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Samsung Galaxy S9 Review – A Good Case Of Déjà vu

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Let’s start with the obvious. The Samsung Galaxy S9 is not revolutionary device, nor it a particularly exciting upgrade. It is a victim of its own predecessor’s success. The S8 is an excellent phone, and it is always hard to top that even by Samsung’s lofty standard. It is all too easy to dismiss the S9 as indicative of Samsung playing things safe while they prepare for the big one – the tenth Galaxy S edition next year.

I won’t deny that the S9 didn’t really set my pulse racing when I first got my hands on an early review unit. Having reviewed the S8 previously, the S9 feels awfully familiar the second I picked it up. A bad thing? Not necessarily. I am a big fan of the S8’s stunning design and still think it is one of the most beautifully-designed phones today. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. While the same exact look is welcomed, the lack of any novel design element does somewhat hold it back from feeling like a true flagship upgrade, especially after a defining year that saw manufactures racing to adopt the screen-dominant look – a trend kick-started by the likes of Samsung themselves.

But after spending some time with it, the phone managed to conjure up a feeling that I didn’t think I would associate it with beforehand. The S9 is a lot of fun, one that I really enjoy using during my very brief ownership of it.

Before we get to the fun stuffs, let’s first get the nitty-gritty stuffs out of the way. The Infinity Display is typically-Samsung gorgeous. The software experience is effortlessly zippy all around thanks to the new Exynos 9810. TouchWiz is still TouchWiz. It plays nice with water due to its industry-leading IP68-rating. The much-maligned Bixby button is still there. The battery is nothing to shout about (you will still need to charge it daily). Oh and it has got a headphone jack still.

The biggest annoyance people have on the S8 is undoubtedly the fingerprint reader placement. I personally did not have a problem with that as I get used to the odd placement fairly quickly. Samsung did the right thing with the S9 and the new position just below the rear camera lens does indeed make the whole unlocking process a little faster and less awkward.

For those who choose to embrace the future, Samsung has improved the face unlocking mechanism on the S9. The iris scanner and face recognition have been combined and the resulting new Intelligent Scan works noticeably better. I tried it in complete darkness and while wearing a glass and the sensors have no problem in finding my features and letting me in. I still have to hold the phone upright to my face, though.

A constant pet peeve of mine in just about every Samsung phones I’ve used in the past is the poor single speaker usually located at the bottom. What would have been a great media-consuming experience on a Samsung phone with excellent display is often dragged down by its below par audio partner when I do not have a pair of earphones around. Thankfully, Samsung has fixed that long-overdue problem by finally putting in stereo speakers on the S9 and the results have been so, so much better. One less thing to complain about.

What the S9 lacks in new hardware features, it makes up for it handsomely in the camera department. The new gesture-heavy camera UI feels more intuitive and lets switching between the many shooting modes on the fly a breeze. The big, headlining feature is of course the world’s first dual aperture system on a smartphone. What it does is that it essentially lets users switch between two aperture values (f/2.4 & f/1.5) to shoot better-looking pictures in different lighting conditions. By default, the camera automatically switches the aperture as it detects the shooting condition but you can do it manually in the Pro mode.

Does it make a huge different? I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Day 3 (f2.4)f/2.4

Day 3 (f1.5)f/1.5

Day 4 (f2.4)f/2.4

Day 4 (f1.5)f/1.5

Night 1 (f2.4)f/2.4

Night 1 (f1.5)f/1.5

Night 2 (f2.4)f/2.4

Night 2 (f1.5)f/1.5

The next new camera feature is super slow-mo. Samsung is not the first in introducing 960fps slow-motion shots in a smartphone. Sony did it first. Nevertheless, it is a hugely-welcomed feature that amps up the fun factor in using the camera. Super slow-mo has a manual shooting mode as well as auto. In manual, you determine when the slow-mo effect comes into play. In certain situations, the moving subject could be too fast for users to hit the shutter button in time for it to enter the frame nicely and this is where the auto shooting mode comes in. In auto mode, the camera will automatically start the slow-motion shot once it detects movement in the frame so all you need to do is to just hold the phone steady and let the phone do all the work. To put the finishing touch to your slow-mo masterpiece, you can even mix in some music – including your own favorites – for the extra flair.

