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Samsung Galaxy S9 second opinion review: A battery short of perfection

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

There's rarely a more consumer-facing phone than the latest Samsung flagship. Say what you will about the Pixel 2 having cleaner software or the LG V30 being better for filmmaking, but the fact is that the Galaxy S9 is the phone plastered on every billboard, every web ad, and every subway station. For the vast majority of consumers, it's the Android phone to consider right now.

When Andrew Martonik reviewed the Galaxy S9 last month, he called it "the new standard Android phone by which all others are measured as a baseline." Unexciting, but uncompromising. But he spent most of his time with the larger Galaxy S9+ which, while mostly the same, benefits from an additional camera and a larger battery. So what's the deal with the smaller S9?

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beautiful curves

Galaxy S9 Hardware

There's no way around it; the Galaxy S9 is one of the finest displays of craftsmanship money can buy. The curved glass and aluminum frame scream high end, and make the phone feel almost more like fine jewelry than just a gadget. If you've used a Galaxy S8, you should already have an idea of what I'm talking about. The Galaxy S9 is largely unchanged when it comes to the design and in-hand feel.

That doesn't mean it's identical to last year's model, though. After endless complaints about the S8's hard to reach fingerprint sensor next to the camera, Samsung has moved the Galaxy S9's sensor to a much more sensible place beneath the camera. It's remarkably easier to reach than before, though it's still a bit closer to the camera than I'd like; too often, I find myself accidentally smudging the camera, and the software even warns you against it when you're registering your fingerprints.

Dongles be damned.

Oh, and it wouldn't be a Samsung flagship without a long list of hardware benefits. Like last year, the Galaxy S9 is IP68 water resistant, and supports great features like wireless charging and NFC. It also still contains the MST component necessary for Samsung Pay, which allows you to use the S9 to pay at any terminal — even those that don't typically accept mobile payments. There's also a microSD card slot, as well as a good old 3.5mm headphone jack, a constant and hopefully long-lasting staple of Samsung's lineup.

Interestingly, there's also a heart rate monitor next to the camera, as well as a blood pressure monitor. While not everyone will make use of these features (I know I haven't), they can be a huge benefit for people who need to closely monitor their health status and don't have the necessary equipment at their disposal.

This may be one of the only major flagships of 2018 without a notch.

Despite its relatively pocketable size, the Galaxy S9 carries an impressively large display. It's a 5.8-inch display with an elongated 18.5:9 aspect ratio that occupies most of the face of the device, with reduced vertical bezels compared to last year's Galaxy S8. The curved glass wraps the display around the sides of the phone, an effect Samsung calls the Infinity Display.

It's a bright and vibrant Super AMOLED panel, and a reminder that Samsung does displays better than anyone else. It's still more saturated than I care for out of the box — I'm not ashamed to admit I've set my phone to the basic screen mode — but it's 15% brighter than before, and just as sharp as ever with its QHD+ resolution. That's a whopping 2960x1440, though by default the UI is scaled to FHD+ (2220x1080).

Even better, Samsung still managed to fit stereo speakers into the Galaxy S9 despite having limited space to work with up front. No, it doesn't have dual front-facing speakers, but like the iPhone X and HTC U11, it combines the earpiece speaker with a bottom-firing speaker grill to create a stereo experience. It's not quite as loud or detailed as the other phones mentioned, but it's a huge improvement over last generation's tinny mono speaker.

same but different

Galaxy S9 Software

Last year was the first time I could say that I was finally happy with Samsung's software experience out of the box, without having to spend hours setting up third-party launchers and alternative apps to replace Samsung's default services. This year, things get even better — though that's partially thanks to my unlocked model shipping without carrier bloatware.

With version 9.0, Samsung Experience feels to me like the closest the company has gotten to a stock Android feel, without giving up what makes a Galaxy phone unique. That is to say, features like Edge Panel (not my favorite feature, but it's more useful than most give it credit for), Knox, and Samsung Pay. And yes, even Bixby, which, while still inferior to Google Assistant in many ways, can pull off some more complex system-level commands.

