Samsung Galaxy Note9 Review

Samsung Galaxy Note9

Samsung Galaxy Note9

Samsung

August, 2018
6.4" Super AMOLED display, Exynos 9810 chipset, 4000 mAh battery, 512 GB storage, 8 GB RAM, Corning Gorilla Glass 5.
EUR:€650 | USD:$735 | PKR:139,999 | INR:52,000

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Samsung Galaxy Note9 Review

Samsung Galaxy Note9 Review


Introduction

Samsung's latest and greatest Note series is back with a bang for year 2018 with a brand new and the most powerful Note series phone to date, Samsung Galaxy Note9. From the looks of it, it seems like an iterative release by Samsung but don't be fooled by that as this time around, there have been some major changes and huge increments in almost every department. Phone now has beefed up hardware specs, an insane amount of storage, better cameras and an all new, more responsive Bluetooth powered S-pen. It comes at a very high price point but there's so much cramped up within this phablet, that it might just be the first well deserving 1000-dollar smartphone. Only question I have right now is if Samsung Galaxy Note9 really is the all-rounder that is going to be the ultimate flagship smartphone this time around? Let's find out.

Design

Samsung Galaxy Note9 doesn't seem to have gone through a major overhaul with its design as it looks pretty much like its predecessor. There are, however, some subtle tweaks to curvature of screen and feel of edges. Phone's bezels are slimmed down as it allows more screen real estate while it is now much wider and thicker than previous Samsung Galaxy Note8. Phone has classic glass and metal sandwich built with Samsung's signature curves that blend effortlessly into curved display of device.

At front, there's a large screen with minimum bezels on top and curves towards sides. On upper bezel is where Samsung has implemented a front facing camera, Iris scanner and an earpiece with some sensors. Bottom bezel is left clean with physical buttons, as was the case with Samsung phones nowadays.

Samsung Galaxy Note9's glass back is curved in same manner as screen, giving it a symmetrical feel that fit in hand beautifully. Glass on back is actually grippier than most plastic backs, in my experience, meaning you're less likely to drop your phone, though back of phone does get smudged by fingerprints very quickly. There's a dual camera module towards top middle of back which is well flushed inside phone's body. That means you can put this phone on a flat surface and use it without it being swirling to its sides. Below camera module is a fingerprint scanner, a much better implementation this time as compared to last year's implementation right next to camera module. Fingerprint sensor is, however, square in shape and even though it's easily reachable, it doesn't provide the same satisfaction as a round fingerprint scanner. There's some Samsung branding below fingerprint scanner and rest of glass back is kept clean.

Towards right side of phone, there's a dedicated Bixby button which is used to call Samsung's own virtual assistant, Bixby. On left, there's a power button together with volume keys. Top of the phone is left clean while at bottom of this device is where you'll find a USB Type-C port, speaker, a 3.5 mm headphone jack and S-pen. It's great to see Samsung keeping headphone jack even though most manufacturers are evicting it out of their phone.

To sum up this design by Samsung, it needs to be said that don't fix what is not broken. Samsung Galaxy Note8 was one of the best-looking smartphones and Samsung has taken that and tweaked some areas to make it even better. Glass build of this phone is excellent and comes with Gorilla Glass 5 protection with IP68 dust and water resistance as well. Also, not to forget how gorgeous it looks when light reflects on it. This is indeed, one of most striking phone Samsung has ever made.

Display

Samsung's latest and greatest smartphone comes with arguably the best display on a smartphone right now. Traditionally, Samsung Galaxy Note series came with a 5.7-inch display, but that all changed with Samsung Galaxy Note8, which pushed a new size of 6.3-inches, fractionally larger than Samsung Galaxy S8+. Samsung Galaxy Note9 sees a further push to 6.4-inches but it sticks with Samsung's Super AMOLED WQHD+ Infinity Display which has a resolution of 1440x2960p, aspect ratio of 18:5:9 and pixel density of 516 ppi. It also has mobile HDR on board which means that you'd be able to enjoy HDR content right from your phone.

Display on phone is astonishingly good and it can rise to an eye-searing level of brightness, at 1200 nits. For comparison, a good laptop screen will get to about 300 nits and a top-end HDR TV will generally get to around 1000 nits. That's unbelievably bright, although it's hard to verify because even with automatic brightness switched off, screen refuses to go beyond 340 nits under normal conditions. I suspect you'll only ever get to 1200 nits when watching HDR compatible content from YouTube and Netflix, both of which look fantastic.

