Samsung Galaxy S9 vs S8: is it worth upgrading?

Saying that the new Galaxy S9 looks like last year's model, the Galaxy S8, would be an understatement. The two are so similar, it's hard to tell them apart and if Samsung had positioned the fingerprint scanner in its proper place last year, it would be nearly impossible to tell one apart from the other.

Under the hood, though, Samsung says it has made some improvements: first and foremost with the camera that the company says it has "reimagined", but also there is a boost in performance and a few other gimmicky features like the new AR emoji and the 960fps super slooow motion camera mode.

How big of an improvement the Galaxy S9 (see full specs here) really is over the S8 (see full specs here) and is it worth upgrading? We have already spent two days with the Galaxy S9 and here is what we have learned.

"Camera reimagined", or is it?

New dual-aperture camera only kicks off in very dark scenes

The Galaxy S9 comes with a single 12-megapixel camera that has a feature unlike that on any other smartphone: variable aperture. Smartphone camera sensors are tiny, with small individual pixels that struggle to capture enough light to record a usable photograph at night. That's why the lens aperture on recent smartphones has been growing larger and larger, to allow the most light to pass to the sensor for optimal low-light photos.

The Galaxy S8 was one of the first phones to have a wide, f/1.7 lens, and now the Galaxy S9 has pushed this number even further to f/1.5 (the lower the f/ number, the wider the aperture). But when you get to such low aperture, you also get a softer photograph, with less detail. And here is where the Galaxy S9 shines: it can physically change the aperture between f/1.5 and f/2.4. In fact, all of this switching happens automatically in the camera app, without you even noticing. Interestingly, the f/1.5 aperture only kicks in when you have very dark conditions (under 100 lux), so most of the time you will be shooting at f/2.4.

We took a few test pictures at f/1.5 and f/2.4 to show the difference in the amount of light that the phone can gather. These images were taken using the manual camera mode and are meant to illustrate the difference in light sensitivity, not the actual camera performance.

As you can see there is a clear difference in the light gathering ability with this new variable aperture camera. But how does that affect real-world photo quality? We took some photos with the Galaxy S9 and the S8 for comparison. Take a look:

It's hard to draw any big conclusions from a few pictures, but what seems clear is that Samsung has changed a few things. At first look, photos turn out less contrasty, with a bit softer detail and gentler color tones.

Performance: Snapdragon 845 vs Snapdragon 835

TouchWiz, synonymous for stutter, has been improving in baby steps

The S9 features the newest Snapdragon 845 system chip which brings a nearly 40% performance boost in benchmarks.

In real life, the S9 runs with less stutter than the S8, and that is great news. The phone still has to pass the test of the time of a full review, but it shows promise. TouchWiz, now known as Samsung Experience, has traditionally been one of the most feature-packed and most stuttery Android interfaces, but these times might be changing slowly.

And as for the benchmarks, here are the results that we got for both phones:

New features: gimmicks or genuinely useful?

Using your own face for emoji is a neat idea, but the realization looks very rough around the edges.

And then there are the other new features introduced with the S9. Let's list them all here:

  • 960 fps super slo mo
  • dual speakers (main speaker on the bottom, secondary speaker in earpiece)
  • AR emoji & stickers
  • various new camera modes

Slow motion videos that we took with the S9 look epic, but they are nothing that other companies haven't showed already (Sony showed this a year ago). Either way, this is definitely not something you'd be using on a daily basis.

What makes a bigger difference is the new dual speaker system, which sounds louder and is a big improvement over the weak, lackluster single loudspeaker on the S8.

AR emoji are a great idea: I use a lot of stickers in chats and I would love a personalized sticker pack, but Samsung's implementation is very rudimentary. The AR emoji lack detail and look like characters from a The Sims game from the 90s. The stickers that they transform into are definitely cool, but also not enough.

Battery life: almost no change

One year of technological advances has not brought better battery life.

With a 3,000mAh battery on both the S9 and the S8, battery life is identical.

The S9 gets a very, very slight boost in talk time and music playback, but for everyday tasks like web use and video playback, the numbers are identical with the S8.

Price comparison: is it worth it?

With all other things considered, the new Galaxy S9 also comes at a slightly higher starting price than the S8.

Unlocked, the Galaxy S9 costs $720, on par with the starting price of the S8, but at carriers the same S9 actually $800, nearly $80 more. This is clearly premium pricing, but it is not above the average flagship price that we are used to seeing throughout the years. Rumors about the S9 price going up to match the $1,000 iPhone X have not come true in the United States, and that's a great thing.

Final words

¿Si o no? 

At the end of the day, is it worth upgrading from the Galaxy S8 to the Galaxy S9?

We don't think so. The S9 is a very gradual upgrade, an S upgrade of sorts and it does more to fix what Samsung should have already done on the S8: the proper fingerprint position and removing the stutter in the interface.

It's also hard to see how the S9 reimagines the camera, at least in our initial tests. We'd wait to take some more photos before giving you final judgment on that, though.

If you are coming from older phones, chances are you would be impressed with the stunning Super AMOLED screen with almost no bezel, the gorgeous design and overall feature set on the S9, but for others, this would be one rather minor update.

Related phones

Galaxy S9
  • Display 5.8" 1440 x 2960 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 8 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, Octa-core, 2800 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3000 mAh(31h talk time)
Galaxy S8
  • Display 5.8" 1440 x 2960 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 8 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, Octa-core, 2350 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3000 mAh(30h talk time)



1. Venom

Posts: 3541; Member since: Dec 14, 2017

If you are coming from the S8, no. Anything before, then yeah. My eyes are on the S9 Active and the Note 9.