There's still Samsung's usual collection of redundant apps that effectively mirror the functionality of Google's existing offerings — apps like Email, Galaxy Apps, and Internet — but there are less of them here than in previous generations, and they're finally good. I actually prefer Samsung's Internet browser to Google Chrome, though I still use the latter since it syncs my browsing history with Chrome on my computers.

Samsung can finally offer the fast, responsive UI its beautiful hardware deserves.

In daily operation, the Snapdragon 845 inside truly shines with unyieldingly fast performance. Whether I'm playing graphics-intensive games or making simultaneous use of Multi Window and Android Oreo's floating window for YouTube playback, the Galaxy S9 never fails to keep up — the 4GB of RAM play a role in this too. Simply put, Samsung has never made a faster phone.

I still absolutely love the pressure-sensitive virtual home button, which works even with the screen off or with the navigation buttons hidden. Especially if you're coming from an older phone with physical controls, it makes the transition to on-screen keys feel much more natural, something Galaxy S7 holdouts might appreciate.

One major annoyance I had in my first few days of using the Galaxy S9 is the app power monitor, which I eventually disabled in the advanced menu of the battery settings. Don't get me wrong, it's useful to have insight on which apps are causing significant battery drain, but the power monitor doesn't do much about those apps, save for putting them to sleep after three days without use. I found the constant notifications to be more trouble than they were worth.

While we're on the topic of annoyances, let's talk about Bixby. One of the most common complaints with recent Samsung phones is that the Bixby key under the volume rocker is far too easy to accidentally press, flinging you out of whatever app you were in to open Bixby Voice. Whether this is by design to encourage more use of the service is debatable, but you can actually turn this into a convenience.

Disabling the Bixby key in the settings will stop Bixby Voice from opening when you accidentally tap the button, but it doesn't disable the feature following a long press. This means that even fans of Bixby may want to disable the button, and using it this way I found myself actually using Bixby Voice more often for quick commands like disabling Bluetooth. I'd still rather remap the button to launch Google Assistant instead, but this felt like a fine compromise.

dual apertures

Galaxy S9 Cameras

Unlike its larger counterpart, the Galaxy S9 only has one rear camera — a rarity in today's flagship space. It's a 12MP sensor that introduces a new trick to the smartphone camera game: dual apertures. The Galaxy S9 can switch between f/2.4 and f/1.5, and you can even watch it happen on the lens. On such a small sensor, the difference in aperture doesn't make as big of a difference as you might expect, but it still helps the S9 take on different lighting situations a little more effectively.

Samsung's camera software has always felt a bit messy to me, and to my delight, it's been dramatically simplified this time around. Instead of a looming grid of shooting modes like on previous devices, you can just swipe between each shooting mode for quicker access. It's a bit slower if the mode you're after is at the end of the list, but you can rearrange the order of the shooting modes in the settings.

For the most part, though, you'll be just fine in auto shooting mode. The Galaxy S9 has no trouble figuring out most of the right settings on its own, and particularly in low light, the results can be stunning. I took a quick photo of my drink at a dimly lit bar and was stunned not only at the level of detail on the glass, but at the natural depth of the shot and the absence of noise in the background. Simply put, the Galaxy S9 is the most impressive phone for low light photography I've ever used.

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Its daylight shots are nothing to scoff at either, though. Where I've always found Samsung's color science to err a bit too far on the cool side, the Galaxy S9 produces delightfully natural-looking images, with sharp details and plenty of dynamic range. With other amazing shooters like the Pixel 2 and the P20 Pro, I don't know that I'd call the Galaxy S9 the absolute best smartphone camera around, but it's certainly in the running.

Of course, you can have fun with the camera too. This is one of the few phones capable of delivering 960fps slow motion video. You need a ton of light to make it work well, and you're limited to 720p, but even with its limitations, it's one of the Galaxy S9's coolest new features if you ask me. There's also AR Emoji, if you're into that sort of thing, but … well, I'm not.