AMOLED display manages clean whites, deep blacks, rich colors and only a hint of motion blur when scrolling through text. There's a slight blue tint if you view phone off center but everything else looks fantastic on big bright display. With screen turned up to its full WQHD+ resolution, text is super sharp and crisp, as are high-resolution photos. However, I'll be honest, you'd be hard-pressed to spot any difference in everyday use. I suppose this conclusion sort of justifies Samsung's decision to disable full resolution by default, but that doesn't change the fact that this super expensive screen is being wasted most of the time. Phone still comes with always-on display feature and because AMOLED pixels are self-lighting (they only consume power when they're not black, unlike conventional LCDs that are always on), you have option of keeping display on with a black and white clock, battery information and media buttons.

Overall, it's just a great display, one to reckon with and I don't see any other device at this moment which can compete with Samsung's AMOLED displays.

Hardware

Samsung levels up specs on its latest flagship, Samsung Galaxy Note9 by finally having the latest and greatest specs on Note series. Phone comes with Snapdragon 845 Processor and Adreno 630 GPU in US and China market while the global version comes with Samsung's own Exynos 9810 processor with Mali G72 MP18 GPU. Both versions come with either 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of on-board storage or 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of on-board storage. That is an immense amount of storage and bear with me, you have an option to have as much as 1 TB of storage with the higher end model as phone also supports micro-SD card expansion up to 512 GB.

All of that means that Samsung Galaxy Note9 is an absolute multitasking beast. It's great at simultaneously managing apps, like playing a YouTube video while running Fortnite in background. Plus, little things like having my Instagram feed fully loaded the second I opened app or seeing my friends' Stories the instant I tapped on their pictures meant Samsung Galaxy Note9 fed my desire for instant gratification more than most phones. Graphics were also smooth as I awkwardly stumbled around looking for opponents to destroy in Fortnite, but phone felt significantly warmer after just a few minutes. It wasn't uncomfortable, however, with Samsung implementing water/carbon fiber cooling inside phone means that it can go for longer periods of continues usage without getting too hot.

In terms of how that translates to performance and benchmark test, results proved that Samsung Galaxy Note9 is indeed a powerful phone, though not the fastest Android device around. I ran Geekbench 4, which measures a phone's general performance, on 6GB version of Samsung Galaxy Note9 and came up with a multicore score of 8,876. That's a definite improvement over Samsung Galaxy Note8 and its Snapdragon 835 processor, which produced a 6,564 score, as it also outperformed Samsung Galaxy S9+ (8,295). However, it didn't match OnePlus 6 as it still remains the fastest Android device together Xiaomi Black Shark, with its 9,098 score.

Samsung Galaxy Note9 comes with a couple of security features, such as a relocated fingerprint scanner, facial recognition, Iris scanner and a combination of both facial recognition and Iris scanner, called Intelligent Scan. There's Bluetooth AptX support as well, together with heart-rate sensor which can come quite handy if you're into fitness. Also, it's worth mentioning that phone comes with pretty bass oriented stereo speaker setup which comprises of bottom firing speaker and earpiece speaker. Speaker is tuned by AKG and offers great stereo sound which is just as loud as Samsung Galaxy Note8's dual speakers, but with much more bass this time.

Other than that, it's a powerful smartphone by Samsung. One that is definitely off the charts due to its top hardware and loads of hardware features. It certainly is the most powerful Note to date.

S Pen

Signature of Samsung Note series has always been S Pen, and Samsung has really thrown hard into that little stylus this year. Taking memos on Samsung Galaxy Note9's sleeping screen is back, and it's got a new twist this year. Color of writing on screen is determined by color of your S Pen, yellow for Ocean Blue's yellow S Pen, and purple for Lavender Purple model's purple stylus. Not only that but S Pen now possesses more functionality by adding a Bluetooth Low Energy module and a supercapacitor to provide power as Samsung turned their pen into a full-fledged remote control.

By default, long-pressing S Pen button launches camera app, though you can change this to be any other app. You can double-click to switch between front and rear cameras, then click once to snap a photo. It's incredibly handy, and honestly, such a joy to be able to set phone down somewhere or hold it up at more-awkward angles than normal and still be able to trigger shutter without searching for volume button or ending up with a blurry picture. For those who care less about selfies, S Pen is still pretty useful. You can use it to skip through slides in a presentation, for instance, or tracks on a Spotify playlist. In Chrome, you can press once to go back a page and twice to go forward. In addition to apps from Samsung, Google and Microsoft, only two of my third-party apps currently offer S Pen remote controls. Hopefully, more developers will use Samsung's open SDK to integrate this feature over time.

This does mean that S Pen now needs charging, but thankfully skilled engineers at Samsung have managed to equip stylus with a supercapacitor, so putting S Pen into your Samsung Galaxy Note9 for just 40 seconds provides 30 minutes of charge and you probably don't need to worry much about its battery.

