Galaxy S9 $719

New phone looks same but has useful updates

Phone companies are starting to slow down on overall design changes as features become refined and even familiar.

So if you are familiar with last year’s Samsung Galaxy S8, you’ll certainly recognize this year’s Galaxy S9. The S9, which came out Friday, looks almost exactly like the S8, but that’s hardly a bad thing.

The only real knock on the S8 was the placement of the fingerprint sensor directly next to the main camera lens. Thank you Samsung: It is now directly under the lens, which is light years better.

The S9 also has a faster processor — the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 — and is a bit wider and heavier. The button placement is the same, but the S9’s buttons are a bit larger and have slightly different spacing, so S8 cases will not fit the S9.

The S9 also gets a new audio system powered by AKG. The new setup has two speakers and features surround sound with Dolby Atmos.

The biggest improvement in the S9 is in its cameras. The S9’s main camera has a 12-megapixel sensor and something called a dual aperture lens.

Most lenses have a maximum lens opening of f/2.5. The S9’s camera has an aperture that self-adjusts from f/2.4 to f/1.5, a wider opening that collects more light.

So it does an outstanding job with low-light scene and video capture.

It also has optical image stabilization and selective focus (background blur) and an answer to Apple’s Animoji called AR Emoji that uses facial scanning to put your facial expressions on a cartoon animal or even a cartoon version of you.

Samsung is trying hard to get some traction for its intelligent assistant Bixby. The S9 has a dedicated Bixby button.

Bixby can do some cool things, like language translation (point it at a sign and get an instant translation) and photo recognition of places or items (point the camera at a local landmark). You can point the camera at your favorite bottle of wine or shoes to find out more about them and find similar options.

The price from Samsung is $719 for the S9. Check with your carrier for deals or trade-in offers. Prices and terms will vary.

The S9 is like an old friend. Take all the goodness of the S8 and add increased security, a better fingerprint sensor and a much-improved camera, and you have a flagship smartphone that’s hard to beat.