Not a lot of smartphone brands are out there who listen to consumers and their inputs. Consumers have been asking for features they want, their complaints to be heard and most of all, not get rid of ports or storage or sacrifice battery life with each new flagship phone. It looks like there is one brand that has been listening closely to what users want and have done it right this time: Samsung.
The all new Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is the culmination of several incremental iterations. It is a little bigger, a bit colourful and much powerful than ever before. All these iterations make up for one of the finest Android phones ever!
Some may argue that the $1000 price point is not justified by the Galaxy Note 9, however, these little changes around the phone than its predecessor makes it worthy and deserving of this price. You can read through our top reasons to buy the Note 9. Samsung has gone all out with this flagship. It has top-of-the-line tech specs, a beautiful design and comes out at the top in usability and overall experience aspects.
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This is the biggest and most powerful Android phone you can buy in 2018 with a big 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display, 6GB (or 8GB) of RAM and a huge 4,000 mAh battery for an all-day heavy usage. The standard Galaxy Note 9 variant comes with 128GB on-board storage and if you slot in a 512GB SD card, you will have more storage than most laptops these days. Even if this is not enough, Samsung also has a variant with 512GB on-board storage. You can calculate the rest!
We unboxed this phone a few days back and made a video of it, for those interested can find it here: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Unboxing!
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 comes with dual cameras at the back, both 12 megapixels, with one of them having the Galaxy S9’s dual aperture. S Pen is now more powerful than ever before, thanks to it being Bluetooth-enabled. As for the usual flagship features, you can expect Samsung to include everything you may ever want in a flagship phone: wireless charging, water and dust resistance, a microSD card slot, fingerprint reader (at the right position), iris scanner, stereo speakers and a lot more!
Depending on your region, the Note 9 is available in four beautiful colours: ocean blue, midnight black, metallic copper and lavender purple. The unit we have is the Exynos variant with 128GB storage, 6GB RAM and is in ocean blue paint. More on the processor later in the performance section below.
For a deeper look into the tech specs of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, read this.
Display, Design, Performance
The big 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display is the best smartphone screen! Period. There are no questions about it. It offers the best colour range, saturation levels and sharpness than any other phone. Samsung allows you to customize this setting with a few in-built modes for those who do not like the Galaxy Note 9’s default saturated colours. For even greater control over the screen, you also have “Advance options” where you can set the levels of reds, greens and blues manually to your liking.
Samsung made the display slightly larger than before, but it doesn’t really feel much different because the overall size of the phone ‘roughly’ still the same as the Note 8. Instead, they slightly reduced the bezels at the top and bottom of the phone. Roughly, because the dimensions of the phone have changed a bit. The new Note 9 is slightly shorter and less wider than its predecessor. And this almost bezel-less display is confirmed to be 27% brighter and with 32% more contrast than the Galaxy Note 8. That makes the phone completely effortless and reliable to use in direct sunlight. The curved edges on the Note 9 have been slightly updated for better grip and swiping across the edges.
Closing in the display section of our review, it a must to mention than the Galaxy Note 9 display is HDR10 compliant which means you can enjoy most of the media content on YouTube, Netflix etc. with better HDR colours. At the launch announcement last month, Samsung even mentioned how this phone is one of the “YouTube Signature Devices” for 2019. You may ask what is that? YouTube Signature Devices support High Dynamic Range, 360-degrees videos, 4K, high frame rate, upcoming next-gen video codecs and better DRM performance.
The overall boxy-design of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is one of the best this year, thankfully, not catching up with the ‘notch’ trend. It offers great design, a combination of aluminum and glass – something only Samsung knows how to do best. All this only makes me fear, what will happen if you accidentally drop the phone on the floor. Even though the Note 9 is covered with Gorilla Glass 5, we would recommend keeping the phone protected with a case.
One of the bigger complaints from the Note 8 has now been fixed with the Galaxy Note 9. Yes, we mean the positioning of the fingerprint reader is now right below the camera modules — where it should been in the first place. People with smaller hands are going to welcome this change! The square fingerprint scanner could have been a little bigger, but it works super fast in a single touch – so no complaints.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 also offers some rare features these days, like still sporting the 3.5mm audio jack, stereo speakers, heart-rate monitor and the distasteful Bixby button on the side. I cannot mention how many times have I pressed the button accidentally when I wanted to lower the volume and instead Bixby Assistant would open up — which sadly, Samsung still doesn’t give an option to customize the button to launch or do something else on the phone i.e. launching the camera app, starting Google Assistant etc.
