48 hours with the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus: here’s what we think so far

You won’t be able to experience the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus until March 16, but we’ve gotten two days of perspective using the new Plus-sized Android phone while at MWC 2018.

It’s literally and figuratively the biggest smartphone here in Barcelona, with an expansive 6.2-inch display and elegantly curved edges that spill over the sides. And unlike other all-screen phones we’re seeing pop up at MWC this year, it doesn’t have that iPhone X-like notch at the top.

We haven’t been able to stress-test the Galaxy S8 Plus in the first two days of use for a proper full review, but can give you insight into it with first impressions. 

Here’s what we’ve found out about the phone in the first 48 hours.

Low-light camera performance captures Barcelona

The Galaxy S9 Plus would be nothing more than an iterative update if it weren’t for the new camera. Its f/1.5 aperture soaks in more light to properly capture dimly lit scenes, and there are plenty of those at MWC 2018 especially staying in the heart of Las Ramblas.

We were able to capture both the rainy (and sometimes snowy) city and the moody conference parties at night thanks to Samsung’s impressive low-light photo capabilities. There was some unavoidable motion blur whenever our subjects were moving and the f/1.5 aperture setting was enabled, but we’ve experienced that with just about every phone in the past. Even so, this one has properly lit pictures when it happens.

We’ll continue to update this piece as we experience more and snap additional pictures with the Galaxy S9 Plus in the lead up to our full review, where we’ll match it up against the Pixel 2 – the phone camera to beat.

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The big screen takes you places

This is the standout feature of the Galaxy S9 Plus vs the regular S9. It’s really difficult to imagine needing a bigger screen until you use one and then try to go back to a smaller phone. You begin to appreciate seeing two to three news posts or Facebook updates at once vs having to scroll a bunch to take them in.

Seeing Google Maps on a 6.2-inch screen in a foreign country is an incredible convenience. The metro system in Barcelona involves connections to go from Las Ramblas to the MWC venue, so having the directions stretch across the screen led us to where we wanted to go more easily. We did find, at times, that touching the sides of the edge display sent our phone to a wayward menu or deleted text from a message (that backspace button is right on the edge). Wrapping your hands around Samsung’s sensitive all-screen phone can be cumbersome.

Bixby Vision live translation in a foreign country

Bixby Vision’s live translation feature is another helpful traveling tool available on the S9 and S9 Plus. Open the camera and go to Bixby Vision (or go to the Bixby Vision home screen shortcut) and you can instantly translate foreign language words into your native tongue. There’s no need to snap a photo, either.

This didn’t solve our monolingual woes, but it did spit out some Spanish words in English on tapas menus and water bottle ingredients (fact: there’s a lot of H2O in there). The big screen helps take in large-width menus (so you can hold the camera further away from the menu and still make out the translated text). Google Translate, which powers Bixby Vision’s live translation,  is good, but not perfect.

The fingerprint sensor is better, but so are the other biometrics

The Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus put the fingerprint sensor in the right place: on the back of the phone in the center, not offset to the side of the rear camera like on the S8, S8 Plus and Note 8. Samsung fixed this issue.

Only, we found ourselves relying on Intelligent Scan, which is a combination of Face Unlock and the iris scanner. The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is so big (and, truthfully, the fingerprint sensor is kind of small compared to other Android phones), that Intelligent Scan ends up being more convenient. Face Unlock may be less secure than Apple’s Face ID, but the convenience of it is hard to pass up.

Super slow motion video is a ton of fun

It’s hard to know what to film when you first boot up the Galaxy S9 Plus camera and slide over to the new ‘super slo motion’ video mode. It’s a bit intimidating. But once you’ve captured something worthy of 960 frames per second, the playback is worth the effort.

Samsung’s MWC booth provided wigs and an air machine to test out the super slow motion on the S9, and the results were predictably fantastic – even at 720p. The lower resolution is fine on a small phone screen, so playback won’t look quite as good on a pixel-stretching big-screen television, but Samsung finally catches up to what Sony phones can do at 960fps. Even better, the S9 and S9 Plus can detect motion to automatically trigger the shutter button.

Fast charging is a (battery) life saver

We haven’t had enough time to fully test out the Galaxy S9 battery and its 3,500mAh capacity, but we can tell you that is charges very quickly thanks to Samsung’s fast charging technology. It also has fast wireless charging to boot.

This is a big deal when you’re traveling and need to top off your phone before sprinting to the next MWC meeting. If you’re upgrading from an older phone, you’re going to like this feature.

More testing to be done

The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is as complex as it is big, so we have more testing to do on it before we give it a full review. However, using it as our primary smartphone during MWC 2018 gave us insight into its camera, Bixby, and biometric powers.

We’ll continue to test the phone, but for more, check out our Galaxy S9 hands on and Galaxy S9 Plus hands on.

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