It’s time to get excited about smartphones again because the new year is just around the corner, and that means Samsung’s next flagship phone — unofficially dubbed the Galaxy S9 — is nearing its official release.
Expectations are high for Samsung heading into 2018, and most mobile tech enthusiasts expect the company to introduce a smartphone that blows away its chief rival, the iPhone X. We’re still months away from the Galaxy S9’s official unveiling, but thanks to a steady stream of leaks, there’s a lot of credible information already available.
Even if you’re not planning to buy a new phone next year (or if you’re loyal to another brand), you’ll still want to pay attention to what the Galaxy S9 will offer in terms of hardware.
Like each new iPhone generation, whatever Samsung includes on the Galaxy S9 will likely reverberate across the entire mobile industry, especially in the Android world.
When will it be announced?
For the last few years, Samsung has held its own “Unpacked” events to formally announce its new flagship phones.
The Galaxy S7 was announced at the end of February 2016 and the Galaxy S8 at the end of March 2017.
We’re hearing Samsung might switch things up this time around. Prolific phone leaker Evan Blass said in November that Samsung might debut the Galaxy S9 at CES in January, which would be much earlier than usual. However, a Bloomberg report claims it won’t happen until February.
Phone makers typically haven’t used CES as a stage for their new phones in years past. And if Samsung were to announce the new phone at a big tech show instead of at its own event, Mobile World Congress, a mobile technology show held in Barcelona during the last week of February, would be a much better place to do it.
When can we buy one?
If Samsung follows tradition, we can can presume the phone will be available for purchase one month after its announcement. Reports currently peg the phone’s release for March.
How many sizes will it come in?
The Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S8 both came in a regular and plus-sized version, and it’s looking like the S9 will, too.
Rumors suggest the smaller S9 will stick to a 5.8-inch display and the S9+ will have a 6.2-inch screen. These are the same display sizes as the S8 and S8+.
Both phones will probably sport the company’s signature curved edges on both the front and back. As for the bezels, that’s still unclear. Earlier rumors hinted at the possibility of Samsung eliminating the “chin” and stretching the screen all the way to the bottom of the device.
Phone leaker and 3D concept artist Benjamin Geskin created a render of what this Galaxy S9 could look like:
It’d be a neat design change, but another report claims otherwise. Alleged S9 screen protectors and CAD schematics suggest the phones will resemble the S8’s display proportions.
And while we’re on the topic of screens, Samsung is reportedly looking to improve its Super AMOLED display tech even further. It’s still unclear exactly what that means, but we hope it means Samsung will provide even greater brightness and color accuracy.
Samsung’s been perfecting OLED screens for years — the Note 8 has the brightest screen on a phone ever at a whopping 1,200 nits — but colors tend to be more saturated and less lifelike. It’s possible Samsung could apply some of the secret sauce that goes into the more color-accurate OLED screens it supplies for the iPhone X.
What specs will it have?
It’s Samsung’s next major phone, so we can safely assume it’ll have some of the best specs available. In other words, it’ll be really fast.
There’s also a good chance it’ll be powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 845 system-on-chip (SoC), which provides a number of improvements including 30 percent improved graphics performance, up to 30 percent more power efficiency, greater security, improved wireless audio, and enhancements for photos and videos.
Samsung might also release international versions with its own third-generation Exynos 9 Series 9810 mobile chipset that was quietly announced in November.
While the chipset will likely be identical on both versions, the larger S9+ might have more RAM — 6GB instead of 4GB on the smaller one.
Unlike on iOS, having more RAM on Android phones is extremely important to maintaining smooth performance. It seems like overkill, but phones like the OnePlus 5T that come with 6GB and 8GB of RAM options are noticeably faster and zippier than those with only 4GB (the minimum standard for most of 2017’s flagship phones).
Blass’s report claims the phones will both come with 64GB of storage, a microSD card slot, and, yes, a headphone jack.
Samsung might also include larger batteries in the phones, according to a leak from China. The S9 could have a 3,200 mAh battery (up from 3,000 mAh on the S8). It made no mention about a larger battery for the S9+.
Other core Galaxy pillars such as wireless charging, water and dust-resistance, and a fingerprint sensor (moved to place on the back that makes sense) should also remain intact on the new phones.
What colors will it come in?
Black not your thing? Good, because the S9 might come in a handful of different colors. SamMobile’s sources told them the phone might come in your usual black, gold, blue and… some shade of purple.
Purple would be on-point for 2018, too. Pantone named “Ultra Violet” the color of the year. Trendy! We like!
How much better will the cameras be?
Samsung’s always done right by the cameras on its flagship Galaxy phones and we’re not expecting anything less on the S9.
Though Samsung stuck with a single-lens 12-megapixel camera on the S8 and S8+ and only added a couple of software improvements, the S9 will hopefully see bigger changes.
Several alleged rear panels and case leaks have revealed a vertical cutout that would appear to support vertically-aligned dual cameras, as well as a fingerprint sensor below it.
A BusinessKorea report says the S9 might have a “3-stack layer” image sensor that’ll be capable of taking 1,000 photos per second.
Will there be improved facial recognition?
All signs point to yes. The Galaxy S8 and Note 8 sport two forms of face-based biometric security: iris scanning and 2D-based face recognition.
The latter is quick and works really well, but it’s not very secure. Some users have been able to fool the face recognition into unlocking devices using photos displayed on other phones and with printed pictures. This low-level security is why the face recognition is not used to authenticate Samsung Pay.
The iris scanner is much more secure because it takes a read of your unique iris, but it’s not nearly as fast as the facial recognition. Its stronger security, however means it’s airtight enough for Samsung Pay.
On the S9, Samsung might further improve these front-facing biometric systems with a 3D sensor. “3D sensing cameras will be applied to various areas such as unlocking, mobile banking, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR),” a source told BusinessKorea.
How much will it cost?
Pricing the S9 and S9+ around the $1,000 range is sure to upset many customers who are used to paying $700-800 for the latest and greatest. But with the Note 8 and iPhone X proving that people are willing to pay more to get more value, we wouldn’t be surprised if the S9 comes with a higher sticker price than the S8.
And as we’ve noted many times before, monthly payment plans that split the cost of the full phone make $1,000 phones easier to purchase.
All the things we don’t now yet
These leaks have painted a nice picture of the S9 and S9+, but there’s still a lot we don’t know.
Will the S9 have a real answer to Face ID? What about Animoji? Will it finally have stereo speakers? What version of Android (hopefully Android 8.0 Oreo) will it run and will it come with any revamps that’ll make people despise TouchWiz less?
From what we’ve gathered, the S9 and S9+ look to be really safe updates, and that could be a big mistake. The smartphone landscape’s more competitive than ever and even though Samsung is still the biggest player for Android, it faces attacks from all sides.
Guarding against the iPhone will always be its biggest challenge. But it also needs to fend off Google’s Pixels, LG, and many Chinese brands like Huawei, Oppo, Xiaomi, and OnePlus that are now more popular than ever.
The leaks will almost certainly continue dripping out over the next few weeks as we inch closer to the S9’s announcement. For now, it’s all rumors and speculation, so don’t read too much into them. They may prove to be completely wrong come next year. Wouldn’t that be something?