Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review

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Samsung’s best ‘everything’ phone. But…

The Good The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is a big, beautiful phone with top-tier specs including a massive battery and internal storage that starts at 128GB. The new S Pen doubles as a wireless remote for taking long-distance selfies.

The Bad It’s expensive and offers few real innovations over last year’s Note 8. The fingerprint reader is uncomfortably close to the camera.

The Bottom Line The ultrapricey Note 9 is one of the year’s best phones. But unless you’re in dire need of an upgrade, the smart move is to wait for what the next iPhone, Pixel and even Galaxy S10 bring.

I picked up the Galaxy Note 9, popped out the S Pen stylus and started to write on the black screen in tart lemon-colored digital ink. It hit me: This phone is more fun to use than your phone. When I’m using the Note 9, I feel more inspired to write, draw, take precise screenshots using the tool, snap selfies with the S Pen’s remote shutter, and playfully annotate photos to send to friends.

But the Note 9 is no mere toy. It’s also powerful as hell, with a 6.4-inch screen, 4,000-mAh battery, Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor and either 128GB or a whopping 512GB (!!!) of onboard storage, plus a microSD card if you want more, more, more.

Yet the fizzing question at the center of it all, the one that’s pounding away at your grey matter, is this: Are the power and fun of Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 9 worth $1,000 of your hard-earned cash? (That’s £899 and AU$1,499 — or $1,250, £1,099 and AU$1,799 for the 512GB version.) It’s the same question Apple fans have been asking themselves since the iPhone X first hit the $1,000 mark last year.

For Android fans who want the best, the answer is “yes.”

The Galaxy Note 9’s specs are top-notch. This is an everything phone, one of the absolute best you can buy with All The Things. It will carry you through the next two or three years with excellent photos, Android updates and all that jazz.

And while the price is eye-wateringly high compared to last year’s Note 8 (unless you live in Australia, in which case it costs the same), promotions, preorder savings and future holiday deals can knock hundreds off the Note 9’s cost, making it suddenly much more “affordable.”

So, is there any reason to not get the Note? Well, yes. For starters, it lacks a certain “wow” factor. Apart from the tad higher battery capacity and double the storage, there’s not all much different from the Galaxy S9 Plus, or really from the Galaxy Note 8 before it.

Bonkers storage is good, but you could also buy a cheaper phone and scoop up external memory for much less than the cost of a new Note 9 — there are fewer phones with this option, but the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus have it. And while the Note 9’s battery life will take you from morning to late night on a single charge, is it really worth the price of 300 cappuccinos? Can you find two hours each day to charge from 0 to 100 percent? And 15 minutes extra if you need an emergency top-up?

As for the Note 9’s new, cool S Pen stylus — Bluetooth turns it into a remote control, but it feels forced to use it in day-to-day life.

We didn’t get a rumored in-screen fingerprint reader like what some other Android phones have, or a 3D front-facing camera like the iPhone X and Oppo Find X ($899 at Amazon Marketplace). And the Note 9 can’t latch on to insanely fast 5G data speeds whose networks will start bubbling up in 2019. This phone feels like Samsung’s holding back for next year’s Galaxy S10.

So yes, buy the Galaxy Note 9 if you’re upgrading from an older phone today and want the most feature-rich, super-powerful, large-screen Android phone out there. But if your current phone is in good shape and you don’t care two clicks about the S Pen stylus — then wait. 2018’s iPhones and Google’s Pixel 3 ($800 at Verizon Wireless) are on their way in weeks, not months, and next spring’s Galaxy S10 should help kick off a larger revolution with 5G.

Keep reading for the Note 9’s new features, and how it compares to rival phones like the iPhone X. Here are the Galaxy Note 9 specs compared with the Galaxy S9, S9 Plus and Note 8.

Note 9 highlights

  • Battery life is strong in real-world testing. I’ll continue to keep an eye on long-term drain.
  • The S Pen stylus’ new Bluetooth features work as advertised.
  • As a natural note taker, I love being able to jot things down. I’ve made so many lists to pin to the lock screen.
  • I tested in both blue and purple, and the Note 9’s bold colors stand out. It also sells globally in black and metallic copper.

