“Our two cents on Samsung’s latest flagship, the Galaxy Note 9”
Back in the day, corporate honchos would flock at Blackberry’s doorsteps for a productivity-oriented smartphone. Fast forward to today and you’ll notice that Samsung has become the go-to brand for business people with its Galaxy Note series, and for good reason. Take the recently-launched Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (first impressions) for instance. You won’t have to squint your eyes when viewing Excel sheets on the smartphone’s large display, the handset’s S Pen is a godsend for jotting down quick memos and the smartphone looks great when paired with a Rolex.
But, there’s no shortage of tall smartphones with gorgeous designs nowadays, is there? Moreover, as handy as the S Pen is, does it bring enough value to the table for you to consider the Galaxy Note9 over flagships like the Huawei P20 Pro (review), the Apple iPhone X (review) or even the LG G7+ ThinQ (review) for that matter? And how good is the smartphone in general? I’ve spent a week with the flagship and if you’re wondering whether the smartphone deserves a place in your pockets, then read on.
Specs at a glance
|Resolution||1440 x 2960 pixels|
|CPU||Quad core, 2.7 GHz + Quad core, 1.7 GHz, Samsung Exynos 9 Octa|
|Internal memory||128 GB|
|External memory||Up to 512 GB|
|Capacity||4000 mAH, Li-ion, Non removable|
|Primary camera||12 MP|
|Secondary camera||8 MP|
|Network support||Dual SIM 4G|
|Other options||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS|
|Operating system||Android 8.1 Oreo|
Design and display
To call the Note9 a derivative of the Note8 would be an understatement. In fact, it’s impossible to tell the two smartphones apart, especially when you look at them from the front, and the only cosmetic change you’ll find on the Note9 is the repositioned fingerprint sensor, which now sits below the smartphone’s camera module. Other than that, you can now pick the Note9 up in a slightly different blueish colourway.
That being said, there’s no denying that the Galaxy Note9 is a gorgeous flagship. Samsung has gone with the tried and tested formula for making the flagship smartphone feel supremely premium and has furnished the Note9 with glass on both the front and the back with an aluminium frame sandwiched in between. Moreover, buyers of the Note9 will still be greeted with Samsung’s iconic Infinity edge display on the front, which slants the edges of the display neatly into the aluminium trim, lending the smartphone extremely sleek bezels.
For the price you pay for the Galaxy Note9, you’d expect it to come strapped with all the bells and whistles. To Samsung’s credit, the company has left no stone unturned in making its latest flagship come across as a noteworthy upgrade over your current daily driver. On that note (I’ll stop with the ‘Note’ puns now), the Samsung Galaxy Note9, as well as the S Pen bundled in it, are IP68 certified, ensuring that you don’t have to rush to a service centre if you accidentally plonk the smartphone in a tub of water. You’ll also get fast wireless charging with the smartphone, which will save you the trouble of connecting a cable every time you want to charge the device.
Compared to S9 Plus‘ (review) curvaceous back, the Note9 features a slightly boxier design which doesn’t bode well for one-handed usage. In fact, unless you’ve got really large hands, you’ll have to grip the smartphone with both hands to use it comfortably. Moreover, you should use a case if you want to keep your Note9 in pristine condition since the smartphone smudges easily.
For ports and buttons, the Samsung Galaxy Note9 is among the handful of flagships which still ship with a headphone jack. You’ll also get the infamous Bixby button with the smartphone, which, unfortunately, still isn’t remappable. That said, Samsung gives you the option of turning off its AI assistant, rendering the button to function as a stress reliever. Moving on, the repositioned fingerprint sensor worked flawlessly during my testing, and it unlocks the smartphone in a jiffy.
It’s not the fastest in the business, but that could have something to do with Samsung’s relatively slow system animations. You can unlock the smartphone biometrically by means of facial recognition or by scanning your irises too. Samsung even clubs the two technologies together to improve accuracy and security. That said, I was still reaching for the fingerprint sensor to unlock the smartphone at night, as the method was quite slow. Moreover, I could even unlock my unit of the Note9 with my eyes closed, which raised a lot of concerns about how secure the method actually is.
The Galaxy Note9 towers above the competition with its tall 6.4-inch QHD+ Super AMOLED display. Now, if this isn’t your first rodeo with a Samsung flagship, then you know what to expect from the smartphone’s panel – excellent viewing angles, insane sharpness, vivid colours and deep blacks. Moreover, the Note9’s display is compliant with mobile HDR platform too, which should take your multimedia experience to the next level if you’re streaming shows from apps like Netflix or YouTube.
The S Pen
The S Pen remains the key differentiator between the Galaxy Note series and other flagships in the market. Although the design of the Note9’s S Pen remains unchanged from last year, it now comes with its own battery and support for Bluetooth Low Energy transmission, paving new ways of using the stylus. For instance, you could use the stylus to remotely click pictures if your smartphone is positioned on a tripod. You also get the option of flipping through the pages of a presentation using the S Pen, or reprogramming the button on the stylus to quickly launch any app on your smartphone.
