Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus (Exynos Edition) Review: Samsung fails to convert me

Introduction:

With the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus I was tempted to give Samsung a second change. My previous experience in the world of Samsung was a major let down with the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus where I noted the issues with SMS text messages not being received when connected to my wifi network resulting from power saving bugs and/or possible hardware issues that were also noted by other users on the internet as well. That being said, I’ve always had a preference for the Samsung and Android aesthetic, in particular, the Android material design with its flat appearance in much the same way I set up my macOS by disabling transparency and opt for the dark dock and menu bar. When it comes to the appearance of the hardware, I love the edge to edge screen and the fact that I can get it in more colours than what I can with the Apple iPhone – I went for the lilac coloured phone with the official Samsung purple flip case with has the 8 bit dot matrix see through section where it is possible see the time when the case is closed.

When it comes to the cloud services, I had a previous negative experience with Google’s cloud service because although I was able to setup my domain I found that I couldn’t get YouTube functionality working hence I gave up an went back to using iCloud. I fired off a tweet to the Google Cloud asking why it wasn’t working and this was the response:

Screen Shot 2018-03-24 at 8.13.58 PM.png

My experience could have been avoided had they properly documented this information in a set of FAQs not to mention educating their support personnel of that requirement. Now that I have got it all working I’m enjoying the Google experience a lot more than particularly with the larger storage amount that is available out of the box, integrating in with their YouTube Red offerings which also gives access to Google Music along side ad free YouTube.

Unboxing:

I got the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus as part of the pre-order bundle they had going at Noel Leeming (the offer expired 20 March 2018) which included a Alexa device, 64GB sdcard and wireless headphones but the focus of this review will be the phone and the sdcard since they’re the two I’ll be keeping (I’ll either sell off the earphones and Alexa or give them as a gift to family member or friend).

Nothing all that surprising about the unboxing process but like Apple, Samsung has really upped their game when it comes to delivering good earphone buds for audio enthusiasts. The organisation inside the box was along with the usual manuals and a sim remover (the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus uses the nano-sim) along with the USB-C to USB-A and a power adapter. Side note: one of the things that has puzzled me is the insistence of Apple to keep the lightening connector when USB-C does everything and more given that their removal of the USB-A port from the MacBook and MacBook Pro would make a whole lot more sense if they moved their whole iOS range to using USB-C thus have ‘one connector to rule them all’ which would make life easier for all concerned.

Setting up and day to day usage:

I went with the 2 Degrees branded version of the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus as I had issues when I tried using a Spark branded Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus with a Skinny sim. Although Skinny uses the Spark mobile network it appears there is a configuration and/or compatibility quirk with the Skinny setup because the same issue didn’t appear when using a Spark sim. I’ve since move to 2 Degrees since they offered a good mobile and broadband deal so with that I went with the 2 Degrees Branded version given that it doesn’t have a carrier splash screen on boot up then could be possible that it is an unbranded version that is sold by 2 Degrees but doesn’t have a custom Android build (the CSC and PDA is shared with a number of markets which leads me to believe that it is an unbranded phone). To cut a long story short I ejected the sim/microsd card tray and put in my sim and microsd card into the tray and slid it into the device then turned on the phone. I was greeted with the Samsung splash screen on boot up where it automatically detected that I am in New Zealand and invited me to go through the process of setting up.

During the set up it is split between two parts, the Google part and the Samsung part. The first part of the setup is the Google setup where you’re asked for your email address and password so that the device can be registered with Google so then you can access their various services such as the Google Play Store along with configuring the various bundled Google applications so that they work the first time you launch them. The second part of the setup process is the Samsung part where you’re asked to sign up for a Samsung account and at that point it is important to remember that you don’t have to sign up for one. If you’re someone like me, I’m 100% in with Google and the Samsung services merely replicate what Google already provides plus Google services are fully accessible via the web browser, desktop applications and applications on ones mobile or tablet where as Samsung has limited access outside of their Android applications that run on Samsung tablets and mobile phones which makes Samsung cloud services as unviable not to mention the fact that Google already provides what I need and more so why have another login that I have keep track of.

Once all setup I checked for a system update and I was offered an update from Android 8.0 Patch Level January 2018 to March 2018 along with installing all the updates from the Google Play Store. I then installed the Fitbit software and connected my Fitbit Ionic (which will be reviewed at a later date) which went through the process of downloading a firmware update to update the watch to the latest version of the Fitbit OS. I then installed the BNZ banking application which then allowed me to also add my debit and credit cards to my Google Pay (formally known as Android Pay). Once everything was setup the experience in terms of using Google Pay has been pretty painless – every store I go to has Google Pay support which has allowed me to ditch my wallet for the slim folio case which only now just has my drivers licence and access card for work. I also loaded onto Google Pay my two loyalty cards; OneCard from Countdown and Fly Buy’s card – both which I use on a regular basis.