Something to keep in mind if you plan on shooting a lot of video on the Galaxy S9 is that it's set to 1080p by default. You still have the option for 4K at up to 60fps if you need the extra resolution, but unfortunately, you'll lose out on tracking autofocus in the process. If you have a compatible video editor like Final Cut Pro, you can also choose to shoot in the HEVC codec for smaller file sizes.

the Achilles' heel

Galaxy S9 Battery life

Lastly, there's the matter of battery life. It's not great. There's no way around it. The Galaxy S9 houses a 3000mAh battery inside — the same capacity as last year's Galaxy S8 — and as usually the case, I would've happily traded some of the phone's thinness away for a larger battery.

With a typical load of social media apps, work apps like Slack and Trello, and some Spotify streaming to Bluetooth devices, I can get by on a casual day with light use — say, 2.5 to 3 hours of screen-on time — but much more than that will have my phone in the red by the evening. Depending on your usage, you could see better results than I did, but if you're rarely in close proximity to a charger, this might not be the right phone for you.

Thankfully, the Galaxy S9 is still quick to charge through either a cable or a fast wireless charger. Strangely, it only supports Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0 standard, rather than the newer Quick Charge 4 like the Razer Phone, but it at least has USB-C Power Delivery in its place. From a fully depleted battery, you can expect the Galaxy S9 to take just over 1.5 hours to reach a full charge through a cable, and about 2.5 hours using a wireless charger like Samsung's own convertible fast charger.

the bottom line

Should you buy the Galaxy S9? Yes

Despite its less-than-stellar endurance, the Galaxy S9 reminds us why Samsung remains a staple in the Android lineup every year. It refines all of the Galaxy S8's accomplishments and improves on its flaws, fitting almost every headline feature imaginable into a phone that's readily available across all carriers without costing an arm and a leg compared to similar alternatives. With the Galaxy S9, you don't have to choose between a great camera and a headphone jack, or between small bezels and stereo speakers. It's a jack of all trades that just does everything right, so long as you don't need two-day battery life.

If you prefer a larger phone, the Galaxy S9+ is still the better option for you; you'll enjoy (slightly) better battery life, a bigger screen, a dedicated zoom lens on the back, and an otherwise identical experience. For everyone else, it's hard to think of many reasons not to recommend the Galaxy S9. It may not be the most exciting phone around anymore, but it offers something for everybody, and leaves little to be desired.