The S Pen is quite handy outside of boardroom meetings too. Recently, I’d paired my Note9 to a Bluetooth speaker, and since the phone was running low on charge, I had to tether the smartphone to a wall charger. So, instead of picking up the phone to switch between different songs, I simply took out the S Pen and used the button to change the tracks when I was in a different room.
Now, all of this does take a toll on the S Pen‘s battery, but Samsung has a solution for that too. By using a supercapacitor, the S Pen can recharge in just 40 seconds once docked inside the Note9, and can last for 30 minutes thereafter. Moreover, should the battery of the S Pen die, you can still use it as a traditional stylus to jot down notes or numbers. Other than that, you get a plethora of other tools with the S Pen, including the ability to scribble memos even with the screen turned off, highlight and translate part of a text and my personal favourite – smart select, which lets you capture up to 15 seconds of a clip and use it as a GIF.
Up until the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus hit the shelves, smartphone cameras were limited to fixed apertures, leaving no room to adjust the amount of light entering the lens. However, the cameras on the S9 Plus could switch between f/1.5 and f/2.4 apertures automatically, thereby bettering the photos a user would take at night. We were mighty impressed with the smartphone’s camera capabilities when we reviewed it and therefore, it comes as no surprise that the Note9, which ships with the exact same hardware, shoots really good photos too.
Towards the back of the flagship, you will find a pair of 12MP cameras, one of which is a standard shooter with the dual-aperture functionality whereas the other is a telephoto lens which features a fixed aperture of f/2.4. For selfies, the handset comes with the same 8MP f/1.7 aperture front camera that debuted on the S9 Plus.
Now, while the Galaxy Note9 is using the same camera hardware as the S9 Plus, there are some software enhancements which boost the quality of the images shot from the smartphone, if only by a fraction. Unlike the S9 Plus, the Note9’s cameras come equipped with AI smarts in the form of a ‘scene optimizer’, which automatically detects the subject in the frame and chooses from 20 different modes to better the picture.
Although Samsung isn’t the first manufacturer to come up with the idea of using AI to assist users in photography, I liked how well the scene optimizer worked, boosting the colours and sharpening the images ever so slightly so as to not make the scene feel unnatural to the eyes. Consequently, I didn’t turn off the scene optimizer and just let the Note9 do its thing. The camera also comes with a new feature which the company calls flaw detection. As its moniker suggests, the camera will notify you if someone blinked after you pressed the shutter button or if the photo came out blurry. Now, you don’t really need an AI to tell you that, but it’s nice to have the feature in your arsenal.
Pictures taken during the daytime on the Samsung Galaxy Note9 are to a large extent, flawless. The dynamic range is impeccable, giving you plenty of details in the highlights and the shadows, the colours look vibrant and there’s an abundance of details in the shots. You could spruce up the hues a bit more by enabling the HDR mode, but you’ll get a really good-looking shot even with the feature disabled. Moreover, the smartphone is quick to latch on subjects, courtesy dual-pixel autofocus technology, allowing you to capture moments which come and go in a matter of seconds. Lastly, the portrait mode on the smartphone is excellent and the Note9 differentiates the subject from the background immaculately. The blur does creep into the sides of the subject at times, but it’s a small price to pay for an otherwise brilliant pocket camera.
Lowlight shots taken with the smartphone are in a word, stunning. I’d recently gone out for dinner at Cyber City and anyone who’s been there during the night will know just how challenging it is to get a good shot there. The street lights are positioned in such a way that you’ll have to find the perfect angle to click a picture without any lens flare in it. But, with the Samsung Galaxy Note9, you will be able to get away with some quality shots regardless of how you position the camera. Moreover, thanks to the camera’s f/1.5 aperture, the smartphone retains a lot more details as compared to other devices under lowlight scenarios.
As for selfies, you can get a salvageable portrait under ideal lighting scenarios, but the pictures I clicked at night had considerable grain in them. Consequently, I wouldn’t recommend the smartphone to any selfie enthusiast.
As I mentioned previously, the shots I took from the Note9 weren’t all that different from the ones I took with the S9 Plus or even the Note8 (review) for that matter. Do let me know in the comments below if you’d like to see a three-way camera comparison between the smartphones. However, for the time being, I have attached a shot comparing the Note9 to its predecessor, the Note8. Believe it or not, the Note9 managed to capture the exact hue of the sky in the evening, while the colours were a bit off on the Note8.
Some other notable features of the smartphone’s camera include the ability to record videos in slow motion at HD resolution with a frame rate of 960fps. Moreover, similar to the iPhone X, the smartphone also lets you create an animated avatar and record videos using it. I didn’t find much use for the latter, but recording slow motion videos with the handset is quite fun. Here’s how the footage looks:
Performance and software
Although the Note9 is geared to increase your productivity, that doesn’t mean it’s an ‘all work, no play’ device. In fact, if you’re a gamer, then the Note9 is among the best smartphones you can invest in, thanks to its awesome, super large display and a ton of raw horsepower. Underneath its glass chassis, the Note9 is powered by the same Exynos 9810 octa-core processor which was driving the cores on its sibling, the S9 Plus.
