New and improved camera capabilities are the main thrust of Samsung’s pitch for its latest flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S9 and larger S9+.
The handsets gain a super-slow-motion facility designed to make it easy to extend key moments of action. They also gain a type of lens that should improve low-light photography.
Samsung’s sales rose in 2017 but not as fast as those of many Chinese rivals.
“I’m not sure if the improvements will be enough to make people rush and upgrade,” commented Francisco Jeronimo, an analyst at market research firm IDC.
“The quality of the camera is a purchasing driver for many consumers, and Samsung’s does appear better than [Google’s] Pixel 2.
“But I was expecting to see more development around its intelligence – it still relies on the cloud, meaning you need to be connected to the net to do live translations, for instance.”
By contrast, he added, Huawei’s latest phones can translate words they are shown while offline thanks to their use of a new chip technology.
It is not the first handset-maker to do this. Nokia offered a similar technology in its N86 phone in 2009, but the innovation failed to catch on.
To further improve low-light imagery the S9 now takes 12 images in quick succession to help detect and remove noise – the S8 took three.
But its standout feature is the capacity to slow down video while keeping it in high-definition resolutions: 960 frames per second in 720p and 480fps in 1080p.
These are animated cartoons created from facial scans of the owners that then mimic their expressions. They are similar in concept to Apple’s animal-based Animojis, but Samsung suggests its version is more “personal”.
The Bixby Vision image-recognition app gains the ability to identify foods the camera is pointed at and estimate their calorie content.
And the phone now combines data from its iris and facial-recognition systems to improve their reliability.
Samsung, however, declined to provide a failure rate to permit a comparison with Apple’s one-in-a-million statistic for its Face ID facility.
IHS Technology’s Ian Fogg said the risk for Samsung was that if consumers do not view the new features as a huge leap forward, they might prefer to wait to see what the S10 offers.
To be fair, smartphones like the Galaxy are already brilliant computers delivering extraordinary performance on the move – and making new models stand out from the crowd is a struggle for all manufacturers.
It is a good bet that the S9 will sell very well indeed and put another rocket under Samsung’s profits – it just isn’t going to make jaded phone-buyers go “wow!”