It’s now a few days since we unboxed what could be one of the biggest phones of 2018, and we’re now getting to grips with the new handset and the features it offers.
If you’ve not been keeping up so far, let’s have a quick recap of the Samsung Galaxy S9. Design-wise, things are almost identical to the Galaxy S8, but it’s under the hood that things are a little different.
There’s far more power than last year, AR Emojis created from a single snap of your face to be used on social media, and an all-powerful camera that’s supposed to be excellent at low-light and slow motion video.
We’ve been giving these features a good test each days, and we’re slowly forming a few impressions ahead of our in-depth review, which is coming up soon.
AR Emoji – not useless
We’ve been playing the most with AR Emoji, because it’s the most novel feature on the phone compared to previous models. We set up ours four days ago, and from there we’re able to make videos through the avatar by mapping our face from the front camera, or use the generated GIFs that the phone instantly creates.
We’ve found that we’re using the GIFs regularly, and that if you’re using the default Samsung keyboard you’ve instantly got access to said little moving pictures of you (not in the apps themselves, as previously thought).
However, we’ve not been bothered to use the video recording feature of the avatar, simply because it’s not as accurate as we’d like, leading to a lot of flickery facial features, and the angle not being quite right.
If it was more accurate, then it’d probably be more of a fun feature, but we can see it falling into the realm of ‘oh, I forgot that was on the phone…’.
Camera hasn’t wowed… yet
The camera on the Samsung Galaxy S9 has just been awarded the top DxOMark on the market, besting the Google Pixel 2, so we’re hoping to get some stunning photos from it – especially in low light.
We’ve not sat down and done any of our standard in-depth testing so far with the camera so far – it’s been largely candid snaps – but there’s not been anything mind-blowing so far that’s come from the camera.
The issue is not with the quality of the photos – they’re excellent – but as smartphone photography has improved massively in the last few years, we’re getting used to smashing snaps from our handsets.
The automatic ‘depth of field capture’ intelligence is impressive.
This is in extreme low light, and yet the level of noise is so, so low
In a brighter room, we were hoping for a more dynamic picture of the fire
This scene was actually brighter than we could see with our eyes.
However, we did start trying the phone on Pro mode, where you can manually flip between f/1.5 and f/2.4 apertures… and if you look at the lens, you’ll even see the sensor changing in size as the mechanical shutter comes down and reduces the size of the aperture.
There’s a marked difference between the two modes, and it’s something we’re looking forward to testing in real depth soon.
The food mode is something that’s fun too – making the most mundane (and, dare we say, disgusting-looking) plate of food look relatively appealing.
We’ve not tested the battery so far, as we always wait for it to settle a little before doing any in-depth benchmarks, but it’s still nice to see the Galaxy S9 is checking for any apps that are munching too much power and asking if we want to shut them down.
SloMo camera isn’t obvious
The SloMo camera is proving trickier to use than we anticipated. The thing about introducing new features like this is that they’re not something that we’re all desperate to use – rather, we found we needed to remember to use it more.
As a refresher, the default mode is that the camera will automatically start the slow motion mode when it notices something entering a box in the middle of the viewfinder – it can be hard to position this properly if you’re trying to shoot something like an animal, which is often a moving target.
In these cases, it would be better to do things manually, or just be able to shoot the whole thing in slow motion and decide after what you wanted to make slower, but that’s not easy.
We still like the idea of creating the slow-motion videos, but it’s not something that we’re totally enamored with right now.
We have to say we’re incredibly impressed with the upgrade Samsung has brought with the biometric unlocking of the Galaxy S9 – the idea to fuse all the options together is a really neat one.
We’ve disconnected our Smart Lock accessories (previously, our Android phones are unlocked whenever in range of our smartwatch) and yet still not been annoyed by getting into the phone… a long way from how we felt when reviewing the Galaxy S8 last year.
The face unlock / iris recognition combo isn’t the fastest around, but it’s fast enough. We’ve often found the phone will unlock quicker than expected, jumping us in before we’ve read the notifications on the lock screen, and if there are times when we can’t hold the phone at the right angle to unlock, or it’s late at night, the fingerprint scanner is really accessible.
Speakers are just fine
We’ve been trying out the dual speaker on the Samsung Galaxy S9 a fair bit, seeing how it fares compared to a standalone Bluetooth speaker that we’d usually be using.
The volume is pretty good, although it’s not as loud as we’d like it to be… sometimes we need to hold it a little closer to us to hear a podcast when cooking, for instance. The sound quality is a touch scratchy at the louder volumes too, but it’s not uncomfortable.
We’re looking forward to trying the Dolby Atmos setting on the phone too – it could be a really nice addition if it works well.