Samsung Galaxy S9 Review
The Samsung Galaxy S9 sits alongside the S9+ as the latest flagship smartphones from Samsung.
Both phones are notable in that they are the first smartphones to offer cameras with a variable aperture lens, that is one that you can control yourself. You can choose between f/1.5 and f/2.4 depending on the lighting condition, or the camera itself will choose the aperture automatically depending on the shooting mode you’re in.
The standard S9 has one camera/lens, a 12 megapixel sensor, with a 26mm (equivalent) f/1.5-f/2.4 lens. It uses phase-detection autofocus, has optical image stabilisation, and has an 8 megapixel front-facing camera with an f/1.7 lens. 4K video recording is available at up to 60fps, as well as super slow-motion video at 960fps (720p resolution).
For the purposes of this review, we have been loaned the Samsung Galaxy S9 by Vodafone, which offers the S9 on a variety of different contracts.
Ease of Use
The S9 uses a 5.8-inch Super AMOLED Gorilla Glass screen. As is pretty common these days, it uses a display which goes all way to the edge of the screen, being slightly curved for an attractive design. There is a bezel at the top and bottom of the screen - Samsung hasn’t followed in the footsteps of Apple and Huawei by adding a “notch”. While this means the phone doesn’t maximise the available space, you may be of the opinion that the look is cleaner, or uninterrupted.
A fingerprint sensor is found on the back of the phone, which you can use to unlock the phone, or you can set up face unlock or an unlock pattern. At the top of the phone is the SIM card tray, which also contains space for a MicroSD card - you can expand the inbuilt memory by adding your own SD card here - this marks it as a point of difference from several other high-profile phones currently on the market, such as the Google Pixel 2, iPhone X and the Huawei P20 Pro.
|Front of the Samsung Galaxy S9|
From the lock screen you can access the native camera app by swiping upwards from the bottom right hand corner of the screen. By default, the app launches in “Auto” mode, which is fine to use for the majority of shooting scenarios. With this, the phone will automatically decide on the best settings for you, meaning you can’t adjust the aperture yourself - you should find that if you’re shooting in low light, it will automatically switch to the wider setting.
Along the top of the app (or to the left when shooting in landscape mode), you’ll see the various shooting modes that the S9 camera app offers. In order to move between them, simply swipe in the main app area. Along with Auto, there’s also Selective Focus, Pro, Panorama, Food, Super Slow mo (video), AR Emoji, and Hyperlapse.
Selective Focus is the S9’s “shallow depth of field” effect, which you can use to create a fake bokeh type look. In order to use it, you need to point the phone at something within 50cm and take the photo. You’ll see that a yellow circle goes around the virtual shutter button while the effect is being applied - you can then see the image in playback. Occasionally, the phone will not apply the effect if it can’t detect a subject - this is usually when you’ve photographed something in the distance (such as a landscape), rather than something close to the camera. When looking at the image in playback, you can change the focus, from near focus to far focus, which can be helpful if the subject hasn’t quite worked.
|Rear of the Samsung Galaxy S9|
Pro mode is where you can adjust a wide variety of different settings. You can change ISO, white balance, metering, exposure compensation, shutter speed and, the S9’s selling point, the aperture. You can also manually focus, too. In terms of aperture, you’ve only got two options - f/1.5 and f/2.4 - choosing the wider aperture (f/1.5) when shooting in low light, and the narrower (f/2.4) in good light. If you look at the lens while you’re tapping this icon, you can physically see the aperture blades opening and closing. Unlike with some other smartphones at the moment, there’s no option to shoot in raw format.
For Panorama mode, you need to sweep the phone across a scene to create an ultra-wide angle view of the scene. You can choose a standard panorama or a motion panorama - if the latter, you can view your panorama back as a video instead of just a still image.
|Front of the Samsung Galaxy S9|
As you might imagine, Food mode is intended for photographing food. Basically, it creates a radial blur effect, whereby the centre of the image is sharp, but the rest is blurred. You can also select various points across the frame, not just the centre, if you prefer.
The other three modes are Super Slow-Mo, which you can use to create super slow motion videos. You can set it to either “Multi Take”, whereby you can record multiple “moments” in one video, or “Single Take” where just a single “moment” is captured. AR Emoji allows you to create emojis of yourself, while Hyperlapse is a way to create a time-lapse video.
Whichever mode you’re shooting in, you’ll be able to click on a cog icon in the bottom left hand corner of the screen to change a variety of different settings. The settings which are available are different depending on which mode you’re working in. In the Pro mode, you’ll be able to change the Picture Size, Video Size, Turn on the Timer and so on.
|The Samsung Galaxy S9 In-hand|
In order to actually take a photo, you can use a virtual button via the app. Just next to this button, there’s another for video recording, and another to view your images in playback. If you’re using the camera app from the lock screen, you’ll only be able to view the images you’ve taken in your current “session”. You can also use the physical volume button to take a shot. By tapping the video record button, it will start recording video immediately. However, if you hold down the video record button, you’ll be able to frame up your shot, before releasing the button to start actually recording.
Along the bottom of the screen you’ll also find the icon you need to switch to shooting with the front facing camera. In selfie mode, you have four different options. There’s the standard Selfie mode, which you can apply Beauty mode to, if you like (or turn it off completely), there’s Selfie Focus, which you can use to create a shallow depth of field effect in your selfies, AR Emoji, and Wide Selfie, which you can use for group selfies to make sure you get everyone in the shot.