Best An­droid phablets

Lots of smart­phones have large dis­plays, but these are the best big screen phones you can buy to­day. HENRY BUR­RELL re­ports

Android Advisor - - Contents -

Most phones with dis­plays over 5.5 inches are con­sid­ered phablets, but in re­cent times phones have got taller and thin­ner dis­plays in or­der to fit in larger over­all dis­plays. Most of the phones in this buy­ing guide have these taller as­pect ra­tios as they are known

Not all phones with large screens could be con­sid­ered ‘big’ though – de­spite its 5.7in screen we wouldn’t con­sider the reg­u­lar Gal­axy S9 to be a ph­ablet, be­cause its tiny bezels mean it’s not a huge

hand­set, yet we would con­sider the iPhone 8 Plus a ph­ablet with its 5.5in screen, a reg­u­lar 16:9 dis­play as­pect ra­tio and big bezels.

Sam­sung, Huawei, LG and oth­ers all have phones that re­quire two-handed use most of the time, such is the size of their dis­plays. But big phones have other great ben­e­fits like larger bat­ter­ies and the pay-off is of­ten well worth it. Though some need the large bat­tery as the big screen drains the cell faster.

The ben­e­fits

Watch­ing films and TV be­comes much more pleas­ant on a large screen phone and you’ll find your­self ap­pre­ci­at­ing the pho­tos you take even more when viewed on a big, vi­brant dis­play.

Take into ac­count that the num­ber of pix­els will be stretched over a larger screen area, so a Quad-HD screen will be ap­pre­ci­ated here more than it would on a com­pact phone. That said, though, even a full-HD screen will look crys­tal clear on a big phone – just watch out for any­thing lower in res­o­lu­tion than this.

1. Google Pixel 3 XL

Price: £869 inc VAT from fave.co/2zqZkf0 Read our re­view on page 19.

2. OnePlus 6

Price: £469 inc VAT from fave.co/2x12Z4Z It’s four-and-a-half years since OnePlus re­leased its first phone, and the firm is al­ready on its eighth

hand­set. The OnePlus 6 ar­rives a point where notches are all the rage and while it might not have ev­ery fea­ture a phone can have, it’s still an amaz­ing deal.

De­sign

If you’re fa­mil­iar with the OnePlus 6’s pre­de­ces­sor, the 5T, then this isn’t a huge de­par­ture in terms of de­sign and build. It’s largely that phone with a col­lec­tion of tweaks and im­prove­ments.

The head­line news is that the phone is made from Go­rilla Glass 5, but has a metal bor­der with glass on the front and back. Three dif­fer­ent fin­ishes are avail­able: Mid­night Black, which has the clas­sic OnePlus look; Mir­ror Black is heav­ily pol­ished and has that quin­tes­sen­tial glass look and feel; while Silk White, has both white and pink tones thanks

to crushed pearl along with a soft pow­der fin­ish to the touch sim­i­lar to the orig­i­nal OnePlus.

De­spite ru­mours of wire­less charg­ing – which re­quires glass to work – this is not a fea­ture of the OnePlus 6. The glass is there for a pre­mium look and feel only, and there’s a sil­i­cone case in the box to help pro­tect it.

The phone cer­tainly looks and feels like a flag­ship de­vice (and the an­ten­nas are more hid­den now), but there are down­sides. The de­vice is, for ex­am­ple, more slip­pery in the hand and, par­tic­u­larly with the Mir­ror Black model, the glass shows up fin­ger­prints.

We were hop­ing that this would be the first wa­ter­proof OnePlus phone, but un­for­tu­nately this isn’t the case. It does of­fer im­proved wa­ter re­sis­tance, so no IP rat­ing, but it will cope bet­ter in the rain or an ac­ci­den­tal drop into a pud­dle.

Some smaller things to note be­fore we move on in­clude the fact there’s still a head­phone jack and that the cam­era ar­ray, which still sticks out, has moved to the mid­dle of the phone above the fin­ger­print scan­ner – this is a slightly dif­fer­ent shape.

Fi­nally, the Alert Slider has moved to the right side of the phone above the power but­ton, so you can use it with your thumb – sorry left han­ders.

The OnePlus 6 is the same size as the 5T (156.1x75mm), but slightly thicker and heav­ier – 7.75mm and 177g aren’t bad, though.

