Samsung redeemed itself from the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco by launching the rather successful Galaxy Note 8 (Review). However, the company was a bit careful and it was evident from the conservative battery capacity inside last year’s Note. This year, the South Korean smartphone giant wants to up the ante by going all out and releasing a Galaxy Note that truly encompasses what the Note series has always been about: big-screen, feature-filled smartphones for power users with large batteries.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 comes with more or less the same design as that of its predecessors, but with a slightly larger screen and a much larger battery capacity. The S Pen has been improved and brings a lot of useful features. It is also the first Note smartphone with stereo speakers. However, unlike many other brands, the company didn’t really sacrifice anything to add these extra features. The phone still keeps the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack (yay!) and there’s no ugly notch in the display. But are these features enough to warrant a ₹67,000 (or $1,000 in the US) price tag? Let’s find out in my review of the Galaxy Note 9.
About This Galaxy Note 9 Review
I used the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (8GB RAM + 512GB Storage variant, Ocean Blue) as my primary smartphone in Hyderabad, India for more than a 10 days in the dual-SIM mode. My primary SIM was Airtel, while the secondary SIM was Reliance Jio. Both networks were using LTE and I switched between Airtel and Reliance Jio for cellular data.
The retail unit of the Galaxy Note 9 that MySmartPrice purchased for this review was an Exynos 9810 variant. I used three email IDs (one personal account and two work-related accounts), two WhatsApp accounts, plenty of social networking and IM apps on the phone during the entire testing period. Both “Hi Bixby” and “Okay Google” hot-word detections were activated. Always On Display was turned off after 3 days of usage.
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Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review: Features & Specifications
- Software: Android 8.1 Oreo, Samsung Experience UI, Samsung DEX, Bixby AI Voice Assistant
- Screen: 6.4-inch Super AMOLED Infinity Display With Curved Edges, 2960×1440 pixels, 18.5:9 Aspect Ratio, Capacitive Multitouch, HDR10, Always On Display, Corning Gorilla Glass 5
- Audio: Stereo Speakers, Dolby Atmos, 3.5mm Headphone Jack, Active Noise Cancellation
- Build: Glass & Metal Sandwich, Gorilla Glass 5 (Front & Back), IP68 Certification (Dust & Water Resistance)
- Rear-Facing Camera Setup: 12MP+12MP Dual-Camera, Dual-OIS + EIS, Dual-Pixel Phase-Detection Autofocus (Primary Camera Sensor), 2x Optical Zoom (Secondary Camera Sensor), Dual-Aperture For Primary Camera Sensor (ƒ/1.5 – ƒ/2.4), ƒ/2.4 Aperture For Secondary Camera Sensor, 1.4µm Pixels For Primary Camera Sensor, 1.0µm Pixels For Secondary Camera Sensor, LED Flash, Auto HDR, Live HDR, Panorama, 4K 60FPS Video Recording, 1080p 240FPS & 720p 960FPS Slow-Motion Video Recording
- Front-Facing Camera Setup: 8MP, Autofocus, ƒ/1.7 Aperture, 25mm Lens, 1/3.06-inch Sensor, Auto HDR, QHD 30FPS Video Recording
- Sensors: Accelerometer, Ambient Light, Barometer, Compass, Fingerprint, Gyro, Hall Sensor, Heart Rate, Iris Scanner, Proximity, RGB Sensor, SpO2
- Connectivity: Dual-SIM, Dual-4G LTE, VoLTE, VoWi-Fi, GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, Galileo, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi Hotspot, Bluetooth 5.0 (AAC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX LL, LDAC) with A2DP and LE, NFC, Samsung Pay (MST & NFC), USB 3.1 Type-C Port, 3.5mm Headphone Port
- Battery: 4000mAh (Non-Removable), Quick Charge 2.0, Adaptive Fast Charge, Qi + PMA Fast Wireless Charging
- Extras: S Pen Stylus with Bluetooth LE
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review: Design & Build Quality
You get an option to choose from four colour variants of the Galaxy Note 9: Lavender Purple, Metallic Copper, Midnight Black, Ocean Blue. As I mentioned earlier, the phablet’s glass-and-metal sandwich design is more or less similar to that of its predecessor and many other premium phones from the company of late. The phone feels extremely well-built and the buttons feel clicky, just as they should. There are no flex or creaky sounds anywhere. The phone is also IP68 certified for dust and water resistance. The Gorilla Glass 5 panels at the front and the rear make the Galaxy Note 9 look extremely rich but they also make it fragile at the same time. I suggest that every Galaxy Note 9 owner should buy a protective case to keep it safe in case of drops.
