Samsung Galaxy S9 Review: Brilliant but underwhelming

Brilliant but underwhelming



For any creator serious about his craft, the end goal is the same — to create the best version of a product possible. You achieve this through innovation and experimentation, in rinse and repeat cycles until something great is created.

But then what happens next?

It’s a predicament shared by many of the best technology brands in the biz, and one that Samsung finds itself in this year. Its new Galaxy S9 smartphone, while better on the inside, is the same on the outside. And while that is only part of the story told, it is the narrative by which many a reviewer will tell the story of Samsung’s new flagship.    

Depending on who’s looking, the Galaxy S9’s recycled design can be seen any of two ways: either that it lacks the freshness that phones are so often measured by each year, or that Samsung has achieved the pinnacle of smartphone design and that the best way forward is to keep things as is.

The Galaxy S9 shimmers in Lilac Purple / Photo by Michael Josh

I agree more with the latter, at least when it comes to looks. Two years in and the S9 is still the most beautiful smartphone on the planet. Its curved Infinity Display and all-glass build are hard to match. And now with colors ranging from coral blue to lilac purple, it’s hard not to fall in love with one at first sight.      

But are looks enough? Does the Samsung Galaxy S9 have enough new features to back up its good looks? Is it the best Android smartphone ever made? And should you go out and buy it?  

But first, more answers to your most important S9-related questions.

Is dual aperture a gimmick?

Samsung claims it’s reimagined the smartphone camera on the S9. While that might be more marketing than fact, it’s dual aperture camera is an unprecedented engineering feat.

No Android smartphone thus far has had the ability to change the aperture on a single lens. On the S9, you can switch between f/1.5 and f/2.4. But why would you want that?

The Galaxy S9 has a unique variable aperture camera

A large aperture gives your photos that creamy background blur when shooting up close, but more importantly helps you take brighter, better photos in low light.

The S9’s f/1.5 is the highest aperture we’ve seen on a smartphone and significantly improves night shots. In fact photos we took at night using the S9 looked brighter than what the scene actually looked like in real life.

Why then would you need to switch to f/2.4?

The higher aperture, the bigger the depth of field. Sometimes details get too soft especially around subjects and sometimes you just want more details in focus; that’s where the smaller f/2.4 comes in.

The Galaxy S9 picks the best aperture depending on how much available light / Photo by Michael Josh

To be honest, the average user should not have to worry about any of this, and Samsung doesn’t think so either, so it’s making these adjustments in the background. With the goal being, you getting better photos regardless of the shooting situation.

For more advanced users wanting more control, there is Pro Mode that lets you manually switch between the two among a host of other camera settings.

Does the Galaxy S9 take better photos versus X?

DxOMark, an independent body that rates cameras, recently gave the S9+ its highest overall score and highest photo score. While the results of its test are debatable, it’s oftentimes a good benchmark to see how a smartphone fares in the camera space.

We will need more time to conduct an in-depth head-to-head test of our own, but based on some preliminary comparison photos versus the Pixel 2 and against the iPhone X shot during the day, deciding on which smartphone takes the best photos will boil down to a matter of taste or how technically meticulous you are.      

It’s in low light, however, that the Galaxy S9 shines, it is hands down the best low-light camera smartphone you can buy today.

Should I get the S9+ for the second camera?

The S9 comes in two sizes: 5.8 and 6.2 inches — the S9 and S9+ respectively.

If you get the bigger S9+, you not only get more memory (6GB vs 4GB), a bigger battery (3500mAh vs 3000mAh), and a larger screen. You also get two rear cameras.

The Galaxy S9+ has two rear cameras / Photo by Chay Lazaro

This second camera is a 2x zoom lens, a great thing to have if you like getting in closer on subjects without sacrificing the quality of your photos.

The second camera also enables a feature called Live Focus which we’ve also seen on the Note 8 and the A8 (2018) series. It’s a must-have feature on any top-of-the-line smartphone, giving your portraits a nice blurred background. Unique to Samsung’s implementation is the ability to adjust the amount of blur while taking the photo and after, and if you decide you like the non-portrait, wide-angle version better, the S9 also keeps a copy for you.   

