Galaxy S9 Plus vs. Galaxy S8 Plus: Battle of the galactic titans

MWC 2018 has seen the reveal of the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, and we’re incredibly excited to get our hands on the newest Plus version of Samsung’s flagship range. But taking a first look, you might be struck by the aesthetic similarities between the S9 Plus and the S8 Plus. Has Samsung pulled a fast one on us and launched the same phone twice?

Don’t worry, it hasn’t. Regardless, it’s definitely worth taking a close look at the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus to see whether it has managed to improve on its worthy predecessor. If you’re wondering whether to get Samsung’s latest or jump back a generation, or if you’re considering upgrading, this comparison will give you the info you need so you can be sure about where to invest your hard-earned dollars.

Specs

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus
galaxy s9 plus vs s8 samsung
Size 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm (6.22 x 2.91 x 0.33 inches) 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1 mm (6.28 x 2.89 x 0.32 inches)
Weight 189 grams (6.67 ounces) 173 grams (6.10 ounces)
Screen 6.2-inch AMOLED display 6.2-inch AMOLED display
Resolution 2,960 x 1,440 pixels (529ppi) 2,960 x 1,440 pixels (529ppi)
OS Android 8.0 Oreo Android 7.0 Nougat (update to Android 8.0 Oreo coming)
Storage 64GB 64GB (4GB model), 128GB (6GB model)
MicroSD card slot Yes Yes
NFC support Yes Yes
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM 6GB 6GB (64GB model), 6GB (128GB model)
Connectivity GSM, HSPA, LTE, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac GSM, HSPA, LTE, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Camera Dual 12MP rear, 8MP front 12MP rear, 8MP front
Video 2160p @ 60 fps, 1080p @ 240 fps, 720p @ 960 fps, HDR, dual-video rec. 2160p @ 30 fps, 1080p @ 60 fps, 720p @ 240 fps, HDR, dual-video rec.
Bluetooth Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0
Audio Headphone jack, stereo speakers Headphone jack, bottom-firing speaker
Fingerprint sensor Yes, rear-mounted Yes, rear-mounted
Other sensors Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer, heart rate, SpO2 Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer, heart rate, SpO2
Water resistant IP68-rated IP68-rated
Battery 3,500mAh

Fast charging

Qi wireless charging

3,500mAh

Fast charging

Qi wireless charging

Charging port USB-C USB-C
Marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Colors Midnight Black, Coral Blue, Lilac Purple Midnight Black, Coral Blue, Lilac Purple
Availability Samsung Samsung, Amazon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon
Price $840 $825
DT review Hands-on review 4 out of 5 stars

Last year saw some huge changes to the design of the Galaxy brand, with the major bezel-less redesign of the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus leading the charge for a whole new generation of gorgeous, bezel-free phones with huge displays and tiny footprints — so it’s fair to say that Samsung’s design team has earned something of a break this year. It’s clear from looking at the specifications that Samsung was focused less on redesigning the Galaxy range, and more on improving the formula it already had in place.

Samsung has reduced the choice you’ll face as a prospective buyer though — whereas the S8 Plus came in two different models, the S9 Plus only has a single variety, with Samsung removing the option for 128GB of internal storage space. With the addition of a MicroSD card to add up to 400GB of space on either phone, it may not be significant for many, but we still see the lack of an option for more storage as a missed opportunity. Still, it’s nice to see 6GB of RAM becoming the standard on the Plus version — an S8 Plus with 4GB of RAM just felt lacking. Both phones have the latest Bluetooth 5.0 for super-strong connections and new features, and both have a headphone jack.

It’s only once you get to the processing chip that there’s a major difference between the two phones. The S8 Plus is equipped with the Snapdragon 835 we saw in most 2017 flagship phones, while the S9 Plus is one of the first major flagships to use Qualcomm’s brand new Snapdragon 845. We’re yet to fully test out the differences between the two chips, but the initial results from Qualcomm’s testing show that the 845 outstrips the older 835 fairly substantially, with Qualcomm’s test unit beating Google’s Pixel 2 XL in benchmarks.