Dis­play

De­spite hav­ing the same foot­print as the 5T, the OnePlus 6 of­fers a larger screen thanks to much

smaller bezels – it’s now 6.28in rather than 6.01in. The phone uses with the same Op­tic AMOLED tech­nol­ogy, so the main dif­fer­ence is the notch at the top.

The res­o­lu­tion is slightly higher at 2,280x1,080 due to that ex­tra bit of screen and the new 19:9 as­pect ra­tio. That might be lower than the Quad HD res­o­lu­tions on more ex­pen­sive phones, but for most peo­ple this is plenty good enough.

Opin­ions on phones with notches are split, but we’ve found that you do get used to it and OnePlus gives you the op­tion to hide it if you pre­fer. This makes the back­ground black, while still dis­play­ing icons that are dimmed, so it pro­vides a dif­fer­ent style.

The main goal here is to of­fer as much screen as pos­si­ble and an 84 per­cent screen-to-body ra­tio is a de­cent ef­fort. It just means that such a large screen can be tricky to use one-handed see­ing as our hands aren’t get­ting big­ger to match the trend.

Luck­ily, you can do things like pull the no­ti­fi­ca­tion pane down by swip­ing down in the mid­dle of the dis­play rather than hav­ing to reach right to the top.

Pro­ces­sor, mem­ory and stor­age

The OnePlus 6 comes with the lat­est Qual­comm Snap­dragon 845 flag­ship pro­ces­sor. The firm is known for pack­ing in a se­ri­ous amount of mem­ory and this hand­set is no dif­fer­ent as you get ei­ther 6- or 8GB. There’s no mi­croSD card slot, but you get at least 64GB of stor­age as stan­dard. There are also mod­els of­fer­ing 128- or 256GB.

OnePlus’s tag line for the phone ‘The Speed You Need’, and there’s no deny­ing how fast it is. It’s

no­tice­ably quicker in op­er­a­tion than many other phones and bench­mark re­sults are up there with (in some cases bet­ter) phones a lot more ex­pen­sive.

Con­nec­tiv­ity, au­dio and bio­met­rics

The OnePlus 6 comes with dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi, Blue­tooth 5.0 with aptX HD, GPS and NFC. It’s still a dual-SIM phone and the only change is that it’s now 4G Cat 16, which means it’s the first OnePlus to get Gi­ga­bit speeds – you won’t see that in real life, though. Once again there’s a USB-C port, a head­phone jack and a sin­gle down-fac­ing speaker.

The rear-mounted fin­ger­print scan­ner has a slightly dif­fer­ent shape to that found on the 5T, but it’s ba­si­cally the same and works quickly. Most of the time, though, you’ll prob­a­bly end up us­ing Face Un­lock, which is ex­tremely quick, and even works well in low light.

Cam­eras

The cam­eras might have moved po­si­tion on the back of the phone, but they’re not hugely dif­fer­ent to the ones on the 5T. The OnePlus 6 still has dual cam­eras, one at 16Mp and the other at 20Mp. They are both Sony sen­sors and have an im­pres­sive aper­ture of f/1.7. The big­gest ad­di­tion this year is that the main 16Mp sen­sor now has op­ti­cal im­age sta­bi­liza­tion (OIS) and the sen­sor is slightly larger to take in more light.

There’s a tele­photo op­tion in the cam­era app for 2x zoom, though this doesn’t switch to the higher res­o­lu­tion sen­sor, it just crops the im­age. In­stead, the 20Mp lens is mainly used for the depth ef­fect of

por­trait mode. You can take pho­tos in 4:3, 1:1 or even 19:9 to fill the screen, but it’s worth not­ing that as­pect ra­tio will look odd else­where.

The front cam­era is still 16Mp with an f/2.0 aper­ture and is able to record video at up to 1080p at 30fps.

We like how sim­ple and easy the app is to use, in­clud­ing chang­ing modes and set­tings.

As you can see in our sam­ples, op­po­site, the OnePlus 6 per­forms very well. The cam­era of­fers ex­cel­lent de­tail, colour, ex­po­sure and white bal­ance – in a range of con­di­tions, even low light. It’s not the best phone cam­era but at the price, you’re get­ting much bet­ter qual­ity than you would nor­mally ex­pect.