These two features justify the US$ 120 premium of the S9+. If you’re torn between the two, it is the model I recommend.

Selective Focus on the S9 isn’t very reliable

It’s worth pointing out that on the S9, you can still blur out backgrounds using a software feature called Selective Focus, but it’s just not as good at cutting out subjects from their background.

Art Bokeh on the Galaxy S9+ / Photo by Joshua Vergara

Speaking of, if you’re really serious about background blur, Samsung added a new feature on the S9+ called Art Bokeh. If the conditions are right, when you go in and adjust Background Blur on a Live Focus image, you’ll get a bunch of shape options to choose from. You can get bokeh in the shape of stars or hearts as shown in the image above.

Super slow-mo 960fps, so what?

To better appreciate the next two features, you have to understand Samsung’s target demographic, a generation of creators who have an affinity for sharing and expression.   

If you like creating shareable videos, GIFs, and Boomerangs, you might like Samsung new super slow-mo feature. On the S9, you are able to slow down time more than ever before on a Galaxy smartphone.

To capture the best super slow-mos, you need plenty of light. The sample below was shot inside a controlled environment with plenty of available light.

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium was the first to get this feature, one whole year ago. Slow-mos shot on both phones are rather similar in terms of quality, with the S9’s slow-mos a tad bit warmer.  

On the S9 though, it’s easier to operate. Auto Mode detects motion and starts capturing once it senses movement. This way you get the shot each time.

But Auto Mode works best when you can control what you’re shooting. Out in the real world, you’re best using manual capture; you’ll need plenty of practice to get your timing right.

Finally, when you shoot super slow-mo video, the S9 adds background music automatically so you can instantly share your creations to Facebook or Instagram. You can go in and edit the track or just remove it entirely.

Not Animojis

When the iPhone X launched last year, one of its more quirky features was Animojis, basically the ability to animate nine popular emoji using the phone’s face tracking features.

The iPhone X has True Depth sensors that can match muscle movements on your face so your Animoji basically does as you do. Samsung hoped to do one better on the S9 with a similar feature called AR Emoji. Unfortunately, we didn’t enjoy it as much.

While we like the ability to personalize and create characters after our own likeness, we feel more often than not, AR Emoji characters don’t look like the selfies they are based on.

But more bothersome is the fact that AR Emoji don’t track as well. They especially struggle when trying to match speech. So nope, AR Emoji Karaoke is out of the question.  

Send animated stickers featuring your own emoji

We do like the personalized animated stickers, though. They are cool, and we like how you can use them across any or all of your favorite chat apps. They are accessible by pressing the sticker icon on your default Samsung keyboard, and are also saved as GIFs in your Gallery app.

Stereo speakers

Audio has just gotten better on the S9.

If you’re like me and watch a lot of videos or play games without headphones, you’ll like the new stereo speaker setup on the S9. Sound comes out of the earpiece up front, and the speaker grilles on the phone’s bottom. The sound is louder and more pronounced.  

The S9 also now supports Dolby Atmos, so you get surround sound-like audio when listening to content that supports it. Last year, Netflix announced support for Atmos with titles like Okja and Snowpiercer, but it doesn’t quite seem to work on the S9 yet.

Hello Bixby

Like Apple and Google, Samsung has its own personal assistant, Bixby.

And to show you its committed to Bixby, the S9 retains the S8’s dedicated Bixby button. If it’s not your cup of tea, you can deactivate the button completely, but you cannot remap it as a shortcut to other apps or commands. That would have been a killer feature.

Samsung promises Bixby 2.0 will come next August or September when it unveils the Note 9. For now, it remains underdeveloped.

Bixby Vision can estimate how many calories are in the meal you’re about to have

Sure, Bixby can do new things, like live translation when ordering food overseas. And when your meal arrives, you can also have Bixby give you an estimate of how many calories you’re about to consume. Cool tricks, but they do not replace a good old personal assistant.

In the interim, I suggest you use Google Assistant; it’s accessible via the usual voice command, “Okay Google.”