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

53 Comments
  • I thought only the Exynos 9810 version had crappy battery life.
  • From AC: "The Exynos-equipped variant of the Galaxy S9/S9+ has considerably worse battery life compared to its Snapdragon-powered cousin" So, I was thinking the same thing.... and yet it wasn't even mentioned/addressed in this latest post.
  • It is a little overblown with the artificial benchmarks.
    More publications complaining then actual users. But this years s9's haven't upped the battery life game
  • My thoughts exactly, but point this out, and people and start foaming at the mouth. Muh benchmarks, muh PC MARK.
  • The Exynos version has notably lower battery life than the Snapdragon version. That doesn't mean the Snapdragon battery life is great to begin with.
  • Andrew, it just goes to show ya the 845processer isn't as power efficient as anticipated. I think a 3500mamp battery or 4000mamp should be the norm in 2018. It would certainly make these phones a lot more desireable. I for one very much like a larger battery!
  • Did I miss what processor your phone has? 945?
  • It's the Snapdragon variant .
  • I recently got an S8 upgraded from a broken S7. Battery life seems the same and I suspect the S9 would have been the same also. Barring a bigger battery it seems Samsung can't improve power consumption.
  • Two day battery life should not be an expectation unless you use your phone infrequently like I do. I carry my phone to use it when needed. I rarely play games unless bored waiting around for an appointment etc. I keep my 4G internet off until I need it etc. I get two days easily on my Samsung A5 2017 and I suspect this S9 would be similar. If you are tethered to your phone looking at the screen a lot, gaming, frequent social media use etc. daily charging is necessary. My son used the same Note 2 model that I used the last three years and I usually got two days use and he always got one day. Screen on time is the biggest drain on battery.
    Oh and fast charge on my A5 is very fast and usually fully charges my phone in half an hour. Quite impressed.
  • Fast charge from 0-100% in half an hour? Surely not. I have an A5 2017, it takes about an hour and ten minutes to charge full not 30 minutes.
  • I have not seen the tests on the regular S9, but the S9 Plus takes 1 hour 44 minutes to fully charge from zero using the cable, and 2 hours 38 minutes using wireless charging.
  • I'm a bit like you, though not entirely. I use two phones, one for screen-on-time and app-inflation which is the secondary phone without service, just wifi (either my Note 3 or Blackberry Priv). The other is my main one (note 4) with only necessary apps, mobile data usually off, and recently I started to keep the GPS off but still, even with only like 10 minutes of screen on time, it goes to 30 percent at the end of the day. I'm hoping that new phones, like a Note 5 or Note 8, has a better screen-off battery life.
  • I used to have a Note 4 and had comparable battery life to the Note 5. I think your Note 4 only needs a new fresh battery.
    Note 8 is only a slight improvement (battery wise) over the Note 5. They are just not 2 day battery life phones, unless you use little to no features
  • My V30 with a 3300 mah battery and a slightly larger screen can get 5-6 hours screen time and regularly goes 2 days between charges. I currently stand at over 4 hours screen time in 1 day & 19 hours with 67% battery used. This is why I ditched Samsung after the S7 series. They always have mediocre battery life.
  • v30 sounds interesting to me, but the lack of a led notification light is a deal breaker for me... i wish they would have kept that.
  • Oh, I get it. I'm not pushing the v30. Just pointing out how much better battery life is outside the samsung ecosystem. I don't know what they do behind the scenes, but they use too much battery when idle.
  • I have seen battery life comparisons where the V30 have kicked every flagship's butt. It looks to have great endurance, even better than the Mate 10 Pro and One Plus 5T.
    On the other hand Samsung has definitely improved battery life at idle since Nougat. My Note 8 only drops 5% in 7 hours
  • I had the v10 and v20 they were pretty good. But I'm hooked on Samsung pay. It's jus to convent. Mabye when LG introduces they pay system here I can go back.
  • Yeah, I do kind of miss Samsung pay. It failed to work just often enough that I only used it when there wasn't a line at checkout. It did save my bacon once when I went to the store without my wallet.
  • I use the s8plus and I average 6 to 6and a half SOT. I don't know if the 9plus can do that?
  • I have an S9 and though battery is hit and miss, I'm more than fine with it. Usually get around 4h SOT with moderate to heavy use. Very heavy use can give me almost 7h SOT. And low use has the battery easily outlast my day. The trick? AOD disabled and so the McAfee antivirus system bundled in the device maintenance Center. I have noticed that activating it ruins my stellar battery life.
  • I'm getting a day easily. If u have a $800 phone a car/portable charger and a home charger should be normal.
  • This is why I prefer the active line...better battery and no curved edges. Otherwise I'm yet to see a real difference between my S8 Active and the typical S8. Personally, I'd be happier with a removal battery so I could replace it if need be.
  • I too like the active line, flat display & a 4000mamp battery. But my carrier Verizon does not offer it. I really hate exclusives. If all carrier's offered the active the sales numbers I bet would be through the roof. Why they have exclusive's I will never understand!
