro. That’s a blessing for audiophiles who just aren’t satisfied with the current state of wireless audio and for people who even have a designated pouch for their dongles but still lose them. Dongles are tiny and easy to misplace.
AR Emoji are creepy, and not in a cute way
While Apple’s iPhone X Animoji are not beloved by all, it’s still an exceedingly fun feature that has sprouted viral memes. Samsung’s AR Emoji, which convert facial expressions into humanoid cartoons that can blink, look around, and smile, are... not quite as lovable. They look like 3D Bitmoji that are somehow distorted to be more creepy.
Samsung is also not quite using the same technology for AR Emoji as Apple does with the iPhone X. The iPhone X takes many data points of your face with its True Depth camera, while the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus use selfie photos and machine learning to create avatars. Before the phones are released to the public on March 16th, it’s hard to say what social media’s reaction will be to Samsung’s AR Emoji and what sort of horrific memes it will create, but the raw material being worked with here has a lot of spooky potential.
The Bixby button remains
Samsung’s Bixby button still can’t be removed entirely, although you can disable it. The Bixby app has a number of updates, it’ll be able to count calories in food through photos and provide faster real-time translation. There are also a number of partnerships with retailers like Sam’s Club and Sephora so people can make purchases directly through Bixby.
Still, will these upgrades encourage anyone else to use Bixby? The translation in Bixby is actually Google Translate (there’s a little Google logo in the corner), and retailers like Sephora already have relatively smooth and user-friendly apps. Those apps, notably, don’t pester users unless it’s for discounts that might be of interest.
Samsung still doesn’t allow users to repurpose the Bixby button, which is conveniently where the thumb might naturally rest.
The glass back is fingerprint-prone
The glass back easily collects fingerprints so it can start looking dirty. If you have a phone case, that would solve this problem, but if you prefer to use the phone in its birthday suit, especially now that there are some new, unique color options, the S9 is looking to be oil-prone on the front and back.
Most phones with fast wireless charging usually have glass backs, but a glass back also makes the phone easier to break, with a higher repair cost. Go caseless at your own risk.
Update February 27th, 2:40 PM ET: This article has been updated to reflect that the lack of a notch does not mean there are no infrared sensors for facial recognition and that the phones are water resistant and not completely waterproof.