Improved biometrics

One way to recognize the S9 from an S8 is to turn the phone around and look at the position of its fingerprint sensor. Proving that it listens to user feedback, Samsung has graciously located it to underneath the camera instead of beside it.

It’s in a much better place, but unfortunately it’s still too close to the camera, and part of one single unit, instead of being separate. In my week or so of use, I’ve often brushed my S9 camera’s lens while trying to unlock my phone.  

Intelligent Scan on the Galaxy S9 combines facial recognition and iris scanning / Photo by Michael Josh

It’s kinda a big deal for me as the fingerprint sensor is still my default way of unlocking the phone. It’s just quicker, snappier, and more reliable even if Samsung has beefed up its “Intelligent Scan” by integrating its facial recognition and iris scanner.

Price jump

A smartphone’s price tag is as important as any new feature. And when it comes to determining the S9’s value, it’s important to take a look at how much the S9 costs around the globe.

Prices of the S9 went up everywhere except the US / Photo by Michael Josh

Here’s the thing: In the US, the S9 and S9+ cost as much as the S8 and the S8+ when they launched. But across the globe, prices increased by 5 to 15 percent.

Do all these features justify the price increase? No.

But having said that, when compared to the iPhone X, the S9+ is still more affordable, so there’s that. Depending on where you are in the world, the S9 and S9+ might not be the best value for money phone. But they are at least pretty competitive in the upper end of the price spectrum.

Is the Galaxy S9 your GadgetMatch?

If you’re looking for the best Android smartphones available today, the S9 and S9+ are a match. The S9+ especially is one the best Android phones in the market today.

Both models are deserving of the GadgetMatch Seal of Approval.

The Galaxy S9 is a pleasure to use / Photo by Michael Josh

Apart from an excellent camera and great looks, you’ll like the S9’s creator-focused features, loud stereo speakers, water resistance, and headphone jack. On the flip side, Bixby is still not ready, AR Emoji is unpolished, and battery life could be better.

The S9 and S9+ are not intended for S8 and S8+ users. If you own an S8, skip this upgrade and wait for next year.

Although, S7 and S7 Edge users might want to strongly consider this upgrade, especially if their contract is up for renewal. US carriers in particular are offering plenty of perks for those pre-ordering the phone.

For the more price conscious though, also consider not-so-premium phones from brands that may not sound as sexy as Samsung or Apple but offer all of these high-end specs at a lower, more reachable price point.

Following years of iteration, Samsung finally nailed it / Photo by Michael Josh

Following many years of iterating, Samsung seems to have nailed it. While in some ways the S9 is almost predictable, its purely iterative step-up also speaks to Samsung’s ability to make great phones. As a fan of innovation though, I want to see more, an under display fingerprint sensor maybe, better battery tech, and ways to leverage artificial intelligence to make their phones better. AI is the future, and it would be interesting to see glimpses of how Samsung plans to ensure their smartphone remains at the center of this computing revolution.

MWC 2018

Samsung Galaxy S9 Review

Are these new features worth the price increase?



In our Samsung Galaxy S9 Review video, we hope to answer questions you may have to help you make an informed decision before buying the phone.

Is Dual Aperture a gimmick? How good is the S9’s camera? S9 or S9+? Is it even worth it?

SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy S9 Hands-On: AR Emoji and super slow-mo

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Her GadgetMatch

Samsung Galaxy S9: An honest review of AR Emoji and more

Find a phone that gives you both



The Galaxy S9 is here and as the excitement over AR Emoji settles, I ask the questions: Is Samsung’s latest flagship worth it? What can AR Emoji do? Does camera performance justify this new release?

If you’re not so techie, like me, and you’re thinking of getting this new phone, read on. I try out all the key features and answer all those questions (and play with more emoji!) in this article.

Look and feel

The Samsung Galaxy S9 looks almost exactly like the S8 — from the curved Infinity Display to the sleek smooth body, this handset is a Samsung déjà vu.

This is, perhaps, the biggest criticism that the S9 has gotten. But I say: It’s what’s on the inside that counts (more on this later) — and if anything, new colors make up for it looking like its predecessor.

Yes, there’s a purple S9 that matches my hair and it’s looking gorgeous. I mean, we hold phones more than we hold hands — these things might as well be your best accessory.

