X

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus review: The Galaxy S9 Plus is terrific, but wait a month until after the Galaxy S10 arrives

Samsung's likely Galaxy S10 Plus could make the S9 Plus a "splurge" phone you can afford.

jessicadolcourt.jpg
Jessica Dolcourt
jessicadolcourt.jpg

Jessica Dolcourt

Editorial Director / CNET Money, How-To & Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads the CNET Money, How-To, and Performance teams. A California native who grew up in Silicon Valley, she's passionate about connecting people with the highest standard of advice to help them reach their goals.

See full bio
6 min read

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

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.

samsung-galaxy-s9-2400-6494
8.8

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

The Good

The Galaxy S9 Plus one-ups the excellent Galaxy S9 with a second rear camera for taking portrait photos.

The Bad

Battery life fell short of last year's model in our early tests, and the Galaxy S9 Plus suffers from the same underbaked extras as the smaller Galaxy S9. The dual-aperture camera tends to overexpose low-light photos in auto mode.

The Bottom Line

Samsung's most robust Galaxy S9 of 2018 is still a good buy, but not until after the Galaxy S10 starts selling.

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). 

ac-012818
Watch this: Even more Samsung Galaxy S10 leaks
Even more Samsung Galaxy S10 leaks
4:06

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.

Samsung's three Galaxy '9' phones

  • Galaxy S9: Buy this one if you want to spend the least, if you prefer a smaller phone and if you don't plan to take portrait photos.

  • Galaxy Note 9: It has the longest battery life and double the starting storage capacity of the other two. Its camera automatically adjusts to your scene, but otherwise uses the same lenses. The Note 9 also has an S Pen stylus and costs hundreds more. 

  • Galaxy S9 Plus: Essentially the Note 9 with a slightly smaller battery, half the storage and no S Pen, but it has the same fast processor, about the same screen size and dual cameras. You can also expand your storage capacity using a microSD card. Its cost falls between the Note 9 and Galaxy S9.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus

There are three good reasons you'll want the Galaxy S9 Plus more than the Galaxy S9.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Read this: How to buy a new iPhone, Galaxy or OnePlus phone right now

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus: Sizzling photos from every angle

See all photos

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.

What the Galaxy S9 Plus has over the Galaxy S9

Let's dive into the differences between the two phones.

Portrait mode

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.

21 hidden Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus features

See all photos

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.

samsung-galaxy-s9-plus-17

The two Galaxy S9s side by side.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Larger screen size

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.

s9aremojieditorsreact
Watch this: Galaxy S9's AR emoji: How good are they?
Galaxy S9's AR emoji: How good are they?
2:20

Bigger battery

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.

samsung-galaxy-s9-plus-unboxing-21

The S9 Plus is still a force to be reckoned with.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

Read thisThe Galaxy S9's worst feature was made by Oscar winners

Is the Galaxy S9 Plus worth the extra price?

samsung-s9-product-images-11

The Galaxy S9 Plus has that sweet second camera lens on the back.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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).

For more comparisons to the iPhone X, OnePlus 6 and others, scroll to the end of my full Galaxy S9 review.

Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus specs versus iPhone X and OnePlus 6


Samsung Galaxy S9Samsung Galaxy S9 PlusiPhone XOnePlus 6
Display size, resolution 5.8-inch; 2,960x1,440 pixels6.2-inch; 2,960x1,440 pixels5.8-inch; 2,436x1,125 pixels6.28-inch OLED; 2,280x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 570ppi529ppi458 ppi402ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.81x2.70x0.33 in6.22x2.91x0.33 in5.7x2.79x0.30 in6.13x2.97x0.31 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 147.7x68.7x8.5 mm158.1x73.8x8.5 mm143.6x70.9x7.7 mm155.7x75.4x7.75 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.75 oz; 163g6.66 oz; 189g6.14 oz; 174 g6.2 oz; 177 g
Mobile software Android 8.0 OreoAndroid 8.0 OreoiOS 11Android 8.1 Oreo
Camera 12-megapixelDual 12-megapixelDual 12-megapixel16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephoto
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel8-megapixel7-megapixel16-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K4K4K
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 Bionic2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Storage 64GB, 128GB, 256GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB64GB, 256GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM 4GB6GB3GB6GB, 8GB
Expandable storage 400GB400GBNoneNone
Battery 3,000mAh3,500mAh?3,300mAh
Fingerprint sensor BackBackNone (Face ID via TrueDepth camera)Back of phone
Connector USB-CUSB-CLightningUSB-C
Headphone jack YesYesNoYes
Special features Dual-aperture camera, water-resistant (IP68); super slo-mo video; wireless charging; iris scanningDual-aperture camera, water-resistant (IP68); super slo-mo video; wireless charging; iris scanningWater resistant (IP67); wireless charging; Face ID 3D unlock, AnimojiPortrait 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)
samsung-galaxy-s9-2400-6494
8.8

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 8Camera 8Battery 10