This makes Samsung Galaxy Note9 clearly different from Samsung Galaxy S9+ as some people have argued in past about Note series' actual USP. In fact, new S Pen makes you want to own this device, even if you're not a Samsung fan at all.

Battery

Samsung's latest Note series flagship is branded as the most powerful Note yet and that is true for its battery department as well. Phone features a huge 4000 mAh battery which is supposed to give you an all-day battery life. It's also a significant improvement over last year's Samsung Galaxy Note8's 3300 mAh battery which was not quite enough for most heavy users.

Phone features a USB Type-C port for fast charging together with fast wireless charging which means there's nothing in the battery department that you're not getting with this device. During my battery drain test, I made Samsung Galaxy Note9 go through some heavy games and extensive 3D benchmarks on loop and phone managed to turn up a battery endurance of 5 hours and 21 minutes which is excellent and much higher than any other flagship device I have tested as of yet.

To put it in simple words, Samsung has done a great job with battery department of Samsung Galaxy Note9, something which was direly needed. It is simply one of the best batteries on any phone this big and powerful.

Camera

On paper, Samsung Galaxy Note9's cameras look pretty similar to Samsung Galaxy S9+'s cameras. Reality is, even though they've certainly taken inspiration from Samsung Galaxy S9+, there's a lot of AI magic involved to make Samsung Galaxy Note9's camera even better.

Phone is equipped with two 12 MP sensors having one telephoto lens and other a wide-angle lens. Telephoto camera has Dual Aperture feature from Samsung Galaxy S9+, which opens up to f/1.5 from f/2.4 to let in more light while wide-angle lens has an f/2.4 aperture. This allows for more light to enter lens, meaning even dark shots look good. Even when using Live Focus (aka portrait mode), which is usually problematic in low light, camera produced a great looking photo, especially when compared to Apple iPhone 8 Plus's lackluster results in same lighting conditions. Second lens adds same 2x optical zoom you get on previous Note, and you'll naturally be able to take bokeh-style photographs with Samsung's Live Focus mode.

Samsung has also added something it calls Scene Optimizer, which is basically its version of Huawei's and LG's AI photography feature. It is intelligence baked in for automatically configuring camera settings depending on what you're shooting. Phone's camera recognizes 20 different scenes, including snow, sunsets, beaches and backlit subjects, and adjusts contrast, brightness, saturation, white balance and other settings you'd normally have to manually configure in camera's Pro mode. In my experience this feature worked decently well, bringing out a bit of extra color in things like flowers and other greenery. Obviously, it's not going to be perfect. I found, in case of flowers that it has a tendency to oversaturate colors. If you agree, you can turn off Scene Optimizer if you'd rather take photos without its intervention as well. However, you have to do this before shot is taken. There's no way to manually override this feature to tell it what kind of object you're shooting.

There's a brand new featured added by Samsung in their new Note smartphone's camera which is called Flaw Detection. It serves a similar role as Scene Optimizer, helping you avoid getting in your own way as an amateur photo. Feature is designed to alert you if a shot is blurry, if there's a smudge on screen, if subject blinked or if backlighting is making everything look crappy. In case of lens smudging and backlighting, it only bothers with an alert, every 24 hours. I found this feature somewhat useful as blink detection worked well. Blur detection, on other hand, was a bit more of a crap shoot for subjects in motion and those that were too close to the lens to get a good focus. This feature could use a bit of work, but I still think it's one of the more compelling additions as a whole of device as I anticipate a lot of other companies introducing their own versions in coming year.

You can record videos up to 4K at 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps and 720p at a super slow 960 fps. Videos are shot with HDR on, which delivers exceptional footage even in low light conditions. Both camera lenses also support OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) which help to deliver exceptionally stable videos even while you're walking or even running. On front, there's an 8 MP selfie camera with an f/1.7 aperture and autofocus that allows brighter selfies in dark scenes while you can also shoot 4K videos at 30 fps from front camera, quite impressive indeed.

Overall, Samsung Galaxy Note9's camera is solid, but it's not the best around, even with Scene Optimizer activated. Its biggest competitor at this moment is Google Pixel XL which delivers the best smartphone photography, closely matched by Huawei P20 Pro. However, being able to ditch AI and shoot in Pro mode when you want to and features such as AI scene detection with dual aperture is a nice touch for professional photographers and smartphone camera enthusiast.

