Every year Samsung puts out some of the best phones in the Android world. However, some years the phones are more exciting than others. This year the Samsung Galaxy S9+ was an incremental upgrade and has left many underwhelmed.
If you’ve been wondering what exactly the difference is between these two phones then keep reading. Below we’ll be taking a look at the differences between my unlocked Samsung Galaxy S8+ and the Samsung Galaxy S9+ provided by AT&T.
One thing to note, I originally planned on comparing both models on Android Oreo, unfortunately, Samsung has been dragging their feet on upgrading the unlocked models. Therefore, the Galaxy S8+ used here is on Nougat while the AT&T Galaxy S9+ is running Oreo.
With a quick glance or to the untrained eye you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the S8+ and S9+. There is little to distinguish them from each other until you get a look at the back. Both use a near identical layout with curved glass on both sides and a metal frame around the edge. Upon closer inspection you might notice the sensors at the top have changed, the buttons are slightly different, and the speaker grill has been modified.
Unless you really know your phones, you won’t notice much of a change, that is until you see the back. This is where Samsung made some of the biggest improvements and it becomes much easier to distinguish the two apart from one another. One of the most worthwhile changes on the Galaxy S9+ is the improved placement of the fingerprint scanner.
The fingerprint sensor is now centered in the back and feels much more natural to use. This alone often makes me want to upgrade from the Galaxy S8+. The dual lens camera is also a massive change that makes the Galaxy S9+ stand out in comparison and helps Samsung catch up with the latest dual camera trend.
While it’s not as obvious of a change, Samsung also made the metal frame wider on the S9+ and used thicker glass which makes it more durable. These little changes will most likely go unnoticed but it makes the phone more resilient than last years S8+ and showed an improved score in SquareTrade’s tests.
Samsung always does displays right and every year they just keep getting better. Even Apple uses Samsung-made screens in their iPhone X. This year Samsung has outdone themselves once again by being named the best display on a phone by DisplayMate.
That being said, the difference between the Galaxy S8+ and S9+ is not monumental. Both are using a 6.2-inch 18.5:9 QHD AMOLED screen with rounded corners and are set to 1080p by default.
While the S9+ gets brighter, it is not by much and it’s hardly noticeable to the naked eye. Out of the box, the Samsung S9+ features more natural color reproduction while the S8+ is more saturated with punchier colors.
Depending on what you prefer, this could make the S9+ look washed out in comparison or make the S8+ look too saturated and unnatural. Without Oreo on the S8+, I’m unsure if this is from changes in the color settings in Android or with the display itself. Either way, Samsung allows you to tweak the display settings, providing you a way to change the display to suit your own preferences.
The difference in sound is extremely noticeable between the S8+ and S9+ and is anything but incremental. For starters, the Galaxy S9+ uses not only a bottom firing speaker but the earpiece as well (offering stereo sound) unlike the Galaxy S8+ where if your finger covered the one bottom firing speaker you’d lose all the volume. Even without the stereo speakers, the S8+ sounds muffled and subpar compared to the Galaxy S9+.
However, if you do most of your listening through headphones you won’t notice a difference between the two. That is until you enable Dolby Atmos on the Galaxy S9+ where it instantly improves the sound over the S8+ which lacks this feature. That isn’t to say you wouldn’t be able to tweak the Galaxy S8+ to match the S9+, but the convenience of improving your sound with the flip of one switch is quite helpful.
Of the many differences between the S9+ and S8+, the faster CPU, GPU, and additional RAM of the S9+ don’t go unnoticed. The Samsung Galaxy S9+ is noticeably faster and it should be, however, the difference isn’t always enormous.
When opening many frequently used apps such as the browser, email, camera, and weather app, the S9+ is a fraction of a second faster. It is barely noticeable and for small apps such as these, there isn’t much of a difference. For some smaller games, I noticed more of a difference with around a 1-3 second improvement with the S9+. The biggest improvement was opening large games weighing in at 1GB or more where the S9+ was able to open them up to 23 seconds faster than my S8+.
