UPDATED: It's official: we'll see the S9 in February at MWC
Several months and several compelling challengers later, Samsung's brilliant Galaxy S8 still ranks atop our list of the best smartphones today. And it may be the Galaxy S9 that ultimately dethrones it.
Yes, just as the sun rises each morning, Samsung will debut a new Galaxy S smartphone in 2018. But after the startling transformation seen with the Galaxy S8 (shown above), will Samsung try to reinvent the handset yet again, or opt to refine and enhance what worked so well the last time around?
Rumours are just starting to pour in with a launch now mere weeks away, so we've compiled the best leaks below and offered our take on how reasonable they seem at this point.
When will the Samsung Galaxy S9 be out?
Following rumours that pegged a launch anywhere between CES in January and sometime in March, Samsung mobile president DJ Koh confirmed to ZDNet that the Galaxy S9 will be revealed at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018 at the end of February.
This lines up with what we've heard from publications like Bloomberg and The Bell in recent weeks, with both specifying a 27 February launch on the eve of Mobile World Congress. Both publications suspect that the phone will then release in early March, about a month earlier than usual for the Galaxy S. Perhaps the buzz around the iPhone X has Samsung anxious for a sooner upgrade.
How much will it cost?
We haven't heard any substantive rumours about the Galaxy S9's ticket price, but flagship phone prices have been trending upward over the last year – and we fully expect Samsung to bump up the S9's price at least a little bit.
Adding $100 or even $200 to the price of last year's models wouldn't be out of the question, although Samsung needs to remember Apple still sells the hugely popular iPhone 8 and 8 Plus - launching at a more expensive price than these could drive people away from Android and towards iOS.
What will it look like?
Have you seen the Galaxy S8? Yeah, the Galaxy S9 will probably look a lot like it.
And that's fine, considering how gorgeous the Galaxy S8 is. Remember how the Galaxy S7 was a near-duplicate of the Galaxy S6, aside from some very slight tweaks? That's what we're expecting from this year's evolution.
With the same 5.8in and 6.2in screen sizes pegged for the models, there's been little in the way of rumours about transformative changes. We'll probably still see the curved right and left edges, with maybe a bit less bezel on the top and bottom. Meanwhile, VentureBeat suggests that the fingerprint sensor will now be located underneath the camera array, instead of awkwardly next to it.
This speculative Galaxy S9 Plus render from a Korean message board (via BGR) shows how it might be placed below a dual-camera array, which looks like an improvement to us. SlashLeaks has shown a similar-looking sensor placement in a seeming leaked image from a case maker, which might just be purely speculative.
Meanwhile, SamMobile suggests that there will be a new purple colour option in addition to black, gold, and blue.
While nothing is official here yet, leaker Ice Universe suggests that Samsung nearly trimmed a lot more bezel from the bottom of the Galaxy S9, but that the rendition "did not pass the test and was killed." Instead, they suggest that the Galaxy S9 we'll get will indeed look nearly identical to the Galaxy S8 from the front. Here's a purported look at the front panels for both versions of the S9.
Official-looking press renders leaked on Chinese social media site Weibo show a flipped camera module, with the fingerprint sensor below it rather than to the side, and roughly similar dimensions - including screen bezels. The bixby button looks set to return as well, for better or worse. Alleged photos of the actual phones have also appeared online, but the source is a bit iffy so we've not added it here.
What about the screen?
As mentioned above, it sounds like Samsung is sticking with the 5.8in and 6.2in screen sizes from the Galaxy S8, and as before, those will be extra-tall displays that dominate the entire front of the screen.
Every time a Galaxy S phone is coming, there's always speculation that Samsung is considering a 4K display – which would make Gear VR experiences significantly better. But we haven't seen too much talk on that this time around, so we expect another Quad HD (2K) Super AMOLED screen on there. Which is still awesome.
Bezels might have shrunk a bit, but not by much - the Galaxy S8 already had a super-skinny screen, after all. It'll stay curved, too, because it's what makes the Galaxy so unique.
How much power will it pack?
It'll be evolution here again, as Samsung is expected to use a newer version of its 10-nanometer Exynos system-on-a-chip for the Galaxy S9 in some territories, and the just-revealed Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 elsewhere.
How powerful those chips will be remains to be seen, but they should provide a nice step up over the still-top-of-the-line Exynos 8895 and Snapdragon 835. Apple's latest iPhone chip, the A11 Bionic, is beating every Android contender in benchmark testing, so we'll see whether Samsung and Qualcomm can take a fresh lead in the spring. Samsung has pretty much confirmed it will be revealing the chip on the 4th of January, complete with gigabit LTE and a beefier GPU for smoother gaming at high resolutions.
As for RAM, VentureBeat suggests that the Galaxy S9 will ship with 4GB RAM while the Galaxy S9 Plus will join the Note 8 in offering 6GB RAM for a little extra zippiness.
What about the cameras?
Here's another rumoured advantage the S9 Plus will have: a second back camera. Much like the iPhone 8 and 7 models, the core S9 will reportedly have a single camera on the rear, while the S9 Plus will offer a Note 8-esque dual-camera setup.
The main camera on both could offer the widest aperture seen on a smartphone to date: f/1.5, which is a notch better than the f/1.6 aperture seen on the LG V30 and Huawei Mate 10 Pro. This is very much a rumour right now, though, as no other phone company has managed to create a camera with such a wide aperture. Samsung has a China-only flip phone that can do it, but that's made in much smaller numbers than what would be needed for the global Galaxy S8.
The secondary camera on the S9 Plus will reportedly come in at f/2.4.
That's not all: a report from Chinese site VTECH (via Neowin) suggests that the Galaxy S9's main cameras will offer adjustable aperture, ranging between f/1.5 and f/2.4 depending on the lighting conditions. Consider that a serious step towards true DSLR-like quality from a phone camera. Samsung just launched a flip phone with that kind of feature in China, interestingly enough.
Yes! Both phones will still have a headphone port, according to VentureBeat, so Samsung remains a welcome holdout in that regard.
Also on the audio front, the site suggests that the Galaxy S9 models will have AKG stereo speakers, adding a bit more bump to your playback.
And lastly, the so-so DeX Station from the last time around – which let you link up a display, keyboard, and mouse and use the S8 as a PC – is getting a reboot. Now the docking station will lay flat, letting you use the screen as a touchpad or keyboard. Handy! Samsung is probably going to call it the DeX Pad, or at least that's the name the company trademarked in December. It sounds like you might just lay the phone down on the pad, rather than dock it or plug it in, with wireless charging keeping you topped up.