Coming to the ergonomics of the phone, it is quite wide and its hard to reach any corner of the screen. While everything looks symmetrical, the weight distribution is still top-heavy, so there’s a chance that you might drop the phone if not held properly. After many (and us) complained about the ill-placed fingerprint reader on the Galaxy Note 8, the company has moved the rear-facing fingerprint reader below the camera setup. However, it’s still harder to reach and it isn’t at a place where my index finger naturally rests. While the power button is placed at the right position, instead of volume buttons on the opposite side of the phone, there’s the Bixby Button. I kept pressing the Bixby button although I actually wanted to press the volume down button. It shouldn’t be there. It would’ve been nice if it could be customised, but it isn’t. It would be apt to call it a form of hardware bloatware.
The Galaxy Note 8 is one of the most premium-feeling and looking devices this year, but it’s huge and fragile. Unless you have giant hands, don’t hope to use it comfortable using one hand. Also, the Bixby button is unnecessarily placed and it needs to go. Samsung needs to listen to its customers.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review: Screen
Thankfully, there’s no notch on the 6.4-inch Super AMOLED ‘Infinity Display’. It is big, bright, and colourful. It can also reproduce true, inky blacks, hence resulting in an infinite contrast ratio. As soon as I started setting up the phone, I switched from the Adaptive Display mode to the Basic mode since the latter displays more accurate colours. However, there might be many users who would like the Adaptive Display mode due to its over-saturated colours and colder whites. For some reason, advanced colour tuning options are available only when you active the Adaptive Display mode. Moreover, Samsung ships the Galaxy Note 9 with a reduced resolution setting of Full HD+, I increased it to match the native resolution of screen panel at QHD+ for the review.
It was an absolute joy to consume content on the Galaxy Note 9’s display, be it images, videos, gaming or browsing the web. However, the screen isn’t perfect. Like most mobile OLED screens, the Galaxy Note 9’s screen suffers from incorrect gamma and it was way off the standard practice value of 2.2: it’s somewhere near the 1.2 mark. There’s black crushing so you lose out on details in darker areas of the scene. Since the screen is very bright (in the 600+ nits range) and the reflectivity is low, its sunlight legibility is great. You can see everything displayed on the screen even under brightly-lit conditions such as directly under harsh sunlight. There’s a Max Auto mode as well which can brighten up the screen, closer to the 1000 nits mark but don’t expect accurate colours in this mode. It is definitely better than OLED screens on other Android smartphones.
The Galaxy Note 9’s screen is also HDR10 compatible, and the built-in video player as well as famous video streaming apps such as Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and YouTube can playback HDR videos on the phone. You would need to be on the highest-end plan to stream HDR videos, though. I played back a few HDR sample videos I downloaded from 4KMedia.org and HDRSamples.com using the built-in video player, and it was displaying the HDR label. It was a joy to watch HDR videos on the phone’s screen and it was a much better experience than watching them on the iPhone X since there’s no ugly notch that ruins the experience.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review: Camera
The dual-12MP camera on the Galaxy Note 9 is one of the best out there, going neck-to-neck with the likes of the Google Pixel 2 and the Huawei P20 Pro. Actually, I think that the Galaxy Note 9 offers a better all-round camera performance compared to any other smartphone in the world right now.