In terms of video, you can shoot at up to 4K at 60fps and re­sults are im­pres­sive with the OIS do­ing a de­cent job of smooth­ing things out. We would rec­om­mend shoot­ing in 1080p at 60fps for the best com­bi­na­tion of qual­ity and file size, though.

Slow mo­tion is all the rage right now and although the OnePlus 6 of­fers 720p at 480fps or 1080p at 240fps, which is half the frame rate of ri­vals such as the Sam­sung Gal­axy S9 and Sony Xpe­ria XZ2, you can shoot for up to a minute in one go mak­ing it eas­ier to cap­ture the mo­ment you’re after.

Bat­tery life

Like the 5T, the OnePlus 6 has a 3,300mAh bat­tery. We’ve been fans of Dash Charge since it was first in­tro­duced and it makes an ap­pear­ance here. In our tests, it en­abled our test unit to reach whop­ping 55 per­cent from a 30-minute charge from a dead phone. That’s se­ri­ously im­pres­sive and for some users that

could be a whole day of us­age as promised, if you’re not a heavy user that is.

Soft­ware

The phone comes with the firm’s own Oxy­genOS, which is a stock ver­sion of An­droid 8.1 Oreo. OnePlus hasn’t messed around with the in­ter­face and im­por­tantly you don’t get loads of bloat­ware. It does, how­ever, come with lots of lit­tle tweaks and ad­di­tions that have been around for a while, namely the Shelf which is a swipe away from the home screen. This pro­vides quick ac­cess to re­cent con­tacts and apps, as well as pro­vid­ing use­ful in­for­ma­tion such as data us­age and avail­able stor­age.

Cus­tomiza­tion is good, so you can re­ally use the phone how you like. This means you can, for ex­am­ple, hide the notch, or change the font. The OnePlus 6

also gives you the op­tion to hide or even switch off the nav­i­ga­tion bar at the bot­tom of the screen. The lat­ter means you’ll use ges­tures that are avail­able al­ready on the 5T via a soft­ware up­date. They’re sim­i­lar to those used on the iPhone X and the ones com­ing in An­droid P, so you swipe up from the bot­tom of the screen to go home, swipe and hold to open re­cent apps and swipe from the right side to go back.

Ver­dict

The OnePlus 6 might not have ev­ery­thing on the ul­ti­mate phone tick list, but that doesn’t re­ally mat­ter. There are more ex­pen­sive phones on the mar­ket with ad­di­tional fea­tures such as wa­ter­proof­ing and wire­less charg­ing, but those are lux­ury items that a lot of peo­ple won’t ac­tu­ally use very of­ten. What OnePlus has done is nailed all the most im­por­tant stuff and made a phone that of­fers ex­cel­lent de­sign, specs and per­for­mance at a frankly ridicu­lous price. So for most peo­ple, the 6 is an ab­so­lute bar­gain. Chris Martin

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

• 6.28in Full HD+ (2,280x1,080, 402ppi) AMOLED dis­play

• An­droid 8.1 Oreo with Oxy­genOS

• Qual­comm Snap­dragon 845 octa-core pro­ces­sor

• Adreno 630 graph­ics

• 6/8GB RAM

• 64/128/256GB stor­age

• 16- and 20Mp rear cam­eras, f/1.7, sup­port for 4K video at 60fps

• 16Mp front cam­era, f/2.0

• 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi

• Blue­tooth 5.0

• 4G LTE (Cat 16)

• Dual nano-SIM

• NFC

• Head­phone jack

• Fin­ger­print sen­sor (rear)

• USB-C

• 3,300mAh non-re­mov­able bat­tery with Dash Charge • 156.1x75x7.75mm

• 177g

3. Sam­sung Gal­axy S9+

Price: £869 inc VAT from fave.co/2zw3PEK The Gal­axy S9+ might not be the big­gest up­grade com­pared to the Gal­axy S8+, but it’s per­haps bet­ter than hav­ing to wait longer for a new de­vice. Over­all, you might strug­gle to tell the two apart, but there are im­prove­ments namely in the cam­era depart­ment, which Sam­sung says it has “reimag­ined”.

De­sign

Since the Gal­axy S9+ is an in­cre­men­tal up­grade from 2018’s smart­phone, there’s not a huge amount to say when it comes to de­sign and build. In fact, you might strug­gle to fig­ure out which one is the new model in a side-by-side test un­less you’re look­ing at the new Lilac Pur­ple model. It’s also avail­able in Mid­night Black, Blue Co­ral and Ti­ta­nium Grey.