Having the same look as the S8, it follows; I still love the feel of this phone, it fits my teeny hands well, and its curved display is still an enjoyable experience. It’s all glass, though, so it can be a little slippery.

There’s one noticeable change on the S9. Samsung moved the fingerprint reader below the camera. This should mean less accidental smudges on the shooter.

It must also be pointed out: At a time when most brands are shamelessly copying the notch (which isn’t really a look that’s all that, TBH), Samsung stands firmly behind their design. I believe that’s something they should be applauded for.

AR Emoji

Let’s get this out of the way first: My emoji looks nothing like me, even my mother won’t recognize that pink-haired emoji. It’s an absolute shame.

And although there are some emoji that look like the people they’re supposed to be, I’m not lucky enough to be one of them. Again, see:

The idea of having this tiny avatar on my phone excited me so much but trying it out was a different experience. For all its cuteness, tracking wasn’t really very good. A lot of times, the AR Emoji couldn’t even catch up with what I was doing. It doesn’t even track my tongue when I stick it out like this 😛 — the emoji just gives me a weird face.

What I did enjoy playing with were the preset AR Emoji GIFs. Creating your emoji produces a whole line of GIFs from that likeness — ones you can send out via different platforms! To make it easier, Samsung has also integrated the GIF sending on the Samsung keyboard. Oh, what fun! Above photo is an account of an actual conversation between me and Chay soon after we discovered this feature.

Selfie shooter

The S9’s front-facing shooter has a Selfie Focus mode which allows for the bokeh effect. It also has an adjustable beauty mode, which should really be on every phone, if you ask me. Airbrushing doesn’t look too overwhelming but I did wish they didn’t whiten my face as much.

From my tests (that means a lot of selfies), the bokeh cutout is more or less accurate, but it still isn’t perfect. Selfie shots also seem like they’re automatically brightened overall which is good because it makes you fresh; however, this sometimes makes for overexposed backgrounds.

But, what I totally love about the S9’s built-in camera app is a feature you can find on the separate Selfie mode: makeup filters. To test it out, I shot with literally no makeup and this was the effect. I look ready for a night out!

I didn’t even have powder on when I shot this

There are a number of preset looks, plus the option to toggle the intensity of each filter. You can even isolate each part of your face — eyebrows, eyelashes, lips, cheeks, contouring, blush, and more — then adjust accordingly.

This photo below, which showcases a more subtle makeup look, was taken five seconds after the photo above. Listen, boys, this is what #nomakeup is, but not what it looks like. 😂

Those virtual eyelashes, though!

The filters work well even with glasses, on boys, and in groups. Proof:

Joshua would make a cute girl

What’s sorely missing, however, is the bokeh effect on the Selfie mode. If you choose to virtually paint your face, this means no more blurred background as this is only doable through the Selfie Focus mode where makeup isn’t available.

And sure, you can download any beauty app and get similar results with filters or editing, but that’s not the point. Aside from the possibility of great, on fleek looks 24/7 without moving an actual makeup brush, I just honestly love that this feature was built into a flagship phone. Push comes to shove, premium devices will usually have the same level of phone specs. It’s the little features like this that become the tie-breaker for me.

Rear cameras

The Galaxy S9 (and S9+) rear cameras are said to be groundbreaking as they house the world’s first dual aperture smartphone cameras. But, I won’t deal with that because of too many technicalities. What you need to know is that this feature, which allows the tiny camera to adjust to allow more or less light come in, is automatically activated when you shoot on Auto.

That being said; on Auto, the camera performs well.

It was already evening when this photo was taken!

Here are more low-light photo samples taken by Michael Josh (most of my low-light photo samples were taken in Amsterdam; my apologies for not being able to show them as they’re x-rated 😅).

The S9 only has one camera on the back, unlike the S9+. This means there is no Live Focus function on this thing. There is, however, a Selective Focus function which allows you to blur our either the background or the foreground of the photo which results in pictures like this.

Look at that creamy background blur!

There is also a Food Mode built-into the camera app, for all your food flat lay needs.

