Julie’s gadget diary – The Samsung Galaxy S9 is a great phone, so why don’t I love it?

Verizon Wireless was kind enough to send me a shiny new Samsung Galaxy S9 smartphone to test for a few days and it’s an all around awesome phone. From the look of the hardware to what’s under the hood, this is a phone that many Android fans would love to own, but for some reason, I just can’t seem to fall for one of them.

You look like you haven’t changed a bit since I last saw you

At first glance, the S9 looks identical to the Samsung Galaxy S8 from last year with a glass front and back sandwiching a metal frame. The new handset is slightly heavier, and a few tenths of a millimeter thicker and wider S8. But those are things you won’t notice at all when you hold the phone in your hand. It’s not until you flip the phone over that you will see the biggest physical difference compared to the S8. The often criticized location of the fingerprint sensor on the S8 has been updated on the S9 to a new location below the camera lens.

There’s a new home for the fingerprint scanner

If you’ve been a regular visitor of my reviews, you’ll know that I am usually grumpy when it comes to talking about fingerprint sensors on smartphones. Until recently, I’ve had the worst luck with getting them to work for me for more than a day or so after the initial setup. That changed with the Pixel 2 XL and even more recently with the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, both of which have wonderfully fast and accurate sensors on the back. I’m happy to report that the S9’s fingerprint sensor is not terrible! Notice that I didn’t say it was surprisingly great and wonderful. It’s neither of those things for me. But, it’s not terrible and even after several days it still works for me at least most of the time.

One interesting feature of the S9 is that it now uses Intelligent Scan, which is a combination of iris and facial recognition that works simultaneously. I also noticed that the S9 will unlock the phone with your face if your fingerprint doesn’t work first or vice versa. Maybe that’s the same way the S8 works, but this is the first I’ve noticed it. Even in low light facial recognition works really well. However, it didn’t work in total darkness.

Other updates

  • The Samsung Galaxy S9’s CPU is a bit more spiffy than the S8.

Galaxy S8: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 or Exynos 8895, 4GB RAM, 64GB + microSD
Galaxy S9: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 or Exynos 9810, 4GB RAM, 64GB + microSD

  • Bixby has been updated. One word, ick. It still feels clunky and I prefer using Google assistant.
  • The S9 features Dolby Atmos and AKG speakers that sound great and give you almost a surround sound feel when you watch video in landscape orientation.

Don’t forget the camera

Samsung kept the S9’s camera at 12 megapixels but they added a variable-aperture lens that opens as much as f/1.5 for low-light shots and as small as f/2.4 for bright shots. They also improved the Dual-Pixel performance. What does that mean in non-photographer speak? It means that the camera is good. Crazy good. Here are some sample shots right out of the camera with no retouching applied (except for rotating the tree picture in WordPress).

Another new feature on the S9 is AR emoji which is Samsung’s version of Apple’s Animoji only way creepier.

The way it works is that you take a picture of yourself and it takes your face and lets you customize your hair and clothes.

You can then use animated GIFs in your messages like the one above showing me waving at you. Does it look like me? Yeah, I guess so, but why? These cutesy features must be for teens, because other than goofing around with it for a few minutes, I’d probably never use it.

Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S9?

If you already own a perfectly fine S8, then no. In my opinion, the S9 just doesn’t have enough updates to justify upgrading. That doesn’t mean that Samsung won’t sell millions of them because they will. The S9 is a fantastic phone with every feature I’d ever want like wireless charging, long battery life, great camera, notification LED, HDMI out (with a USB-C HDMI adapter), DeX compatible (with optional dock), and a microSD card slot.

So now back to the question in the title of this article. If the S9 is such a great phone, why can’t I love it? I keep asking myself that question and I don’t have a good answer to it. I could say that I’m not a fan of Samsung’s version of all the stock apps, as I really prefer the stock Android experience. But, it ultimately comes down to my own personal preferences. Just like I love MINI Coopers but think Fiat 500s look hideous, or that I won’t eat mushrooms and green peppers but I love green beans and tomatoes. There are things that I like that you don’t like a vice versa.

I’m not going to say that I wouldn’t use a Samsung Galaxy S9 if I didn’t have another phone and someone gave me one. But if I had to choose between buying an S9, a Pixel 2 XL, or even the Huawei Mate 10 Pro right now, the S9 wouldn’t be my number one or number two choice… for no other reason than I like the other two phones better even though they are missing a couple of the features that the S9 offers.

I think it’s great that we’re to the point where flagship phones all have the same core set of features and choosing one comes down to the little things.

Source: The temporary loaner device was provided by Verizon Wireless.

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26 thoughts on “Julie’s gadget diary – The Samsung Galaxy S9 is a great phone, so why don’t I love it?”

  1. RICHARD KINGSTON

    So, I will add my boilerplate comment on Android phone reviews: what about the security updates? It appears that only the Pixel range and the Essential phone have regular monthly security patches. But the Essential phone, like Samsung are slow to upgrade from one version of the OS to another.

    I have the iPhone 8 Plus, so I get great and frequent software updates. But, I use Google apps, which do not integrate well at the OS level on an iPhone.

    All that aside, a great review Julie on the Samsung phone.

    1. You’re right about that Richard, it does seem like some phone companies take forever to release patches. But I wonder if that’s the fault of the cellular carrier instead of the phone maker. I think carriers have to give the OK to release patches and maybe they are just slow testing them. Either way though, I think Apple is the fastest at releasing fixes, OS updates, etc. and that’s one big reason why I continue to flirt with switching to iOS.

