Thursday, 25 October 2018

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus - One Week On!

I've been trying really hard this week to like (or even love) the Samsung Galaxy S9+ since I bought it from Steve Litchfield and feel that at last I'm getting somewhere - by the power of the open Android system and options. But it's taken a lot of learning, messing about, downloading, turning things off, uninstalling things, saying NO to Samsung regularly, disabling things, force-stopping things and not letting Samsung treat me like an OAP with no idea what they're doing!

It’s been very difficult forcing myself, but it is the first time that I've persevered, mainly for the same reason as Steve Litchfield did - the market-leading array of hardware features and flexibility on offer. Here, I offer my thoughts - no, not a review, as that's been done a thousand times - but the things that stand out for me, what I've found difficult and how I've negotiated the transition from pure vanilla - and what compromises that I just have to accept along the way and to now live with.

First things first, I can't stand the Samsung Homescreen/Launcher thing, so my paid-up Nova Prime is placed squarely centre, backup restored, making it look like a Pixel. One glaring exception, as Samsung won't let the casual user change Navigation Buttons, was to go back to the Samsung Launcher, sign up for Samsung Themes, Download and Apply the 'Pixelize' Theme, then change the Launcher back to Nova. Voila - the Pixel-style Navigation Buttons are present!

Next job, get rid of Bixby, disable the button and turn it all off. From what I can see, you can't do all this unless you sign up for a Samsung Account because you can't get to the Bixby Settings until you do. You can then swipe-right, get to the Settings and turn everything off. Then, using the Samsung Launcher again, long-press the homescreen until the 'pages' minimise, then swipe-right and throw the switch to turn off the 'left of homescreen' Bixby Page. All done. Bixby button = furniture. Go back to Nova Launcher. Phew!

I've been trying hard for months into years now to get a reliable HDMI-Out thing going so that I can play a huge amount of video content stored on my phone, out and on to my TV, without broadband or any kind of connection to the internet. I've tried all sorts of devices in order to achieve this. Some go some way towards this, some connect well, some don't (even when they are supposed to), some don't do it at all, some will let you do it but won't let you charge at the same time (even with a dongle), some don't have expandable storage - and so on. The fight has been a long one! The outcome is that Samsung, by a margin, come closest. HDMI-Out for stored media, charging allowed whilst playing, microSD Card storage and no connection to the internet needed. If it hadn’t been for this core demand on my part, I would certainly have given up. It has driven me to keep at it! The only problem now with this setup is that phone can't be used for anything else whilst playing - but I guess that's not Samsung's fault, rather physics!

The speakers produce good quality sound which is very loud, rich and bassy (as much as a phone can be) certainly lounge-filling output. As far as I'm concerned, the Razer Phone still holds the crown (overall) with the Dolby Atmos employed - but turn that off, and the Samsung snatches it back! Samsung's output here is very good even with the Dolby turned off, but when that is turned on, it notches the quality up, maybe at the cost slightly of top volume. 'Auto' setting seems to gain the best results for most music, film and spoken word in my tests. The stereo separation and 5.1 surround produced by Razer's true stereo speakers is not matched here on the Samsung. It's very good and spatial effect is good, but not as good. The sound is fired out of the Samsung from the ear-speaker one end and the bottom of the device from the other, like many manufacturers are doing. It's not the same, however you egg it up, but very few people would be dissatisfied with the output here.

Other Audio
Unlike the Razer, Samsung have retained the 3.5mm audio-out socket, so headphones can be plugged in, without any dongle, 32-bit audio built-in. A decent set of headphones sound phenomenal (to my ears) as one might expect. The Razer needs a dongle to get this out, firstly as it has no 3.5mm socket but also because the clever stuff is in the supplied dongle. Samsung's 'Adapt Sound' is a process that they (optionally) lead you through - a series of beeps, like a hearing test at hospital, asking when and if you can hear what - then offers a sound profile designed for the user's hearing. We've seen this before with the likes initially of HTC - and I'm not sure if I can the difference! Personally, I really very rarely use headphones so it matters not one whit, but from my younger days I can understand the joys of a great personalised sound experience. Probably why my ears are knackered now!

