Samsung Galaxy S9 vs. Galaxy S6: Should you upgrade?

Most people, particularly in the U.S., have fallen quite comfortably into a two-year phone upgrade cycle. But if you're buying your phones outright, or you're just one of the sensible set who doesn't want to splash money on a new phone until you really need to, perhaps you make your flagship last a full three years. If you bought a Galaxy S6 or S6 edge, that was probably a pretty tough ask — but nonetheless, we know many people who did it.

At three years old, your Galaxy S6 is probably feeling the weight of time, and we know they're unsurprisingly no longer being considered for software updates. So, is the Galaxy S9 the right phone to upgrade to? Here's what you need to know to make the jump.

What's the same

Samsung has done a masterful job of keeping its flagships in a consistent design language.

Samsung has done a masterful job of keeping its flagship phones following the same basic identity from year to year, and even looking at a three-generation change it's undeniable that the Galaxy S6 and S9 are both Samsung phones. The Galaxy S6 still feels like a solid, well-made and modern device even in 2018, and that identity carries over entirely to the Galaxy S9. The newer phone is a bit more sleek and curved, but this is still the familiar metal-and-glass sandwich formula from 2015.

Funny enough, Samsung is still using the same Quick Charge 2.0-level charging speeds on the Galaxy S9 as it did back with the Galaxy S6, so you actually aren't missing out on anything in that respect. Dual-mode (Qi and PMA) wireless charging was introduced on the Galaxy S6 and remains today as well, though the Galaxy S9 has at least added support for a bit faster speeds.

What's different

As you'd expect for a phone that's three years newer, the Galaxy S9 is better than the Galaxy S6 in every way. Hardware-wise Samsung has made advancements across the board: you get water resistance, USB-C charging, dual speakers and a notably improved display (albeit at the same resolution) on the Galaxy S9. And we should remember that Galaxy S6 owners haven't had an SD card slot, so even though that came back with the Galaxy S7 it's still "new" if you're upgrading to the GS9.

Design similarities aside, the Galaxy S9 is better than the S6 in every way.

So long as you aren't pushing things hard, the Galaxy S6 actually still performs pretty well. And with the Oreo update it has a very similar experience to the newest phones — albeit at a slightly slower pace. But from this point forward it won't be getting any fresh software updates, and that Exynos processor and 3GB of RAM are really starting to show their age — particularly if you set it alongside the new Galaxy S9 and see how much quicker everything is. Apps are far more demanding today than they were in 2015, and if you want to keep up with the latest software you'll need to move on to a new phone as well.

Then there's battery life. We know the Galaxy S9 isn't a stellar performer in this category, particularly with the Exynos processor, but even with that being said it's going to be far better than the Galaxy S6. Battery life was arguably the biggest drawback of the Galaxy S6, with its 2550mAh battery incapable of making it through a day for most people — and three years on, it's nowhere near what a new GS9 can do with 3000mAh.

A massive mark of progress three years on is in photography. Even the single-camera Galaxy S9 is a big improvement from the GS6. The same core idea of a good sensor, OIS and a fast lens are at play here, but all of the components have improved — the sensor is an entirely new generation of chip, the aperture is now wider at f/1.5 and Samsung's processing has greatly improved. The daylight photos may not show as big of an improvement as you'd initially think, since Samsung had that well-handled even in 2015, but the low-light shots are in a new league. Plus, you get that awesome 960 fps slow-motion video.

Should you upgrade?

Samsung Galaxy S9 vs. Galaxy S6

If you've held onto your Galaxy S6 or S6 edge this long, you got your money's worth out of it. And perhaps the more telling thing about using a GS6 for that long is that you have to be a fan of Samsung's hardware and software — and that points you right at the Galaxy S9.

If you enjoyed 3 years with a Galaxy S6, you'll love the Galaxy S9.

If you've still been enjoying many aspects of the Galaxy S6 as a whole, and want to upgrade because you need something more modern so you can keep up with the times, Samsung's latest flagship will be a fantastic upgrade for you. In typical Samsung fashion, the company has managed to add a whole lot to the experience without taking anything away — and the scale is simply higher when you look at a three-year upgrade.

And here's the great thing: you can still sell a good-condition Galaxy S6 for about $100-150 on the second-hand market. That makes the $720 retail price on the GS9 far easier to handle. It's time to upgrade.

Update May 2018: Updated with the latest information based on the age of the Galaxy S6.

Andrew Martonik

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.