The Samsung Galaxy S9 is two things: first, it’s a very impressive smartphone, and one of the best in 2018. Second, it’s a disappointing upgrade over the Samsung Galaxy S8.
The reason it can be both these things at once is that the Galaxy S8 was a brilliant phone, marred only by the biometric issues that made it hard to actually unlock the handset. In solving those issues Samsung has righted a big wrong from 2017, but beyond that there isn't really much that impresses.
And that's important, as the Galaxy S8 is still on sale for a lower price, thus making it a tempting alternative for those thinking of getting the new Samsung phone.
With the Galaxy S9 offering the same design and screen as before, and only a few minor upgrades, Samsung is going to have a tough time convincing people they should go for the improved model.
That said, those upgrades are mostly things that will actually benefit the user. The Galaxy S9 camera is exceptional in low light, which you'd expect given the innovative dual-aperture technology Samsung has used in this phone.
The improved materials used in the construction offer a stronger phone, and while you won't feel that when picking it up, you'll be thankful for it a year or two down the line.
The relocation of the fingerprint scanner, combined with the far-more-accurate Intelligent Scan unlocking system, makes the Galaxy S9 eminently more usable than the Galaxy S8 – if you can't unlock your phone easily, it's pretty useless.
AR Emoji has been given a big marketing push, but it's largely a novelty, and an uninspiring one at that. It needs more weighty hardware and software behind it to work effectively, so if you're enticed to buy the Galaxy S9 by this feature we'd advise against it.
The extra speed on board is nice to see, but it's not really adding anything at this stage – what we did want to see was improved battery life, and we didn't get that.
Should I buy it?
The camera is the big reason to go for the Samsung Galaxy S9, along with the uprated power and improved construction, but it's not a great leap forward. The camera flatters to deceive at times, with the color reproduction the main issue for us.
It's annoying to see that a photo which only looks half-decent when you snap it can be instantly improved simply by adding an effect in post-processing – it's hard to work out why Samsung doesn't just do this automatically.
With its not vastly reduced price versus what this handset cost at launch, the Galaxy S9 is argubly a better buy now than it was in March 2018, but there's a new Galaxy just around the corner.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 will launch on February 20, and you're best holding off until then to see what the new phone has to offer. If it's not something that takes your fancy, the S9 is likely to get even cheaper post-launch.
Not convinced this phone is for you? Check out these instead:
Samsung Galaxy Note 9
Bigger, newer and arguably better than the Samsung Galaxy S9, the Galaxy Note 9 is a similar phone in many ways but with a dual-lens camera, a stylus, a 6.4-inch rather than 5.8-inch screen, and a big 4,000mAh battery.
It's a great productivity and media machine, but might be overkill for some users. It's also of course more expensive than the Galaxy S9, and from screen quality to design and power, it's not much of an upgrade in many of the key areas.
Okay, so there aren't a huge number of people who switch between these two big brands’ handsets, but hear us out. The iPhone XS is a faster phone with a comparable battery life, and offers the kind of app stability that Android owners still lust after – that's a key thing.
The camera is also very strong, but it's more expensive, and doesn't have a headphone jack. That said, along with the iPhone XS Max it's the most impressive iPhone we've ever tested, so if you're thinking of making the jump then one of these would be the iPhone to jump to.
Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
If, however, you're thinking of sticking with the Samsung Galaxy range and want the best out there, then the Galaxy S9 Plus is the way to go. It's a phone that has all the power of the S9, but adds in longer battery life and a better camera thanks to having dual sensors on the rear (which brings better quality photos, in our tests).
It's more expensive, yes, but if you want something that just works well and offers a great screen experience, the S9 Plus could be called the S9 Turbo, such is the upgrade on a couple of the issues that irk us with the S9.
Samsung Galaxy S8
When reviewing a new phone, we're often looking at the cheaper model from the previous year to work out if we'd recommend it over the latest handset – and in this case the Galaxy S8 is going to be the right choice for the many who want a cutting-edge Samsung phone without going to a plus-size model.
The design and screen are pretty similar (the biometric issues mentioned above aside), and the camera isn't that far off in terms of quality. You're basically sacrificing low-light capabilities, AR Emoji and dual speakers for a lower cost – and that will be a worthwhile trade-off for many.
If all these options are too expensive, maybe the OnePlus 6T is more your bag. It's got dual-cameras, face unlock and even an in-screen fingerprint scanner.
It's also got a premium glass body and the latest flagship power under the hood, though like many new phones it's lacking a 3.5mm headphone port.
The camera experience isn't as good as the S9 either and there's no wireless charging.
However with a price tag which is much lower than its rivals, the handful of small trade-offs may well be worth it.
First reviewed: March 2018