Thanks to dual-pixel phase-detection autofocus mechanism, which has been a part of Samsung’s flagship smartphone camera setups for more than two years, focusing is extremely fast and reliable, even under low-light conditions. Both the rear camera sensors feature OIS for shake-free images and stable videos. The dual-aperture feature, which was introduced with the Galaxy S9 earlier this year, has been carried over to the Galaxy Note 9 as well. The primary 12MP camera sensor (with 26mm lens) switches between ƒ/1.4 and ƒ/1.5 aperture values, depending on the amount of ambient light that’s available while clicking images. The secondary 12MP camera sensor (1/3.4-inch) has a 52mm lens (effectively 2x optical zoom), has smaller, 1.0µm pixels.
Images clicked during daylight conditions appear sharp, full of details, and colourful. Images are noise-free. There’s slight over-sharpening and the dynamic range could’ve been slightly higher as well, but these are not the things to lose your sleep over. Dynamic range might not be as good as that on second-generation Pixel phones, but the Note 9 is still one of the best in this aspect, thanks to the excellent Auto HDR mode. You can even see a live preview of HDR with the Live HDR feature.
Even under low-light conditions, the Galaxy Note 9 performs admirably, thanks to a wider aperture, OIS and excellent image processing. There’s plenty of detail and sharpness. Since the company has moved to Pixel-like image processing (taking multiple shots and merging them into one), dynamic range has improved. Low-light shots now preserve colours and light sources aren’t blown out. The Galaxy Note 9 is a true imaging monster. One thing that Samsung is still leaving out is a powerful flash unit. It’s still a single LED flash that the company is relying upon and sometimes I felt that I needed more illumination than what was being provided to capture the scene properly. The Galaxy Note 9 is the low-light champ and handily defeats the iPhone X, Pixel 2 and the P20 Pro. The iPhone X low-light images showcase extremely warm colours and have a higher amount of noise. The Pixel 2 simply can’t capture the amount of details the Galaxy Note 9 can. The P20 Pro saves only 10MP images and they look a lot more artificial.Live Focus – Outdoor Daylight
Thanks to the secondary zoom lens, you don’t need to physically move closer to the subject for clicking an image. The image quality of shots capture using the zoom lens is slightly inferior when there’s enough light but that’s noticeable only when you pixel peep. Under low-light conditions, the camera app doesn’t actually use the secondary sensor even when you click the 2x zoom button. What it does is, it digitally zooms an image that’s captured using the primary sensor and you can notice it if you examine the image after it has been captured. The secondary sensor also helps the Galaxy Note 9 in clicking images with background blur (also known as bokeh effect or portrait mode). Samsung calls it Live Focus mode, and the speciality of Samsung’s implementation is that you can choose the amount (or lack) of background blur effect even after clicking an image. Such images also exhibit a good amount of details and the separation between the subject and the background is well defined. However, the background often gets overexposed, making the blur effect appear slightly artificial. As the ambient light starts to drop, the effectiveness of the Live Focus feature starts to drop as well, and that’s mostly due to a smaller secondary sensor.
The 8MP selfie camera with f/1.7 aperture and autofocus has been unchanged since the Galaxy S8. Selfies appear sharp and wide. Dynamic range is decent as well. In low-light conditions, noise creeps in. Maybe brands should start using larger sized sensors for selfie cameras with OIS (or is it too much to ask?). There’s no front-facing flash on the Galaxy Note 9 but the screen flash helps in that case. It’s slightly yellowish but that’s okay. Samsung is the only brand that has been offering QHD video recording at 30fps using the front-facing camera. Every other brand maxes out at 1080p 30fps for some reason. Videos recorded using the front-facing camera is good but not as great as videos from the rear-facing camera, but that’s to be expected due to the smaller sensor size and older autofocus mechanism.Indoor Group Selfie – Artificial Light
The Galaxy Note 9 is one of the few smartphones in the world which can record 4K videos at 60fps. EIS doesn’t work in this mode, though, but since there’s OIS, it should still be better than having no stabilisation at all. Audio is captured in stereo at 256kps. Videos captured using the 4K 60fps mode look extremely smooth, sharp, and noise free. There’s no apparent quality difference between the 4K 60fps, 4K 30fps, 1080p 60fps and 1080p 30fps. The one thing I didn’t like about the camera app is that the video recording preview doesn’t display the actual area that will be captured before hitting the record button. The Galaxy Note 9 doesn’t use the complete sensor area to capture videos and there’s no separate video mode in the camera app (both image and video mode use the same preview screen), so the video gets slightly zoomed in and you have to adjust the camera placement after the video starts getting recorded.