Chay’s homemade one pot pasta

Samsung shooters are already known to saturate photos. As you can see, this mode does that even more to make yummy food look even more enticing. There’s also a radial blur effect happening, reminiscent of Instagram’s blur option where you pick a certain point to focus on, and the rest of the photo is just blurred out.

As pretty as this mode can make the food look, it still doesn’t change the fact that it will all end up in my tummy.

Word of caution though; the saturation can sometimes be too much and there’s no intensity toggle for this mode. On the off chance that it is too much, I just switch to Auto which brings me back to normal shooting.


This phone can shoot in slow-mo at 960 frames per second — which is all a bunch of numbers to me until I see what that means:

I have to be honest: Everything looks better in slow-mo. Even crappy birds look pretty cool.

Me making a mess look almost artsy:

And did you notice the background music? These samples were fresh off the S9, no need for editing as the device allows you to cut up video, and even edit music in.

Shooting slow-mo can be tricky, however — I had one too many failed attempts because I kept pressing the slow-mo button too early, or too late. But, once you get used to it and the proper timing, it gets waaaay more fun. Just make sure to do it in a well-lit area, and I mean full on studio lights well-lit or a bright, sunny day well-lit. Otherwise, video comes out grainy.

READ MORE: Samsung Galaxy S9 Review: Brilliant but underwhelming


Considering that this is a flagship, I expected top-of-the-line specs on this device and the S9 delivered in that aspect. Just know that the technology on this handset is on par with most flagships out now and this phone will be able to handle your everyday smartphone needs — from social media, to AR Bitmoji Snaps, to everyday work productivity. But, that was to be expected from any Samsung headliner.

As for the camera, it’s definitely capable, with low-light photography as a big strength. If you’re looking for a phone with a great camera, this should be on your list of choices. But that’s the thing: There are still a number of other great camera phones out there and though the S9 performed, I can’t for sure say it’s the absolute best. At the end of the day, it all boils down to aesthetics and preference.

That being said, what I love about this device are the add-on features which gave this handset enough points for me to consider getting it. 

Although I was a little disappointed with AR Emoji, I find that the makeup beauty mode isn’t getting old — in fact, I’ve gone three days without real makeup but my online persona has managed to look on fleek. The slow-mo capabilities are impressive and the fact that it comes in stunning purple just makes me want to rock this phone daily.

With this device, Samsung seems to consider a demographic (*ehem ehem*) that most tech companies ignore when releasing flagships. On top of quality performance, these add-ons are a definite delight for users like me.

Find a phone that gives you both: Fun and functionality are two things that I look for in phones, and more often than not, I’ve had to compromise. If the release of the S9 is any indication, it seems that’s all about to change.

SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy S9: Four fun new features

SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ vs Google Pixel 2: Camera Shootout

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Shadow of the Colossus on PS4: A worthwhile throwback

If taking down massive creatures is your thing, then this game is for you



Take down massive monsters as you try to revive a girl. Sounds like a plan? That’s exactly what Shadow of the Colossus is all about.


For those unfamiliar, Shadow of the Colossus isn’t a new game. This action-adventure was first released in 2005 for the PlayStation 2 and was initially developed by SIE Japan Studio and Team Ico.

The game garnered much critical acclaim during its first release and won awards for its design and overall quality. A remastered version was released for the PlayStation 3 in September 2011. Bluepoint Games was in charge of the development back then, and now they’re at it again on the PlayStation 4, building on what was already a good game and making it look even better.


To appreciate just how much has changed from 2005 to 2018, watch this video below.

Now that’s what I call a glow up!

It’s easy to get lost and just marvel in the vastness of the Forbidden Lands of Shadow of the Colossus. That’s the first thing you’ll notice once you dive into the remastered version of this game.

The level of detail on the surroundings is breathtaking

The grass looks like it moves naturally, the fluidity of the water is captivating, and the way light hits the entire landscape is an absolute sight for sore eyes. Even after playing for a while, you never really get over how mesmerizing the view is. It’s definitely part of the game’s appeal.