At the front, the phone looks near enough iden­ti­cal to the S8+. It’s re­ally no sur­prise Sam­sung is stick­ing to

the gor­geous de­sign that fea­tures the In­fin­ity dis­play. The phone is marginally shorter and the firm has made the bezels a tiny bit smaller, though it’s not no­tice­able. The metal frame’s matte fin­ish looks nicer com­pared to the S8+’s glossy coat. An­other mi­nor tweak is a sin­gle slot for the speaker rather than five small holes.

The main give­away that this phone is the Gal­axy S9+ and not an older model is on the rear. First, there are dual cam­eras, pre­vi­ously a fea­ture only avail­able on the Note 8. The other tweak is the place­ment for the fin­ger­print scan­ner, which is now be­low the cam­era ar­ray rather than to the side. This was a bug­bear on the S8 phones, es­pe­cially the S8+ where the sen­sor was quite a stretch to reach.

You’re still at risk of smudg­ing the lower cam­era, but at least the sen­sor isn’t an­noy­ing low down the phone such as the Xpe­ria XZ2.

So with a near-iden­ti­cal de­sign, Sam­sung is stick­ing to an alu­minium band with glass front and back. The Gal­axy S9+ still of­fers top-end IP68 wa­ter­proof­ing and gladly hasn’t ditched the head­phone jack.

The glass rear looks great when it’s clean, but is a fin­ger­print mag­net and the phone feels slip­pery in the hand.

We don’t mind that the de­vice is a bit thicker at 8.5mm. Although the S9+ has more tech to of­fer, it is still a bit un­wieldy, and weigh­ing in at 189g it isn’t ex­actly a feath­er­weight.

Dis­play

The 6.2in screen re­mains the same as the S8+’s. It uses Sam­sung’s In­fin­ity Dis­play, so you get an 18.5:9 as­pect ra­tio and curved edges on both sides. A Quad HD Plus res­o­lu­tion (Full HD Plus is used by de­fault,

but you can change it) means im­ages are crisp and it’s no sur­prise Sam­sung sticks to its bright (max­i­mum 324cm2) and colour­ful Su­per AMOLED tech­nol­ogy.

As usual, the screen is al­ways on, so dis­plays use­ful in­for­ma­tion with­out con­sum­ing much bat­tery while the screen is ‘off’. You also get the edge pan­els, which bring short­cuts to apps, con­tacts and far more by swip­ing in from the side.

Sam­sung has opted against us­ing a ‘notch’ at the top of the panel. We’re not sure why oth­ers are so keen to copy Ap­ple, and even though some pro­vide a way to switch the fea­ture off, we like the fact Sam­sung has stuck to the reg­u­lar style here.

Pro­ces­sor, mem­ory and stor­age

The Gal­axy S+ is pow­ered by the new Exynos 9810 chip. It’s still octa-core, but gets a bump in clock speed to 2.7GHz for the faster four. Power users will be pleased to hear that the S9+ has more mem­ory and stor­age com­pared to the S9 with 6/128GB. That’s an ex­tra 50 per­cent in RAM and dou­ble the stor­age. We have seen a spec sheet with a 128GB model, but this seems to be very elu­sive at best. There’s less need to use the mi­croSD card slot, which now ac­cepts up to 400GB, but it’s great that Sam­sung con­tin­ues to of­fer the fea­ture where oth­ers of­ten don’t.

As you can see in our bench­marks, the S9+ im­pres­sively breaks the 9,000 bar­rier in Geek­bench 4, which isn’t too far off the iPhone X. Graph­ics, tested at the de­fault Full HD Plus res­o­lu­tion, are ex­cel­lent, too.

Over­all, it’s ex­actly what we’d ex­pected from a flag­ship phone at this price and with these specs.

In the real world, the S9+ is a smooth per­former and there are plenty of other ar­eas where phones are dif­fer­ent in 2018, so don’t worry about the num­bers too much.

Fin­ger­print and Iris sen­sors

As men­tioned ear­lier, the fin­ger­print scan­ner has been moved to a much more sen­si­ble lo­ca­tion be­low the cam­era. It’s a lot eas­ier to find with your fin­ger with­out stretch­ing too much, although there’s still a risk of smudg­ing the lower lens. Sam­sung has also made it eas­ier to add fin­ger­prints as you only need to swipe three times per fin­ger – we did it in just two.