Slow-motion videos can be recorded in two modes: 1080p 240fps and 720p 960fps. Even though the latter offers a whopping 960fps and extremely cinematic effect, I would prefer using the former due to better clarity and more control over which part of the video I want to see in slow-motion. You have to be extra careful in hitting the slow-motion button exactly when a surprising motion is going to happen. There’s also a feature that lets you select an area where you expect the motion to happen, and the phone will auto-trigger the 960fps mode when an object passes through or motion is detected in that on-screen squared area. The 720p 960fps mode captures only 0.2 seconds of duration in slow-motion and those videos are better recorded outdoors with ample light. When there’s not enough light, I could see plenty of noise and focusing issues. The 1080p 240fps mode captures more details, has higher resolution and is more usable. The complete length of the video is captured in 240fps and you can choose any time frame of the recorded video to be displayed in slow-motion.Panorama
Be it capturing still images or videos, the Galaxy Note 9 is currently the best smartphone camera overall. It has almost all the camera features that one expects from a flagship smartphone: noise-free images with wide dynamic range, smooth and stable videos with good colours, background blur mode, OIS, EIS, front-facing camera with autofocus, professional mode, slow-motion video recording, 4K 60fps video recording and many more. It does all these things admirably and emerges as the best phones to own for capturing memories.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review: Software
The Galaxy Note 9 was launched after the public release of Android 9.0 Pie, but the phone still runs a year-old version of Android — 8.1 Oreo — which is topped up with the company’s Samsung Experience UI 9.5 (slightly newer than v9.0 on the Galaxy S9 duo). The UI design looks modern, thanks to flat look and feel as well as newer icons. The UI can be customised through the Samsung Themes section where you can download first-party and third-party themes, wallpapers, icon packs and AoD screens.
The South Korean brand is infamous for its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach on its smartphone software, shipping its devices with multiple duplicate apps and hundreds of features. There are some consumers, though, who like the choices that are being offered. Even I like some of the Samsung apps such as My Files, Samsung Internet, Samsung Pay, and Videos. All these apps have really good design and features. We will talk more about some interesting software features of the Galaxy Note 9 in a separate feature article.
Samsung Pay is one such Samsung feature that is extremely useful since the MST technology makes it compatible even with older Point of Sale devices. You can register your credit, debit or loyalty card in Samsung Pay and you’re good to go. One other useful feature is the Secure Folder, which lets you hide sensitive data, including files and apps so that only you can view it and not anyone else. The Dual Messenger can be used in case you want to run two instances of any IM or social media app. I used it to configure two instances of WhatsApp, one for each SIM I was using while reviewing the phone.
Bixby v2.0 which debuted with the Note 9, somehow feels inferior to me. While I have no doubts about its features and multi-step voice command recognition, it couldn’t recognise many of my voice commands. Bixby’s voice recognition is nowhere close to Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri. If the voice recognition is bad, what will people do with all of Bixby’s complex task capabilities? Samsung either needs to step up considerably or it should ditch Bixby in favour of Google Assistant. Samsung DEX is an interesting feature, too, but the app support is limited and you would need to carry a keyboard and a USB Type-C to HDMI adapter or cable with you so that you can connect the phone to a monitor.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review: S Pen, Now With Bluetooth
A Galaxy Note device is not complete without an S Pen. Let’s talk more about it. The Galaxy Note 9’s S Pen now features Bluetooth LE and “supercapacitors”. The former helps in using the devices from far away (not very far away, mostly within 15-20 feet from the device) so you can do things like long press the S Pen side button to open the camera (or any app you configure it to), single short click to capture an image and double short click to switch between rear-facing and front-facing cameras. The supercapacitor part is how the S Pen stores enough power inside it so that it can use Bluetooth to stay connected to the Galaxy Note 9.