The 2GB of additional RAM in the S9+ also made a noticeable difference in the performance. Apps stayed in memory longer which made switching between apps faster without having to wait for them to reload like on my S8+.
Between the faster loading times and apps needing to reload less frequently, this made a huge difference in performance but it is worth noting that phones get slower over time. My Samsung S8+ has some age on it, has a few more apps installed, and is also running Nougat instead of Oreo which is supposed to remove some lag on the S8+. Regardless, there is no getting around the fact the S9+ is faster and smoother, as it should be.
The camera is one of the most obvious changes this year to the Samsung S Series with the S9+ getting an upgrade including dual rear cameras with dual aperture, live focus for the front and rear cameras, AR emojis, and the lowest aperture on a phone at f/1.5. Not only has the hardware been improved and upgraded, but the software behind it has been enhanced with more accurate white balance and less contrast.
The software improvements are a much-welcomed change. Looking at the images the S8+ often has incorrect white balance and loses detail in the whites or blacks as seen in the sky in the image below. The S9+ has truer colors and retains more detail in the clouds.
Another example of the improved white balance is shown here where the grass has a strong yellow tint from the S8+ image, and the S9+ has a truer to life green.
The dual aperture of the Galaxy S9+ shoots photos at f/2.4 to keep more in focus but drops the aperture to f/1.5 in low light situations to improve low light photos. In theory, this is a great idea, but unfortunately, in practice, the images appeared a little soft unless they were close up or macro images. Shown in this crop of an image are walnut shells where there is more fine detail from the S9+ image.
However, if it was not a close-up or macro shot I did not see improvements in the sharpness of the images. Some of this is due to the software processing where the S9+ has less contrast, salvaging more detail in the highlights and blacks in the images. This is a welcomed change in my opinion, but when zooming in to check detail in several images I noticed the S8+ was sharper with more detail.
Looking at the images of the fire hydrant the letters are much clearer in the S8+ image as well as the details in the tree in the next image when compared to the S9+.
When it comes to low light images the S9+ with its f/1.5 aperture had good results but the noise reduction removed some detail and made images look a little soft. In comparison, the S8+ shots keep a lot of detail but also much of the noise.
It is also worth noting that the 2X camera and live focus are not your friends in low light, as shown in this progression where they have significantly worse quality compared to the main 1X shooter.
Overall, I preferred the S9+ camera for its live focus ability, improved white balance, and contrast, but I miss the sharpness found in some of the S8+ images.
The front-facing camera on the S9+ brings improvements along the lines of live focus and AR emoji. I really enjoy the live focus ability but AR emoji was extremely underwhelming. It allows you to create your own personal emoji to share with friends as well as make faces with different overlays. The custom emoji didn’t look much like me, but this might please some in the Snapchat crowd. However, I am not one of them and didn’t find myself ever using the AR emoji feature.
Besides the gimmicks, the front-facing camera in the S9+ shares the same f/1.7 aperture as the S8+ yet I found it often blew out the highlights in my face. The S8+ retained more information but was slightly darker.
At first glance, the S9+ seemed like nothing more than a minor upgrade to the S8+ and warranted little excitement. In fact, in the beginning, I found it to be boring and uninspired. That is until I spent some more time with it and compared it head to head against the S8+.
The improvements weren’t always huge or in your face but Samsung improved just about every facet of the S8+ with the S9+. Most every improvement was a much-needed refinement in making one of the best flagships an even better phone.
Despite how much better the Samsung S9+ is over the S8+, upgrading is not essential. The Galaxy S8+ is still worth keeping around or even worth buying in 2018 over the S9+, if you’re looking to save some money. Just know that it will be inferior in just about every way to the S9+. If a good deal comes along or you’re upgrading from an older phone then the S9+ is a worthy successor with many improvements over the S8+.Samsung S8+ at AT&T Samsung S9+ at AT&T