When it comes to the battery life, I turn off the Samsung monitor and let the default Android power management take care of it and the net result has been battery life around the same as my iPhone – possibly slightly longer but keep in mind that I’m not running scientifically reproducible tests other than pretty much doing the same things that I’d normally do on my iPhone but instead on a Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus. Keeping in mind that when one considers battery life that the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus does include a larger battery when compared to the iPhone but even with that being said the vast majority of people care solely about the end result and not how one actually got there. When it comes to responsiveness I haven’t noticed any lag but keep in mind that I have the Exynos version (Samsung’s own SoC design) where as most of the reviews are from the vantage point of the Qualcomm 845 SoC which is used in the USA, Canada, China, HK, Japan and Latin America with the rest of the world using the Exynos SoC.

In terms of software reliability, one of the big benefits of getting Samsung devices is that it is the device that developers will test their software against which tends to avoid the Android vendor specific peculiarities. All the third party software I rely on all work smoothly along with the great work that BNZ has done with integrating their banking application in with Google Pay for everything to work together smoothly. When it comes to the photos I uploaded all my photos from my iPhone to Google Photos which has been a great drop in replacement but keeping in mind my photo management requirements are pretty simple so the idea of accessing via a web browser isn’t a big loss when compared to Apple Photos. When it comes to the Music service, I’ve gone all in with the Google Music since I already pay for YouTube Red so the music service is the icing on the cake – all my music in the cloud so I no longer need to worry about maintaining backups of my music since everything is in the cloud.

Regarding the contact, calendaring and other built in applications from Samsung such as the calendaring and contacts application. Although Samsung do try to push you in the direction of their cloud services, unless they’re going to provide a way to access those cloud services from the desktop along with providing a more comprehensive service I skip the Samsung Cloud setup process. With that all being said, once you’ve said, “no” it won’t keep pestering you to sign up for their cloud service so at least Samsung realise when the customer doesn’t want to sign up there is a good chance that asking them again is only going to aggravate the customer.

There was one strange quirk that on reboot “Network does not provide date and time information. go to date and time settings to set manually” which makes me wonder whether the service is being executed before network is fully bought up but apart from that everything else is working.

Conclusion:

If you’ve already got the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus and upgraded to Oreo then the upgrading won’t be all that compelling but then again I tend to stick to a 2-3 year cycle unless something really awesome comes along then in which case I’ll throw in the towel and upgrade early (as with the case of going from iPhone 8 Plus to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus). With the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus it is a refinement rather than introducing something radical where as the S7 bought about the edge to edge screen which is now the trend in the market the S8 standardised the range on that edge to edge screen rather than it being a niche then in the S9 it has taken what was great in the S8, particularly around the software, and refined it further. To be honest I was tempted by the iPhone X but for someone like me who is fairly platform agnostic there were a couple of compelling reasons to stay within the ecosystem but give that I now use WhatsApp for all my texting and the number of times I talked to people on the phone in a month can be counted on one hand the idea of calling from my computer via my mobile was a nifty feature but hardly a compelling must have feature.

The most compelling feature for anyone to go with Android, at least in my experience, is the integration in with Google’s own services where although you can use it with an iPhone the experience is pretty jarring in much the same way that using Microsoft’s own services is pretty jarring when trying to get it to work with Android and iOS. To really get a first class experience with Google services you’re better off going with an Android device but when it comes to the desktop macOS provides the best experience over all when coupled with Chrome especially with the integration between macOS and the Google services via the ‘System Preferences’ although I am disappointed that Notes can’t be updated to work with Google’s equivilent called ‘Keep’ because Google hasn’t provided a public API for it but then again I guess it is one of those things one will get used to just as I have gotten used to using GMail in the browser rather than a dedicated email client as I did in the world of iCloud.

With all that being said, do I want to keep it? nope and I am in the process of returning it because even with all the work that Google has done in terms of bridging that divide between the platforms they don’t control (macOS and Windows) and their own platform (Chromecast, Android) the problem is that the experience is jarring when one is spoilt with the sort of integration that Apple provides and although Samsung can boast that it has built in a Cat. 18 LTE modem along with a gorgeous display it doesn’t make up for what appears to be a constant narrative in the Android world – software on the device itself, integration with the cloud and the lack of software on the desktop to make the experience between the cloud, desktop and mobile device seemless.

There is also the issue of the wider ecosystem one has to consider such as how it integrates in with Apple TV and the ability to stream content from iTunes, the fact that Safari on macOS is a lot more energy efficient and memory efficient than Chrome running on the same device, iCloud being at the centre of keeping all the devices in check and tracking them.  I guess if you’re not used to such an integrated experience then you probably don’t think twice but as an Apple user it is those small jarring and disjointed issues that ultimate end up making an otherwise perfectly fine device into something that one wouldn’t want to use.

Where I am going in the future? I’ll be returning the products to the store and returning to the iPhone ecosystem – most likely an iPhone X since I love the edge to edge display because it is the one aspect of the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus that I really love. I’ll grab a Bookbook case from TwelveSouth – and everything will be back to normal once again.

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