      1. There are a couple of layers here. Google updates Android, then Samsung gets the update to integrate into their version, and then the carriers get their hands on. At both the Samsung and carrier levels all of the effort is expended on getting the OS ready for the next new phone, so little effort is spent on existing customers.

        Google takes steps to make it easier for everyone downstream to take their monthly security updates, but it just doesn’t seem to work. The smart play here would be for Google to lock down the OS and deliver their updates and patches (and stop worrying about “major” releases a la Windows 10), and let carriers and OEM’s just layer their UI over the top. It would certainly reduce the time to market for updates.

        In other news, the color of the sky in my world is a nice fuchsia.

  2. Agree with Richard Kingston re: security updates. It’s just disgraceful how this is being handled (or not handled) by market leaders.

    Curious about the 18:9 aspect ratio. All other features aside, I don’t think I’d be comfortable on such a narrow phone. Landscape mode must be pretty bad. Videos must also suffer as a result (16:9, 4:3 for the older stuff).

  3. What caught my eye on the very first photo was that pen! Is that a stylus/pen hybrid? Looks interesting!! Link please~~~ =D

  4. Wait, I must smudge my camera lense every time I try to use the fingerprint sensor?
    They haven’t yet found the body of that guy who touched my monitor with oily fingers…..

    1. Ha! I didn’t find that I was touching the lens that much. At least not nearly as much as I did with the S8. But yeah, I still don’t really care for the location or the size and shape of the S9’s fingerprint scanner.

  5. The images are amazing, really makes you wonder when the point of death for the SLR will arrive, maybe it already has. Those animi’s may well come in handy for something *lightbulb switches on above head*.

      1. Do they offer the same quality for recording as an SLR? I need to shoot some new videos soon but really don’t want to re-invest back into a heavy camera as it ends up just too impractical for daily carry.

      2. my wife has abandoned everything but her phone for photos and videos…however, consider that a goldfinch’s noggin is about the size of my thumb and you will see why a dslr (or a mirrorless) and a long lens are still necessary

        for the snapshot a phone is a good tool
        if you are willing to give up some flexibility they provide excellent output for product work (esp. web-based)

        a couple of the cameras I use for print artwork are only 12MP and no one has sent the art back…yet

        for wildlife I find digiscoping much too slow

        so I can’t give up my big, clunky cameras just yet

  6. Well I am now the owner of an S9. That is only because I launched my Note 8 off the back of my motorcycle at 75 mph! Think about leaving something on the top of your car and driving off, this is the same thing but on a motorcycle. I rarely damage my phones so of course I had no insurance and had paid cash for the unlocked Note 8. I went for the cheaper option of the S9 this time and did buy some insurance.

    Like you, I do not find the new phone that exciting. One feature I did note that was pretty awesome was the new speaker setup. I often play Audible books off the phone’s speakers when I am doing things around the house. Yes I have some nice bluetooth speakers, but sometimes it is just easier to play through the phone that is right there and the speaker may be in another room. The speakers on this phone rock! So much louder and very clear. I used to place my phone next to something to get a reverb in order to force a louder sound. That is no longer necessary. My goal is to stay with this phone for 2 years. Crossing my fingers on this one.

    1. Yes I do agree that there doesn’t seem to be a huge leap in features as each new model comes out, hence why I’ve held off buying a premium handset for a number of years. However after reading reviews it does look like some of the main features have been improved so much more that it justifies the higher price. Glad to hear you don’t need your bluetooth speaker anymore! 🙂

  7. Great review Julie, thank you!

    In my opinion, the two major flaws remain:
    1) Curved screen (AKA Edge).
    2) Short battery life.

    The curved screen leads to unintended screen touching and apps activation. It also makes the phone harder to carry/handle and easier to drop. Moreover, I can’t get to find a screen protector that works without desensitizing the touch screen. Premium brands (e.g. Zagg) and cheaper alternatives (e.g. Verizon) start peeling off in weeks. I have the standard S8, but I really wished Verizon would offer the Galaxy S8 Active.

    Since new, my S8 requires daily recharging, or even midday recharging on busier days, with more phone calls. I took it to Verizon and they say it’s ‘normal’. I loved my S6 but after two years battery capacity dropped significantly. The way my S8 is going, it will reach that level in much shorter time than the S6.

    1. Interesting comments. I have only had the S9 for 4 days now, but I am not having problems with setting off apps because of the curved edge. I do have a case on mine so when I hold it I know I am holding the case and not the screen part so that may help. As far as battery life goes I am getting a full day with at least 40-60% left over. I have Bluetooth on connected to my Garmin watch. When I drive it is connected to my vehicle and I play Audible books over it. I read and spend time on various apps like Facebook. That being said, I have a full time job so during a normal work day I probably spend less than an hour on it. I get my work email and calendar on it so I do get work notifications. On a weekend I spend more time but have yet to run out of battery in a single day. I also have WiFi on all day.

      I will note that on my Note 8 when I had it, if I had WiFi on all day and was not connected to a WiFi router, the battery did drain abnormally fast. I have not noticed it at all with the S9.

      It may be the certain apps you are running that are wearing it out or possibly the other factors like screen brightness.

  8. Hi Julie,
    Thanks for the honest review. The AR moji looks cooler than I expected and camera as usual. Any idea what is next after S9? I’m using S8 right now so just excited to know whether there will be S10 or anything new?

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