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Galaxy S9: Should you upgrade?

No matter which Galaxy you own, we'll give you our best advice.

Gráfica por Juan Garzon / CNET

Samsung's Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus might be the best phones Samsung has ever made, and they're nearly here. On Friday, March 16, the company's new flagship handsets will bring their fancy new dual-aperture cameras (and stereo speakers!) to stores around the globe.

But are they worth the upgrade if you already own a Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S7, or even a recent Galaxy Note with stylus? 

That's why I built this guide. Just scroll down until you see the phone you own, and I'll take it from there. 

Note: If your Samsung phone isn't on this list, it's either old enough or has been outclassed enough that you should definitely consider an upgrade.

Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8 Plus

gsocho-14-london.jpg
CNET

The Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus look an awful lot like their predecessors -- but don't be fooled. There are plenty of changes under the hood, even if Samsung kept fan-favorite features such as the headphone jack and microSD storage. 

But are any of these changes important enough for you to upgrade right away? I don't think so. "The differences between the two phones are so minor, there's no point in upgrading," wrote my colleague (and long-time Samsung Galaxy reviewer) Jessica Dolcourt. Plus, we're still testing the phone's battery life -- it's not clear the S9's battery is better, and it might even be worse.

What you get with Galaxy S9

  • Auto-switching dual-aperture camera (f/1.5 and f/2.4) to let in more or less light as needed
  • Crisper photos in bright outdoor situations
  • Slightly better (but occasionally blurrier) photos in low-light situations
  • Second camera with 2x telephoto lens (Galaxy S9 Plus-only)
  • 960fps super-slow motion video (240fps at 1080p)
  • A better position for the rear fingerprint sensor
  • Stereo speakers (also 40 percent louder than S8)
  • A slightly faster processor
  • 2GB of extra memory (Galaxy S9 Plus-only)
  • 15 percent brighter screen
  • Slightly slimmer screen bezels (1.2mm)
  • Android 8.0 Oreo (in case your phone is still waiting for it)
  • A new Lilac Purple color option
  • Faster LTE internet, where available (1.2 Gigabit vs. 1 Gigabit)
  • 128GB and 256GB options internationally
  • AR Emoji (which isn't that great)

What's the same

Pretty much everything else, including:

  • Aluminum chassis with curved glass front and back
  • Excellent 5.8 inch (Galaxy S9) or 6.2-inch (Galaxy S9 Plus) super high-definition screen
  • Battery capacity: 3,000mAh (Galaxy S9) or 3,500mAh (Galaxy S9 Plus)
  • Second camera with 2x telephoto lens (Galaxy S9 Plus-only)
  • IP68 water and dust resistance
  • Face and iris scanning (though they're now combined in Intelligent Scan)
  • Bixby button
  • Wireless charging
  • MicroSD expandable storage
  • Headphone jack

What you lose upgrading to Galaxy S9

  • Consistent photo quality: Galaxy S9 sometimes misses shots in low light
  • Slightly thinner, lighter build: S9 and S9 Plus are very slightly thicker and heavier
  • Slightly taller build: S9 and S9 Plus are very slightly shorter and wider
  • The money to buy a new phone so soon after your last one

Galaxy Note 8  

galaxy-note-8-7407-004
Josh Miller/CNET

Yeah, it's pretty doubtful a Galaxy Note 8 owner would go for a Galaxy S9. Would you really ditch your larger screen and your stylus for the S9's camera and processor upgrades, particularly when you've already got the optically stabilized 2x telephoto lens?

But hey, maybe you're ready for a smaller phone and you've got a friend who'll buy your Note. If so, here's what you'll get.

