Galaxy S9 vs. Galaxy S8: Has Samsung improved on its best device?

The Samsung Galaxy S9 is official, and it’s clear that Samsung’s flagship range is bigger, badder, and cooler than ever. But how does Samsung’s latest stand up against the last generation? Specifically, how does the Galaxy S9 improve on the high standard set by the Galaxy S8?

With the launch of the S9, you can bet that there will be some discounts on the previous S8 generation — so if you’re looking to upgrade, is it worth paying the extra cash for the latest, or is the S8 still a viable choice? Perhaps you have an S8, and you’re considering updating to the latest model — is it worth your hard-earned money?

We took a look at the two phones and pitted them head-to-head in a true battle of titans to see which reigns triumphant.

Specs

Samsung Galaxy S9
samsung galaxy s9 vs s8 r3
Samsung Galaxy S8

samsung galaxy s9 vs s8

Size 147.6 x 68.7 x 8.4 mm (5.81 x 2.70 x 0.33 in) 148.9 x 68.1 x 8 mm (5.86 x 2.68 x 0.31 in)
Weight 163 grams (5.75 ounces) 155 grams (5.47 ounces)
Screen 5.8-inch AMOLED display 5.8-inch AMOLED display
Resolution 2960 x 1440 pixels (568ppi) 2960 x 1440 pixels (570ppi)
OS Android 8.0 Oreo Android 7.0 Nougat (Android 8.0 Oreo update on the way)
Storage 64GB 64GB
MicroSD card slot Yes Yes
NFC support Yes Yes
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM 4GB 4GB
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 12MP rear, 8MP front 12MP rear, 8MP front
Video 2160p@60fps, 1080p@240fps, 720p@960fps, HDR 2160p@30fps, 1080p@60fps, 720p@240fps, HDR
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 resistance IP68-rated IP68-rated
Battery 3,000mAh

Fast charging

Qi wireless charging

3,000mAh

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, Orchid Gray, Arctic Silver, Coral Blue, Maple Gold, Rose Pink, Burgundy Red
Availability Samsung, Best Buy, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon Samsung, Amazon, Best Buy, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint
Price $720 $760
DT review Hands-on review 4 out of 5 stars

Curiously, for an upgrade, there’s not actually all that much difference between the two Galaxy models. Both the S9 and S8 come with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage. You can expand that amount on both models with a MicroSD card, so you’re unlikely to run out of space on either handset. You’ll find Bluetooth 5.0 on both handsets, too, with both devices taking full advantage of the advanced strength and features.

The processor is one area where we see real improvements. While the Snapdragon 835 powering the Galaxy S8 is still a powerful chip, the initial results from the Snapdragon 845 benchmarks are in, and it’s clear that Qualcomm’s latest chip is capable of far more than the last generation. In real terms, you’re unlikely to notice a difference day-to-day, but the boosted power will be evident over time as apps grow to take advantage of the increased power in the chip.

So much is even between these two handsets that the smallest difference can spell victory for one side or the other. The Snapdragon 845 isn’t a small difference, it’s a massive one, and it alone powers the Samsung Galaxy S9 to the win in this first round.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9

Design and display

galaxy note 8 vs. galaxy note 7 software

The Galaxy S8 was one of the 2017’s most beautiful phones, and a radical change from the design of the Galaxy S7. So it makes sense that Samsung decided to let the design team take a year off, and took a good look at refining the S8’s great design, rather than starting from scratch. If you liked the Galaxy S8’s design, then you’re going to like the S9, since they’re basically identical. You’re looking at the same general shape, with thin bezels at the top and bottom of the screen, and a display that folds around the sides of the phone. Both handsets are clad in glass laid over a metal frame, and it results in a design that’s as beautiful as it is stylish.

That similarity extends to the displays. They’re both 5.8-inch AMOLED displays running 2,960 x 1,440-pixel resolutions, and they’re clear, crisp, and capable of showing the vivid colors that only AMOLED screens can. In terms of durability, you guessed it — the S9 will be much the same as the S8, with the IP68-rating returning, and the durability of the glass body being … well, a case is a really good idea.

It’s only when you flip the phones over that you see any real difference at all. Samsung has listened to the many, many complaints about the placement of the fingerprint sensor and moved it. It was one of our only real complaints with the S8, and with Bixby having been similarly toned down, it’s clear that moving the sensor underneath the camera is a good thing. Another big win for the S9 is the inclusion of stereo speakers, with the earpiece at the top of the phone pairing with the bottom-firing speaker to produce much better sound than the S8. The speakers have also been tuned by AKG to be louder, and they work with Dolby Atmos for some truly amazing sound.

Much like the specifications, there’s so much here that’s still the same — so it’s really obvious when even a couple of good changes have been made. The fingerprint sensor’s new position and the stereo speakers win the Galaxy S9 this round.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9

Camera

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

Of all the elements that the Galaxy S8 did right, nothing got old like the camera did. Samsung made few changes to the camera in the S8, relying on the proven quality of the S7’s camera suite, and while that paid off initially, the S8’s cameras quickly got lost behind a whole host of phones with superior cameras, such as the iPhone 8 Plus, the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, and Samsung stablemate the Note 8.