Sometimes you just have to stop and appreciate the view

Take the image below for instance. First look at the grass in the foreground; that’s about as real as you can get. Also notice the different shading on the areas that hit the sunlight versus areas that do not. Looking further to the background, the sides of the mountain look blurrier, indicating how there is some distance between where you are and where the mountain is, which is exactly how it would look like in real life.

The attention to the detail makes for an eye-gasmic experience

This is where the remastered version truly shines. The level of detail is eye-gasmic and the physics of the environment you move around in are all on point. I personally wasted about an hour running around the Forbidden Lands just to soak in the place.

Even the colossi look so much better in the remastered version! There’s a certain more realistic feel to their actions — as realistic as one can imagine if there’s a huge being lugging itself around.


So onto the game. You play the part of Wander, a young man who went to the Forbidden Lands with hopes of reviving female character Mono. Upon arrival, you’re told by a mysterious multi-voiced entity called Dormin that in order to restore Mono’s life, you have to defeat the 16 colossi scattered on the Forbidden Lands, and this is where your journey truly begins.

The Forbidden Land is vast

Not much else is told about Wander, Mono, or any other character which means you don’t get too attached to any of them. However, as the game goes along and you defeat more colossi, the sequences that follow will leave you questioning one of the character’s motives.

As you progress you might also start questioning if what you set out to do will actually happen. In the later stages of the game, you might feel this doubt is reinforced. I’m not here to throw in spoilers so I’ll leave it at that.


As earlier mentioned, there are 16 colossi. If, like me, you didn’t play this game back when it was first released for the PlayStation 2 in 2005, then you’d think you’re in for a lot of grinding and powering up before facing off against each of the opponents. However, that’s not the case. The game feels more like a series of boss battles, each one with its own set of strengths and weaknesses.

There are two stages to beating the colossi. One, you have to find where the colossus is first. You’ll be assisted by your sword. Lift it up where there is sunlight and it will reveal the direction you need to go to find the colossus you must vanquish.

Find a spot where there is sunlight and raise your sword to know the direction of the colossus

Part of the challenge and thrill of the game is locating the colossus. That includes needing to check your map from time-to-time and going through a few obstacles here and there. Finding each colossus can feel like a puzzle in itself; beating one though, that’s another story.

The Dormin assists you during colossus battles by giving vague clues on how to take it down. Initially, you have two weapons at your disposal — a sword and a bow that never runs out of arrows. You should be able to pick up another sword or two as you go along, if you look hard enough. You’ll need both depending on which colossus you’re up against.

If you’re curious to see how a battle looks like, here’s me trying my best not to get squashed by Gaius — the third colossus.

Each colossus presents a different challenge. Most of them are incredibly large and all of them possess a lot of destructive power. You’ll have to rely more on your problem-solving skills than anything else to get through each one.

In some cases, you’ll need the assistance of your trusted horse companion Argo. I found those challenges tricky, but they’re really fun once you get the hang of it.

Defeating a colossus can take anywhere between five to 30 minutes. Since they’re massive, a huge chunk of battles will have you holding on for dear life as the colossus tries to shake you off.

The colossi are absolutely massive

It doesn’t take too long to finish the entire game. My first and only run so far lasted only about 12 hours. That’s on normal mode. After completing the game, you have the option to play time attack mode where, as the name suggests, you’ll need to defeat each colossus within a specific period of time. Take too long and you have to start over.

As you keep playing the game, you’ll unlock more items that will increase either the length of your grip or strengthen your blows. Incredibly useful if you’re after all those trophies.

They’re not all super massive, but each colossus is pretty scary

Should you play it?

Overall, Shadow of the Colossus is a moderately challenging game that has enough replay value for anyone’s gaming library. It’s not bogged down by too rich a story nor does it require hours upon hours of grinding to get the characters to a certain level.

Will I play it again? When I’m in between role-playing games, I will most definitely give the time attack mode a try.

It was even voted on the PlayStation Blog as the Players’ Choice for February 2018’s best new game. So if you’re still on the fence about it, know that a lot of other players found it to be worth their time and hard-earned cash.

It’s perfect for when you’re feeling stuck in another game or any other situation in life. A good hour or two should be enough to take down a colossus and you’ll feel pretty accomplished after doing so no matter how long it took you to take one down.

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