It's the “tick” year for smartphone makers, meaning changes will be subtle and possibly inconsequential. But amongst the many “small” features Samsung has made to its flagship, one stands out - and it's one of the big reason it's our best smartphone of the moment.
The Galaxy S9 Plus is of course about the variable aperture camera, because without it, this is at best a minor update to the Galaxy S8. So, let's begin with what matters.
Samsung Galaxy S9 release date and price
- Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus release date: March 16
- Price starts at Rs 64,900 for 64GB variant
- It’s still cheaper than an iPhone X
The Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are priced at Rs 57,900 and Rs 65,900 respectively for the 64GB variants, and the 256GB variants are priced at Rs 64,900 and Rs 72,900. Vodafone users buying the phones will get free one year Netflix subscription. The sale kicks off from 16 March. The phones will be available to purchase from Samsung India Store, Flipkart, and Airtel Store.
F/1.5 is the widest aperture we've seen on a smartphone yet. The Galaxy S9 compliments that by allowing a toggle for smaller F/2.4 aperture. On the auto mode, the camera will switch between 1.5 and 2.4 on its own volition. If you want to actually see the aperture change, you can switch to the Pro mode and hit the aperture toggle. You will see the blades close in on the primary lens when shifting to the narrower aperture. What the Galaxy S9 Plus can't do is manage transitions across these apertures. You either have f/1.5 or f/2.4, which theoretically speaking, is still a big deal.
You'll probably (and rightly) marvel at the technology here. However, its impact may not be evident to you right off the bat. Samsung's phones always shoot bright photos, compromising details for colour vibrancy.
Don't get me wrong, this is still a great camera, but long time Samsung users will notice a definite change in the company's imaging philosophy here. Where Samsung has focused on making colours as vibrant as possible in the past, the S9 Plus tilts towards a more natural shade.
However, in doing so, many images appear washed out (on auto mode), especially when put next to the same image shot from a Pixel 2. In bright light, the Galaxy S9 Plus takes some of the best photos you can get, with punchy colours. In low light, wide aperture and tried-and-tested algorithms work together to produce very bright photos. Yet, if you compare to a Pixel, you'll notice that the Galaxy S9 Plus is still inferior to Google's Pixel 2. Details are lost due to aggressive noise removal, and colours are often washed out, which is specific to the S9 Plus. Personally speaking, this is the only Samsung flagship that has disappointed me in any way, when it comes to the camera.
That said, if you're sharing photos on social media only, this camera is more than enough. Despite its shortcomings, the Galaxy S9 Plus can certainly rank amongst the best, but I personally would switch this with the Note 8 any day.
Samsung admits that this new feature is all about having "fun" with the Galaxy S9 Plus. Switching to AR Emoji mode on the camera app allows you to take a selfie and convert it into a cartoonish character. The character the phone creates will almost never look like you, which is where the fun element comes in.
What AR Emoji seems to do is create a more exaggerated version of the expression on your face. It can come off as creepy but indeed makes for some fun times with friends. That is, till the novelty wears off.
Super Slo-Mo video
Taking a page out of Sony's book, the Galaxy S9 Plus can shoot 960fps slow motion video. And just as it was with the Xperias, it's a feature I almost never used. In fact, the only reason I even tried it because I had to write this review.
That said, super slow motion video might find use in certain niche use-cases. What you must know is that the Galaxy S9 Plus has to be quite stable for this to work, so a tripod is recommended. A moving car, low light, while walking etc. are not the perfect situations for shooting super slow motion videos. In essence, depending on the type of user, super slow motion can either be a gimmick, a novelty or absolutely useless.
Summing up the Galaxy S9 Plus' camera
Samsung impressed the world by putting variable aperture on a phone. However, it also has the first mover's disadvantage here. It seems to me that the company's algorithms aren't perfectly tuned to changing aperture yet, causing the washed out images. What's more noteworthy though is that when it does shoot right, the S9 Plus isn't a huge upgrade over the S8 or Note 8. If anything, the Note 8 can trump this one at times.