Every Samsung flagship has offered best-in-class performance, and the Galaxy Note 9 is no exception. In typical Samsung fashion, this phone is available in two processor variants. One is powered by the Exynos 9810 processor (all over the world) and the other one comes with Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (US and China). This has always been varied depending on your country. To know more about variants, read up our guide on the Galaxy Note 9 varaints / model numbers.
The processor on this phone is highly optimized for multitasking and to support heavy games like Fortnite or PUBG Mobile on Android. These processors are the same as the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+, however they are significantly better and faster than the one on Note 8.
Geekbench 4 gave us a multi-core score of 8,445 on the Galaxy Note 9 (6GB RAM, Exynos 9810), whereas the Google Pixel 2 XL (4GB RAM, Snapdragon 835) got a score of 6,273. There are several other Android phones from 2018 that beat the Galaxy Note 9 in terms of benchmarks, but the real-world test and overall experience on this phone is exceptional with no lag or slow-downs whatsoever! And remember, most phones in this competition now come with 8GB of RAM, and this unit of ours has 6GB RAM.
The camera on the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is the same dual aperture module we found on the Galaxy S9+, but with some new software based tweaks. Good news for those who will be jumping over from the previous Note 8, this is a significant upgrade over that phone. Notice how I called it dual, instead of variable aperture. That’s because it is either one of the two apertures (F/1.5 – F/2.4) and nothing in between.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 takes all its camera features from the Galaxy S9+. You know what to expect from a Samsung flagship, so we won’t be getting deeper into the optics of it. It can take excellent low-light shots, is capable of zooming in with its telephoto lens, features super slow-mo videos at 960fps and handles HDR like a pro. This phone is certainly one of the best camera phones you can buy in 2018.
The dual aperture modes come in handy when taking pictures in really dark scenarios or low lighting conditions. F/1.5 mode brings in more light during low-light scenarios and F/2.4 helps in taking better, clearer shots in normal lighting conditions. This is all done automatically in the ‘Auto’ mode of the camera app, however, you can switch between them manually in the ‘Pro’ mode. All this is supported only by the wide-angle lens (the right side one, next to the flash).
Built over the previous flagship from Samsung, they have worked and optimized the camera software to improve picture quality. They have added Scene Optimizer, which is Samsung’s take on adding AI to the camera. The camera app on ‘Auto’ mode can now detect the subject in the frame. It is able to detect about twenty such subjects, like food, sky, mountains, flowers etc. and then optimizes the colours and other settings more suitable for your subject.
UPDATE: Here is a list of 20 scene modes the Galaxy Note 9 can detect from its camera app: Food, Portraits, Flowers, Indoor scenes, Animals, Landscapes, Greenery, Trees, Sky, Mountains, Beaches, Sunrises and sunsets, Watersides, Street scenes, Night scenes, Waterfalls, Snow, Birds, Backlit, Text.
Most Android phones claim to have added AI into their cameras, but that is only limited to detecting what type of scene or subject you are trying to capture. However, there is one more use of AI that I’m really glad Samsung has added into the Galaxy Note 9: Flaw Detection. This is exactly what it sounds like – the camera app can now detect flaws with your pictures taken. For instance, it can now show if the previous picture you took was blurry, had an eye blink, smudgy lenses or there is a lot of backlighting which would require you to turn on HDR. Now this is a real good use of AI in a powerful camera phone!
Up front the Galaxy Note 9, there is a 8 megapixels camera for selfies. And as a first in the Galaxy Note series, the selfie camera now has auto-focus. The real change with selfies is how you can take them on the Galaxy Note 9 — that is, by using the S Pen. We’ll get into that in detail later. The rest of Samsung’s camera is filled up with lots of camera modes, options and settings you can play around with. To name a few: Selfie Focus (portrait mode for selfies), AR EMoji, Wide Selfie.
In daylight, the Galaxy Note 9 camera shots are equally good as other Android flagships out this year. Each shot is full of details, colours and the noise-reduction algorithms by Samsung are some of the best in the industry. All daylight pictures you take are completely noise-free! Auto HDR mode adds a great touch of high dynamic range in the photos, provided you have disabled Scene Optimizer for the perfect, natural-looking shots in daylight.
Over the last couple of years, Samsung has toned down on their way of processing each photo taken with their phone cameras. They are less saturated and much more natural looking than ever before. We are glad they have learned a thing or two from Google. The telephoto camera at the back does its job just the way it is supposed to, however it loses a bit contrast.
As we mentioned earlier, overall this is one of the best camera experiences you can buy in a smartphone.
