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

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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.

8.8 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Camera 8
  • Battery 10

Times have changed since Samsung revealed the Galaxy S9, Galaxy S9 Plus and even the Galaxy Note 9 last August. The Galaxy S10 ($280 at Amazon) 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). 

Now playing: Watch this: Even more Samsung Galaxy S10 leaks

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

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.

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.

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