Samsung Electronics

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+: Hong Kong release date, prices, first impressions

New flagship handsets don’t look much different from 2017 models, but have some big improvements – that annoying off-centre finger reader placement has gone and the camera has some novel features and, on the S9+, dual lenses

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 February, 2018, 10:45am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 March, 2018, 6:32pm

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and that is definitely true for the just unveiled Samsung Galaxy S9 and the larger S9+.

As earlier rumours and leaks had suggested, the Galaxy S9 and S9+ don’t look much different from last year’s S8 and S8+. In fact, were it not for the new fingerprint reader placement – now below the rear camera and in the centre of the phone, instead of off-centre, a placement many found annoying on the 2017 handsets – most people would not be able to tell the difference between them at first glance.

That has led to some early disappointment – tech geeks are notoriously hard to please – but after quick tests of both the S9 and S9+ at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I can report that this year’s new phones, while lacking the immediate “wow” factor of last year’s, are worthy updates.

The Galaxy S9 and S9+ will be released in Hong Kong on March 16. Prices: HK$5,998 (US$765) for S9 (64GB) and HK$7,998 for S9 (256GB); HK$6,998 for S9+ (64GB) and HK$7,398 for S9+ (128GB). The S9 (64GB), S9 (256GB) and S9+ (64GB) come in purple and black; S9+ (128GB) comes in purple, black and blue.

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And I’m not just talking about the usual processor upgrade. Of course the S9 and S9+ run on the latest mobile processors (that would be Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 in the US and China; and Exynos 9810 for the rest of the world) and the S9+ phone has had its RAM (temporary memory) bumped up to 6GB. But what make the new devices worthy 2018 flagship phones are the improvements in the camera, with three important new features.

The most important – and most innovative – of these is a “dual aperture” system that allows the S9 and S9+ to swap between two apertures: f/1.5 or f/2.4.

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According to the South Korean phone maker, that’s how the human eye works: our pupils dilate or expand in response to light changes, and the camera’s ability to switch to a higher or lower aperture allows it to pick up more light in dark scenes and not take in so much light when shooting bright scenes. All of this is handled internally, via the Snapdragon/Exynos processor and the new phones’ image signal processor, to which Samsung has devoted exclusive RAM.

The second new camera trick is that it can shoot slow motion footage at 960 fps. That’s four times slower than the slo-mo footage capabilities of the S8 or the iPhone X, and test footage looked very impressive.

The third camera feature is augmented reality emoji. Much like the iPhone X’s Animoji, the S9 uses its front-facing camera along with AI algorithms to map the user’s face to create an animated emoji that corresponds to the user’s facial expression.

But unlike Apple’s version, which offers only 12 preset emoji faces that can only be sent over Apple’s own messaging system, Samsung creates animated emojis in your likeness – and they can be sent via any chat app to any phone. In the demo booth, this was the feature that was most widely tested and documented on Instagram, and I can imagine this being a real hit with younger consumers or couples.

There are more useful improvements here and there that are not immediately noticeable at first glance but will surely prove useful in real life use.

The S9 and S9+ are the first Samsung handsets to have stereo speakers (a bottom speaker grille and one hidden inside the earpiece), and the display has a higher maximum brightness. The newer processor and Android 8.0 operating system should improve battery life over that of the S8 too, even if the actual cell sizes remain the same (3,000 mAh for the S9; 3,500 mAh for the S9+).

While the S9 still has only one camera on the back, the larger S9+ has joined the two-camera bandwagon, following the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. They work the same as before: the extra telephoto lens can shoot photos at 2x zoom and produce bokeh shots (with foreground subject sharp and background blurred).