Some other new features include a way to advance to the next item in the gallery app by S Pen button single press and go back to the previous item by the double press action. In a music player, single press to play/pause the track and double press to skip ahead. You can single press the S Pen button to go to the next slide when you’re doing a PowerPoint presentation; double press to go back to the previous slide. All these features are displayed in the S Pen remote menu. The Air Command menu can list 10 apps (you can customise it). You can scribble, take notes, annotate and sign PDFs and images, create GIFs from videos, create live images, magnify on-screen content, extract and translate text, and much more with the S Pen. It’s a really handy tool.
Even when the phone is in the sleep state, you can take out the S Pen and start scribbling on the screen. The note or scribble will automatically be saved when you insert the S Pen back inside. You also get to hear a faint scribbling sound from the loudspeaker (is that too much?). You can also pin a note on the Galaxy Note 9’s screen for quick reference. Moreover, the new S Pen Signature Colour feature means that the colour of the quick note depends on the colour variant of the Galaxy Note 9 that you’re using: yellow for Ocean Blue, purple for Lavender Purple, metallic copper for Copper. There’s a lot more you can do with the S Pen, and we will explain it all in a separate, detailed S Pen focussed feature article in a few days.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review: Performance
In India, we get access to the Samsung Exynos 9810 variant of the Galaxy Note 9. If you’re in China or the US, you will get a variant with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset instead. The phone comes in two variants, one with 6GB RAM and 128GB internal storage and the other variant with 8GB RAM and 512GB internal storage. Both variants are compatible with microSD cards for further storage expansion. If you buy the 512GB variant, you can potentially have 1TB of storage space (if you manage to spend and buy a 512GB microSD card as well).
While the Exynos 9810 has the highest single-core CPU performance in any Android smartphone (as of writing this review), the Galaxy Note 9 simply doesn’t have the UI fluidity that can be experienced on some other phones such as the Google Pixel 2 and the OnePlus 6. I could notice micro stutters in animations even though the Exynos 9810 is more than capable of processing them easily. There’s still some lag while opening the Bixby Home screen. I’ve eventually changed the animation and transition settings from the Developers Options menu to 0.5x and then the phone started feeling a bit faster but the stutters remained. Samsung needs to step up its game and optimise its software further so that it can take the full potential out of the Exynos 9810. The fingerprint reader is fast, but it takes a lot of time for the home screen to appear, at least in comparison to other phones in its class. The iris scanner is secure but it needs a lot of adjusting and it doesn’t work properly if you have glasses on or if you’re under direct sunlight. Face Unlock is slower, too, compared to say, the OnePlus 6 or even some lower-end phones.
The stereo speakers on the Galaxy Note 9 sounds amazing, at least for a smartphone. The audio is loud and full-bodied. There’s slight bass in there as well. When the phone is held in portrait mode, the two speakers work as one unit and the top speaker (earpiece) focusses on reproducing mid-range and high-range frequencies while the bottom speaker focusses on producing low-end frequencies. When the phone is held in the landscape mode, the speakers work independently as left and right channels for improved stereo separation. There is Dolby Atmos audio mode which enhances audio to make it sound wider. It can be activated, deactivated or tweaked using its quick setting toggle. During calls, the audio is crisp and loud, both ways.
