The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are officially official, and there’s a lot to take in. They seem to be mostly incremental updates over their predecessors, so the question on a lot of people’s minds: is it worth upgrading if you already have the S8?

The Design Is More of the Same, But Better

You know the old saying—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Well that’s exactly what’s going on here. If you just look at the S9, it’s hard telling it apart from the S8. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because the S8 was easily the best-looking Samsung device to date when it was released. It was a forward-thinking design for the company, especially with the transition away from that awful (and terribly outdated) home button.

The S9 is about refining what the S8 started. Since the S8 was such a dramatic departure from Samsung’s normal design, there were a few quirks that needed to be worked out—like the fingerprint sensor placement. It was previously built into the home button, so to move forward with a cleaner design, Samsung moved it to the back.

The Galaxy S8’s stupid fingerprint scanner placement.

The problem, however, is that the S8’s fingerprint sensor is right beside the camera. That’s honestly a terrible place for a fingerprint reader. It’s harder to find and you end up rubbing your finger all over the camera trying to hit the sensor. So with the S9, Samsung moved the sensor to below the camera, in a place where it actually makes sense.

Other than that, things are mostly the same. The display sizes on both the standard and plus devices remain the same (5.8 inches and 6.2 inches, respectively), as does the display resolution across both devices (2960×1440). The Super AMOLED display is unsurprisingly used in the S9 as well.

Specs Only Tell Part of the Story

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At the risk of repeating ourselves, specs aren’t the defining factor for any smartphone at this point. They matter, yes, but they don’t often make or break a phone—especially at the flagship level.

The S9 is an incremental upgrade from the S8 in this regard. The processor is just a step up from from last year—a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 in the S8 vs a Snapdragon 845 in the S9. Is the 845 better on paper? Yes. Is it tangibly better in daily use? Who knows.

The RAM situation has changed a little bit—while the S9 sticks with the “traditional” 4GB of RAM, the S9+ gets the bump to 6GB. Your phone will have more RAM than your computer did just a few years ago. It’s insane, and pretty awesome.

Waterproofing, wireless charging, SD card slot, and the like are all also along for the ride here. It has all the bells and whistles of the S8—including a headphone jack. That’s apparently a big deal these days.

The Real Work Was Put Into the Camera

If you watch the Galaxy S9 launch video, you’ll notice one thing: it’s all about the camera. Why? Because that’s what defines smartphones now.

Back in the day, it was all about how much storage you could pack into one device or what clock speed the processor was. Now, it’s the camera. If a phone doesn’t have a killer camera, then it’s dead in the water.

So it’s no surprise that Samsung really focuses on the camera for both the S9 and S9+, which kind of have different cameras. Samsung took Apple’s lead on this go, leaving the smaller S9 with just one camera, and stacking the S9+ with dual rear shooters.

But it’s not just about how many cameras each phone has, because the main camera packs a unique feature with dual aperture lenses. Basically, this means that the camera features two apertures: f/1.5 and f/2.4. The former is for better low-light performance, while the latter is for basically everything else.

Using the Auto setting, the camera decides which aperture is appropriate and switches automatically. If the ambient lighting is below 100 lux, it switches to the f/1.5 aperture. If lighting is brighter than that, it uses the default f/2.4 aperture.

For the camera savvy among you, however, you’ll be able to use the camera software’s Pro setting to manually control essentially every aspect of the camera—including the shooting aperture.

This new dual aperture feature is found on both the S9’s default camera and the S9+’s wide camera.

But the camera goodies don’t stop with excellent pictures. Work has also been done on the video options, especially when it comes to slow-motion. The Galaxy S9 can shoot slow motion videos at an unprecedented 960 frames per second, which makes for an incredibly impressive slow motion capture. There are, of course, caveats. It can only capture this rate at 720p, and is limited to 20 shots per video. But really, that’s all probably okay—it’s unlikely you’re going to shoot full slo-mo movies on your phone, anyway.

Oh, you can also set these slow motion movies as your lockscreen wallpaper. It’s hard to say what that will do for battery life, but you have to admit it’s kind of cool.

Moving Forward with Augmented Reality

Going along with that camera is augmented reality—or AR for short. AR is one of the cooler features to come out in the last several years, and one of the more useful tools we’ll have at our disposal moving forward.

As useful as we think it will be one day, Samsung is touting the S9’s AR capabilities with one major feature: AR Emoji. Yeah, emoji that look like you. All this capability and untapped potential, but it’s all about being able to express yourself with a cartoon face that looks more like yours than a regular emoji.

As cynical as that sounds, though, we get it. Animoji are stupid-popular on the iPhone X, so Samsung wanted to do something to compete.

But it’s (hopefully) not all about AR Emoji. Samsung’s mostly-laughed-at-but-maybe-sometimes-used-by-someone digital assistant, Bixby, is also tapping into some AR benefits. It will be able to automatically translate text from other languages, much like Google Translate. It also identifies objects and offer suggestions, much like Google Lens. But hey—good artists copy, great artists steal…right?

So, Should You Buy One If You Have An S8?

That’s the question we’re aiming to answer, and as always it’s a tough one to tackle.

By most standards, I’d say no. If you have an S8, you already have 90 percent of what makes the S9 good. However, if that new camera seems like something you can’t live without, who are we to tell you otherwise? No one, that’s who.

The other group who might want to upgrade from the S8 are people who simply wish they’d gotten the bigger phone. If you’re an S8 users who longs for the extra real estate provided by the S8+, then by all means—get rid of that S8 and go for the S9+. Honestly, if you’re considering buying an S9 at all, we’d recommend going with the S9+ anyway.

But for everyone else, we don’t think it’s worth the upgrade. The S8 already has an excellent camera—one of the best you’ll find on smartphones today—and that’s the real selling point of the S9. So if you don’t absolutely need a better camera, then you’re good.

The real question is how many of the S9’s features will make their way to the S8. Unfortunately, Samsung has been extremely quiet on that front, which is unsurprising since they want people to buy the newest phones. But if the past is any indication, some of those features will trickle down.

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Profile Photo for Cameron Summerson Cameron Summerson
Cameron Summerson is ex-Editor-in-Chief of Review Geek and served as an Editorial Advisor for How-To Geek and LifeSavvy. He covered technology for a decade and wrote over 4,000 articles and hundreds of product reviews in that time. He’s been published in print magazines and quoted as a smartphone expert in the New York Times.
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