Samsung Galaxy Note 9
Price: £899 inc VAT from fave.co/2BTVkIj
Like clockwork, Samsung has launched the Galaxy Note 9, the big-screen, stylus-toting cousin of the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus. It looks a lot like the Note 8, but despite the hype we think the upgrades are significant enough to make this Samsung’s best phone alongside the S9 Plus.
While headline changes are the (variant depending) yellow S-Pen with Bluetooth, a bigger battery and improved cameras, the general look, feel and performance of the Note 9 means this is Samsung’s most refined Note to date.
Since the launch of the iPhone X, the idea of a £1,000 phone is less alien now, and that’s roughly
the price you’ll pay if you want a Note 9 off contract. But it’s such a pleasure to use, such a complete smartphone, that it feels just as justified as Apple’s price tag. Like any phone though, it’s not without its flaws. Here’s our full Note 9 review.
The Note 9 is a stunner right out the box. Yes, it’s a big phone, but we expect that by now with the Note range. By slimming the bezel ever so slightly Samsung has stretched the screen up from 6.3- to 6.4in, but the dimensions of the phone are practically the same as the Note 8. It comes in Midnight Black or Lavender Purple with matching S Pen, and Ocean Blue with a yellow S Pen. There’s also a Metallic Copper option in some countries.
You’re probably going to want the blue one with the yellow pen, but we also really like the purple model, which is a light metallic hue and looks great. Samsung continues to use Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back. The back of the blue and purple models shimmer beautifully, while the black version is duller.
We were hoping for an in-screen fingerprint scanner as phones such as the Vivo NEX already have this technology. It seems we’ll have to wait for the Galaxy S10 to get it from Samsung, but the sensor is in a much better place below the cameras rather than next to them as it was on the Note 8. It’s still a small, fiddly sensor compared to other phones though.
The Note 9 has those familiar Samsung curves with the so-called Infinity Display, but it has put on weight. It’s 205g and we generally don’t like it when
a phone feels like we’re carrying a brick, but there’s a good reason for it here, and the phone is slight enough to feel manageable – but this is a two-hand phone for most tasks.
At 161.9x76.4x8.8mm, it’s going to stretch most pockets, but its heft makes it feel premium. A larger 4,000mAh battery, up from 3,300mAh, is the main cause for the weight increase. If there’s something we don’t might extra weight for, it’s longer battery life.
The phone feels even more luxurious than the Note 8, with grippier metallic edges to the chassis and a better oleophobic coating to the back of the device meaning noticeably fewer fingerprint smudges though it still gets pretty greasy back there.
It’s interesting to note that Samsung continues to buck two major trends in the phone world. The Note 9 has a headphone jack but doesn’t have a
notch in the screen compared to the iPhone X and many other Android phones this year. We’re very happy with both these things and hopefully signals that notches are not always necessary, seeing as Samsung can deal so elegantly without them.
Its sides are graced by a speaker, USB-C port, S-Pen silo, volume and power keys and a pesky, unmappable Bixby button.
The screen is bigger at 6.4in but that’s only marginally different to the 6.3in size used before. It’s a 2,960x1,440 Super AMOLED and the level of detail, brightness and clarity is stunning. Samsung has managed to outdo itself again and this is, at release, the best display ever on a smartphone. The familiar Infinity Display means curved edges with a Quad HD+ resolution and the best brightness in direct sunlight of any phone on the market alongside the LG G7 ThinQ.
Processor, memory and storage
The new model also gets a specs boost in the engine room. Samsung has stuck with a split strategy for processors in different markets, so many countries will get the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 while the UK and others will get Samsung’s own Exynos 8910 (the model reviewed here). Our unit was the 6GB RAM/128GB storage option but the more expensive version available hits 8GB/512GB. It’s of the first phones to have 512GB on board and underlines Samsung’s belief that the Note customer requires more storage than many modern laptops.
Samsung calls the Note 9 “1TB ready” as you can add up to 512GB via the microSD card slot. That’s some serious media management should you want to carry around an entire music and video collection with you at all times. In our use, the Note 9 was faultless for performance and finally feels as fast as a Pixel 2 XL and OnePlus 6. The only slowness we saw in comparison is Samsung’s use of animations between app switching and opening, which can make the software feel slower than the bare bones approach taken by OnePlus.
We benchmarked the phone against the Note 8 and S9 Plus, as well as the iPhone X, OnePlus 6 and Huawei P20 Pro – phones using those companies’ choice of top end processor at the time of the Note 9’s launch. The Geekbench test measures pure processing power, GFXBench looks at different levels
of GPU processing and frame rate, while JetStream is a browser benchmark. It’s clear that the Note 9 is an exceptionally fast phone here and the differences are negligible. Even if it looks like the iPhone is more powerful, you won’t notice a difference in realworld use – we didn’t.
Connectivity and audio
This phone has every extra feature you’d hope for considering the price: fast charging, wireless charging, IP68 waterproofing, NFC and 4G LTE.
It’s a bit disappointing that the Note 9 ships with a Quick Charge 2.0 charger when Android rivals mostly ship with 3.0 and are even compatible with 4.0. It means that while not as slow as a bundled
iPhone charger, the Note 9 will charge slower than the OnePlus 6, Pixel 2 and others. A brilliant upgrade on the Note 8 are the stereo speakers – one on the bottom edge and one in the earpiece. Like most phones, the drivers are too small to discern actual stereo separation, but the extra volume boost is much appreciated. Call quality is fantastic, with voices coming through particularly clear over 4G and WiFi. And Intelligent Scan, Samsung’s melding of face unlock and iris scanning, is faster than ever.
It’s top-notch specs all round (without the actual notch) and Samsung has gone one further by improving the already excellent S-Pen. Adding Bluetooth Low Energy tech, you can now use the stylus as a remote for things such as taking photos and selfies and clicking through presentations. It’s also fully customizable (unlike the Bixby button on the left edge of the phone), so you can use it how you like.
The S Pen only takes 40 seconds to charge once slotted into the phone and lasts for 30 minutes for its remote control duties. You can still use the old directto-screen functions when it’s dead, though.
Hovering over menus and icons often displays what the action will be before you tap, and being able to take the S-Pen out when the phone is locked to scribble a note down is still fun and useful. But it’s still a niche thing to want from a smartphone and while some might see it as convenient, most people will prefer to keep on using the normal notes app and typing stuff in.
If you want to take group selfies, then the S-Pen is your best friend, working as a remote shutter perfectly. But the S-Pen is still something that is fairly black and white – you’ll either love it or forget that it’s there. The advantage of note taking by typing is you can copy and paste it quickly cross-apps, or write whole passages on your phone.
Samsung wants you to write notes down with the S-Pen and save them, and if that works for you then you’ll love it, but what you can then do with those notes is limited. As an artistic tool, even a 6.4in display is fairly restrictive. You’ll be better off with the 10.5in Galaxy Tab S4 if drawing is your game.
Like the S9 Plus, the Note 9 has dual rear cameras with dual aperture and OIS. In fact, they are the exact same
The Ocean Blue Note 9 comes with a yellow S-Pen
Samsung has improved the already excellent S-Pen