What you get with Galaxy S9

  • Auto-switching dual-aperture camera (f/1.5 and f/2.4) to let in more or less light as needed
  • Crisper photos in bright outdoor situations
  • Slightly better (but occasionally blurrier) photos in low-light situations
  • 960fps super-slow motion video (240fps at 1080p)
  • A better position for the rear fingerprint sensor
  • Stereo speakers
  • A slightly faster processor
  • Slightly higher battery capacity (S9 Plus only)
  • Faster LTE internet, where available (1.2 Gigabit vs. 1 Gigabit)
  • A new Lilac Purple color option
  • AR Emoji (which isn't that great)
  • Android 8.0 Oreo (in case your phone is still waiting for it)

What's the same

  • Aluminum chassis with a curved-glass front and back
  • Super high-definition AMOLED screen
  • IP68 water and dust resistance
  • Face and iris scanning (though they're now combined in Intelligent Scan)
  • Bixby button
  • Wireless charging
  • MicroSD expandable storage
  • Headphone jack

What you lose upgrading to Galaxy S9

  • Larger screen (6.3-inch for Note 8 vs. 6.2-inch for S9 Plus, 5.8-inch for S9)
  • S-Pen stylus
  • Consistent photo quality: The Galaxy S9 sometimes misses shots in low light    
  • The money to buy a new phone so soon after your last one

Galaxy S7

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James Martin/CNET

Here's where an upgrade starts to make sense. If you've already spent two years with a Galaxy S7 and your battery's having trouble keeping up, it might be time to trade it in. You'll get a dramatically different phone design with a way bigger curved-glass screen, a better camera, faster processor and plenty more in the bargain.

What you get with Galaxy S9

  • Much larger, brighter 5.8-inch (S9) or 6.2-inch (S9 Plus) super high-definition screen with curved edges
  • Taller, narrower design with greatly reduced screen bezels at top and bottom
  • Auto-switching dual-aperture camera (f/1.5 and f/2.4) to let in more or less light as needed
  • Crisper photos in bright outdoor situations
  • Brighter photos in low-light situations
  • Second camera with 2x telephoto lens (Galaxy S9 Plus-only)
  • 960fps slow-motion video (240fps at 1080p)
  • Rear-mounted fingerprint sensor under index finger
  • Stereo speakers
  • A notably faster processor
  • 500mAh higher battery capacity (Galaxy S9 Plus only)
  • 2GB of extra memory (Galaxy S9 Plus-only)
  • Android 8.0 Oreo
  • A new Lilac Purple color option
  • Gigabit LTE internet, where available
  • 64GB storage by default with 128GB and 256GB options internationally
  • Face and iris scanners
  • AR Emoji (which isn't that great)
  • USB-C charging

What's the same

  • Aluminum chassis with glass front and back
  • Battery capacity: 3,000mAh (Galaxy S9)
  • IP68 water and dust resistance
  • Wireless charging
  • MicroSD expandable storage
  • Headphone jack

What you lose upgrading to Galaxy S9

  • Physical home button
  • Front-facing fingerprint sensor
  • Micro-USB charge and data port (it's USB-C now)
  • Lighter build: S9 and S9 Plus are thicker and heavier

Galaxy S7 Edge

samsung-galaxy-s7-edge-product-hero-2.jpg
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

If your daily driver is a Galaxy S7 Edge, you've got practically as many reasons to upgrade as someone with the standard Galaxy S7 -- which is to say, quite a few. Even if you've already got a curved-glass screen, the ones you'll find in the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus are larger. And though the S9's battery is slightly smaller, yours is probably a little worn out.

What you get with Galaxy S9

  • Much larger, slightly brighter 5.8-inch (S9) or 6.2-inch (S9 Plus) super high-definition screen
  • Taller, narrower design with greatly reduced screen bezels at the top and bottom
  • Auto-switching dual-aperture camera (f/1.5 and f/2.4) to let in more or less light as needed
  • Crisper photos in bright outdoor situations
  • Brighter photos in low-light situations
  • Second camera with 2x telephoto lens (Galaxy S9 Plus-only)
  • 960fps slow-motion video (240fps at 1080p)
  • Rear-mounted fingerprint sensor under index finger
  • Stereo speakers
  • A notably faster processor
  • 2GB of extra memory (Galaxy S9 Plus-only)
  • Android 8.0 Oreo
  • A new Lilac Purple color option
  • Gigabit LTE internet, where available
  • 64GB storage by default with 128GB and 256GB options internationally
  • Face and iris scanners
  • AR Emoji (which isn't that great)
  • USB-C connector

