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23 Mar 2018

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus review: The best Android phones around

Samsung and Apple. Apple (AAPL) and Samsung. Every year the tech behemoths play the same tit for tat game with their flagship smartphones: the Galaxy S series and iPhone. But with their handsets coming closer and closer to parity, the companies are turning to new tricks to distance their devices from each other.
An indicator light on the Galaxy S9 illuminates when Intelligent Scan is active.

With the iPhone X , Apple introduced its FaceID facial recognition scanner and augmented reality-powered Animojis. And now for the Galaxy S9, Samsung is trying to place its camera at center stage by adding a mechanical iris to capture better low-light photos.

But just as Apple copied some of Samsung’s features for the iPhone X, namely its edge-to-edge display and wireless charging, Samsung has copied features from Apple. Specifically, the S9 comes with Samsung’s new Intelligent Scan facial recognition and AR Emoji functions, which, you guessed it, ape Apple’s FaceID and Animojis, but with less than stellar results.

Despite that, the Galaxy S9 , and its larger stablemate the S9 Plus, offer more than enough performance and style to uphold Samsung’s position as one of the top smartphone makers in the world.

The 5.8-inch Galaxy S9 ($719) and 6.2-inch S9 Plus ($839) are essentially mirror copies of the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus . There are some very subtle differences up front, their upper and lower bezels are a bit slimmer, but outside of that, there aren’t any major changes. The power, volume, and Bixby buttons , the latter of which controls Samsung’s Bixby digital assistant, are all in the same place as they were on the S8 and S8 Plus and the S9 and S9 Plus are water-resistant like their predecessors.

Flip the phones over, though, and Samsung aficionados will notice one much-welcomed change: the fingerprint reader has been moved from next to the camera as it was on the S8, to just below it .

The previous layout was cumbersome to say the least. Each time I reached for the fingerprint reader, I’d end up running my finger across the camera’s lens. It also meant that the reader felt unnaturally high up on the phone. Most smartphone makers try to put the reader closer to the phone’s centerline to make it easier to reach.
Samsung wisely chose to move the fingerprint reader to below the S9’s camera.
The S9 and S9 Plus’ readers are far easier to reach and tap, and I haven’t found myself confusing it for the camera once. It sounds like a small change, but it makes a difference if you rely on the fingerprint reader to unlock your handset.

That’s not the only way you can unlock the S9, though. Samsung has also added an updated facial-recognition feature, called Intelligent Scan, that allows you to open your S9 or S9 Plus by looking at the handsets. It’s the same basic idea Apple uses for the iPhone X’s FaceID, but Samsung’s offering is less consistent than Apple’s.

Samsung’s Intelligence Scan works by alternating between using facial recognition and the phone’s iris scanner to detect that you are who you claim to be. Previous Samsung devices had facial recognition and iris scanning, but this is the first time they’ve been combined.

You’ll know the feature is active because a red light will illuminate above the phone’s display. I actually dislike seeing the light, since part of the fun of Apple’s FaceID is that it feels almost like magic when the phone would unlock with no indication of the techno-wizardry taking place behind the scenes.

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