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

Australian T3 - - TESTED -

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?

Built bet­ter

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.

In­fin­ity ph­woar

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, 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.

Ar­ti­fi­cial id­iocy

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…

Al­ways fo­cused

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

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