In previous years, the Plus model was the same as the Galaxy S, but bigger, with a larger battery, too. This year, the S9 Plus comes with an extra feature that the S9 doesn't have: A second camera lens on the back. It's this 12-megapixel telephoto sensor that blesses the Galaxy S9 Plus with the ability to take depth-of-field portrait photos that blur the background so that the subject of your photos stands out.
There are other variations between the two in size, weight, battery life and RAM, but if screen size isn't important to you, the second camera is the reason you'd shell out more for the Galaxy S9 Plus. All other core features are the same, including the 12-megapixel dual-aperture camera that makes its industry debut with these Galaxy S9 phones.
Interestingly, the Galaxy S9 Plus is only Samsung's second phone to get a dual camera, falling in line after last August's Galaxy Note 8 ($899.98 at Amazon.com). Samsung came to the trend more than a year late, so its phones are still making up for lost time. The fact that this dual-camera setup is absent on the Galaxy S9 tells us that Samsung sees the photo feature as a high-end differentiator.
In fact, by giving the Galaxy S9 one rear camera, the larger Galaxy S9 Plus two rear cameras, and the Galaxy Note dual cameras plus a digital stylus, Samsung can justify three price tiers that match each phone's features. The model makes sense, and mirrors Apple's own structure with the iPhone 8 ($849.99 at T-Mobile USA), 8 Plus ($940.00 at Amazon.com) and iPhone X ($1,199.99 at Amazon.com).
Unfortunately, despite the addition of the second telephoto lens on the Plus, the main camera carries over the same weaknesses of the S9's promising dual-aperture lens: It tends to overexpose photos in low-light situations, and they're not as sharp, either. That said, if you're going to get a phone in the S9 family, you'll want to pay up for the Plus.
This review highlights the differences between the S9 Plus and S9. For all other features, including the 12-megapixel dual-aperture camera (not to be confused with the dual-camera setup you'll find on the S9 Plus), Snapdragon 845 processor and AR Emoji, see my full Galaxy S9 review.
Editors' note: Ratings are tentative until we complete final testing, including ongoing camera and battery tests.
What the Galaxy S9 Plus has over the Galaxy S9
Let's dive into the differences between the two phones.
You could use the 12-megapixel telephoto lens to take photos, but 99 times out of 100 you're going to want it for portrait mode.
The same setup as on the Galaxy Note 8, the S9 Plus' portrait mode app is called Live Focus. You'll have slider control over your blur intensity and "skin tone," which used to be called "beauty mode" and airbrushes your features.
Samsung's portrait mode falls behind the iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus in lighting extras. Those phones let you set the lighting tone from natural to dramatic. But what's unique about Samsung's portrait mode is that you can adjust the blur as an edit after taking the photo.
You can also swap between the depth-of-field portrait (the close up) and the unblurred, wide-angle version of the same shot. The shooting process may not be quite as theatrical as it is on the iPhone X, but I do like the practicality. And you can still apply over a dozen filters in the photo editor.