Note 9 low points

  • You won’t be able to write or draw to the screen edge without the S Pen falling off the curved sides.
  • The fingerprint reader is too close to the camera array. Why hasn’t Samsung figured out the optimal placement yet?
  • The Note 9’s new AI camera tool works more slowly than I’d like for identifying scenes and optimizing settings for the best shot.
  • Bixby 2.0 is expanded, but the button on the Note 9’s left side still only maps to Bixby, as it does with the Galaxy S8 and newer.
  • If you write on the phone screen with the S Pen’s signature color (yellow, purple or copper), any notes you save will save in that color “ink” on a white background, which can be hard to read.

Where and how to buy the Galaxy Note 9

You can preorder the Galaxy Note 9 now. The phone goes on sale generally on Aug. 24. Keep an eye out for trade-in deals, promotions and bundled gifts. These values can change region by region.

Galaxy Note 9 looks smooth and oh-so-familiar

I’ve been using the Galaxy Note 9 in ocean blue and lavender purple, both of which I like. This phone is classic modern Samsung, with deep color and shine, a glossy finish that effortlessly picks up prints, and gracefully curved edges. It’s a gorgeous device, even if very little of the Note’s design feels fresh.

That’s because the phone’s 83 percent screen-to-body ratio (18.5:9) hasn’t changed all that much from last year’s Note 8. There are a few minor exceptions, including the fingerprint reader that now sits just under the camera module, and a slightly larger S Pen holder for a slightly larger S Pen.

I found the tall, narrow Note 9 easy enough to hold and use in my smaller hands, but I really had to lunge to hit that fingerprint reader. Those with larger hands will have more luck, but may find the target a little small. It’s a good idea to unlock the phone interchangeably with the iris scanner as well (both are secure enough for mobile payments).

More than one coworker or friend pointed out that the towering Note 9 was threatening to drop out of my back pocket. I typically carry it there when it’s not hitching a ride inside my purse pocket.

I also kept inadvertently hitting the Bixby Voice button on the phone’s left edge, which calls up Samsung’s version of Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. It’s a minor design problem, but still.

The Galaxy Note 9’s new S Pen picks up Bluetooth tricks

The new S Pen is the Galaxy Note 9’s standout feature by far. You can still write, draw, navigate around and create live messages. But now, the S Pen’s button can trigger different actions: You can open the camera app, flip the camera around and take a photo, all in a couple clicks. Of all the things you can do with the S Pen, this impressed me the most.

The Pen also lets you control a presentation — you can advance slides, play or fast-forward songs in a music player and shuffle through photos in a kind of gallery slideshow. The new skills rely on Bluetooth Low Energy (there’s an antenna inside the pen body), and you can customize the actions in a dedicated settings menu. Your options are limited for now, but Samsung wants to get other app makers on board.

The S Pen remote is said to work up to 30 feet away from the phone, but I was still taking photos from 100 feet away. Standby time is either 200 clicks or 30 minutes, and the S Pen recharges inductively in under a minute, starting when you reinsert the stylus into the holster.

Your phone will warn you if it’s been without the S Pen for too long. If you lose the tool, you’ll have to buy a replacement — there’s no Find my S Pen feature.

Here’s another fun perk: The Note 9 will now write in the color of its S Pen when you’re jotting notes on the black lock screen (the feature is called Screen-off memo). So, that’s yellow, purple, copper and white (for the black version). You can also switch to white “ink” if you’d prefer. At this point, though, why can’t you pick any color you like?

Note 9’s new AI camera features

Sadly, Samsung’s new AI camera software for it dual 12-megapixel cameras isn’t anything to get excited about.

The AI software analyzes a scene and quickly detects if you’re shooting a flower, food, a dog, a person or something else entirely. There are 20 options, including snowflakes, cityscapes, fire — you get it. Then the camera optimizes white balance, saturation and contrast to make photos pop.

It works fine, and you’ll see some big differences when photographing your lunch for Instagram photos. But the scene optimizer often takes a beat to kick in, and you can’t dismiss the suggestions with a swipe the way you can on the Huawei P20 Pro. It’s either on, or off.

Samsung is following the way the industry is going with AI camera software. But others got there first, so it feels like a minimal addition to what is essentially the S9 Plus’ camera app. It’s hardly worth calling out.

Another tiny featurette: flaw detection. If someone blinks an eye or moves, or the lens is smudged or there’s too much backlight getting in the way of a clean shot, a dialog box pops up right after you take the picture, prompting you to retake the picture.

