Samsung’s Galaxy S9 is official with a dual aperture camera and AR Emojis
Today is the start of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, and Samsung has taken the wraps off of its latest flagship, the Galaxy S9. After totally revamping the Galaxy S line last year with the Galaxy S8, the S9 is more of a follow up to last year's phone. You get more-or-less the same design with a revamped camera, improved fingerprint reader placement, and a newer processor. As usual there are two versions, the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+.
First up, the new specs. The S9 is one of the first phones announced with the new 2.8Ghz Snapdragon 845 SoC in the US, while the international version will most likely get an Exynos 9810. Qualcomm is promising a 25-percent faster CPU and 30-percent faster graphics compared to the Snapdragon 835. The rest of the base S9 specs look a lot like last year, with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, a 3000mah battery, and a 5.8-inch 2960×1440 OLED display. The S9+ gets the usual bigger screen (6.2 inches @ 2960×1440) and bigger battery (3500mAh), but one improvement over last year is a RAM bump to 6GB. Neither RAM option is really outstanding for a phone this expensive, considering the much cheaper OnePlus 5T will give you 6GB and 8GB options for RAM at a much lower price. Both S9 models have headphone jacks, MicroSD slots, a new stereo speaker setup (one bottom firing, one doubles as the earpiece), IP68 dust and water resistance, wireless charging, and ship with Android 8.0 Oreo.
Next up, the new camera system. Both the Galaxy S9 versions are getting a main camera with two aperture settings. Just like a real camera, the Galaxy S9 has a set of (very tiny) aperture blades that can move to change the amount of incoming light. On the S9 they're limited to two different positions, resulting in f/1.5 and f/2.4 apertures. In low light the aperture can open up to f/1.5 to collect as much light as possible, while in normal or bright light it can switch to f/2.4 for a wider depth of field. The S9 is not the first Samsung phone to get a variable aperture camera: it debuted on the company's China-only $1500 flip phone, the W2018.
The Galaxy S9+ is encroaching on the Note 8's territory and is getting a dual camera setup. Besides the main camera detailed above, it also has a 12MP telephoto lens. Both phones have 12MP main sensors, optical image stabilization, and 960FPS slow motion video. The front camera seems like a pretty normal 8MP f/1.7 setup.
A big complaint about the Galaxy S8 was the location of the fingerprint sensor. After shrinking the Galaxy S8 bezels to a mostly-screen front, Samsung needed a new spot for the fingerprint reader. On the S8, the fingerprint reader was placed to the side of the camera, making it very high up on the back of the phone and difficult to reach. On the Galaxy S9, Samsung is addressing these complaints and has moved the fingerprint reader to below the camera, giving you a better chance of reaching it with a normal grip.
Samsung is always keeping an eye on its rivals in Cupertino, and the S9 is borrowing a few features that seem directly inspired by the iPhone X. First up the iris scanner that debuted on the Galaxy Note 7 (RIP) has a new "intelligent scan" feature that does facial recognition. From a user perspective this won't really be different from an iris scanner—you point the phone at your face and it unlocks—but now Samsung can say it does the same thing the iPhone X does.
Samsung is also answering Apple's Animojis with "AR Emoji." They work just like Apple's Animoji: using the front sensors to perform a primitive version of motion capture, the phone syncs up a character's facial expressions to your facial expressions. While Samsung has a variety of cartoon characters to choose from, it also has an option that works like a Nintendo Mii: it scans your face and creates a cartoon character of you. No matter what character you pick, you can record this to an animated gif and send it over your communication method of choice.
The rest of the phone is more-or-less the same as last year. There's still a Bixby button that Samsung won't let you remap out of the box. There's still a "Dex" desktop dock that allows you to plug the phone into a mouse, keyboard, and monitor for a PC-like experience. There's still a heart rate sensor on the back, and the back is still made of glass and very fragile. The good news is the pricing is the same as last year too, with the Galaxy S9 clocking in at $719.99 and the S9+ going for $839.99.
In the US, preorders start March 2 at every carrier you can think of, and the phones ship out on March 16.