There’s still an iris scan­ner, some­thing which we’ve not been a fan of on pre­vi­ous Sam­sung phones. How­ever, In­tel­li­gent Scan means you can use it in com­bi­na­tion with fa­cial scan­ning. It’s a lot bet­ter than pre­vi­ously, but ri­val face un­lock sys­tems, in­clud­ing those from Ap­ple and OnePlus, are still bet­ter.

Con­nec­tiv­ity and Au­dio

Top-level con­nec­tiv­ity means the S9+ is packed with the tech you’d ex­pect, in­clud­ing dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi, Blue­tooth 5.0, NFC and GPS.

There are also plenty of sen­sors, in­clud­ing the pres­sure sen­sor in the screen that is used a sort of phys­i­cal home but­ton. The Gal­axy S9+ still comes with fea­tures such as a barom­e­ter and heart-rate mon­i­tor, which not many phones have.

The change comes in the au­dio depart­ment as the smart­phone now has stereo speak­ers. They’re still tuned by AKG and Sam­sung has also teamed up with Dolby to of­fer At­mos, a fea­ture you can tog­gle to pro­vide a big­ger, more spa­cious sound.

They’re not the best speak­ers on the mar­ket, but are a lot bet­ter than be­fore. Plus, we’re pleased that Sam­sung has kept the head­phone jack.

Cam­eras

As teased with its ‘The Cam­era. Reimag­ined’ cam­paign ahead of the launch, it’s the cam­era on the Gal­axy S9 phones that’s had the big­gest up­grade.

The rear Su­per Speed Dual Pixel cam­era is still 12Mp, but has an in­no­va­tive me­chan­i­cal aper­ture akin to a ded­i­cated DSLR. This can au­to­mat­i­cally ad­just be­tween f/2.4 down to f/1.5, de­pend­ing on the light­ing con­di­tions you’re shoot­ing in.

The Gal­axy S8 was an al­ready im­pres­sive f/1.7, so this is a nice step up. Sam­sung says it means 28 per­cent more light. The phone can also now use in­for­ma­tion from 12 pho­tos shot at once to re­duce noise by 30 per­cent.

Com­pared to the S9, the plus mod­els brings with it an ad­di­tional lens. Like the Note8, it’s a tele­photo lens with a 12Mp tele­photo with an f/2.4 aper­ture – great if you like get­ting a closer shot with­out us­ing dig­i­tal zoom. Over­all, the Gal­axy S9+ is an im­pres­sive all-rounder for photography and video). The cam­era app is easy to use with dif­fer­ent modes and ex­cel­lent re­sults from sim­ply fir­ing it up and shoot­ing in auto.

Shots are de­tailed, crisp and nicely ex­posed, though it’s not the best cam­era out there in great light­ing con­di­tions. The Pixel 3 XL can pro­vide bet­ter con­trast and de­tail in darker ar­eas. We’re nit­pick­ing, but we have to at this level.

The Gal­axy S9 is a bet­ter per­former in low light, though, and that dual aper­ture is handy when you don’t want the shal­low depth of field en­forced by a wide aper­ture.

The Gal­axy S9+ can now match Sony for su­per slow mo­tion at 960fps (at 720p), which means you can watch 0.2 sec­onds of footage over six sec­onds.

Such a short pe­riod of time can be hard to cap­ture, as we found on the Xpe­ria phones, but Sam­sung has a clever mo­tion de­tect which au­to­mat­i­cally starts the su­per slow mo­tion when it, er, de­tects mo­tion in a user se­lected area of the frame.

It works re­ally well and you can even record up to 20 slow mo­tion sec­tions in one video.

It terms of reg­u­lar video, the S9+ is a de­cent per­former. The phone fea­tures op­ti­cal im­age sta­bi­liza­tion (OIS), which helps keep things nice and smooth. By de­fault, it will record at Full HD, but you can switch it up to Ul­tra HD at 60fps if you want (and

don’t mind larger files and a limit of five min­utes). Selfie fans will still get de­cent pho­tos from the front­fac­ing 8Mp f/1.7 cam­era, which now has a fea­ture to ri­val the iPhone X’s An­i­moji. Sam­sung’s ver­sion is called AR Emoji and cre­ated a char­ac­ter based on you.

