Mobile World Congress 2018 is taking place in Barcelona this week, where some of the biggest phones, tablets, and laptops of the year are being announced. The biggest announcement of all is usually Samsung’s latest and greatest, and that was once again the case this year. The Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are coming next month, and Samsung just detailed all the new camera tricks and design tweaks we can look forward to when that happens.
High-end smartphones have largely plateaued, but there are still two big areas for improvement — camera quality and battery life. The battery capacities on both the S9 and the S9 Plus are unchanged from last year, but there have definitely been some changes made to the camera. The S9 has a single camera with a 12 MP autofocus sensor, OIS, and an f/1.5 / f/2.4 lens, while the S9 Plus has a dual camera — the same one on the S9 and another 12 MP autofocus sensor paired with an f/2.4 telephoto lens, both of which have OIS.
The big eyebrow raiser here is that the S9 camera and the S9 Plus primary camera have two aperture settings, f/1.5 and f/2.4. The aperture setting determines how much light the camera takes in — that extra wide f/1.5 aperture will be great for taking in more light for night pictures, but in daylight, there’s the risk of overexposure. With the S9 and S9 Plus, you’ll be able to switch between the two depending on lighting conditions, but it’s an either/or adjustment, not a sliding scale.
Oh, and there’s super slow motion video now! You can record video at 960 frames per second at 720p resolution, meaning you can get some pretty clear video and slow down playback dramatically. If there’s any possibility for a water balloon fight in your life later this year, slow motion this good is basically a must!
On the front of both phones is an 8 MP autofocus sensor with an f/1.7 lens, so day and night selfies alike should come out looking great. Those of you who couldn’t stand the notch on the iPhone X will like that the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus has avoided it altogether — the front looks just like the S8 from last year, complete with the same 18:9 2960 x 1440 resolution AMOLED displays (5.8″ on the S9, 6.2″ on the S9 Plus). That means Samsung doesn’t have the same kind of facial recognition feature as the iPhone X does, but it does still have the iris scanner Samsung introduced a couple years ago.
The iPhone X-like front camera feature the S9 does have is AR Emoji. This is Samsung’s answer to Animoji, just without the animals. The phone will scan your face, then build a still human 3D avatar with your likeness that you can customize. You can then use that avatar as a gif or a sticker in messaging apps, but don’t expect anything like Animoji karaoke — without all that camera goodness found in the iPhone X notch, the S9’s facial tracking isn’t as advanced.
Besides the iris scanner, the S9 and S9 Plus still have a fingerprint scanner, with Samsung making a slight change that should prove popular. They’ve been criticized in the past for putting the sensor to the side of the camera array, a place that doesn’t fit the way many people naturally hold their phones. This year, the fingerprint sensor is just under the camera array, like we see with a lot of other Android phones.
Audio should also be a bit better thanks to stereo speakers that have been tuned by AKG (a Harman brand, which Samsung now owns). The phone also has Dolby Atmos support, which creates a pretty cool virtual surround sound effect. And, if you prefer headphones, the 3.5 mm jack is still there where you’d expect it — Samsung isn’t forcing you to go wireless yet.
The rest of the specs haven’t changed much. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset should provide a power boost and possibly an improvement to battery life, although that remains to be seen. The phone is still rated IP68, so it’s both dust and waterproof for the clumsier of us. Both sizes have 64 GB of storage and a microSD card slot. The S9 has a 3,000 mAh battery and 4 GB of RAM, while the S9 Plus has a 3,500 mAh battery and 6 GB of RAM.
The Galaxy S9 isn’t much different than the S8 overall — as always with major smartphone releases, it’ll be a little more tantalizing if you’re looking to upgrade from an S6 or S7. The camera updates do sound pretty nice, though, so if you’ve got extra cash or are on a plan that lets you ditch your current phone to start making payments on a new one, making the jump could be worthwhile (and Samsung is offering trade-in deals at launch). The only truly annoying thing about the S9 is that with a slight change in dimensions and the fingerprint sensor moving, S8 cases won’t fit the S9.
Preorders start on March 2 and the phone becomes available March 16, with both phones coming in Lilac Purple, Midnight Black, or Coral Blue. Prices will vary by carrier and payment plan, but you can also get either phone directly from Samsung. If you do that, the S9 will be $720 or $30 per month for 24 months, while the S9 Plus will be available for $840 or $35 per month for 24 months. Samsung’s trade-in deal will vary by carrier, but will max out at $350.