Samsung's Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus go variable-aperture

You have heard more than a few mutterings about the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Although the event proper only starts tomorrow, Samsung pulled a fast one and released its Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus handsets today with great pomp and circumstance. They look quite impressive, so let's examine them in great detail.

Samsung's presentation had an almost-unhealthy focus on the capabilities of the S9's camera, though with good reason. The snapper around the back is a dual-aperture unit that can work with an f/2.4 aperture on well-lit settings, and at f/1.5 in low-light situations. The camera automatically switches between both configurations, too. The bigger S9 Plus has a dual-camera setup with a main wide-angle lens with said variable aperture, along with a telephoto snapper.

That's not the end of the S9 camera's tricks, though. There's an on-package DRAM buffer that lets users take slo-mo shots up to a rather insane 960 FPS. Capturing video at that speed is limited to 0.2 seconds max that extend to around 6 seconds in normal-speed playback, but it's nevertheless a rather impressive feat. The company's demos during the presentation looked pretty awesome, if I may say so. To make it easier to grab actions shots, users can "prime" an area of the screen in order to automatically trigger the slo-mo capture when there's movement in it. Additionally, you can use your animated fancy action shot as a lock-screen background.

Samsung also took a few potshots at Apple. The presenters pointed out that there's no notch on the S9's "infinity display," and that there are both a fingerprint scanner and a 3.5-mm headphone jack on the phones' bodies. Speaking about audio, the S9 has support for Dolby Atmos and dual front-facing speakers that Samsung describes as the loudest yet on any Galaxy phone.

The Galaxy S9 does take a couple pages from Cupertino's playbook. Samsung is promoting an Intelligent Scan feature that seems to work in a manner similar to Apple's Face ID. The handset's face-scanning tech also powers the new AR Emoji that work by taking a photo of your face and making a 3D version of it. You can then create an emoji either by making actual facial expressions and movement, or by applying one of several pre-existing presets like celebration actions. Judging by the demo, the feature admittedly isn't as sleek or precise as Apple's version, but Samsung does say that these AR Emoji can be shared to "any phone" and to third-party applications like Facebook. If it's not clear by now, the Galaxy S9s support Google's ARCore API.

Samsung was coy about the S9 handsets' tech specs during its demo, but we have the folks at GSMArena to rely on. The displays on either handset have an 18.5:9 aspect ratio and a reported resolution of 2960x1440. That works out to 570 PPI on the 5.8" Galaxy S9 and 529 PPI on the 6.2" Galaxy S9 Plus. In the US, either handset is likely powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC that provides four Kryo 385 Gold CPU cores clocked at up to 2.7 GHz along with four Kryo 385 Silver units at up to 1.7 GHz. The chip contains an Adreno 630 GPU for powering all those pixels. The Europe and Middle-East versions of the handsets will seemingly use Samsung's own Exynos 9810 SoC with comparable characteristics to the Snapdragon 845.

RAM capacity is reportedly 4 GB for the regular S9, while the S9 Plus should have 6 GB at its disposal. Battery capacity also differs between both versions: the regular-sized handset ought to carry 3000 mAh worth of juice and its bigger brother packs a 3500-mAh battery. Finally, the Galaxy S9s offer water- and dust-resistance and "fast" wireless charging capability. Storage capacity is said to be 64 GB for the S9 and 128 GB for the S9 Plus. Samsung also touts the handsets' microSD slot, though according to GSMArena that's limited to the dual-SIM models.

There are additional software niceties, too. For starters, Samsung's Bixby assistant has a few improvements. For example, buyers can use the camera and translate text in the viewport in real time, and they can also see how many calories there are in the food they're about to eat. Samsung also improved notification handling. Users can open notifications in a top-most window so they can handle it without moving away from the app they were using. An additional feature that got a "frickin' finally!" reaction from me is that the home screen and its icons now respect the handset's horizontal orientation.

The Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus will arrive in four colors: black, grey, blue, and purple. The regular S9 goes for $719.99, and stepping up to the S9 Plus will set you back a cool $839.99. The company's rather generous with its trade-in program, though. Punters can hand in any smartphone for at least $50, and trading in a higher-end model in the Galaxy or iPhone lineup can get you up to $350 off the purchase price. Buyers can reserve a handset right away at Samsung's site, and preorders proper will start on March 2.


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