However, this time around, Samsung has opted for a water-carbon cooling system which supposedly keeps the smartphone’s chassis cool to the touch during long gaming sessions. Although I didn’t pry open the smartphone to put Samsung’s claim to test, I will admit that the Note9’s back didn’t get uncomfortably warm after playing PUBG for two straight hours.
You can pick up the Galaxy Note9 in two different RAM options, including the 6GB variant I was sent for review and an 8GB RAM model. Consequently, you’ll get either 128GB or a whopping 512GB of built-in, user expandable storage with the smartphone. That said, the 6GB RAM variant of the smartphone is plenty fast, and over the course of my review period, I didn’t come across any instances of lag or stutter on the smartphone. The handset opened applications in the blink of an eye and managed to retain a dozen different apps in memory too. The Note9’s gaming performance was outstanding as well, and I managed to get really good frame rates when I was playing PUBG on the ‘HDR’ graphics setting. All in all, performance-hungry users will feel right at home with the Samsung Galaxy Note9.
Samsung is trying its hardest to convert its Galaxy line of premium smartphones into pseudo-desktops. Back in 2016, the company introduced the DeX, a dock for the Galaxy S8 and the S8 Plus which blurred the lines between a smartphone and a desktop. This year, the company’s Galaxy Note9 comes with DeX baked in, and all you need to do to use it is connect the Note9 to an external monitor. You can then use the Note9 as a trackpad to navigate through the UI.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t test this feature yet, but my coworkers will be stripping me off my trusty MacBook Air very soon, leaving me at the mercy of Samsung’s Galaxy Note9. I will be documenting my experience with the smartphone and its DeX feature, so stay tuned for that.
On the software side of things, the Samsung Galaxy Note9 is running Android Oreo with a skin of the company’s Experience UX v9.5 on top. Although Samsung’s custom UI has come a long way, it’s still not as fluid as say, a near-stock skin such as OnePlus’ OxygenOS. Moreover, there’s still plenty of bloatware bundled with the smartphone, including several apps from Microsoft. Moreover, Samsung isn’t the best at providing Android updates as they come, so you might have to wait for a while before your handset gets the latest Android Pie update.
That said, you’ll get a laundry list of features with Experience UX, including the ability to theme your smartphone, add your favourite apps to the smartphone’s edge panel for easy access, open two apps simultaneously with a single tap using App Pair and much more.
Battery life and more
The battery is a touchy subject for Samsung’s Note lineup but the company has redeemed itself with the Note9, which provided me with a day-long backup even with heavy usage. The handset ships with a 4,000mAh cell which is the biggest battery on any Note flagship to date and it lives up to the expectations. My typical workday includes hours of messaging, watching videos on YouTube, browsing my social media feeds and playing a few arcade matches in PUBG.
Despite taxing the smartphone’s battery, I was still left with around 20 percent juice by the time I hit the bed, which is phenomenal. Bear in mind that I had set the display resolution to FHD+, so your mileage could vary if you’re using the device with the panel set to QHD+ resolution. If you’d like some more numbers, then I can tell you that the smartphone managed to last for 17 hours in our standard battery test, which is a solid figure.
I’d also like to commend Samsung for outfitting the Note9 with stereo speakers, which get adequately loud. Moreover, you can increase the audio levels by enabling Dolby Atmos from within the settings too.
In conclusion, the Samsung Galaxy Note9 is a solid Android flagship and unsurprisingly, it commands a premium too. The base variant of the smartphone with 128GB of storage retails for Rs 67,900, whereas the 512GB storage variant of the handset will set you back by a whopping Rs 84,900. Now, provided you have the budget for it, I feel that the Note9 offers plenty of features to justify its price tag, including a gorgeous design, a stunning display, long-lasting battery life, tons of computing power, excellent rear cameras and the useful S Pen. It goes without saying that owners of the Samsung Galaxy Note8 or the Galaxy S9+ need not upgrade to the Note9.
As far as the competition is concerned, buyers could invest in the current crop of premium flagships such as the Huawei P20 Pro, the LG G7+ ThinQ or the Apple iPhone X too. However, I feel that the Note9 offers a lot more value than any other smartphone on the market right now. That said, the scenery could change once Apple unveils its new iPhones next month. The choice would then would boil down to which operating systems suits your needs best – Android or iOS.
Everything considered, the Galaxy Note9 is quite possibly the best Android flagship out right now and other Android manufacturers will really have to pull a rabbit out of the hat to sway buyers away from Samsung’s offering.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Gorgeous display
- Outstanding rear cameras
- Great performer
- Good battery life
- The S Pen has seen a notable upgrade
- Design feels stale
- Selfie camera could be better
- Face recognition unlocks the phone even with eyes closed