Sam­sung Gal­axy Note 9

Tech Advisor - - Contents - Henry Bur­rell

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 re­mains 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 slightly 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 to­tally 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 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 (or lux­u­ri­ous head to toe 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

Straight up, 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.

To sum it up neatly, 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.

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 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

The Note 9 is the best Sam­sung phone you can get right now

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