Network reception is great, too, thanks to the use of glass on both sides of the phone, higher quality antenna design, and optimised software. GPS and Wi-Fi reception is great as well. So is Bluetooth (v5.0) connectivity, long-ranged and stable. The phone also supports higher quality audio codecs for transmission over Bluetooth: AAC, aptX, aptX LL, aptX HD, and LDAC. So, if you plan on using high-end Bluetooth earphones, headphones, or speakers, you will benefit from these codecs. Purely from the communications point of view, the Galaxy Note 9 is a great phone.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review: Battery Life
The most important upgrade from last year’s Galaxy Note is the Galaxy Note 9’s 4000mAh battery. The phone is also compatible with wired (Adaptive Fast Charge and Quick Charge 2.0) as well as wireless fast charging. The wired rapid charging technology is still not as fast as some of the other technologies such as Dash Charge, Quick Charge 4.0, VOOC Flash Charge. The Galaxy Note 9’s higher battery capacity should ideally result in longer battery life compared to the Galaxy Note 8 and the Galaxy S9+. It matches the 4000mAh battery capacity inside the Huawei P20 Pro and the recently released Xiaomi POCO F1. It should also last longer than most other flagship smartphones. So, how long does it last in real life?
Well, the Galaxy Note 9 lasts a whole work day in my usage. After a full charge, it lasts me around 18-20 hours with five hours of screen-on time or slightly longer. However, I had expected it to last even longer. With smaller batteries, phones like the Apple iPhone 8 Plus and the OnePlus 6 last longer. Granted, the iPhone 8 Plus has a smaller screen but also has a much smaller battery capacity. There’s something that Samsung must be doing wrong here. I am stating that the Galaxy Note 9’s battery life is bad, but it could’ve been better. It is definitely not as long as the battery life of the Huawei P20 Pro and the POCO F1.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review: Should You Buy It?
After using the Galaxy Note 9 for more than two weeks as my primary smartphone, I have mixed feelings about it. No doubt, it’s the only high-end phone that has all the features I want: excellent notch-less screen with HDR capabilities, loud stereo speakers, high-quality design, dust and water resistance, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a fast chipset with ample amounts of RAM and storage, a large-capacity battery with fast wired and wireless charging and software update promise for at least two years. There are some extremely useful features like Samsung Pay and Secure Folder.
However, I am not completely satisfied with the Galaxy Note 9. In spite of a powerful processor, it faces stutters and the UI is not as fluid as a high-end smartphone in 2018 should be. There are many cheaper priced phones that are better in this regard: POCO F1, OnePlus 6, OPPO Find X. Also, the battery doesn’t last as long as it should give its 4000mAh capacity. It lasts one day. That’s it. Other phones with a similar chipset and battery capacity — Huawei P20 Pro, OPPO Find X, Vivo NEX, and Xiaomi POCO F1 — last longer. While the S Pen is a neat thing, it’s not something that most people can’t live without.
So, should you buy it? Well, if you want all the features that I mentioned earlier in one phone and you have deep pockets, the Galaxy Note 9 is your only choice. However, if you hate when phones that stutter or if you can let go of some of the features and want to spend less on a phone, there are many other good phones to consider. I would suggest the OnePlus 6 as a good alternative. If you want completely bezel-less screen, there’s the OPPO Find X and the Vivo NEX, but you may not like their software design and the lack of dust or water resistance. Then there’s iPhone X and the upcoming iPhone XS range. Either way, if you are comfortable with iOS devices, you should wait for the launch of the new phones on September 12 before making a decision.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9₹67,000 onwards
Design and Build Quality9.0/10
Value for Money7.0/10
What Is Good?
- Big, bright, and colourful screen; HDR capable.
- Excellent stereo speakers.
- Premium build.
- Brilliant set of cameras.
- Very good performance.
- A plethora of software features.
- Improved, useful S Pen.
- Samsung Pay is genuinely useful.
- There’s a 512GB variant.
What Is Bad?
- Average battery life for the capacity.
- The user interface is still not as smooth as Apple, Google or OnePlus phones.
- Fragile build.
- Bixby is absolutely terrible.
- Bixby button is terrible as well.
- Extremely costly.
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