While Samsung's new Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus won't hit U.S. stores until the middle of the month, early reviews indicate the smartphones will be hard to beat in terms of image quality.

Equipped with a dual-aperture camera, the phones are designed for advanced photo- and video-taking capabilities in low light as well as at high and low speeds. In fact, last week the DxOMark image quality rating site gave the S9 Plus a photo score of 104 -- "the best we've seen so far."

Samsung's new flagship phones also come with updates to the company's Bixby artificial intelligence, enabling users to turn their devices' cameras into tools for smart image-based searches and augmented reality-based applications, such as translating foreign text or estimating food calories. However, the company might not have quite hit the mark with its virtual reality emoji, which some users are calling "creepy" or even "horrifying."

High Grades for Display, Imaging

DxOMark ranked the Galaxy S9 Plus number one in terms of image quality, putting Samsung's device ahead of the previous leaders, Google's Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. The new Galaxy excels particularly when it comes to talking photos, although its video capabilities are still among the best, DxOMark noted.

"The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is a smartphone without any real weaknesses in the camera department," DxOMark said. "In both still and video modes, it performs well across the board, delivering consistently good photo and video image quality in all light and shooting situations, thus earning itself our highest DxOMark Mobile score to date. Add one of the best smartphone zooms and a capable bokeh simulation mode to the mix, and the Galaxy S9 Plus is difficult to ignore for any photo-minded smartphone user."

Complementing the camera capabilities are the phones' updated Quad HD super AMOLED, near-bezel-free displays, described as "virtually indistinguishable from perfect" by Raymond Soneira, president of the display analysis site DisplayMate.

"While the Galaxy S9 display might at first appear to be very similar to the Galaxy S8, there are many major display performance improvements," Soneira said in his analysis. In terms of picture quality and color accuracy, Samsung's display is "almost certainly considerably better than your existing Smartphone, living room 4K Ultra or HDTV, tablet, laptop, and computer monitor based on our detailed lab measurements, earning DisplayMate's highest ever A+ grade," he added.

Big Pricing Variations

Currently available for pre-ordering, the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus arrive in India tomorrow but won't come to U.S. stores until March 16. However, Pinusnigra, a Reddit user from an unidentified country, claimed in a post yesterday to have received a pre-ordered S9 Plus on Thursday.

Pinusnigra described the phone as "snappy," with good speakers and a "very nice" camera, adding that the fingerprint scanner, which Samsung relocated to the center, below the rear camera, compared to its previous off-center location in the S8, remains difficult to use at times. The intelligent scan biometric security feature, which combines iris scanning and facial recognition, is "fast and good but unreliable," Pinusnigra noted.

Finally, Pinusnigra said that Samsung's animated emoji "flat out doesn’t work, I'm not moving but my lips shiver like I just took a dive into some icy water in Alaska, opening and closing, making erratic movements. . . . Bad move by Samsung, it's just horrible."

Other early reviewers have made similar comments. For example, last month The Verge called the AR Emoji -- Samsung's alternative to Apple's animal-based Animoji on the iPhone X -- "a plane crash right into the depths of the Uncanny Valley. They're not abstract enough to be cute, yet not realistic enough to be authentic."

The Samsung Galaxy S9 is priced starting at $719.99, while the S9 Plus will sell for $839.99 and up. Unlike most other new smartphones, pricing varies considerably, by as much as $90, depending upon where they're purchased. Samsung and T-Mobile are currently offering the lowest prices.