The Super AMOLED screen is gorgeous here. I have it set to 1080p instead of 1440, which is perfectly good for my eyes, and I'd make the case for saying anyone's! It's bright and vibrant, colours pop - even before the user plays with preferred settings. No complaints there, except maybe for the hit on battery. Talking of which, the Always On screen is a peach to use and echoes plenty of notifications, battery status, clock, day, date, what's playing - long-press the clock for on-the-fly changes and alterations to the brightness of that display. Double-tap on each item to see what is going on, depending on what you've set. Fabulous stuff. Bettered only I think by LG.

The battery is 3500mAh. At best I'd say it is mediocre, but to some degree it's saved by Qi pads being littered around the place. To get to bedtime, for me anyway, is a struggle with my average use through the day. Of course, everyone's mileage will vary depending on how they use the phone. Some lighter users will have no problem, but heavy users will be frustrated when they have to charge by teatime.

Settings Abortion
Samsung have completely screwed Settings, all moved around, I don’t know where anything is, usually my target is buried under layers and layers - most times I just have to go to the Search function to find anything. I think this is actually the most annoying part of the whole experience - that Samsung tries to automate everything and give the user little input or control. I want to know what’s going on and have control myself. Some things can be turned off to stop it but some can’t. “Do not show again” options in Notifications seem to often be ignored after a phone boot. Constantly picking at the user. Pick, nag, pick! Every time you lift up the phone it's suggesting something or asking you if you want to do this or that. Annoying. LEAVE ME ALONE! How about 'Download Booster' mixing 4G and Wifi? Samsung Cloud prompts and Samsung Account everywhere you turn - pop up reminders not going away a week later, Keyboard control in Language and Input, inside “General Management” why? Battery control inside “Device Maintenance” why? Why does stuff have to be buried? Software Update nowhere near Software information - two completely different branches on the Menu structure. About Phone is where some other Battery information lives! Yes - the most confusing part of this phone is not what it does but how these Settings Menus are structured. Stupid!

Talking of software, this phone is stuck on Android 8.0.0. - not even 8.1 - though September 2018 Security is present, so not too far behind for that. I know that Samsung have an awful lot more to ensure works than most other more Vanilla manufacturers - so, yes, another good reason not to festoon it with stuff that nobody wants in the first place - and that will cause delays in updates! Yeah, I know, updates are not really that important - and manufacturers are getting better at this - but Samsung seem to dwell within a reputation that reflects slower than most updates to the main OS. Android 9 Pie is promised 'soon' - but that's what everyone says! We want deeds, not words!

The controls of biometics, from registration to execution are quite superb. Quick and easy registration of Iris, Face and Fingerprint, then flawless recognition always without fail every time, using a combination of any of the three to get you in and working as quick as a flash. Beautifully done.

Samsung Apps
Much like the Sony counterpart, the Samsung Video Player app is excellent and well worth using over other offerings, especially Google's cludge. The Samsung Music app not really needed. It's basic and does nothing more than Google Play Music. There's an array of pointless doubling-up of Apps supplied by Google - Clock, Calendar, Email, Contacts, Gallery, Messages, My Files, Phone - all of which could just not exist - and bring nothing to the party except disintegration from the smooth running of Google's core PIM functionality. During Setup you can now opt out of most of the other Samsung gunge, which is a step forward, though having to leap past warnings aplenty that the phone won’t work best unless you agree to allow it etc. Then the phone keeps reminding you every few days about what you’re missing out on. Annoying! I do understand that some people will want to use the Samsung stuff like Health and Note taking apps etc. but if you've got this far reading, you'll know that I certainly am not interested and the more that apps can be placed in the Play Store and not pre-installed, like Facebook and LinkedIn are here too, for example, the closer we'll get to a pure Android experience and into the bargain, get faster updates!

Anyway, these are a few scattered thoughts from my first week of use taking Samsung seriously and trying hard to make it work, unlike previous attempts, if I'm honest. My SIM Card is still in the phone, which is a record! On balance, the benefits outweighing the drawbacks. For now.


  1. Ted, barring the organisation of settings and OS version it seems to me this is as damn near as you can get get to your desires in a phone, stick with it if I were you

    1. That's a fair view. There continues to be no perfect phone. If the Pixel 3 could do all these things I'd snap it up. You've just got to hand it to Samsung.

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