The takeaway is that manual mode is good when you have an idea when to frame your slow-motion shots for dramatic results whereas auto mode is helpful for fast-moving subjects or in more casual shots. If you like to turn everyday mundane moment into dramatic ones, or need something cool to share on your social media, super slow-motion will easily be your favorite feature.

Then there’s AR Emoji, which lets admit it, is a lesser imitation of the iPhone X’s Animoji. The facial movement tracking using just the front-facing camera is not as good and smooth as on the iPhone X. However, if you love the idea of seeing yourself as a virtual avatar or even your very own set of emojis, then AR Emoji might provide more than just a few minutes of entertainment. Creating your own emoji is as simple as letting the front camera snapping a selfie of you.

AR Emoji Sets

If you find your virtual self staring back at you creepy, Samsung also provides a couple of additional avatars that include a bunny, a cat and a weird, boxy-looking creature. Aside from those, you will also find tons of face filters and templates that will be instantly familiar for avid social media users. You can record yourself doing all kinds of silly emoji things for as long as you want and send them through Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and whatnot, unlike Animoji which is pretty limited in allowing recordings for up to 10 seconds only.


Yes it’s all just silly fun. It’s hard to see older age users bothering with AR Emoji beyond the first few tries but for parents with young kids who regularly stake a claim on their smartphones, it could provide some good entertainment and laughter.

If anything Bixby Vision is a more interesting and sophisticated use of the camera than AR Emoji. Yes, the Bixby everyone loves to hate. I had my reservations about Bixby on the S8 because frankly it doesn’t add anything new that is worth all the fuss. In the S9 though, Bixby is a lot more useful.

New this time is Bixby Vision, which resides as a small icon at the lower half of the camera viewfinder as well as an app by itself. It has five different modes namely Text, Image, Place, Wine, and QR Code. The idea is that you point your camera at a subject and Bixby will work its magic to give you relevant information in real time.

Text is the most interesting and useful one of the lot and it basically is a real-time text translator. Fire up the camera, point it at foreign words and voila, instant translation to our language we can view in the viewfinder itself. The translations are far from perfect though and at times don’t make any sense but in a situation when you are confronted by a signboards and restaurant menus with foreign words, it will ably get the job done for you to make the next move. It’s a super handy tool during travels no doubt. Funnily, I found myself constantly trying the feature on any foreign-worded material I can lay my eyes on. Translations have never been this fun.


Image will scan the subject and tells you what it is with some intelligent guessing work and at the same time presents you a collection of images of similar-looking objects. It’s a hit-and-miss affair and to be honest I couldn’t think of a good use case for this feature in its current state unless it brings in some online purchase integration – which is available in some counties – with some Malaysian retailers.


Place has some pretty cool tricks up its sleeve. When it is active, simply point the phone upwards and the current temperature in your location will be displayed on screen. Tilt it downwards and you will see your current location displayed on a map, which brings you to Google Maps if you tap on it. I can’t comment on the usefulness of the Wine feature as I don’t drink wine and I have not encountered any wine bottles with labels during the course of this review but it supposedly helps to identify a wine’s vintage. QR Code is your standard QR code reader baked into the stock camera so there goes the need to download any third-party QR code reader app. The more apps you can cut off from your phone the better.


Taken as a whole, the camera is what really elevates the S9 from being an uninteresting upgrade to one worthy of a consideration. If you have the S8/S8+ or Note 8, there are little reasons to upgrade. Yet if you decide to, you will gain a few new features you could appreciate and enjoy using long after the novelty factor wears off. The S9 isn’t the big all-guns-blazing-flagship you might have wished for, but it is an important one as it demonstrates that our grouses are heard, that Samsung is listening to their customers and righting the wrong, one step at a time. Isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day as customers?


Also, thank you Samsung for not falling into the notch craze.


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