Hands-on with Samsung’s Galaxy S9, S9+

We didn’t get to play with the new Galaxy at Mobile World Congress, but Telstra has given Pickr a go ahead of the launch next week.

In case you didn’t know, there’s a new phone coming. That may as well be a perpetual statement — there’s always a new phone coming — but properly, there’s a new phone coming as early as next Friday.

Barely a couple of weeks after the announcement on Spain, Samsung is doing away with months of preorders and nail biting, and releasing its follow-up to the Galaxy S8 on March 16.

It’s a phone we’ve already covered several times over, from the initial announcement to what’s so special about the camera and even exploring the special somethings telcos are throwing in to pre-orders, but it’s always a little different when you get the phone in your hands.

And this week, that’s exactly what Telstra let us do, allowing us to go hands-on with what is already one of the year’s most anticipated smartphones, the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+.

Galaxy S8 next to the Galaxy S9
Galaxy S8 on the left, Galaxy S9 on the right.

At first glance, good luck telling the difference between last year’s Galaxy S8 and S8+, and this year’s Galaxy S9 and S9+, because on the whole, they largely look the same.

The screen appears to be identical, and while the sensor array above the display looks like it follows a slightly different design, you’d be mistaken for thinking the phones are the same from their front visage when the screen is off, and even when it’s on.

The moment you glance at the back, though, and the similarities stop. With a different configuration for the fingerprint sensor — the S8 models have it on the side of the camera, the S9 models offer it below the camera — it’s easy to spy which of the phones belongs to what generation.

Hands-on with the Galaxy S9

In the hands, though, they feel very close. While there’s a different of 0.5mm and a few grams added to the new model, you’d never realise it while holding it.

Largely, the Galaxy S9 feels just like the Galaxy S8, so if you liked the look of the S8 but held off for a new model, you’ll be fairly happy you did.

Galaxy S9 in the hands
You’d really never know the difference, except the frame is a little thicker, the body is a little heavier, and the speaker at the bottom is recessed. It’s pretty much last year’s phone made for this year, and we’re OK with that.

The camera is one of the major changes, and thanks to a dual aperture system that lets you jump between the low-light friendly F1.5 and the more-in-focus approach of F2.4, you can potentially get more in the shot.

One of the industry benchmarks has even proven the Galaxy S9 is the best in the business already, even before we’ve had a proper review ourselves, with DxO Mark rating the Samsung Galaxy S9+ camera as literally the best it has tested, achieving a score of 99 points in the test for both photo and video, while the photo score separately sits at 104 points.

Samsung Galaxy S9 camera

Giving the camera a quick test yesterday, Samsung’s new handset was quick and responsive, with the pro mode allowing you to quickly choose between apertures by touching the F-stop button at the bottom right side, meaning you can quickly pick what aperture is being used with the press of a button. While it may now be as intuitive as the regular aperture ring — the way this is usually done — there are only two apertures to choose from, and so a button actually makes more sense here.

We’ve yet to test it in proper low light, but wth releasing coming up next week, you can be sure that’s one of the first things we’ll be doing.

The other thing we spent time with was Samsung’s take on augmented reality, the AR Emoji, and our quick play left us in two minds.

On the one hand, our first experience with Samsung’s AR technology is close to what Apple has going for it in the iPhone X, with our face and mannerisms implanted on a 3D model complete with positioning in 3D space.

Our AR emoji did not look like us.

However, the creation of an emoji using the camera didn’t quite nail it for us. When we wore a hat, the hat became hair, while when we didn’t, our fuzzy hair of baldness became a total chrome dome. We’re hoping these are just teething issues of software that needs to be updated, something Telstra said was waiting for Galaxy S9 models out of the box, and that our test phones hadn’t seen.

The positive side to the testing, though, is that you don’t need to solely rely on our testing if this phone preview grabs you, with Telstra stores across the country receiving Galaxy S9 handsets early to let people play with them ahead of release.

We’re not sure if any of the other telcos are doing this, and are checking, but right now, it’s one place you can go ahead of next Friday’s release if you’re feeling like the S9 or S9+ is your next upgrade path.

The Galaxy S9 and S9+ sit between the two freebies Telstra throws into the package, the wireless stand-up charger a 4G 8 inch Galaxy Tab. That stapler behind them, you don’t get that.
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