The best and worst features I found on Samsung’s Galaxy S9 after spending a week with it

Jessica Lin/Business Insider

Much has been said about Samsung’s new Galaxy S9 phone, which was unveiled together with the S9+ on Feb 26.

So far, there has been somewhat of a consensus that the S9 is a great phone and the most powerful Android phone released.

At the same time, many have said it features not much of an upgrade from its predecessor, the S8.

As a former Samsung Android user who succumbed to the iPhone a few years back, I finally had the chance to try out a spanking new Samsung phone again last week.

At a retail price of S$1,198, the S9 is a tad bit more expensive than the iPhone 8 (64GB) is in Singapore, and by no means an affordable phone.

During my one week with the S9, I found the new phone charming, attractive and entertaining. Too bad, the phone’s best features also were its worst since their inherent flaws made them more difficult to use.

Here are five S9 features I loved using – and the most annoying flaws that came with them.

1) Useful assistant, but annoying button

Samsung’s Bixby has received some nasty reviews since the S9 was launched, but I actually found it quite useful.

The S9 itself comes equipped with Google Assistant, which is also a great tool, but once you enable Google Assistant in Singlish, you can no longer activate it by saying “OK Google”.

So the Bixby came in handy for me, and its ability to learn was also impressive.

Samsung’s unique point system for Bixby users – the more you use Bixby, the more points you get – is not all that useful, but I have to admit, is kind of fun to watch.

Bixby Vision also continues to be a source of entertainment in times of extreme boredom, despite its high inaccuracy rate when it comes to identifying objects.

Cute. Bixby Vision identified my green curry puff as a lemon and avocado. From left: Bixby Vision’s translation tool, Image tool and Wine tool.
Jessica Lin/Business Insider

But Bixby was also incredibly annoying at times, with a messy and less-than-useful homepage and that now infamous Bixby button.

I lost count of the number of times I accidentally activated the Bixby homepage because the Bixby button is inconveniently located right below the phone’s volume buttons. This was highly frustrating, particularly when I had to find the time to create a Bixby account just so I could go into settings and disable the button completely.

Bixby is useful, but flawed.
Jessica Lin/Business Insider

Once disabled, the Bixby button is completely useless, and I really wonder why Samsung decided to have it in the first place.

2) Smooth biometrics, but not 100% there yet

Unlocking your Samsung S9 will not be difficult because it offers various options for you to do so – pin code, fingerprint scan or intelligent scan (iris scan plus facial recognition).

While the phone unlocks at an impressive speed with each of these methods, the intelligent scan function didn’t work 100 per cent of the time for me.

I was often told by the phone to “open your eyes fully” or to “hold the phone upright” when I tried to unlock it while walking.

One thing that puzzles me is the need to press the power button to activate intelligent scanning. This means the fingerprint scanner is the easiest login method, but the downside is that I have to clean my camera lens a lot more because of how close the scanner is located to it.

I’m also not sure how accurate Samsung Health’s stress monitor is, since the results varied widely in time spans as short as five to 10 minutes.

I can be stressed one minute, and relaxed the next.
Jessica Lin/Business Insider

3) You’ll use Smart Select, but there’s still no video screen recorder

Following the success of the Smart Select function introduced with previous phones, the S9 continues to allow you to do many things with what you see on your screen.

This includes capturing selected images and sections from webpages and apps, extracting text, creating gif images and pinning a cropped out screen capture to the screen.

The pin to screen function on Smart Select allows you to scroll to other apps and pages with the screen capture still in view.
Jessica Lin/Business Insider

The gif creator is my favourite function of the lot, because it allows me to capture the best moments from any video I’m watching.

A gif I made from a Tech Insider video.
Jessica Lin/Business Insider

It really is a wonder though, why Samsung still hasn’t included a screen record function on its Smart Select tab. Apple introduced the function months ago with its iOS 10, allowing iPhone users to record what was happening on their screens in video format.

You can, of course, download an external app to do this, but it would make a lot more sense if Samsung included it as one of its smart functions in the first place.

4) Dynamic camera, but far from the best

Before trying the S9 out, all I heard about it was how great its improved camera was.

And after trying it out, I have to say that it does have a pretty impressive and dynamic camera which takes beautiful shots outdoors.

Photo taken on Samsung Galaxy S9.
Jessica Lin/Business Insider

Photo taken on Samsung Galaxy S9.
Jessica Lin/Business Insider

But I also found it inherited the flaws of other Samsung phone cameras, including that of over-beautifying its photographed subjects.

When shooting indoors, there tends to be a slight orange tinge which is made worse in the Food function of the camera app.

Jessica Lin/Business Insider

The colours captured were at times beautiful, but also somewhat disappointing because of how much the camera smoothens out the details in its photos.

I did some comparisons of S9 photos with shots on both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 and found that the quality displayed on iPhone’s images – especially when blown up on screen – is much sharper and realistic.

A photo taken on iPhone 8 (left) shows clearer details, compared with a photo taken on the Samsung Galaxy S9, which tends to have a “smoothening” effect.
Jessica Lin/Business Insider

A photo taken on iPhone 7 (left) is much sharper, compared with a photo taken on the Samsung Galaxy S9.
Jessica Lin/Business Insider

The much raved about Super Slow Motion function, which does not have a zoom function, also does not work well indoors, so you’ll be hardpressed trying to capture any slow motion videos if you’re not exposed to direct sunlight.

5) AR emoji was entertaining, but only for a very short while

And finally, you can’t talk about the S9 without mentioning the new AR emoji introduced to rival iPhone X’s Animoji.

When I first started trying out the S9’s AR emoji creator, I was disappointed by how little the emoji actually resembled any of the people I tried it out on.

In fact, I was so determined on getting a closer match that I created a new AR emoji at least ten times before getting one I felt most closely resembled my actual face.

There are very limited choices when it comes to dressing your AR emoji, which makes the whole experience worse. Many of my friends lamented that none of the clothing styles came close to what they would wear in real life.

When it was time to finally create my own AR Emoji expressions with my new animated face, I felt even more dismayed at the lack of expression the emoji could pick up and express.

I’ve been told by friends that the resulting AR emoji is not only inaccurate, but at times also scary to watch.

Compared to Apple’s Animoji, Samsung’s AR Emoji is a good effort but not quite as entertaining or satisfying to create and play with.

There is definitely plenty of room for improvement, which I believe Samsung will use to its advantage for future launches. But for now, the AR emoji is not a feature that’s worth your money.

If you’re looking to buy the S9, look forward to its other great features such as the stunning edge-to-edge display and stereo sound system which works perfectly for playing music.