Apart from these software additions, the Note 9 keeps the S9 phones’ main camera lens, which automatically changes aperture when it detects the need for a low-light shot. (Samsung calls this dual aperture.) There’s also portrait mode and an 8-megapixel front-facing camera for your selfies. Photos from both are very good, though any movement in low light shots can cause unwanted blur.

Battery life, internal speeds, speakers

Battery life was pretty terrific on the Galaxy Note 9. Sometimes, for whatever reason, a phone doesn’t always live up to its battery capacity. This one does. The US version of the Note 9 lasted for an average of 19 hours and 20 minutes in CNET’s looping video drain test, involving five tests so far with two different devices.

For chipset nerds, our test of the Note 9 running on Samsung’s own processor, the Exynos 9810, is still underway. It’s topping 20 hours in our battery drain test so far.

In real-world observation, the Note 9 is holding its own, and I haven’t yet gotten nervous that the phone will die on me if I stay out late. I’ll continue to keep an eye on battery drain day-to-day in the coming weeks.

Keep in mind that all batteries are at their most efficient when you start using your device, and then drain faster (they won’t last as long between charges) as time goes on. It isn’t ideal, but it’s the way things will go until or unless battery tech changes dramatically. Regardless, with the Note 9, you’re off to a good start.

Internal speeds are just as fast on benchmark tests and real life usage as other phones using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 chipset. Some tasks will still take time because all your photo processing, and PUBG– and Fortnite-playing take their toll on system resources. We did notice that the Note 9 didn’t get nearly as hot as the Galaxy S9 while playing Fortnite, and you won’t notice undue lag while you’re in the business of using your phone.

One final shout-out goes to the Note 9’s surround speakers, which are (the same) and just as loud as those on the Galaxy S9. Just remember not to cover the bottom speaker if you hold the phone to your ear.

Galaxy Note 9 versus iPhone X, Galaxy S9 Plus, Google OnePlus 6

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus iPhone X OnePlus 6
Display size, resolution 6.4-inch Super AMOLED; 2,960×1,440 pixels 6.2-inch; 2,960×1,440 pixels 5.8-inch; 2,436×1,125 pixels 6.28-inch OLED; 2,280×1,080 pixels
Pixel density 516ppi 529ppi 458 ppi 402ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.37×3.01×0.35 in 6.22×2.91×0.33 in 5.7×2.79×0.30 in 6.13×2.97×0.31 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 161.9×76.4×8.8 mm 158.1×73.8×8.5 mm 143.6×70.9×7.7 mm 155.7×75.4×7.75 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 7.09 oz.; 201g 6.66 oz; 189g 6.14 oz; 174 g 6.2 oz; 177 g
Mobile software Android 8.1 Oreo Android 8.0 Oreo iOS 11 Android 8.1 Oreo
Camera Dual 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (telephoto) Dual 12-megapixel Dual 12-megapixel 16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephoto
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel 8-megapixel 7-megapixel 16-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K 4K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 octa-core processor Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor (2.8GHz + 1.7GHz), or Octa-core Samsung Exynos 9810 (2.7 GHz + 1.7 GHz) Apple A11 Bionic 2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Storage 128GB, 512GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 64GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM 6GB, 8GB 6GB 3GB 6GB, 8GB
Expandable storage 512GB 400GB None None
Battery 4,000mAh 3,500mAh ? 3,300mAh
Fingerprint sensor Back Back None (Face ID via TrueDepth camera) Back of phone
Connector USB-C USB-C Lightning USB-C
Headphone jack Yes Yes No Yes
Special features Water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; S-Pen with Bluetooth connectivity; Iris and facial scanning Dual-aperture camera, water-resistant (IP68); super slo-mo video; wireless charging; iris scanning Water resistant (IP67); wireless charging; Face ID 3D unlock, Animoji Portrait mode, notifications toggle, dual-SIM, Dash Charging
Price off-contract (USD) $1,000 (128GB), $1,250 (512GB) Varies: $840-$930 (64GB) $999 (64GB), $1,149 (256GB) $529 (64GB), $579 (128GB), $629 (256GB)
Price (GBP) £899 (128GB), £1,099 (512GB) £869 £999 (64GB), £1,149 (256GB) £469 (64GB), £519 (128GB), £569 (256GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1499 (128GB), AU$1,799 (512GB) AU$1,349 (64GB), AU$1,499 (256GB) AU$1,579 (64GB), AU$1,829 (256GB) AU$702 (64GB), AU$769 (128GB), AU$835 (256GB)

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