It in­stantly cre­ated 18 pre­set Gifs, but you can cus­tom­ize your own with the front cam­era, wink­ing and frown­ing to your hearts con­tent. You also don’t need to worry about who you’re send­ing them to as they don’t need an S9, too. They’re eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble from the de­fault key­board, which is handy.

The prob­lem comes when you want to an­i­mate the AR Emoji your­self us­ing the front cam­era. What is ac­cu­rate track­ing on the iPhone X is jit­tery and poor on the S9+. It’s not enough to put us off the phone though as the fea­ture is a gim­mick and a mi­nor part of the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence.

Bixby Vi­sion is an ex­ist­ing fea­ture but it’s now im­proved with things like live trans­la­tion, bet­ter recog­ni­tion for places and food fea­tures like calo­ries and recipe sug­ges­tions. It’s handy as the fea­ture is built into the cam­era app but while some el­e­ments are use­ful, oth­ers are just gim­micks.

Bat­tery life

An­other ad­van­tage over the reg­u­lar Gal­axy S9 is that you get a larger bat­tery here – 3,500mAh com­pared to the S9’s 3,000mAh.

The Gal­axy S9+ will com­fort­ably last a full day of av­er­age users and lighter users might even get a day and half out of it. In the Geek­bench 4 bat­tery test, the S9+ man­aged an im­pres­sive seven hours and 55 min­utes with an ef­fi­ciency score of 4,750.

That’s sim­i­lar to the LG V30 and more than a hour longer than most flag­ships. The S9 man­aged six hours and 38 min­utes as 3,890.

Once again you have the op­tion to charge over USB-C or with wire­less charg­ing – both of­fer fast charg­ing. In our usual test, the S9+ man­aged a de­cent 38 per­cent in 30 min­utes start­ing from zero. That’s two per­cent more than the reg­u­lar S9 de­spite hav­ing a larger bat­tery.

Soft­ware

Mov­ing onto soft­ware and the Gal­axy S9+ comes pre­loaded with An­droid 8 Oreo. Things are pretty much they same as last year with only small tweaks, the main things come in­side the cam­era app, which we’ve al­ready de­tailed.

Sam­sung has pre­loaded the Gal­axy S9+ will plenty of apps, but noth­ing too an­noy­ing or in­tru­sive – they’re the usual se­lec­tions from Google and Mi­crosoft, so you’ll likely use most of them reg­u­larly. We’d still like the abil­ity to unin­stall them, not just dis­able though.

Tweaks come in the form of a new land­scape mode, so you can carry on us­ing the in­ter­face length­ways to browse your home screen pan­els or your apps. A no­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem means you’ll still see what’s go­ing on but in a sub­tle way at the top.

A new SmartThings app is a nifty way, sim­i­lar to Google and Ap­ple Home apps, to com­bine mul­ti­ple apps into one. It means you have one place to han­dle all the con­nec­tions to and fea­tures of other Sam­sung de­vices such as tele­vi­sions.

Those want­ing to use the Gal­axy S9+ for pro­duc­tiv­ity can make use of the new DeX dock, which means the phone can be eas­ily plugged into a mon­i­tor for a desk­top-like ex­pe­ri­ence.

The dock­ing sta­tion is now flat, so the screen can be used as a track­pad or key­board, and it will be around two-thirds the price of the orig­i­nal.

Ver­dict

The Gal­axy S9+ is a gor­geous and al­most flaw­less phone, of­fer­ing pre­mium specs and fea­tures in a sleek and well-made de­sign. There is the is­sue of it be­ing very sim­i­lar to its pre­de­ces­sor, but we’re glad Sam­sung hasn’t dropped the head­phone jack and in­tro­duced a notch – if it ain’t broke.

