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Times have changed since Samsung revealed the Galaxy S9, Galaxy S9 Plus and even the Galaxy Note 9 last August. The Galaxy S10 looms large on the horizon, launching on Feb. 20 in San Francisco -- this year we expect three new models, including a cheaper Galaxy S10 E, or S10 Lite. Normally the Galaxy S10 Plus would steal the show, but we're also expecting Samsung to tease or even fully unleash its first 5G Galaxy S10 model, and it first foldable phone, which the company briefly showed off this past November.
Where does that leave 2018's Galaxy S9 Plus? In a pretty decent position, actually, as a stealthy alternative to the Galaxy S10 Plus. Every year, as the hot, new phones arrive, the previous model gets cheaper. That's great news for phone fans who want a powerful flagship device, but also want to save a buck. The Galaxy S10 is expected to step up across the board, from a faster processor and in-screen fingerprint reader to more cameras. But every year our conclusion tends to be the same, that last year's model is still pretty, pretty good (and not worth upgrading to the new phone if you already own it).
Of course, we haven't seen the Galaxy S10 phones, so we can't say if this one breaks the mold. What we can say is that the Galaxy S9 Plus holds up a year later, and would still be a contender for anyone considering a Galaxy phone.
Editors' note: This review first posted March 8, 2018, and was updated most recently Feb. 5, 2019. You'll find our full Galaxy S9 Plus review below.
By giving the Galaxy S9 one rear camera, the larger Galaxy S9 Plus two rear cameras, and the Galaxy Note 9 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, 8 Plus and iPhone X.
Read this: Sorry, this is why your phone is going to get even more expensive
If you're deciding between the S9 and S9 Plus, the Plus is objectively the "better" phone, and the one power users who don't want the Note 9 should get if they can't choose between the two. I like the larger battery and the ability to take a portrait shot when you want to -- you can't always predict when those moments come up.
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, especially if you or your subject move.
That said, photo quality is open to interpretation, and this is a terrific resource for comparing top cameras.
There are other variations between the Note 9, S9 and S9 Plus in size, weight, battery life and RAM, but core features are the same, including the 12-megapixel dual-aperture camera that makes its industry debut with these Galaxy S9 phones.
However, don't buy any phone just yet. With the Google Pixel 3 and Apple's 2018 iPhones around the corner, it's prudent to wait. And if you can hold on to your phone for 7 more months, Samsung's expected to pull out all the stops with 2019's Galaxy S10 phones, which could include an in-screen fingerprint reader and other goodies befitting a 10th anniversary phone.
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. You can read my full Galaxy Not 9 review here.
Editor's note: This review first posted March 8, 2018 and was updated August 24, 2018.
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 9, 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.
The Galaxy S9 Plus has the advantage of a larger 6.2-inch screen, which gives you more space to view media and interact with what's on the screen.
A bigger screen makes for a more sizable phone to stretch your fingers around. I find the S9 more comfortable by and large, but the taller, narrower dimensions that Samsung introduced with last year's Galaxy S8 keeps it from feeling like you're tapping on a roof shingle -- even with my smaller hands.
Like last year's models, the S9 Plus also comes with a higher-capacity battery than the S9: 3,500mAh compared to 3,000mAh.
The S9 Plus averaged just under 17 hours on two runs of our looping video test in airplane mode. That's actually an hour less than last year's 18-hour Galaxy S8 Plus average, so we'll continue testing on other units and update these results.
So far in our tests, the S9 Plus has lasted at least three hours longer than my particular Galaxy S9 review unit, but testing continues there and I'll update this review if later tests show an improvement.
In real world usage, the Galaxy S9 Plus lasted for a full work day. I've been using the phone relentlessly during my testing period, and always felt confident that I had enough battery to take me from morning until night -- but maybe not late night. If you're planning to be away until midnight, you may feel more comfortable giving it a top-up before you head out.
Still, the S9 Plus recharges so quickly -- from empty to full in 1 hour, 40 minutes with the power off -- that even 30 minutes on the fast charger can hike up the reserves.
If you like a large screen and don't want to get left behind the portrait photo craze, the Galaxy S9 Plus is the no-brainer choice between it and the Galaxy S9.
As the larger, more advanced Galaxy S9 phone, the S9 Plus costs more than the regular S9. Prices vary by retailer and currency, but as an example, the Galaxy S9 Plus cost about $130 more than the S9 with US carriers at launch. Prices have also come down since the Note 9's release, so check in with your local retailer.
The S9 Plus isn't the phone to buy if you're trying to curb your spending. And at the end of two years of ownership, you won't wind up paying that much more for this phone than you would for the smaller Galaxy S9.
In the core features like screen quality, general photography, battery life and speed, it's either on par with the iPhone X or surpasses Apple's best phone. But the iPhone X laps the S9 Plus when it comes to extras like Face ID (versus Samsung's Intelligent Scan, though iris scanning isgood) and animojis (versus AR Emoji).
|Samsung Galaxy S9||Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus||iPhone X||OnePlus 6|
|Display size, resolution||5.8-inch; 2,960x1,440 pixels||6.2-inch; 2,960x1,440 pixels||5.8-inch; 2,436x1,125 pixels||6.28-inch OLED; 2,280x1,080 pixels|
|Pixel density||570ppi||529ppi||458 ppi||402ppi|
|Dimensions (Inches)||5.81x2.70x0.33 in||6.22x2.91x0.33 in||5.7x2.79x0.30 in||6.13x2.97x0.31 in|
|Dimensions (Millimeters)||147.7x68.7x8.5 mm||158.1x73.8x8.5 mm||143.6x70.9x7.7 mm||155.7x75.4x7.75 mm|
|Weight (Ounces, Grams)||5.75 oz; 163g||6.66 oz; 189g||6.14 oz; 174 g||6.2 oz; 177 g|
|Mobile software||Android 8.0 Oreo||Android 8.0 Oreo||iOS 11||Android 8.1 Oreo|
|Camera||12-megapixel||Dual 12-megapixel||Dual 12-megapixel||16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephoto|
|Processor||Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor (2.8GHz + 1.7GHz), or Octa-core Samsung Exynos 9810 (2.7 GHz + 1.7 GHz)||Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor (2.8GHz + 1.7GHz), or Octa-core Samsung Exynos 9810 (2.7 GHz + 1.7 GHz)||Apple A11 Bionic||2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845|
|Storage||64GB, 128GB, 256GB||64GB, 128GB, 256GB||64GB, 256GB||64GB, 128GB, 256GB|
|Fingerprint sensor||Back||Back||None (Face ID via TrueDepth camera)||Back of phone|
|Special features||Dual-aperture camera, water-resistant (IP68); super slo-mo video; wireless charging; iris scanning||Dual-aperture camera, water-resistant (IP68); super slo-mo video; wireless charging; iris scanning||Water resistant (IP67); wireless charging; Face ID 3D unlock, Animoji||Portrait mode, notifications toggle, dual-SIM, Dash Charging|
|Price off-contract (USD)||Varies: $720-$800 (64GB)||Varies: $840-$930 (64GB)||$999 (64GB), $1,149 (256GB)||$529 (64GB), $579 (128GB), $629 (256GB)|
|Price (GBP)||£739||£869||£999 (64GB), £1,149 (256GB)||£469 (64GB), £519 (128GB), £569 (256GB)|
|Price (AUD)||AU$1,199 (64GB), AU$1,349 (256GB)||AU$1,349 (64GB), AU$1,499 (256GB)||AU$1,579 (64GB), AU$1,829 (256GB)||AU$702 (64GB), AU$769 (128GB), AU$835 (256GB)|