The Samsung Galaxy S9 is two things: first, it’s a very impressive smartphone, and likely to be 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 going to be 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.
The extra cost is going to be tough for some people to stomach, as you'll get a lot of the features here on the Galaxy S8, as long as you don't mind some finger gymnastics to get to the fingerprint scanner on the back and aren't bothered about having the best camera Samsung can create.
The Galaxy S9 could still well be the phone of 2018 – but the competition has a real chance to catch up this year.
Not convinced this phone is for you? Check out these instead:
Okay, so there aren't a huge number of people who switch between these two big brands’ handsets, but hear us out. The iPhone X 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 isn't as strong in low light and, like the Galaxy S9, the colors are more natural-looking, rather than punchy; it's also more expensive, and doesn't have a headphone jack. That said, it's the most impressive iPhone we've ever tested, so if you're thinking of making the jump this 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 6 is more your bag. It's got dual-cameras, finger and face unlock, a premium glass body and the latest flagship power under the hood. There's even a headphone jack.
The camera experience isn't as good as the S9, and while the screen is sizable, it's 'only' full HD which means it won't be as crisp and sharpe as the Samsung.
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