It's been almost six months since Apple announced its new flagship phone, the iPhone X. Today, at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Samsung fired back with its newest smartphones: The 5.8-inch Galaxy S9 and 6.2-inch S9+.
Those who own or saw the Galaxy S8 and S8+ won't notice major differences between those year-old models and their newer renditions — at least, not at a first glance. There's no major change to the edge-to-edge infinity display and you'll still find a headphone jack, as well as fingerprint sensors on the back of the phones.
Instead, the major updates for the S9 and S9+ are focused on the camera. This isn't a complete surprise, since, if there's one thing that can make or break an Instagram lover's phone choice, it's the picture quality. There are three new camera features Samsung is touting: Super slo-mo video, enhanced low light picture quality, and AR emoji.
Slo-mo videos shot with the S9 and S9+ can capture up to 960 frames per second, making a confetti toss or balloon pop look like a work of modern Instagram art. The videos, which are easy to record within the phone's camera app, have automatic motion detection, meaning the camera can sense movement and will begin recording without you needing to lift a finger. This is useful, but it could become frustrating: You have to ensure that the movement of whatever it is you're recording passes through a box in the middle of the frame in order for detection to occur, and the action to be captured in slow motion. Still, when the action is positioned just right, it's impressive, especially when coupled with one of the 35 available music choices.
Apple has made a solid effort to improve how the iPhone camera performs in low light conditions — capturing cocktails in a dimly lit bar or street signs at night — and Samsung looks to be doing so with the S9 and S9+, too. There is a new dual aperture lens as opposed to a fixed one, which Samsung says can detect darker conditions and adjust to let in more light. A side by side comparison of photos shot with the S8 and S9 shows less graininess and noise.
AR emoji are the one new camera feature that's a bit take it or leave it. These are similar to the iPhone X's Animoji, but look more similar to Bitmoji than they do actual emoji. To create an AR emoji, you'll start by taking a selfie. From there, the phone's machine learning algorithms map your facial feature to create a 3D animated model. You'll be able to create GIFs with it and record yourself speaking in character. It's playful, but not a must-have.
The cameras on the S9 and S9+ also offer a new way to unlock your phone, which Samsung is calling Intelligent Scan. This is a combination of iris scanning, which was offered on the S8 and S8+ and facial recognition technology like you'll find on the iPhone X.
Samsung's smart assistant, Bixby, is also getting a few new upgrades, including real-time image translation à la Google Translate. Simply hold your phone up to a sign in a foreign language and Bixby can decipher it and overlay the translation on top of the image.
The primary non-camera update is the sound. Both the S9 and S9+ feature Dolby Atmos surround sound which, from a first listen, is a significant improvement over the already impressive S8 and S8+. It will make streaming shows and watching YouTube videos from your phone all the more immersive.
Both the Galaxy S9 and S9+ come in three colors, lilac purple, midnight black, and coral blue, and will be available for pre-order online beginning March 2. Carriers — including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, as well as Best Buy, Amazon, Target, and Walmart — will have the two phones for sale starting March 16.
Samsung has not yet announced the prices for the S9 and S9+, but you can expect it to be in line with the S8 ($750) and S8+ ($850). For those who were turned off by the iPhone X's high price point, that's a big plus.