What's the same

  • Aluminum chassis with curved glass front and back
  • Size: S7 Edge is roughly between S9 and S9 Plus in proportions
  • IP68 water and dust resistance
  • Wireless charging
  • MicroSD expandable storage
  • Headphone jack

What you lose upgrading to Galaxy S9

  • Physical home button
  • Front-facing fingerprint sensor
  • Micro-USB charge/data port (it's USB-C now)
  • Lighter build: S9 and S9 Plus are thicker and heavier

Galaxy Note 7

samsung-galaxy-note-7-new-nov-2nd-1067-001.jpg
Josh Miller/CNET

Didn't your phone blow up?

Galaxy Note 6

Go home, you're drunk.

Galaxy S6 or S6 Edge

The Galaxy S6.

Josh Miller/CNET

To be honest, you could hold onto your Galaxy S6 a bit longer if you needed to. It's still part of the modern era in terms of build, camera quality, processor speed and gorgeous screens. You've even got wireless charging. Still, we're talking about a phone without water resistance or microSD storage, and your Galaxy S6's relatively small battery is probably barely limping along by now. It's probably time.

What you get with Galaxy S9

  • Much larger, slightly brighter 5.8-inch (S9) or 6.2-inch (S9 Plus) super high-definition screen
  • Taller, narrower design with greatly reduced screen bezels at top and bottom
  • Auto-switching dual-aperture camera (f/1.5 and f/2.4) to let in more or less light as needed
  • Crisper photos in bright outdoor situations
  • Far better low-light pictures and faster autofocus
  • Second camera with 2x telephoto lens (Galaxy S9 Plus-only)
  • 960fps slow-motion video (240fps at 1080p)
  • Faster, rear-mounted fingerprint sensor under index finger
  • Water resistance
  • Expandable microSD storage
  • Stereo speakers
  • Much faster processor
  • More memory (1GB more on the S9, 3GB more on the S9 Plus)
  • Longer battery life
  • Faster wireless charging
  • Android 8.0 Oreo
  • A new Lilac Purple color option
  • Gigabit LTE internet, where available
  • 64GB storage by default with 128GB and 256GB options internationally
  • Face and iris scanners
  • Always-on display so you can check time and notifications at a glance
  • AR Emoji (which isn't that great)
  • USB-C connector

What's the same

  • Aluminum chassis with glass front and back
  • Headphone jack

What you lose upgrading to Galaxy S9

  • Physical home button
  • Front-facing fingerprint sensor
  • Micro-USB charge and data port (Samsung uses USB-C now)
  • Lighter build: S9 and S9 Plus are 1-1.5 ounces heavier and 1.7mm thicker
  • IR blaster to control your home entertainment system

Galaxy Note 5

The Galaxy Note 5.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Let's be real: If the stylus is your jam, you'll probably want to wait a little longer for the next Galaxy Note this fall. But if the S-Pen was just a novelty, you can get an awful lot of mileage out of a Galaxy S9 or S9 Plus. Even though the S9 is a smaller phone, its screen is bigger than a Galaxy Note 5 -- and if you upgrade to the S9 Plus, you'll get a bigger battery too.

