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Samsung Galaxy S9, two years later: The best of new and old

Galaxy S9
Galaxy S9 (Image credit: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of new phones, especially when they're as well-received as the Galaxy S20 lineup — and all the more so when Samsung is offering such high trade-in values towards those new phones. But after revisiting the Samsung Galaxy S9 before sending it off for credit towards my S20+, I was struck by how well it's held up over these last two years.

Thanks to continued software support, it's gotten considerably better over time, and there's a lot about the hardware that I actually prefer on the Galaxy S9 over Samsung's newer designs.

Samsung Galaxy S9 What I still like

One UI's dark mode on the Samsung Galaxy S9

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

We're never shy to bring up that Samsung's design language hasn't changed much since the Galaxy S6, but that's hardly a bad thing when the language is so good. Though Samsung continues to refine its hardware each year, the S9 still looks and feels just as modern and high-end as even the S20+ I've since replaced it with. The curved glass and metal still feel fantastic to hold, and the display is still gorgeous.

The iris scanner and capacitive fingerprint sensor are leaps and bounds better than what the S20 offers today.

It's a bit jarring going back to 60Hz coming from the S20+'s 120Hz glory, but the vast majority of people aren't using high refresh rate phones yet anyway, so I doubt this'll concern most people. What important is that everything from color to maximum and minimum brightness is still fantastic on the S9, and bezels are still nearly non-existent.

There's a small bit of bezel left above and below the display, but it doesn't bother me in the slightest. In fact, it makes room for something even newer phones like the S20 don't offer: an infrared-based iris scanner for quick authentication. For me, this is leagues better than any authentication method Samsung offers today; the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor is still slow and inaccurate at times, and the camera-based facial recognition is even slower, completely unsecure, and barely functional in low light.

Samsung Galaxy S9 in Sunrise Gold

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

By contrast, the iris scanner works incredibly well in pitch darkness or well-lit rooms (though admittedly, direct sunlight can often trip it up). Much like the depth-mapping facial recognition used on phones like the Pixel 4, it's absolutely effortless to use and works great in almost any situation.

There's also the capacitive fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone, which remains one of my favorite ways to unlock a phone. The sensor sits just below the S9's singular camera, where my index finger naturally gravitates toward when I hold the phone. This makes it easy to unlock the phone without even turning on the display — though it's still a bit flush, so a case can be helpful in finding the sensor by feel.

Android 10 and One UI 2 bring this 2018 phone up to 2020 speed.

What's more, this rear-mounted sensor enables one of the best features that's been lost to the in-display fingerprint sensors of today. See, the sensor pulls double duty as a gesture pad that lets you pull down your notification shade with a simple swipe on the back. This is especially handy for larger phones like the S9+, where it's hard to reach the notification tray without adjusting the position of the phone in your hand, but I love it all the same on the small S9.

The rest of the hardware stands up just as well. You still get most of the same accoutrements as newer Samsung devices, with everything from IP68 water resistance to wireless charging — though unlike the S20, you can't use the S9 to wirelessly charge other devices. There's even still a headphone jack on the S9; personally, it makes no difference to me since I haven't used wired headphones in years, but this is a hugely important detail for some.

Of course, great hardware doesn't matter much if the software can't keep up. Thankfully, Samsung's taken longterm support seriously with the S9, and Android 10 has breathed entirely new life into the phone. Samsung's One UI 2 software is modern and snappy, with tons of optimizations for one-handed usability. This is for the most part the same software experience that you'll find on the S20 — which, in case you missed that review, is pretty great. Performance wasn't an issue on the S9 to begin with, but it absolutely flies with Android 10 and One UI 2, even with its slightly dated hardware.

Samsung Galaxy S9 What hasn't aged well

Samsung Galaxy S9

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

The first thing to go with any aging phone is the battery life — and unsurprisingly, that's still the case here. The small S9 with its 3000mAh cell was never a battery champ to begin with, but these days it's tough to get through a full day with even light usage. Thankfully, Samsung offers battery replacements by certified technicians in many of its service centers, which should theoretically make your S9 last as long as a brand new unit, though I can't speak from experience there.

Another thing that wasn't exactly stellar on the S9 to begin with is its singular camera, and that hasn't gotten much better with time. One UI brings new camera software, but the image processing has the same Samsung tendencies that bleed through into even the Galaxy S20; shadows are consistently brought up, as is color saturation, facial details are aggressively smoothened (yes, even with Beauty Mode disabled), and the slightest movement from a subject can lead to a blurry mess. Night mode also leaves a lot to be desired, especially by today's standards.

Still, it's not a horrible camera, and while I wish there were the options for ultra-wide or telephoto shots, it's certainly enough to get the job done, and even with its original software, Samsung did a terrific job with its manual camera controls.

Samsung Galaxy S9, two years on Should you buy it?

Samsung Galaxy S9

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

With all of that being said, the Galaxy S9 has held up incredibly well over the last two years, largely thanks to continued software updates and a fantastic hardware design that hasn't degraded in the slightest. It obviously doesn't have all of the gee-whiz features of newer phones, but Samsung future-proofed it with so many hardware traits at launch that even in 2020, it isn't hard to imagine using the S9 daily.

Especially now that it's running the same Android 10 and One UI 2 software as the Galaxy S20, the S9 feels every bit like a modern flagship. You won't get nearly the same camera quality, nor will the battery life deliver in quite the same way, but with a price tag of less than $500 these days (and refurbished models readily available at even lower prices), you're still getting a fantastic deal if you pick one up today.