What does this mean in real terms? Benchmarks are only part of the story when it comes to finding out how fast a phone is in real life, and we’ll have to wait until more rigorous testing has been done before we can give you a real answer. It seems pretty clear, however, that the S9 Plus is going to be the faster and more powerful of the two phones, even if that difference may only be minimal in real terms.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

Design and display

lg v30 vs. galaxy s8 plus
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Put these two phones down face-up and you’re going to be hard pressed to tell the difference. There’s a very slight difference between them in dimensions, and the S9 Plus weighs in only slightly heavier than its predecessor, but the differences are small. The screens are much the same — both the S9 Plus and S8 Plus are equipped with 6.2-inch AMOLED screens displaying 2,960 x 1,440-pixel resolutions. Since these are both AMOLED screens, they’re neck and neck in terms of color vibrancy, and they both display deep, inky blacks. They’re stunning screens, and it’s hard to pick one over the other.

In terms of design you’re still seeing many similarities. The fronts of both phones are dominated by the massive displays, and the slim bezels are almost nonexistent, with the displays extending around the sides of each, with only a slim forehead and chin on each device. They both have a glass-over-metal design, the soft curves feel great in the hand, and the glass adds a reassuring weight that adds to the premium feel. In terms of durability, glass isn’t the best material for taking a blow, so we’d recommend a case for each. But they both have IP68 water resistance ratings, so they should survive a trip into the bath, or down the toilet. One invisible difference is the inclusion of stereo speakers on the S9 Plus. The earpiece partners with the bottom-firing speaker to produce sound that’s been tuned by AKG, and works with Dolby Atmos too.

For all their similarities around the front, flip the two phones over and you’ll see marked differences. The S9 Plus has a vertically stacked dual-lens camera system, contrasting heavily with the single lens on the S8 Plus. The fingerprint sensor has also been moved below the camera lenses, a massive improvement on its previous position next to the camera lens, which fumbling fingers would often brush while trying to unlock via fingerprint. Moving it below the camera lenses fixes one of our major issues with the S8 Plus.

There’s not much to differentiate between the two phones when it comes down to the displays or designs — but the differences that do exist are important, and they’re testament to Samsung’s drive to fixing the issues that people had with the S8 Plus. The new positioning of the fingerprint sensor and the stereo speakers are fantastic tweaks to an already great formula, and they win the S9 Plus this round.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

Camera

galaxy s9 hands-on review photo slow-mo
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Peek at the Galaxy S8 Plus’s camera and you’ll find a good little camera suite. A dual-sensor 12-megapixel lens on the back is joined by an 8-megapixel lens around the front of the phone, and they both take good shots — though they can sometimes struggle with taking pictures in low-light situations.

While the camera on the S8 Plus was good when the phone first launched, it was rapidly outmatched throughout the course of 2017, as manufacturers continued to one-up each other in the suddenly competitive space for smartphone photography. It’s fair to say that Samsung found itself with something to prove — a process it started with the introduction of the dual-lens system in the Note 8, and continues with the new dual-cameras on the S9 Plus.

The rear of the S9 Plus houses two 12-megapixel lenses, one wide-angle with a variable aperture of f/1.5 and f/2.4, and the other lens a telephoto with an aperture of f/2.4. The aperture of f/1.5 on the wide-angle lens is the largest ever seen on a mobile device, according to Samsung, and it should boost the S9 Plus’s capabilities at capturing scenes with low-lighting. The phone is also the world’s first to come with a mechanically changing aperture — the S9 Plus will switch between the f/1.5 and f/2.4 aperture when needed, ensuring you’ll always get the best shots.

The S9 Plus’s video capabilities have also been boosted. The S9 Plus can record video at a super-slow-motion framerate of 960 fps, compared to the 240 fps on the S8 Plus, and Samsung’s latest phablet also includes AR emojis that mimic your facial movements, tied into the selfie camera. It’s a fun little gimmick, and thanks to an upcoming partnership with the House of Mouse, S9 Plus users will be able to impersonate Disney characters soon as well.

