Now it’s been knocked off the flagship by its successor, the S10, you can now pick up the S9 at the sorts of prices we haven’t seen since Black Friday. If you head to Carphone Warehouse, you’ll find a number of awesome deals: with Vodafone, for example, you can get the phone with 15GB of data for a monthly cost of just £30 and an upfront cost of the same amount. Of course, you should read our review below before you make up your mind.
Original review continues below
It’s a sad fact, but the only chance the Samsung Galaxy S9 had to stand out in an ocean of equally competent Android smartphones in 2018 was if its camera was the very, very best – better than all the rest. And, to a certain extent, Samsung has pulled that off with the Galaxy S9.
Best Samsung Galaxy S9 deals
First, by fitting it out with an f/1.5 aperture camera – the brightest aperture ever seen on a smartphone – and second, adding to that by implementing dual aperture, so the camera can adapt to different ambient light conditions. Samsung has managed to stretch out the tiniest advantage over the competition.
And by combining this with a new 12-shot multi-frame noise reduction, Samsung is hoping to maintain its position as the manufacturer of the world’s best smartphone for yet another year.
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Samsung Galaxy S9 review: That camera
This year, more than ever, the Samsung Galaxy S9 is all about the camera and for that reason, I’m going to break with tradition in this review and start with that, rather than discussing the merits of the new Lilac Purple colour and its repositioned fingerprint reader.
And, on paper, it’s a winner. The Samsung Galaxy S9 gets a 12-megapixel rear camera with an aperture of f/1.5 – the brightest ever on a smartphone – which is a huge 28% brighter than the primary camera on last year’s S8. Woosh.
At the launch, Samsung demonstrated this by pointing the phone at a box full of flowers lit at a lower light intensity than 1 lux (0.87 to be precise) and comparing the results with those achieved by a Google Pixel 2 XL. Unsurprisingly, given that this was set up to make the S9 look good, the results were impressive, with the flowers looking very dark in the Pixel image but clearly distinguishable on the S9. The noise levels and colour retention were good, too.
But how well does it work in the real world? In some ways, brilliantly. When I got my hands on one for this review, it continued to perform superbly in all conditions and particularly in low light, capturing colours with uncanny vibrancy and managing to keep noise at bay. Meanwhile, in good light, the camera captured sharp details across the board with automatic exposures, in general, judged to perfection.
But this doesn’t appear to be due to the larger f/1.5 aperture. In fact, in some circumstances I found that in Auto mode using the f/1.5 setting the camera would actually trigger the use of a higher ISO level than the same scene captured in Pro mode with f/2.4 selected. I’d have thought the whole idea of using a larger aperture with more light-gathering capacity would be to reduce ISO levels and thus produce cleaner, less noisy images. It seems that’s not always the case here.
How about the dual aperture then? That, at least, appears to be more effective. With larger apertures, you typically see a fall-off in sharpness towards the edges of the frame and that’s very much in evidence here. You have to look closely but it’s fairly clear that in f/1.5 mode shots are far softer at the top, bottom, left and right edges of the frame than they are in f/2.4.
The narrower aperture also stops the phone from overexposing images in strong light. It is not, I must stress, about adding creative options such as changing the depth of field; the difference between f/1.5 and f/2.4 on a camera with a sensor this small is minimal when it comes to depth of field.
Overall, though, despite the slightly bizarre and inconsistent implementation of the bigger f/1.5 aperture, the Samsung Galaxy S9 has an excellent camera and, once you take into account the quality of the video, I’d say it was better than the Pixel 2.
It can, of course, record in 4K resolution at 60fps, but it is unable to record this fully stabilised like the iPhone X can. The footage looks great, though. It’s crisp and highly detailed, and there’s little of the focus hunting that so badly afflicts other rivals, such as the Huawei Mate 10 Pro.