The main differentiator between the Samsung Galaxy S lineup and the Galaxy Note line is the S Pen. With every new Note model each year, Samsung has targeted a different set of audience and consumers. S Pen has mostly been about software features, but this time, there is a major upgrade in the hardware side.
Samsung engineers have managed to fit in a Bluetooth Low-Energy antenna and a tiny super capacitor inside the S Pen, making it a powerful remote control that would even work when you are 30 feet away or under water in a pool. Some of you may call it gimmicky, but this is exactly the type of gimmicks consumers love – the functional ones!
The button on the S Pen can now now be programmed to perform specific functions or launch apps. Among other functions, my favourite is this. You can now launch the camera app on the Galaxy Note 9 with a long press of the side button on the S Pen. You can press it once to take a picture, or double-press it to switch the camera into selfie mode.
This is much easier than waving your hand at the screen to enable the gesture based shutter action or setting a timer on the phone for big group selfies.
Apart from camera functions, you can play or pause music / videos in a media player. You can also jump to the next or previous photo in the Gallery app.
Samsung has launched a software development kit (SDK) for developers to add S Pen support to third-party apps. This means, if not right away, you will soon see more apps taking advantage of the S Pen button for shortcuts and performing specific actions.
The S Pen does need to charge and this is where that tiny superconductor comes into the play. For about 30 minutes of use, you just need to charge the S Pen for 40 seconds. And to charge it, all you have to do is place the S Pen back inside the phone for the said duration.
Other S Pen features are still the same as usual. You can still take quick notes while the screen is off, send live messages, explore and upload your creative designs to the PenUp community and still supports the precision writing tech inside it.
Samsung Dex is certainly a glimpse into the future of mobile computing. It was first launched with the Samsung Galaxy S8 last year and you were required to buy a separate Dex accessory to connect your phone to a big display. However with the new Galaxy Note 9, all you need now is to connect your phone directly to a USB-C to HDMI adapter and you are good to go. In short, the entire Samsung Dex experience is now built right inside the device and no additional accessory is required just to enable it.
If your work is mostly browser based and does not require any specialized software, Samsung Dex is something you can consider when you need a computing device on the go with large display support.
You can connect a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to use Samsung Dex properly, but if you do not have one around, the Galaxy Note 9 can turn into a very responsive trackpad.
We will share more on our separate Samsung Dex review soon. Stay tuned!
Storage, Huge Battery
The entry-level Samsung Galaxy Note 9 comes with a base 128GB storage that can be increased with expandable storage. Samsung also has a 512GB variant with 8GB RAM. Combine that with a microSD card of 512GB – that’s one terabyte of storage in your Android phone. You will not feel the need to delete photos, videos or other stuff from your phone. This storage is not only more than other smartphones, it also beats most laptops these days.
UPDATE: This could be the cheapest Android flagship phone with 128GB of internal storage.
Battery life is one area where almost every new smartphone leave us wanting for more. This is something Samsung has been able to tackle well with the Galaxy Note 9. And let me just say it right here, this is the best Samsung phone you can buy in terms of great battery life!
This phone features a 4,000 mAh battery inside which is about 21% more battery juice than the Note 8. In my opinion, this may truly be the very first Samsung phone that actually lasts more than a day in my usage. I have been getting around 5-6 hours of screen time with the Note 9 which is remarkable when compared to previous Samsung flagships. And most importantly, I did not have to use Samsung’s battery-saving mode to get me through a day easily.
Charging back the Galaxy Note 9 is also easy since it supports the usual USB-C fast charging and fast wireless charging. In our tests, the Note 9 charged a lot faster with a USB-C Power Delivery adapter than its own. Overall, the device charges fast but it is certainly not the fastest-charging phone among other Android flagships.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is the best phone money can buy right now. However, it will be costly. You can fully expect Samsung to give you ‘big’ and ‘powerful’ with the Galaxy Note 9 if you decide to spend your $1000 on this phone. To sum it all, you get the following with this phone: massive storage, huge battery, a great camera, water and dust resistance, stereo speakers, SD card support, headphone jack (yes!), no notch, exceptional build quality and the best in class performance.
The new Galaxy Note is definitely “the best” in most categories. We have yet to see an Android flagship phone that packs in so much, yet checks all the boxes of a great smartphone.
If you have been confused so far about this phone or have been just looking to upgrade, then go for the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. It’s definitely worth your money and you will enjoy the full experience just as we did!
- Best display on a phone
- High-end performance
- Complete gaming device
- One of the best cameras
- Excellent battery life
- Features-loaded software experience out of the box
- S Pen has Bluetooth
- Has a headphone jack!
- Similar design as last year
- Anything else?