Unlike some of the other categories, the differences here are night-and-day. Samsung has done a tremendous job upgrading the S9 Plus’s cameras, and it really shows. With the AR emojis, super-slow-motion, and new dual cameras, the Galaxy S9 Plus takes this home with few issues.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

Battery life and charging

Galaxy S8 Plus
Galaxy S8 Plus Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

In contrast to the camera, there’s very little difference here. Both the S9 Plus and S8 Plus have the same sizeable 3,500mAh battery. In our tests with the S8 Plus we saw it comfortably last the day, and we expect to see the same performance from the S9 Plus — if not a little more, thanks to optimizations made to the Snapdragon 845. Still, we can’t say those would be enough to tip the scale in the S9 Plus’s favor. It’s all equal in the other stakes as well — both devices have QuickCharge 2.0 and wireless charging, so users don’t have to worry too much about being tethered to charging points all the time.

There’s nothing between the two devices here, and while we expect the S9 Plus to perform slightly better in our tests, we don’t expect it to be anything major. It’s a draw.

Winner: Tie

Software

galaxy s9 hands-on review front bottom
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Samsung’s smartphones have generally run on a Samsung-tweaked version of Android, and these two flagships are no exception. Both run the Samsung Experience laid over Android, and despite a dark past as TouchWiz, Samsung has gradually built its version of Android into something it can be proud of.

The Samsung S9 Plus runs the latest version of Android 8.0 Oreo, with the latest Samsung Experience 9.0 laid over the top of it — and while the S8 Plus is guaranteed to receive an update that also takes it up to the latest version of Android, the Oreo update on the S8 range recently stalled amid some troubles.

Still, even without the delays it’s likely that the latest addition to the Galaxy lineup would have taken the day anyway. While both phones are neck and neck with support for Google Daydream, Samsung’s Gear VR, and — of course — the Dex Station and Dex Pad, there’s a handful of features that the S9 Plus has that haven’t been confirmed for the S8 Plus. The AR emoji, for instance, while gimmicky, are a fun addition — so too are the improvements to Bixby, which may yet see a rebirth as a feature that people actually use. While we expect these features will eventually reach the S8 Plus, it’s not guaranteed. The S9 Plus takes this.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

Price and availability

samsung galaxy s8 plus vs google pixel xl photos 163
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus is currently available, and prices start at $825 for the base 64GB storage and 4GB of RAM model. Being one of Samsung’s flagships, it’s available on pretty much every U.S. carrier as well, with decent deals on the handset being offered now the S9 has been announced. As you might expect, the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus sits in a similar position, with the phone expecting to be offered on most U.S. carriers. Pre-orders for the S9 Plus begin on March 2, with the first shipments expected to go out March 16 — grabbing one unlocked will set you back around $840.

The choice between these two essentially comes down to the deals you can find. The price difference won’t be as clear cut as between the S9 and S8 — the S9 Plus has that whole extra camera lens going for it after all — but if you can find a deal that gets you a Galaxy S8 Plus for significantly less than the Galaxy S9 Plus, then you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank. Otherwise, the S9 Plus is simply the stronger phone for the same money. The phones are just that close in features, and the few minor additions and refinements that Samsung has made to its winning formula don’t justify paying a lot more for the S9 Plus.

There are too many variables here, and it all comes down to the value of the S8 Plus. This has to be a tie.

Winner: Tie

Overall winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

galaxy s9 Plus hands-on review back full
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The king is dead; long live the king. Samsung’s been barely able to put a foot wrong these past few years (with a few Note-worthy exceptions), and the Korean giant wasn’t about to trip up while crafting an improved version of its 2017 hit. The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is simply a better version of the S8 Plus that we saw last year — and considering how good the S8 Plus is, that’s heady praise.

If you can get a hold of the S8 Plus for less than the S9 Plus, you’re likely to net yourself a bargain. Though the changes are good, they’re mostly quality-of-life improvements, and outside of the improvements to the camera, they’re mostly improvements that you’re unlikely to notice after getting used to your device — which is most of the reason why you won’t need to worry about upgrading if you already have an S8 Plus. Still, for the same money, the Galaxy S9 Plus is undoubtedly the stronger device, and the one you should be getting.

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