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MWC 2018 | Samsung Galaxy S9 debuts with variable-aperture camera, AR Emojis, and more

The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are finally official. (Images: Samsung)
The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are finally official. (Images: Samsung)
They're finally here. The latest flagships from Samsung, the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+, share a lot in common with last year's S8 and S8+ with some incremental improvements. The biggest change lies in the camera, which now features a variable aperture for better low-light shots and 960 frame-per-second video capture.

After months of rumors and leaks, the Samsung Galaxy S9 is finally official, and the actual phone is a bit… iterative. While the phone shares many of the same features as its predecessor, the excellent Galaxy S8, there are a few new tricks in tow for Samsung’s latest flagship.

The design and screen size of the Galaxy S9 are the same as last year’s model (a 5.8-inch screen with a 2:1 aspect ratio), as is the inclusion of a Plus version, the S9+ (which has a 6.2-inch screen with the same 2:1 aspect ratio). Both phones feature the same bezeless design in which the edges of the display melt over the sides. The phones are the same size as their respective 2017 models and share the same Quad HD+ resolution. However, that’s where the similarities end.

The Galaxy S9, of course, features the latest and greatest of smartphone internals. The SoC is a 10 nm 64-bit 8-core monster (which will likely be the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 here in the West and Samsung’s own Exynos 9810 in other regions). The S9 keeps the same 4 GB of RAM as last year’s model, but the larger S9+ gets a 50% bump to 6 GB. Both phones will ship with a minimum of 64 GB of storage (up to 256 GB on non-US variants) with support for up to 400GB of expandable storage via a microSD card slot. The S9 is powered by a 3000 mAh battery, and the S9+ naturally gets a larger 3500 mAh battery. The fingerprint has also been moved underneath the rear camera rather than beside it, likely in response to the groanings of users last year.

So what’s new? The Galaxy S9 is all about camera technology. First and foremost, the main shooter (and only one on the smaller S9) has a new variable aperture. The 12 MP camera has a standard aperture of f/2.4 which can widen to f/1.5. This, mixed with OIS, should make for better low-light photos, and Samsung touted this fact at its press event. There were dark scenes set up for attendees to put the new camera through its paces, and initial results are admirable, especially considering the small sensor size. This variable aperture should also give the S9 a leg up against the competition for night and indoor shots which are commonly difficult for smartphone cameras to handle with aplomb. 

The main shooter on both phones is also capable of video recording up to 4K/60fps and a new “Super Speed” mode. This new setting allows the S9 and S9+ to capture high-frame rate footage at 960 frames per second and allows for slow-motion video. To put that in context, this high-frame rate mode stretches 1/16th of a second into a full second of video (if played back at 60 fps). This mode can also be set up to automatically begin recording once it detects motion. There is one catch, though: slow-motion video can only be captured at 720p. We saw similar slow-motion capabilities on Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium smartphone last year, and the resultant video is fascinating.

The S9+ also features a secondary 12 MP telephoto camera with a fixed f/2.4 aperture. Both models have an 8 MP f/1.7 front-facing camera.

Audio is handled either via the 3.5 mm headphone jack (good on Samsung for retaining this port!) or through the new dual-speaker setup. The bottom firing speaker is back from the Galaxy S8, but the earpiece now pulls double duty as a loudspeaker that fires toward the user. 

While these features may be used quite frequently, there are a few that some would consider gimmicky. The S9 and S9+ can create an “AR Emoji,” which is essentially Samsung’s answer to Apple’s Animoji feature seen on the iPhone X. Similar to Animoji, AR Emoji tracks the user’s face to create a 3D model that moves and emotes according to facial movements. Unlike Animoji, AR Emoji uses the standard AGIF file format, meaning that it can be sent across third-party messaging platforms to others that may or may not have a Galaxy S9. Currently, Animojis can only be sent to non-Apple devices as a video file.

Bixby makes its return as well, and (according to Samsung) the virtual assistant has been vastly improved. Bixby can now use augmented reality and deep learning to provide “helpful information about a user’s surroundings.” Bixby can scan objects through the S9’s camera and provide information accordingly. Bixby can also scan food and give an estimated calorie count and can be used to translate language and currency “in real time,” according to the manufacturer. The S9 and S9+ can also be turned into basic productivity-focused machines with the new DeX Pad, a docking station that connects the phone to a larger display. Users can either connect peripherals (like a keyboard and mouse) or use the phone itself as a touchpad and type using the phone’s virtual keyboard.

So how much will the new phone cost? In spite of rumors of a $1000+ price tag, the Galaxy S9 and S9+ will be priced the same as last year’s S8 and S8+. The S9 will sell for an MSRP $719.99 and the larger model will run $839.99. Both phones will ship starting March 16, 2018, and will run the latest version of Android (Android 8.0 Oreo). The phones will be available in Lilac Purple, Midnight Black, and Coral Blue (depending on the retailer).

Be sure to check in the coming months for a detailed review of Samsung’s latest flagship.




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> Expert Reviews and News on Laptops, Smartphones and Tech Innovations > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2018 02 > Samsung Galaxy S9 debuts with variable-aperture camera, AR Emojis, and more
Sam Medley, 2018-02-26 (Update: 2018-02-26)