It’s eas­ily one of the best smart­phones money can buy but a key ques­tion is whether you should get it over the reg­u­lar S9. The an­swer is yes, but only if you can af­ford the ex­tra cost, don’t mind the larger size and will make use of the ad­di­tional fea­tures such as the sec­ond rear cam­era. Chris Martin

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

• 6.2in (2960x1440, 529ppi) Su­per AMOLED ca­pac­i­tive dis­play • An­droid 8.0 Oreo • Exynos 9810 Octa pro­ces­sor • Octa-core 4x 2.8GHz Mon­goose M3 and 4x 1.7GHz

Cor­tex-A55 CPU • Mali-G72 MP18 GPU • 6GB RAM • 64/128/256GB stor­age, mi­croSD up to 256GB

• Iris/fin­ger­print scan­ner • Dual rear-fac­ing cam­eras: 12Mp (f/1.5-2.4, 26mm, 1/2.55in, 1.4μm, Dual Pixel PDAF) and 12Mp (f/2.4, 52mm, 1/3.6in, 1μm, AF), OIS, phase de­tec­tion aut­o­fo­cus, 2x op­ti­cal zoom, LED flash • 8Mp front-fac­ing cam­era: f/1.7, aut­o­fo­cus, 1440p, dual video call, Auto HDR • 802.11ac Wi-Fi • Blue­tooth 5.0 • A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO • Mi­cro-USB 3.1 Type-C • Non-re­mov­able lithium-ion 3,500mAh bat­tery • 158.1x73.8x8.5mm • 189g 4. Huawei Mate 20 Pro Price: £899 inc VAT from fave.co/2q8b­vJb Read our re­view on page 45. 5. 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.

De­sign

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.

Dis­play

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 real-world 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 Wi-Fi. And In­tel­li­gent Scan, Sam­sung’s meld­ing of face un­lock and iris scan­ning, is faster than ever.

S-Pen

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 di­rect-to-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.

Cam­eras

Like the S9 Plus, the Note 9 has dual rear cam­eras with dual aper­ture and OIS. In fact, they are the ex­act same sen­sors: the vari­able aper­ture 12Mp f/1.5-2.4 main and a 12Mp f/2.4 for 2x op­ti­cal zoom and depth sens­ing. New tech­nol­ogy for the Note 9 specif­i­cally in­cludes Flaw De­tec­tion and Scene Op­ti­mizer, which in sim­pler terms tell you whether you’ve taken a blurry photo and se­lects the best scene mode for the shot.

The low-light prow­ess of the S9 Plus is ported over here, and it’s a no­tice­able step up from the Note 8 for this rea­son. Im­ages are won­der­fully crisp, de­void of the sat­u­ra­tion that mars the oth­er­wise ex­cel­lent shots on the Huawei P20 Pro.

Colour re­pro­duc­tion is stun­ning on the im­proved dis­play, though Sam­sung cam­era app is still too crowded and un­in­tu­itive. Sure, you can do a lot, but it’s a steep learn­ing curve to find it all.

Bat­tery life

One of the best things about the Note 9 is its bat­tery life. It is a coun­try mile ahead of the 3,300mAh cell of the Note 8, pack­ing 4,000mAh into an only marginally thicker frame.

The trade-off is to­tally worth it. On av­er­age we found the Note 9 gave us four and a half hours of screen on time on a full charge with bright­ness on auto, us­ing tens of apps at once and stream­ing Spo­tify to Blue­tooth head­phones over 4G and Wi-Fi.

Less in­tense us­age sees the Note 9 push­ing an hour longer than that, and we never once wor­ried about find­ing a charger – some­thing that fre­quently hap­pened when us­ing the Note 8.

In the Geek­bench 4 bat­tery test with bright­ness set to 120cd/m2 and screen not dim­ming (our stan­dard test), the Note 9 lasted seven hours, 27 min­utes. That’s a tad un­der the Gal­axy S9 Plus at seven hours, 55 min­utes, but the screen here is big­ger.

It’s a great score con­sid­er­ing the OnePlus 6, LG G7 and HTC U12+ lasted for much less time, and it’s great to see Sam­sung get­ting a 4,000mAh bat­tery into the phone after the Note 7 disas­ter.

Soft­ware

Bixby is still bad. Only avail­able, still, in US English or Korean, it fre­quently mis­un­der­stood our English ac­cent (and some col­leagues’ Amer­i­can ones) and couldn’t give an­swers. Three ex­am­ples of how to use Bixby pop up when you turn it on. For us, one was ‘What is the time dif­fer­ence be­tween Paris and Lon­don’ (we are based in Lon­don). We tapped on

it, and were given a screen, where it brought up the time dif­fer­ence for East Lon­don in South Africa.

Bixby sucks, and what sucks more is that on the Note 9 you can’t turn off the ded­i­cated Bixby but­ton. It has never been remap­pable, but on other Gal­axy phones you can dis­able it, but not here, mean­ing about a third of the time we pull the Note out a picket, we ac­ci­den­tally press the but­ton and load up Bixby.