Software

Samsung Galaxy Note9 ships with an old Android 8.1 Oreo, which is quite disappointing as Android Pie is out already, with Samsung's own TouchWiz skin on top. Throughout years, Samsung has toned down their version of OS closer to pure Android as one of the main reason their phones couldn't compete with big dogs is their software. Their phones are notorious for being laggy after a while and Samsung seems to work towards that issue quite seriously. On Samsung Galaxy Note9, overall interface is similar to one on Samsung Galaxy S9+, with little changes such as edge shortcuts and Stylus options. Phone seems quite smooth to operate, with UI smoothly swirling right and left. I won't lie that it is not as smooth as UI on OnePlus 6, but for a Samsung device, this is as fast as it gets.

Samsung has added some interesting features to phone's software, such as Intelligent Scan which blends face recognition and iris detection for convenient hands-free logins. Unfortunately, it still proved to be an unreliable way to unlock this phone as it often didn't recognize my eyes or face. Thankfully, fingerprint sensor on rear serves as a handy alternative and is quite fast as well. Next feature, one that excited me the most is Dex mode. This mode lets you connect your phone to a monitor and use it like a PC. It has been refined and is now even easier to setup. Unlike previous attempts at turning a phone into desktop on Samsung Galaxy S8, Samsung Galaxy Note9 only needs a simple USB Type-C to HDMI adapter to take advantage of a nearby external monitor. Officially, Samsung says its $50 dongle and older Dex pads are only fully supported ways to do this, but technically any adapter should work. From there, you just need to connect a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and then all of a sudden, you have a full desktop environment to play around with. I personally believe that it is a great addition to this phone as Dex mode is actually the best way to triumph on people in Fortnite which is exclusively available only on Samsung Galaxy Note9 at the moment. Particularly, other mobile players who are forced to fight back using sad, unresponsive touchscreen controls. While Huawei's P20 Pro offers similar desktop functionality via a USB-C to HDMI adapter, Dex mode's better UI is truly the closest any company has ever come to achieving this dream of having a phone that can transform into a real computer at a moment's notice.

Last but not the least, let's talk about Samsung's own voice assistant, Bixby. Samsung is improving its Bixby 2.0 voice assistant by integrating with more third-party apps and making it more aware of context, but it is still playing catch-up with rival assistants, such as Amazon's Alexa, Google Assistant and even Apple's Siri. These assistants still excel at tasks like setting multiple timers and several voice queries. Bixby's new additions, which include ability to make a restaurant reservation and call an Uber without installing those apps or pressing any buttons at all, are still buggy at this point. In my experience, it was pretty tough for Bixby to make sense of what I was saying half of the time, especially when language spoken required some accent (like a French restaurant). Bixby doesn't respond quickly, and often mishears what you ask about and if it is going to be foundation of Samsung's upcoming Galaxy Home speaker, it's going to need a whole lot of work to compete with Alexa. It's worth mentioning that Adobe has introduced Adobe Scan for Bixby Vision, meaning you can use Bixby Vision to create PDF documents. Working in tandem with Bixby, Scan uses AI and Adobe Sensei to transform phone into a portable PDF scanner, rather like technology also available in other apps like Dropbox. Going a step further though, there are also image tools that mean you can do all the usual stuff like crop and rotate as well as reorder, delete or add pages and adjust colors.

Other than that, it is exactly what I was expecting it to be. A classic Samsung software experience which gives you tons of functionality but there's always fear that it's going to lag down sooner or later. Let's just hope that Samsung Galaxy Note9 breaks this stereotype.

Conclusion

Samsung Galaxy Note9 is a huge device, both in size and its caliber. It's available for pre-order at a steep price of $1000 dollars for 6GB/128 GB variant and $1250 for 8GB/512 GB one. Phone is available in three different colors: Metallic Copper, Lavender Purple, Midnight Black and my favorite one, Ocean Blue with yellow S Pen.

Samsung has been an innovator with Galaxy Note lineup, with past models setting a bar for productivity powerhouses with huge screens. But these days, nearly every flagship phone is now a giant. Having a cutting-edge processor, pro-level camera and lengthy battery life is no longer special, in fact, Samsung just released such a phone this spring with Samsung Galaxy S9+. Where Samsung Galaxy Note9 shines is as a high-performance phone. If your productivity depends on a device that has a giant display and ability to get more work done with powerful S Pen, Samsung's latest phone is one for you. Its ability to connect to an external display with just a cable makes it ideal for power users together with a massive amount of mobile storage you're getting.

Samsung only needs to iron out a few quirks such as Bixby and push out its Android Pie update for this to be best phone of the year. It'll be interesting to see what Apple and Google have in store for us later this year but for now, Samsung Galaxy Note9 is a satisfying update and Samsung fans will be delighted.