Samsung Galaxy Note9
You’d think that smartphones with styluses would have died off by now, but Samsung keeps them alive by making them excellent
Samsung has always gone big with its Note handsets, and we don’t just mean the 6.4-inch screen on offer in this year’s model. They’ve always pushed ahead on features and premium build, and the result is a phone that comes close to the iPhone X’s high price. So, is it worth it?
The Note9 feels dense and classy in the hand, without the plasticky feel some flagships have had this year.
It’s no surprise that it feels solid, considering just how much is packed into a thin 8.8mm frame and more substantial 201g weight.
That’s no doubt thanks in part to its new 4,000mAh battery, which is a big increase over the 3,300mAh unit in the previous model, though we can’t blame Samsung for having been cautious there, given the Note’s colourful battery history…
It looks nearly identical to the Galaxy S9, meaning it’s one of the few high-end handsets you can have without a notch. Of course, you get the added bonus of the S Pen here, which hides completely within the handset when not in use, popping out from the bottom-right corner.
The S Pen has had a nice upgrade this year: it’s Bluetooth connected for the first time, meaning it can do more than simply tap and draw. There’s a button on the stylus, which acts as a handy remote to play or pause music, for example, or to launch the camera app and take photos remotely. The S Pen works really well, making it an ideal addition on top of the drawing prowess of the S Pen, which includes 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity.
It feels natural in the hand during use, is totally accurate, and its ability to take notes, annotate screengrabs and photos, translate foreign text (you select the words with the S Pen on the screen), and send Live Messages, are genuinely useful.
Of course, all that note-taking and drawing prowess wouldn’t feel as nice if the screen wasn’t any good. But the 1440x2960 Infinity Display is (just) Samsung’s best ever, with images that are just as vibrant as the ones on the S9 Plus, but in a slightly taller form.
From streaming HDR movies from Netflix, to enjoying a couple of rounds of combat in DragonBallLegends, to reading the fine content on T3.com, this phone’s screen makes it all an absolute pleasure.
Everything you’ll do on it feels utterly smooth too, which is just as important. The new entry-level Note9 comes with an Exynos 9810 processor, 128GB of storage space (a 512GB version costs more), and 6GB of RAM (this is increased to 8GB on the 512GB storage model). This is just about as high-end as phones get, especially the storage, which is colossal on that 512GB model. Bear in mind that it has a microSD card slot that can take another 512GB, meaning we’ve got a 1TB phone here. You really won’t have to worry about running out of space for photos and videos.
Aside from all that extra space, it basically matches the best of what else is currently out there for speed. This means that using the Note9 is a rapid, fluid experience: we met zero slow-down or lag while opening and using apps, playing games, switching usage modes (such as when using the S Pen), downloading content and browsing the internet. It’s what you’d expect for $1,499, though.
It helps that Android 8.1 is nice and mature now, running like a bug-free dream here. The Samsung Experience software, which replaced the crude and unpopular Samsung TouchWiz from earlier Galaxy devices, has also reached an incredibly refined level on
the Note9, with it guiding you at all times with useful hints and pointers in how you can navigate the open and often complex operating system.
The software partnering the Note9’s S Pen digital stylus also syncs seamlessly with Oreo. Extracting the S Pen when the phone is unlocked causes an overlay to appear with a customisable app wheel, enabling you to quickly make a note, or run an app. We have to confess that we added
FootballManagerMobile2018 to this almost immediately (the S Pen is perfect for configuring your false 9 formation). And, talking of gaming, you’ll be delighted to know that
Fornite runs smoothly on the Note9, and looks glorious on the big bright screen too. You have to install using the awkward route outside of the Google Play store, but then you can’t argue with the end results.
There is one area of software where the Note9 stumbles, and inevitably it’s Samsung’s Bixby smart assistant, which returns to the Note9 with its own dedicated, physical button, located on the left side underneath the volume keys. A single press opens the AI assistant’s home screen, where you can enter your text commands, configure settings, and run through its tutorials. A long press takes you directly to voice command input.
