Here comes Samsung's answer to the iPhone X

Apple made huge leaps forward with its newest phone. What could we see from its biggest rival and the Galaxy S9?

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
4 min read

The Galaxy S9 will be all about the camera.


Apple wowed the world with its iPhone X. Now it's Samsung's turn.

The South Korean electronics giant on Sunday will unveil its latest phone, the Galaxy S9, at its Unpacked event at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain. Samsung's invitation for the launch featured the number nine -- for the name of the device -- as well as the teaser, "The Camera. Reimagined."

The Galaxy S series is Samsung's most important product line. If you own an Android phone, the odds are pretty high that it bears a Samsung logo. Last year, about one out of every five phones shipped across the world came from the company, according to IDC.

The stakes are considerably lower than last year's launch of the Galaxy S8, which was the comeback phone after the disastrous Galaxy Note 7 that had an unhealthy tendency to catch fire. But with Apple raising the stakes with its expanded family of iPhones -- especially with its redesigned iPhone X -- the pressure is still on for Samsung to impress with its latest flagship phone.

Watch this: Samsung Galaxy S9 could wow with camera features

If you're planning to upgrade your device and you favor Android, you're probably going to consider the Galaxy S9. It's such a big launch, no other major handset makers are using MWC to introduce their latest flagship phones, for fear they'd be overshadowed.

Samsung is widely believed to keep the Galaxy S9's design essentially the same as last year's S8. The question is whether it will do enough with the new phone to get you to buy it, or if it's sufficient to hang on to your existing phone a little longer. After all, there remains the constant talk of a Samsung phone with a foldable screen.

"I don't think people are actually expecting a big leap" with the S9, Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi said. "They already had a lot of the features that the iPhone X added. What else can you expect from this?"

Samsung declined to comment ahead of its announcement.

Leaks galore

Are you looking for big shake-ups in design for the Galaxy S9? You've likely already seen them in the Galaxy S8.

This year will likely be more akin to an "S" year in iPhone terms. Think a jump more like the iPhone 7 to the iPhone 8, instead of the iPhone X. In other words, the same essential design but some new features and tweaks under the hood.

Galaxy S9 leaks have been plentiful. The Galaxy S9 is expected to use of Qualcomm's fast new Snapdragon 845 processor, which boosts the device's camera and security technology. Samsung may improve its face unlocking tool to rival Apple's Face ID, as well as sell new colors of the device, including a lilac purple model.

Then there's the camera, which appears to be Samsung's main focus with the device (no pun intended). The company is expected to include dual lenses on the Galaxy S line for the first time, enable superfast focus, enhance slow-motion, improve low-light capture and provide the ability to animate emojis, much like the iPhone X's "animojis."

For a Galaxy S8 user, those rumored changes likely aren't enough to get you to switch. But for Galaxy S7 or older device owners, an upgrade could be meaningful.

"A 2018 flagship smartphone is very significantly and visibly superior to a model released in 2015 or 2016 that consumers still commonly use in the greatest numbers," IHS Markit analyst Ian Fogg noted. Globally, the most used Samsung phones today are 2016's Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, he said, followed by 2015's S6 and 2014's S5.

"It is these models consumers will compare a new Samsung Galaxy flagship smartphone against," Fogg said.

iPhone rivalry

Even though Samsung users will compare the S9 to older devices, they'll also be looking at how it stacks up to Apple's latest phones.

While the iPhone X included many new features that helped transform the device's design for the first time in three years, several already showed up in last year's Galaxy S8.

Take, for instance, the display. Apple removed its physical home button on the front of the device to stretch the screen across the entire front of the display. Samsung had already done that with the S8 and its "Infinity Display." Apple also integrated an OLED display for the first time with the iPhone X, allowing for a thinner screen that shows blacker blacks and more vibrant colors. Samsung has used OLED screens in its Galaxy S smartphones since the beginning of the line.

Watch this: Everything you can expect from the Samsung Galaxy S9

Samsung even has its own flavor of unlocking phones via the user's face, though unlike Apple's Face ID, Samsung says its face unlock option isn't actually secure. If you want your Galaxy S8 to be ultra safe, you can opt for the iris scanner or fingerprint sensor to open the device.

It's a smart bet that these features -- and more -- will flow into the S9.

Whether it's enough of a return volley to Apple remains to be seen. One thing's for certain: Samsung will command all of the spotlight at the mobile industry's largest gathering.   

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