The Samsung Galaxy S9 is the phone that’s supposed to lead the charge where the Galaxy S8 , one of the best phones we’ve ever tested, left off – but it’s not as much of an upgrade.
Well, that’s at first glance, because there is a raft of updates that some would find appealing. Yes, the design is identical to the Galaxy S8, and in reality this really should have been the ‘S’ variant of that model if Samsung ever wanted to ape Apple’s naming strategy.
But there’s also a new, high-power camera on the back that brings genuine innovation in the dual-aperture shutter, as well as a more robust frame and so, so much more power under the hood.
The screen is brighter and the dual speakers make this more of a media marvel – and the Galaxy S9 fixes one major flaw with the S8 by making it easy to unlock the phone with your face or finger, which 2017’s model failed at.
If this sounds like we’re talking up an uninspiring phone, that’s partly true – but we wanted to make sure you knew the big changes on the S9 if you were confused on why it looks so similar to last year’s model.
It took us a little while to come around to the idea of AR Emoji… and then not too long to get bored by them again.
Let’s be honest here: these are a clear response to Apple’s Animoji, which gained a lot of attention when the iPhone X launched, and which make use of the TrueDepth camera on the front of the iPhone X.
Samsung’s offering feels like a watered-down version of this, albeit one with a bit more personality. To create your own little avatar you simply smile into the front-facing camera, and the Galaxy S9 creates your own digital version of you.
Once it’s created, you can change your avi’s hair and skin color and choose an outfit – it’s a shame there aren’t more customisation options here, as the outfits are a bit limited and the hair colors aren’t particularly nuanced.
This may seem like a tiny thing, but if you can’t make your AR Emoji look like you then you – and your friends – are going to struggle to engage with it.
We also had to get used to the fact that it doesn’t look like us all the time, although in some of the instantly-generated GIFs you can use for social media we suddenly saw that our AR Emoji mimicked some of our features well from different angles.
Those GIFs are probably the best thing about this new feature – and they get tiresome relatively quickly. You send a few to friends on compatible apps (the AR Emoji GIFs are baked into the Galaxy S9’s keyboard, but you can’t add them in Twitter or Gmail, only in apps like WhatsApp at the moment), but the novelty wears off pretty quickly.
The other thing you can do is record a video of yourself speaking as the AR Emoji… and this is where things start to unravel. The Galaxy S9 picks up most of your features, but also gives your avatar a little flickering mouth or eye at times when the camera loses you.
It shows that, to make this feature work properly, brands need a more powerful camera, rather than just relying on software and the front-facing option.
AR Emoji are fun for a little while, but on their own they’re certainly not a reason to buy this phone.
Here are a few results from benchmark tests:
- AnTuTu 3D Bench: 261,876
- Geekbench 4 CPU: 377 single-core; 7,982 multi-core
- 3D Mark Slingshot Extreme: 468 OpenGL; 3,617 Vulkan