Providing you enable the option, Bixby can also be raised with a “Hi, Bixby” voice command, which worked for us most of the time.
Samsung says Bixby is smarter and better than ever, and it does feature extra smarts such as learning to tailor its responses and suggestions for you better (like which eateries to suggest based on your past preferences). That said, we still found it as patchy as ever
when on test. Many requests that we felt it would be able to handle didn’t register, or if it did register them, sometimes it would do random things that weren’t useful. Asking, for example, “How long will it take me to get home today?” saw Bixby open The Weather Channel, stating, “I couldn’t find the specific weather condition you asked for, here’s the overall weather instead”.
Ask Google Assistant, which is also available on the Note9, the exact same question and within a second a Google Maps box has opened with a time estimate to your house and a recommended route. Alas, Samsung doesn’t let you change the Bixby button to Google Assistant instead…
One area Samsung always gets right is the camera. The Note9 inherits the dual-lens, dual-aperture system from the S9+, meaning it can let in different levels of light for different types of shot, more like a proper camera than its phone rivals (only on the wideangle lens, though). Both 12MP rear lenses are image stabilised too, so it’s easy to get crisp and clear shots.
Moving round to the front of the Note9, the 8MP front camera now comes loaded with a first for the Note series: a front-facing camera with autofocus, which is perfect for using the remote trigger in the S Pen.
All the cameras take excellent bright pictures, helped with new intelligent scene optimisation, which adjust contrast and colours depending on what you’re shooting.
One day at a time
The boosted battery is another success story. The Note8’s battery was fine, but no more, really. The Note9 now delivers a battery that can meet the ‘all-day’ experience being touted by Samsung, and with medium mixed usage too. But you’ll still need to only be using it lightly if you want to get a full two days of use out of it.
That’s no problem – it’s standard among smartphones – but for a phone that prides itself on going big in everything, and being a productivity powerhouse, ideally we’d want an even larger battery to be slotted in here. Other phones already meet (or are set to exceed) the 4,000mAh size used here. You do get both Fast Charging and Fast Wireless Charging capabilities in the Note9, though, so at least refilling the phone’s tank is a rapid experience.
The Note9’s final trick is its audio credentials, including AKG-tuned speakers (which are noticeably better than the Note8’s), plus an Adapt Sound system and Dolby Atmos support. Using these with headphones provides much richer audio quality than normal.
All of this adds up to the Galaxy Note9 being our newly crowned king of the Android phones, and Samsung’s best device yet.
Screen 6.4-inch 1440x2960 AMOLED Processor Octo-core Exynos 9810 Memory 6GB/8GB Storage 128GB/512GB Cameras 12MP telephoto/12MP dualaperture wide-angle rear, 8MP front Battery 4,000mAh Dimensions 76.4x161.9x8.8mm Weight 201g
ON THE BIG SCREEN At 6.4 inches, it’s only a tad bigger than the S9+’s 6.2-inch display, but that extra space is excellent for its split-screen app pairing shortcuts PEN PAL The S Pen’s square shape is surprisingly comfortable to hold. This is great, since the intuitive software makes it much more tempting to use than you’d think Some might say Samsung design has found its groove. Some might say its in a rut. We expect big changes next year…
TOUCH HERE The fingerprint sensor is easier to reach than the Note8’s annoying position. The Note9 also has a face unlock feature built in The Note9 comes in four colours: black, blue, pink and purple
DONE IN 40 SECONDS The S Pen charges when you place it back in the phone. Fancy fast-charge tech means it can take 30 minutes worth of juice in only 40 seconds TELE ADDICT The twin rear cameras include a telephoto lens (for portraits) and a wide-angle. You can add arty bokeh effects to blur the background, of course The rich blue phone and gold/yellow pen combination is our favourite of Samsung’s options