Samsung Galaxy S9

Samsung Galaxy S9

Even two years later, the Galaxy S9 still feels ultra-modern thanks to continued software support and excellent build quality. Now that it's available at a fraction of its launch price, it's an excellent budget flagship choice.

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.

23 Comments
  • I didn't use the iris scanner much, because the fingerprint recognition was near perfect-- as I pull my phone out of my pocket, my finger would automatically go to the sensor to unlock it. Then I started doing a ton of work around my place, and trashed my fingerprints. The iris scanner has been great under those circumstances, and even after my fingers returned more to normal, I kept using the iris scanner so I didn't have to remove the gloves that I had on. I'm not sure when I'll upgrade, but it certainly sounds like I may be taking a step back in this area.
  • Iris scanner was great until I got an iphone 11 plus. Now I really feel how slow and temperamental it is. Seemed fine before I had a basis for comparison. My note definitely feels slow co pared to my iPhone. honestly, phone has been mediocre since Android 9 launched on it. That killed the battery life, which is why I went back to Apple. Also, FiLMiC Pro is flawless on Apple devices.
  • S9 plus. With One UI 2
    Perfect phone
  • My S9 feels slower than it was when new. So much so, in fact, that I'm looking at new phones - but I want one that fits in my pocket, and I'd like to keep both my kidneys, so I'll stick with the S9 a few more months.
  • I know this may not be the best solution, but have you tried doing a factory reset?
  • Yes. Won't help.
  • It will help... temporarily 😉
  • It is a bit of a pain, but a factory reset like Guatiao suggests usually does the trick.
  • I love my S9. Has everything I need from a phone.
  • I miss the iris scanner.
  • I guess the author was reading my mind when he wrote this article. I just finished paying my S9, and besides not-so-stellar-anymore battery life, it works flawlessly. One UI 2.0 installed without problems, so I guess I'm good for another year with it easily. If a battery replacement is a good option, then I guess I won't be looking for a new phone til late 2020 at the earliest.
  • The Galaxy S9 is overrated and wasn't worth the money even at launch now the S20 is something special but it STILL isn't worth it's ridiculously expensive price. Only Apple can justify the high prices they charge for their phones especially with the long term software support.
  • The longer support is nice, but I still feel cheated by the iPhone XS and XS Max we bought. The iPhone 11 is a good deal and I did not feel robbed when I left the AT&T store, but it still was not as good as I hoped. Buddy has the 11 Pro and we do video projects together, and the Pro is totally not worth the extra money.
  • The pro is worth it for the better screen, the longer battery life, and the nice UW camera. If you just shoot video with the wide angle lens, the. the 11 is fine because it's the same SOC and the same camera hardware and software. That's the beauty of Apple. You can just get the 11 if you don't care for the other niceties in the 11 Pro. That's not necessarily the case with a Galaxy Se. Plus, the Samsung phones get terrible long term support. I also like AppleCare+, particularly with Apples far superior retail presence practically everywhere iphones sale in volume. It makes support and servicing trivial.
  • "You can just get the 11 if you don't care for the other niceties in the 11 Pro". Exactly, and if you do need the bigger screen and battery life, the Pro Max is always there.
    Doing a video shoot tomorrow, and the buddy I mentioned is using his 11 Pro for portability reasons, but it's functionally no different than the 11 the way he's using it.
  • The iPhone 11 Pro Max is worth the money for the bigger gorgeous OLED display and big battery.
  • Most Android flagships are not worth the money, with such pathetic support (2 years OS updates and 3 years for security updates) and most apps work better on iOS than on Android too the only thing Apple needs to catch up to Android on is customisation and having a proper file system and Android need to include cloud saves for games also so I've decided that after the Coronavirus crisis is over, I'm getting an iPhone 11 Pro Max and plan to go all in the Apple ecosystem which is better than anything on the Android side. But o still like Android very much as I have OnePlus 7T which I will keep but Android won't be my main concern anymore as security and privacy are my main concern and Apple is right at the top when it comes to security and privacy so I won't questions Apple on their high price tags on their phones anymore because of the amazing customer service and software support you get from Apple.
  • Of course, the biggest fly in the ointment (for me at least) is the inferior audio on iPhones. Not just music, but for video recording as well. iPhone photographs are less detailed, and although iPhone video and video stabilization are great, they are not alone in that department. I actually just got home about an hour ago after doing a video shoot this morning (that sunrise was amazing!), and even the director commented that the video on the non-iPhone device looked better than his own iPhone 11 Pro.
  • Are you serious? iPhones have always had the best audio and only LG can match Apple on the Android side.
  • I used the s9+ over a year, it's still a very good phone. Now I use the s10+ so I gave the s9+ to my wife, she loves it. Still in use running android10, she never complains about it, & believe me, she loves to bi**h about anything!
  • Use the gcam mod and that takes care of camera issues
  • To Beno, I've seen you've jumped ship from the pixels to one plus? Why? Was it Oxygen OS? The pure speed, what the heck? You were the ultimate pixel fan, what really happened?
  • It was bothOxygen OS, and the speed that made me switch to OnePlus and I don't regret it, Oxygen OS is amazing and smooth so much so that I didn't even bother to change the animations when I unlocked developer options, that's how smooth Oxygen OS is, with every other phone I've had I've had to turn off the animations, including on my old Pixel 2 XL.