That’s not to say that S8 has a poor camera — nothing could be further from the truth. The S8’s main shooter is a 12-megapixel (MP) camera with an aperture of f/1.7, which makes it a respectable performer in a variety of different lighting types. It’s just nothing particularly special in this day and age. The 8-megapixel selfie camera around the front is slightly more interesting, not least because of Samsung’s array of Snapchat-style filters and effects to apply to friends and family.

Samsung seems to have realized it has something to prove, and tagged the S9’s reveal with the tagline: “The Camera. Reimagined.” It’s clear Samsung has focused hard on the cameras in the S9, and it shows. While the specifications may look similar — with a 12-megapixel lens on the back and an 8-megapixel lens around the front — there’s been a marked change in the underlying tech. The S9’s main camera features a variable aperture, which can switch between a massive f/1.5, which should make the S9 stronger in the low-light conditions, and f/2.4 for when lighting is good.

There’s been an improvement to the slow-motion capturing tech, too. Where the S8 could shoot at 260fps, the S9 can now shoot super-slow-motion video at an incredible 960fps. There’s also AR emoji software included in the S9’s camera, so users can turn themselves into emoji that mimic their facial movements — and that will soon also include Disney characters, thanks to a partnership with the House of Mouse.

There’s no contest here. While the S8’s camera continues to be strong, it’s been steadily outclassed by other competitors — and that now includes the Galaxy S9. The larger aperture (the largest in the world in a smartphone), the super-slow-motion video, and the AR emojis take the camera category for the Galaxy S9.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9

Battery life and charging

galaxy s8 tips and tricks
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

If you’re looking at pure battery capacity, then you’re not likely to see much of a change between the S8 and S9. Both devices are rocking the same 3,000mAh battery, which should easily see you through the day with moderate use. Both devices also come with wireless charging and QuickCharge 2.0 that should ensure you aren’t spending too much time tethered to a charger when you do finally need to recharge your battery.

There’s no difference between the two devices here. This has to be a draw.

Winner: Tie

Software

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

Since both devices are Samsung-built, it’s no surprise at all that both devices are running on Samsung’s Samsung Experience over Android. Samsung may have been hoping that the S8’s Oreo rollout would be complete by the time that the S9 was announced, but since the rollout ran into issues with unexpected shutdowns, that may not be the case. So while the Galaxy S9 will be running on Android 8.0 Oreo, for the moment, the S8 is stuck with Android 7.0 Nougat.

Still, the Galaxy S8 will be receiving an update to Android 8.0 Oreo, so it seems unfair to penalize the phone for that shortcoming right now. Regardless of the version of Android, the Galaxy S9 still has the edge over its stablemate. While both have Samsung’s unique and fun features like Edge Panel, the Galaxy S9 will have features like the animated AR emojis mentioned in the camera section, as well as some key changes to Bixby, chief of which is the much-improved camera function. While we expect some of these functions to come to the S8 in time, that’s certainly not guaranteed, and it gives the S9 the edge.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9

Price and availability

galaxy s8 tips and tricksJulian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Samsung Galaxy S8 is currently available from a wide range of carriers and shops, and with the impending release of the Galaxy S9, you might expect to see some significant discounts on it soon. Since it’s a major flagship device, you’ll find a version that works with every major U.S. carrier. The range of colors is also similarly impressive, with several new colors having debuted in the months following its initial release.

Pre-orders for the the Galaxy S9 will begin on March 2, with the phone releasing on March 16, with prices starting from $720. A few carriers have already announced their monthly deals for the Galaxy S9, and you can find full details on where and how to get your hands on Samsung’s latest and greatest in our full buyers’ guide.

While the Galaxy S9 is arguably Samsung’s best phone to date, our comparison has made is pretty clear that the S9 is very similar to the S8 in a lot of ways, with most of the changes being improvements to an already winning formula. If there’s a significant discount that takes the Galaxy S8 a few hundred less than the Galaxy S9, than that phone is going to be one heck of a deal. If not, then the S9 is a better deal at the same price point. This is a tie.

Winner: Tie

Overall winner: Samsung Galaxy S9

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

It would have been a terrible outcome if the brand-new Samsung Galaxy S9 had been bested by its older stablemate. But although the Galaxy S9 won almost every category, the Galaxy S8 isn’t far behind. This became a tricky piece to write because, well, there’s so much that’s shared between the two models. When the S9 does deviate from the S8’s formula, it’s simply a refinement to the otherwise stunning phone that the Galaxy S8 is. Sure, the Galaxy S9 has the new hotness in the Snapdragon 845, and has removed one of the biggest gripes with the S8 by moving the fingerprint sensor, but it’s all extra polish to an otherwise stunning piece of tech.

The Galaxy S9 has the potential to be one of the best phones in the world right now; it’s powerful, the camera is incredible, and it has a design to die for. If money is no object, then there’s only one answer for you. But if you can snag a discount on the S8, there’s no shame in deciding to save some pennies with the Galaxy S8. You’re not getting a lesser experience, thanks to the S8 having so many of the same amazing features and gorgeous design you see in the Galaxy S9.

If you’re already using the Galaxy S8, then you shouldn’t feel pressured into updating. Your S8 already has a lot of what makes the S9 fantastic, you’re probably already used to the fingerprint sensor’s odd location, and it’s easy to live without the upgraded camera. But the Samsung Galaxy S9 is still the superior phone, simply by taking what the S8 did so well, and doing it better.