16. Klinton

Posts: 1409; Member since: Oct 24, 2016

Not everything is mentioned in the article. What about the brighter display, and a bit smaller bezels? BTW the night photo is huge.

19. audibot

Posts: 634; Member since: Jan 26, 2017

but the 360 trade in may make it worth the upgrade if you have not paid the phone off,

31. sumphatsmack

Posts: 29; Member since: Aug 10, 2017

or sell your phone since $360 is low af

23. tokuzumi

Posts: 1900; Member since: Aug 27, 2009

My thoughts too. Not enough to upgrade from the S8, but this would be a great upgrade for S7 users looking to upgrade.

2. Humanoid

Posts: 1226; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

S9 is a good upgrade if you have S6 Iphone 8 is a good upgrade if you have iphone 5s

3. torr310

Posts: 1659; Member since: Oct 27, 2011

"We don't think so. The S9 is a very gradual upgrade, an S upgrade of sorts and it does more to fix what Samsung should have already done on the S8."

17. Klinton

Posts: 1409; Member since: Oct 24, 2016

''The iPhone X is a very gradual upgrade, an X upgrade of sorts and it does more to fix what Apple should have already done on the first iPhone."

4. maherk

Posts: 6876; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Even if you're coming from an S6 or S7, get the S8 with the free gifts Samsung are offering right now, and save yourself a few hundred dollars. It's not worth the extra money when compared to the S8.

28. bur60

Posts: 981; Member since: Jul 07, 2014

Is it worth it if I can get the s9+ with 40% off?

5. Loubielou

Posts: 603; Member since: Jul 11, 2012

Samsung & Apple are really the ones to blame for the Over Pricing of phones and spoiling the mobile market,with it being early 2018,and more phones on the way,i will be sticking with the S8 Plus,instead of upgrading to the S9 models,Sales of phones will be getting worse in 2018 with consumers not being able to afford the latest phones

18. Klinton

Posts: 1409; Member since: Oct 24, 2016

As I've said many times before: The moment Samsung manage to sway more and more the Apple's snob-fans into their Samsung's cote, Samsung will take it easy, and will think only about the profit. Just like Apple do now.

6. darkkjedii

Posts: 31034; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

If you have an S7 or older, then yes. If you have an S8/+ or Note 8, then no. The 8 series lineup is good enough to easily keep for 3 years, before feeling outdated. I feel nothing on the market, or announced at MWC, is good enough to replace my Note 8. It’s just that damn good.

7. Tipus

Posts: 868; Member since: Sep 30, 2016

Note 10 ftw! :)

8. darkkjedii

Posts: 31034; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

That’s what I’m waiting for.

9. antroid

Posts: 392; Member since: Jan 24, 2018

Or Note X or Galaxy X

15. kozza3

Posts: 778; Member since: Oct 17, 2012

Note X daaang

29. TerryD

Posts: 546; Member since: May 09, 2017

Go for that 23:9 ultrawide aspect ratio

10. KingSam

Posts: 1448; Member since: Mar 13, 2016

Wonder if I'll be able to find an s8 for $500? In due time yes.

11. AustinPaul

Posts: 152; Member since: Dec 13, 2011

Perfectly happy with S8 (daily) and S8+ for backup. Might get tempted once Samsung starts offering a $450 trade-in allowance for my S8, but most likely hold out for the SX.

12. gamehead unregistered

S8 to S9 barely seems like an upgrade

13. mcoomes

Posts: 56; Member since: Aug 12, 2014

Still on a Note 4 (personal) and iPhone 7 Plus (work issued). Could grab a GS9 (or the Plus), but will likely wait for Note 9 to arrive, then splurge on current pricing at that time or wait for a great Note 8 sale.

14. chenski

Posts: 768; Member since: Mar 22, 2015

1 year not enough to upgrade, usually at least 2 of more years

20. sirohunter

Posts: 200; Member since: Sep 23, 2017

Would it be an upgrade if I switch to s9+ from iPhone X? Loving the design of the galaxy lineup since the s8

21. japkoslav

Posts: 1505; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

Depends on priorities - do you like Android, a bit better cam, massively better mics, quick-charging, screen without a cutout, fingerprint sensor a headphone jack, better Bluetooth codecs (AptX HD, LDAC)? If yes is your answer then why not, give it a shot. If you have other priorities ... I don't really see a reason to switch. I know I would switch in an instant, but my priority is the SOUND and sound does not matter to a lot of people.

25. sirohunter

Posts: 200; Member since: Sep 23, 2017

Thanks for the response! Sounds pretty tempting, I haven't used Android since Galaxy S5 which made me go to apple because I wasn't please with the experience. But I've been doing research and it has changed quite a bit since then :P cheers

22. Ciro1900

Posts: 591; Member since: Dec 17, 2017

It is not a rehash that copies characteristics of 2017

24. philip_1

Posts: 46; Member since: Jul 28, 2009

Agreed..They got the fingerprint scanner with LG's way finally...they wide the bezels to avoid the accidental "touches" same as LG V30... as well as some other minor improvements..The big deal is the processor and the memory..other than that.. if you have S8+ almost meaningless to upgrade .. Glad that i didn't wait for it and I got the V30+..

26. johnriii

Posts: 248; Member since: Oct 17, 2011

I was super psyched for the S9plus, but there really is no upgrade between the S8plus to the S9plus. I even compared the Note 8 to the S8plus, and it's about an even tradeoff, unless you just have to have an S pen. nah, I'll wait for the Note 9 or the S10.

27. kplayon

Posts: 55; Member since: Mar 02, 2018

I think it's a solid upgrade

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