  • Things would have been a lot simpler if Samsung let you swap batteries.
    I have 2 Note 4's and a Note 3 and I have extra batteries, fully changed, standing by when I need one.
    Doesn't seem like any new flagship phone will work for me unless they can put at least twice the battery capacity in it.
    With Samsung playing Apple's game, I can't conceive how they think they will win.
    All of those bells and whistles don't mean squat when your phone is dead.
  • You're just trading one issue for other issues. removable batteries have a smaller capacity, and now you have to carry batteries around. It also dramatically reduces the ways you can design the phone and what materials can be used. Seriously, there's a reason why we don't see removable batteries anymore. There were massive trade-offs involved.
  • Yeah but what you have done is make all these devices permanently obsolete within 2 years max because non-removable batteries don't last much longer than that. At least with a removable battery, a user had the option of using a device longer if the battery capacity decreased. You could just swap out another battery and keep using your device. By making batteries non-removable, OEMs have built in obsolescence. Many users don't want or can't to buy a device all the time fyi....
  • A sealed battery costs from $30 to $50 to replace. Depending on the model, it can be done in as little as 10 minutes. Some phones the smaller shops won't touch, so I had to swap the battery myself on my wife's much-abused M8.
  • Um, I think that not allowing you to use your phone for very long and driving you to buy a new one is probably something that the companies behind the phones don't mind as a trade off. It's entirely to their benefit.
  • The first thing I did when I got a phone with a removable battery was replace the stock battery with a triple sized replacement plus custom case so that I didn't have to charge it for 3 days. This is the only reason I put up with LG phones as long as I did. Boy, do I miss removable batteries.
  • There are battery-cases available for some phones that allow you to do the same, making the phone thicker and extending batter life.
  • Is the battery complaint based on it's size or actual life time? My long-term experience with the (Exonys 9810) S9 is that power consumption is low, resulting in long battery life time despite the limited capacity of the battery. But there is one bad thing about the S9 - the Samsung's UI. When you buy a high-end phone you expect excellent hardware and a familiar UI. With the S9 you end up replacing default apps and settings until it feels 'Android'. If Samsung think it so important to differentiate, they should at least have provided a single switch in settings called "Use Google Android UI".
  • The complaint's I have seen were about the not getting enough battery run time per charge.
    The most popular viewpoint seems to be that, if the phone still has a comfortable amount of battery left at the end of the day, then it has good battery life. If a phone runs out or gets down to the uncomfortable range (below 20%) before the end of the day, then battery life is not good. If a phone can take heavy use and make it to the end of the day no matter what, then I don't think people would be bothered if it had a 1,000 mAh battery, as long as it proved itself. Of course, the problem would be that news sites would denounce it immediately based on size, and give everyone the impression that battery life HAD to be horrible, without even testing it.
  • I will never never buy a Samsung product again! 8 months and they have my phone and my money. Buyer beware. October 2017 I bought two note 8s directly from Samsung on a loyalty program. I returned one unopened for a refund. On 9/25/17 I found a returned note on my doorstep. I immediately called and asked why. They informed my that the little USB adapter was missing. I told them that the unit was sent back unopened and I had purchased two phones.
    ( the letter was from Ingram micro )
    They informed me to return the unit again and they will issue a refund. Fast forward to 4/18 I have called every single month to inquire when I am getting my refund. On 3/18, I was told they had escalated my issue and I WILL receive my money within 5 to 7 days!
    Nothing happened.. No refund. This month 4/18 I called yet again and. Was told yes I will get my money back soon.... I have been more than patient with this issue. I even begged for my money back during Christmas and they could have cared less. As of Wednesday of this posting I will contacting the FTC, Better Business Bureau and file a theft report via the police. My career has been in the high tech arena for over 30 years and I have never have experienced this from any company I have ever dealt with and I am truly shocked. I had been a loyal Samsung customer since the original note and this is totally shocking. ( I know this is a futile attempt to alert any management as per my issue but I have never been given access to anyone higher up the basic support chain and I do request it very month I call)
  • Had an issue with an s8 I ordered directly from samsung and got a great offer to turn in my s7 Edge. I had remorse and returned the s8 unopened and months later they charged me the full amount for the s8 saying I never sent in my s7 edge. I explained it to them once and once they did not respond, I let American Express handle it. It was settled in less than 1 week. I always use Amex for web purchases. They stand behind their customers. Samsung on the other hand, never again.
