Eager to put the Galaxy Note 7 disaster in the rearview, Samsung used 2017 to double down on impressive, feature-packed smartphones. Last year’s Note 8 and S8 handsets both impressed in a big way, bringing edge-to-edge, AMOLED-powered displays into the mainstream long before Apple was able to get the iPhone X to market. Naturally, as the smartphone expo of Mobile World Congress gets going today in Barcelona, Spain, it’s time to welcome the Samsung Galaxy S9.
The new S9 looks almost like last year’s S8, and that’s completely intentional. Both the S9 and S9+ refine the Galaxy’s already mature design. Perhaps the biggest physical change here (besides the addition of a badass Lilac Purple color option) is around the back of the phone, where the fingerprint scanner has been moved to sit just below the camera. This addresses one of the biggest gripes users had with the S8, since it was stupidly easy to smudge up the camera’s glass cover when feeling around for the tiny fingerprint pad.
Two versions of the flagship Sammy phone will be available: a 5.8-inch S9 and a whopping 6.2-inch S9+. All the standard Samsung features have been branded this generation as “Galaxy Foundation,” and no, that’s not a new non-profit charity. This term sums up all the things that make a Galaxy a Galaxy—stuff like IP68 water and dust protection, fast wireless charging, and microSD memory expansion. New in the S9 and S9+ is an enhanced biometric security setting that combines the slower, more secure iris scanner with facial recognition. There’s even a headphone jack, which seems like such a luxury in 2018.
Sure sounds like a Samsung phone, doesn’t it?
The thing Samsung hyped the most when debuting S9’s is its new-and-improved camera. The marquee ability of the S9’s upgraded imaging hardware is a variable-aperture camera. The 12-megapixel, optically-stabilized main cameras of both the S9 and S9+ have two aperture settings thanks to an aperture plate on both phones that slides in place whenever it’s needed. Wide open, the camera gathers more light in dim situations at a fast f/1.5 aperture. When stopped down, it shoots in f/2.4, which is better for brighter environments. The camera’s other major trick is a super slow-motion setting, which leverages an on-sensor data buffer to shoot up to 960 frames per second.
Jumping into the animated, facial-mapped emoji craze, Samsung is introducing AR Emoji. Competing with the iPhone X’s Animoji, AR Emoji gives users a cartoon version of themselves they can use to express a range of emotions and reactions. The animations can be sent via SMS, and you can export a custom animation as a GIF, though Samsung’s take on this is more Nintendo Mii than anything.
Additionally, Samsung has added improvements to DeX, the app that lets you connect the phone to a keyboard and monitor for desktop-like experience. The new phones also get stereo Dolby Atmos-powered speakers, ever-so-slightly narrower bezels, the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip, and some new Bixby abilities for good measure.
Preorders for the S9 and S9+ begin Friday, March 2. Retail stores will start carrying the new models on March 16. The S9 will start at $719 unlocked, while its larger Plus-sized sibling will go for $839.