What you get with Galaxy S9

  • Slightly larger, brighter 5.8-inch (S9) or 6.2-inch (S9 Plus) super high-definition screen
  • Slightly narrower design with greatly reduced screen bezels at top and bottom
  • Auto-switching dual-aperture camera (f/1.5 and f/2.4) to let in more or less light as needed
  • Crisper photos in bright outdoor situations
  • Far better low-light pictures and faster autofocus
  • Second camera with 2x telephoto lens (Galaxy S9 Plus-only)
  • 960fps slow-motion video (240fps at 1080p)
  • Rear-mounted fingerprint sensor under index finger
  • Water resistance
  • Expandable microSD storage
  • Stereo speakers
  • Much faster processor
  • 500mAh higher battery capacity (Galaxy S9 Plus only)
  • 2GB of extra memory (Galaxy S9 Plus-only)
  • Android 8.0 Oreo
  • A new Lilac Purple color option
  • Gigabit LTE internet, where available
  • 64GB storage by default with 128GB and 256GB options internationally
  • Face and iris scanners
  • Always-on display so you can check time and notifications at a glance
  • AR Emoji (which isn't that great)
  • USB-C connector

What's the same

  • Aluminum chassis with glass front and back
  • Battery capacity: 3,000mAh (Galaxy S9)
  • Headphone jack

What you lose upgrading to Galaxy S9

  • Removable stylus
  • Physical home button
  • Front-facing fingerprint sensor
  • Micro-USB charge and data port (Samsung uses USB-C now)
  • Thinner build: S9 and S9 Plus are 0.9mm thicker

Galaxy S6 Edge+

The Galaxy S6 Edge Plus.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I'm going to go out on a limb here: If you're the kind of person who spent extra cash on this upsized-version of the Galaxy S6 a few years back, you've already pre-ordered a Galaxy S9 Plus. 

But if not, it's kind of a no brainer. Way better specs, plus more of the curved glass you love. Unless thinness is key, because the S9 and S9 Plus are a bit thicker.

What you get with Galaxy S9

  • Slightly larger, brighter 5.8-inch (S9) or 6.2-inch (S9 Plus) super high-definition screen
  • Slightly narrower design with greatly reduced screen bezels at top and bottom
  • Auto-switching dual-aperture camera (f/1.5 and f/2.4) to let in more or less light as needed
  • Crisper photos in bright outdoor situations
  • Far better low-light pictures and faster autofocus
  • Second camera with 2x telephoto lens (Galaxy S9 Plus-only)
  • 960fps slow-motion video (240fps at 1080p)
  • Rear-mounted fingerprint sensor under index finger
  • Water resistance
  • Expandable microSD storage
  • Stereo speakers
  • Much faster processor
  • 500mAh higher battery capacity (Galaxy S9 Plus only)
  • 2GB of extra memory (Galaxy S9 Plus only)
  • Android 8.0 Oreo
  • A new Lilac Purple color option
  • Gigabit LTE internet, where available
  • 64GB storage by default with 128GB and 256GB options internationally
  • Face and iris scanners
  • Always-on display so you can check time and notifications at a glance
  • AR Emoji (which isn't that great)
  • USB-C connector

What's the same

  • Aluminum chassis with glass front and back
  • Battery capacity: 3,000mAh (Galaxy S9)
  • Headphone jack

What you lose upgrading to Galaxy S9

  • Physical home button
  • Front-facing fingerprint sensor
  • Micro-USB charge and data port (Samsung uses USB-C now)
  • Thinner build: S9 and S9 Plus are 1.6mm thicker

Galaxy S5 and earlier

The Samsung Galaxy S5.

Josh Miller/CNET

If your phone is older than the Galaxy S6, it's definitely time to upgrade, because you're living in the past: Back when phones were made of plastic, cameras weren't nearly as reliable, processors were much slower, fingerprint sensors kinda sucked (if you had one at all) and screens weren't super-high definition. No wireless charging, no waterproofing, no tap-to-pay substitutes for your credit cards... you get the picture.

Yes, you'll have to ditch your removable battery and you'll need a tool to swap SIM cards, but the modern era is calling. You don't need to upgrade to a Galaxy S9... but you should probably pick something!

Galaxy S9 review: It's two steps forward, one step back for Samsung's iPhone X fighter.

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