Bixby Home to the left of the home screen is still aw­ful, with huge tiled apps that are clunky and not as cus­tom­iz­a­ble as we’d like. Just ig­nore Bixby and use the Google As­sis­tant.

The Note 9 ships with An­droid 8.1 Oreo and Sam­sung Ex­pe­ri­ence 9.5 (formerly TouchWiz). It is largely a sim­i­lar de­sign lan­guage from the past two or three years of Sam­sung phones, but in its cur­rent state is a plea­sure to use – if a long way off from stock An­droid. We hope it will get an up­grade

to Pie at some point in 2018. But Sam­sung tends to drag its heels some­what with soft­ware up­dates and the Note 8 will prob­a­bly get An­droid P after OnePlus and Sony phones at least.

The soft­ware is largely the same as on the S9 phones but as well as the S Pen fea­tures men­tioned above, the Note 9 has DeX built in. This means you don’t need to buy a sep­a­rate dock­ing sta­tion to run Sam­sung’s desk­top ex­pe­ri­ence on a mon­i­tor. You just need an HMDI to USB-C cable to plug the phone into a mon­i­tor and the Note will dis­play its soft­ware like a Win­dows desk­top. Of course, you also get other Sam­sung things like Bixby and AR Emoji, and in re­cent years Sam­sung has be­come bet­ter at push­ing Google apps to the user rather than dou­bling up with Sam­sung al­ter­na­tives.

But the soft­ware skin is quite heavy com­pared to stock An­droid, and we found the Note 8 slowed down a tad over the course of a year. Hope­fully the Note 9 will be a dif­fer­ent story as it zips along out of the box.

Ver­dict

The Gal­axy Note 9 is the best Sam­sung phone you can buy right now, but it’s also oddly the most niche. If you don’t want all its ex­pen­sive fea­tures such as the S-Pen and huge 6.4in dis­play, then the stan­dard S9 will suit you for around £300 less.

But the Note 9 is supremely pow­er­ful with ev­ery fea­ture you could hope for, stel­lar bat­tery life, slick de­sign and amaz­ing cam­eras.

In the world of £1,000 phones, it’s as good as the iPhone X but a dif­fer­ent beast. If its pro­duc­tiv­ity

fea­tures and niche soft­ware suits you, you’ll love it – but it isn’t for ev­ery­one de­spite its ex­cel­lence. Henry Bur­rell

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

• 6.4in (2,960x1,440; 516ppi) Su­per AMOLED ca­pac­i­tive touch­screen • An­droid 8.1 Oreo • Exynos 9810 Octa pro­ces­sor • Octa-core 4x 2.7GHz Mon­goose M3 and 4x 1.8GHz

Cor­tex-A55 CPU • Mali-G72 MP18 GPU • 6/8GB RAM • 512GB stor­age (mi­croSD up to 512GB) • Dual rear-fac­ing cam­eras: 12Mp, f/1.5-2.4, 26mm, 1/2.55in, 1.4μm, dual pixel PDAF, OIS; 12Mp, f/2.4, 52mm, 1/3.4in, 1μm, AF, OIS, 2x op­ti­cal zoom • Front cam­era: 8Mp, f/1.7, 25mm, 1/3.6in, 1.22μm, AF • 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi • Blue­tooth 5.0 • A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO • NFC • Fin­ger­print sen­sor (rear mounted) • Iris scan­ner • USB 3.1, Type-C 1.0 re­versible con­nec­tor • 161.9x76.4x8.8mm • 201g

The OnePlus 6 looks and feels like a pre­mium de­vice

The OnePlus 6’s OS is a stock ver­sion of An­droid Oreo

From the front the S9+ is sim­i­lar to the S9

Sam­sung has opted against us­ing a ‘notch’ at the top of the panel

The fin­ger­print scan­ner has been moved to be­low the cam­era

You can cre­ate an emoji of your­self us­ing Sam­sung’s AR Emoji fea­ture

Sam­sung has pre­loaded the Gal­axy S9+ will plenty of apps

The Note 9 is a stun­ner right out of the box

The Ocean Blue Note 9 comes with a yel­low S-Pen

Geek­bench 4

JetStream

Sam­sung has im­proved the al­ready ex­cel­lent S-Pen

The Note 9 comes with An­droid 8.1

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