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Samsung Galaxy S9: Hands on review

Thursday, May 24th 2018 by Oprah Flash

Following its release in March, the Samsung Galaxy S9 has caused quite a stir among mobile enthusiasts with many debating whether it can actually compete with the iPhone X and other manufacturers upping their game to beat it.

I was lucky enough to get my technophobe hands on it to see just how well it lives up to the hype.

First impressions - Uhhhhhh

After hearing so much hype around Samsung’s AR emojis – I even wrote about them – I was super excited to test it out for myself. Less than 30 secs in, I was instantly disappointed. As a proud black, vivacious woman, you could say I was less than impressed when the app turned me into a skinny white woman by default. Samsung, you lose 100 points, do not pass go and do not move on to the next stage, in fact, you shouldn’t be in the game at all.

For so many years I’ve been a diehard Samsung fan (I only recently made the jump to Huawei after writing this review) and have championed the Android Army with Samsung at its spearhead. To say I felt a bit crestfallen is putting it mildly.

In all honesty it dampened my anticipation to explore the other features that the Samsung has to offer but I put my big girl panties on and got on with it. Let’s get cracking on the rest of the review.

Hold your horses

A week later, I decided to give the AR Emoji feature again. Lo and behold, it appeared there had been some inclusive updates. The range of skin tones available had been increased and the list of hairstyles has been expanded so it became easier to find a hair type that resembled my own. A definite improvement but the sour taste in my mouth towards Samsung is still there.

The AR emoji Gifs

With a few adjustments I was able to recreate my AR twin (almost). When I put my emotions aside, the AR Emoji gifs were actually quite a lot of fun to play with. You can send them in texts and across messaging apps if they support the format.

There are also a bunch of stickers and filters built-in to the camera app which can keep you occupied and up your selfie game. While the stickers and filters are fun, they’re nothing to write home about. You get the same sort of experience using the Snapchat app.

Slim thick, just how I like it

For such a powerhouse of a phone, it’s relatively thin and light. As you’d expect from an Android, it's easy to set-up, use and navigate.

The near bezel-less, full-frontal glass, edge-to-edge screen is a very nice premium feature - you definitely get bragging rights for rocking this as your accessory. It has a 5.8-inch screen, so is in-line sizewise with other flagship phones released this year. It’s big enough for you to watch videos or play games but just small enough to snugly fit in your palm and comfortably be used with just one hand.

The Samsung Galaxy S9

As much as I have been turned off by the Samsung Galaxy S9, there is no denying that it is one of the best looking phones on the market at the moment. It’s beautifully designed with smooth curved edges and the camera sits flush with the back so there are no sticky outy bits to annoy you. The fingerprint scanner is located at the back just below the camera lenses.

The Samsung Galaxy S9 is water and dust resistant. I didn’t quite have the guts to put this to the test, but the manufacturer claims it will still work after being submerged in 1.5m of freshwater for up to half an hour.

Trying to compete with Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant is Bixby. It does that job but is nothing to write home about. More on that further down.

Camera Reimagined

Lichfield Cathedral taken on a Samung Galaxy S9

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’d have seen Samsung heavily promoting its new camera technology. Just from looking at the spec, a dual 12MP camera and 8MP front camera, it seems underwhelming but when you test it out, it is far from it.

The picturesque Lichfield Cathedral showed just how good Samsung’s latest flagship is at capturing depth, vivid colour and detail. It’s easy to use and has a range of modes that allow you to takes portrait photos and images in low-light conditions. The 8MP front lens captures great clarity when you’re taking a cheeky selfie.

Here’s the bit you’ve all been waiting for. The Super slo-mo video. Yes, the feature lives up to the hype and yes, I was very dizzy. It’s easy to do and comes up with instructions on the screen that walk you through it.

Bixby, find me some hand sanitiser

Okay, yes, I admit that is a random heading but apart from a travel mug, a photo frame, some newspapers and a Mac, that is all I had on my desk to test Bixby with.

First and foremost, let me put a disclaimer out there: I do not like personal assistants.

Although I’m proudly a millennial, I just haven’t made the adjustment to accept that form of technology into my lifestyle. That said, having tried and failed to get used to Siri (I asked her to rap and she didn’t), I found the Bixby feature of the Samsung Galaxy S9 relatively easy to get the hang of.

It will search the net and find products for you simply by taking a picture. I tested this with some hand sanitiser and it came up with a wide range of images from the web, all related to the picture I had taken. From here you are connected to Pinterest.com, then onto the website selling the item. Though I was impressed with this, Bixby thought my royal blue water bottle was salmon (please note no fish were harmed in the writing of this article), so take it with a pinch of salt.

She said hola, como estas?

It’s the same Bixby Vision app that supposedly translates languages in real-time. You’re going to need another pinch of salt with this one. Yes, it does work to an extent but it doesn’t always translate it correctly or pick up languages that use anything other than the latin alphabet.

Flashback to my A Level french lesson, Madame Duchêne would be proud to know that I was appalled when Bixby translated “Je m’appelle” as “Your m’appelle”. Don’t get me started on translating “how are you” in Bengali because Bixby literally did not get started, or even attempt.

I have to be fair to Samsung, the translation feature is powered by Google so they can shoulder the blame for this one. With a little luck and some much needed software updates, the Samsung Galaxy S9 should be your perfect companion on a holiday.

Also in-built in the phone is a SmartThings app. This lets you control all your smart homes devices such as light bulbs, thermostats, TVs, hoovers, the lot. We are certainly moving in a direction that sees smart devices becoming as integral to our lifestyles as cooking appliances or furniture. It is predicted that by next year, the smart home market will have increased by 250% so while this app may not seem as necessary now, in a few years' time, you may use it more than you use Facebook or Instagram.

Let me entertain you

The Dragonball Z game on the Samsung Galaxy S9

One thing I can’t really fault the S9 for is the various entertainment factors. The infinity display screen with Full HD resolution has a pixel density of 570 pixels per inch. The more techy ones among you will know what that means but for the rest of us, all we need to know is that it looks really good when watching Netflix or viewing high quality images. To give your viewing experience that extra edge, you can switch the speakers to Dolby Atmos mode.

Once again, the tech geniuses know that for something to be truly Dolby Atmos it would have 360° surround sound with 11 speakers dotted around your living room. It’s just not possible to replicate that within a single device but the Dolby Atmos technology gives you a richer, higher quality sound than you are used to hearing in a mobile phone

Another disclaimer, I’m not a gamer, my range stops at Candy Crush and the Harry Potter Hogwarts Mystery game, but I can advise that this is not the phone for you if you are. With newer phones like the OnePlus 6 boasting up to 8GB of RAM, the Samsung’s 4GB RAM doesn’t quite keep up. Don’t get me wrong, you can still play games without a problem, you just might get a little frustrated if you were thinking of playing something more advanced with large files.

Lasting impressions?

Honestly we’ve only known each other for a few brief moments but me and the Samsung Galaxy S9 have had a rollercoaster relationship. At first I was excited, then let down, then fell in love again, then rounded off as ambivalent.

Yes, it’s a good phone, yes, there is some impressive tech hiding a small package but has it lived up to the hype? In short, nope.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t played with the predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy S8, or even the older S7 so my opinion of the phone mirrors that of the average Josephine Bloggs - someone who got caught up in the hype and wanted to try it out without really knowing the full know-how.

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