At MWC 2018, Samsung launched the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus with an evolutionary design building on Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus. Samsung is focusing on enhanced camera capabilities to differentiate from the competition and stay in the race with Apple's camera advancements.
Notable features include:
|Galaxy S9||Galaxy S9 Plus|
|Screen||5.8 inch Quad HD, Curved Super AMOLED w/ 18:5.9 ratio||6.2 inch Quad HD, Curved Super AMOLED w/ 18.5:9 ratio|
4GB RAM + 64/128/256GB ROM
6GB RAM + 64/128/256GB ROM
Rear: Dual Pixel 12 MP w/ OIS (F1.5/F2.4)
|Rear: Dual OIS, wide-angle Dual Pixel 12MP (F1.5/F2.4) + Telephoto 12MP AF sensor (F2.4)
Front: 8MP F1.7
|Battery||3,000 mAh||3,500 mAh|
|Audio||Louder dual speakers, AKG tuned for surround, and Dolby Atmos||Louder dual speakers, AKG tuned for surround, and Dolby Atmos|
|Chipset & Connectivity||4X4 MIMO/CA, LAA, LTE Cat. 18||4X4 MIMO/CA, LAA, LTE Cat. 18|
|Charging||Wireless charging, supporting up to 15W||Wireless charging, supporting up to 15W|
|Durability||IP68, Water and dust resistant||IP68, Water and dust resistant|
|Price||$719.99, Euro 849||$839.99, Euro 949|
|Availability||Pre-order Feb. 25. General availability March 16.||Pre-order Feb. 25. General availability March 16.|
Like previous years there are both Samsung Exynos and Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered devices for different regions.
Success in the flagship pricing tier will be critical in 2018 for Samsung. Unless Samsung changes its portfolio strategy, IHS Markit forecasts Samsung’s smartphone shipments will decline by 2.6 percent in 2018 compared with overall market growth of 3.9 percent. With the S9 and S9 Plus’ iterative designs, Samsung is banking on its successful design language from 2017 to continue to match buyer preferences, while Samsung adds enough new features to justify upgrades.
Samsung is packing its main innovative push into the cameras of its latest flagship Galaxy S devices. All major handset brands bar Sony, Google, and HTC have deployed dual camera set ups broadly. These are the first Galaxy S models to feature a dual main camera design. Dual camera on its own is no longer a smartphone differentiator. Instead, Samsung knows it must create other imaging experiences to stand out from rivals.
Samsung innovates with both single and dual camera performance
On both handsets, Samsung offers an 12 megapixel rear-facing camera with an innovative switchable aperture: F2.4 for daylight pictures and F1.4 for low light images. No other current smartphone OEM offers more than one aperture size on a camera module, although (old) Nokia did implement variable aperture way back in 2009 with the Nokia N86. Like Apple, Samsung is reserving its dual-camera set up for the larger Plus model. But the dual aperture capability makes the smaller S9 in particular stand out compared with the fixed aperture single camera design of the regular size iPhone 8.
With the new super slow motion video capture, Samsung has improved on previous industry attempts to commercialize this feature (notably Sony Xperia XZ Premium), with an option to automatically trigger the brief period of high speed capture. Similarly, Bixby Vision improvements which add real time translation and food recognition into the camera app add convenience because they are built in and integrated, but have been done before in third party apps and competitor smartphones.
Other features, like “AR emoji”, in other words animated emojis, are visible user experience enhancements which Samsung will use to counter other handset makers and help a consumer to make a decision to upgrade. Without Apple iPhone X’s rich depth sensing front sensor array, Samsung’s animated emoji may not be as accurate, but the implementation will be good enough for such a fun feature.
The S9’s hardware design is unlikely to appeal to users who have purchased a recent Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus device in the last year, but for those with older handsets who are the real target market, this is not a problem. The larger displays, faster network performance and significant camera improvements make for an attractive smartphone for existing Galaxy S7 or Galaxy S6 owners.
The decision to have dual camera capability on the Plus model does speak to a larger industry trend to offer premium features at premium pricing. The fact that the Galaxy S9+ price has pushed past the $900 mark signals top name OEMs’ ambition to capture more value at an increasing maturing smartphone market.
Smartphone market leader Samsung should resist competitive pressure
Samsung needs the Galaxy S9 series to set the pace for 2018, after the company saw shipments decline by 2.2 percent year-over-year in Q4 2017, from 76m units in Q4 2016 to 74.3m units. While Apple also saw slight decline in shipment numbers, the company was able to raise its average selling price, by shipping more of its super premium devices, like iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X.
Samsung hopes the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus to ship in greater numbers than last year’s models. In the first full quarter of availability (Q2 2017), Galaxy S8 shipped 9.3m units and 9.4m units for Galaxy S8 Plus, but shipments declined to 5.4m and 3.7m units in next quarter, according to the IHS Markit Smartphone Intelligence Service. Extending the high volume shipment period beyond one quarter will help Samsung offset its declining unit shipments in the next year and maintain profitability.
Samsung will benefit from the timing of the competition’s market launches this year. For example, neither Huawei nor LG will release their next flagship devices in the first quarter. In years’ past many of the early flagship devices of the year launched simultaneously at Mobile World Congress, pitting them against each other once they reached consumers. This year, Samsung will have a multi-week lead against the main Android competition.
Continued push of a “one Samsung” experience centered on the smartphone
In addition to the new Galaxy devices, Samsung continues to reiterate its ecosystem approach to connected devices: Bixby continues to be part of the user experience on Galaxy S9 devices, powering features in the camera, for example. To compete with Apple, Samsung knows it needs to improve the overall experience of using its many different devices. A new DeX dock now increases the functionality of the phone when docked, as it can now be used as a track pad.
The Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are strong handset designs which evolve from 2017’s excellent S8. They are markedly different in camera quality and display size from the two to three year old smartphones potential customers own now which should boost upgrades. However, consumers may delay purchase because of rising flagship prices. Samsung must work hard to market the benefits of these designs to counter negative pricing perception.