  • We've been getting these sealed-in low performance batteries going on three years now; yet nearly everyone speaks in glowing terms of their own phone's battery stamina. The batteries stink. I always had at least one spare battery for those devices where swapping a battery was possible. Maybe, just maybe, the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Note9 puts this issue to rest or at least makes inroads into that effort. *I'm using an S8+ and a Note8 at present.
  • Not everyone's batteries stink. I still get all day + performance from a 3 year old HTC M8 with the original battery. The U11 does 2 days, and it takes VR to get it below 50% in one day. Check out the battery screen shot below, which was done using powersave mode about 60% of the time, normal mode the rest. If you don't feel like clicking, it's five days on one charge. https://photos.app.goo.gl/B3XjZ7PJcElMcZhi1
  • That's good. I was generalizing. I bought extended battery cases for my S7 Edge and S8+. The case for the S8+ malfunctioned and would've burned up if it was unattended; didn't harm the phone. It was an off-brand case purchased online.
  • Understood. A lot of companie's batteries (or battery life) do stink. I got a battery case for the iPhone 5S I got for testing, and the case is pretty cool. Actually redirects the bottom speaker to face you, so there's that improvement as well, lol.
  • I don't think the 945 has crummy battery life, just underwhelming, and the Exynos version is a bit worse this year due to Samsung not bothering to fix the software. However, isn't this the norm for the S series? I know it was for the ones that I and my best friends owned. What highlights the lackluster battery life is that everything else is SO good, and that one aspect is the Achilles heel holding it back. And Samsung could improve it in the software, but their response to the Exynos problem this year seems like they are just saying they don't feel like it. That's a sharp contrast to HTC's response to the January update degrading battery life, and HTC fixed it and made battery life better than ever. What's strange is that, for example, the U11 has the same size battery, a less efficient SLDC screen (though it is wonderful looking), and still gets better battery life. My AVERAGE battery life per charge is 45.2 hours, with an average 5 hours 51 minutes of screen on time. It would be better, but I like binging on Youtube, Netflix, and Crunchyroll. If only Samsung would put the effort into the software to improve this issue, they would be gold. But, with them selling millions and millions of phones regardless, there's probably no motivation on their part.
  • Companies don't want big batteries in their flagship phones because of profit.
    Flagships are already fast enough and if the battery lasted long then there really is no need to upgrade faster.
    Thanks to companies like huawei and the new more powerful exynos. We are going to finally get bigger batteries.
    Samsung a9 pro comes with a 5000mah battery so it has always been possible.
  • All phones have crappy battery life. That is why the LG V20 is still the best phone out there as it is the last great phone to have a replaceable battery. It looks and feels great, I never have to look for a charge station! Not sure why the public allows Apple, Samsung and Google to build something with planned obsolescence since it is simple physics that good or bad batteries will wear out after a year on a normal phone. Samsung had water proofing with the S5 that had a replaceable battery so that argument does not hold, and who goes swimming with their phone anyhow. We need more phones like the LG V20.
  • have a look at Galaxy S9 and detailed specs of it. http://gsmtechhub.com/samsung/galaxy-s9
  • I appreciate Samsung for at least listening to consumers for a change by keeping the headphone jack and SD card expansion. I'm sick of companies dictating what they think consumers should or don't need (Hint Apple, Google). It's especially annoying since a feature like the headphone jack does not have an adequate equivalent replacement....
  • I wish they'd get rid of the awful curved screen edges. I was checking out phones at my carrier store a few weeks ago and I picked up an S9. Two minutes later I had to put it down because the distortion of the curve was driving me nuts. I don't understand the obsession people have with this design
  • Me either, i had an S8 and the curve was very annoying. My palm was ALWAYS hitting things on the edge of the screen when i'd use it one handed.
  • I traded un a S7 for S9. The S7 was in perfect condition with exception of purple line on display screen. The purple line is a defect from samasung. They refused trade in saying phone was defective. I asked why it was ok ti sell.j to me defective, but accept it back in same condition. Samsung does not stand behind product. I will not purchase samsung products in future even though this is my 5 samsung phone. They have lost a customer.
  • Why does AC re-post articles with a new date pretending they are new?
  • I had an S8 for about a year and just traded it for a pixel 2 because of the battery life. The unbloated pixel usually still has 30-40% battery after a 16ish hour day where the S8 pretty much always needed to plugged up by mid afternoon
  • That's because it's pretty much a picture frame and that's it
  • 3,000 mAh batteries have been in use since the S7 for crying out loud. At least put 3,500 in the non + models and 4,000 in the + models. This is nothing but a money grab so you keep changing phones every 2 years.
  • Bixby isn't meant to compete with Google search so....