A year ago, I wrote that the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 was the best big Android phone ever made. It was an excellent performer and had a very effective camera and a refined design for a large screen device. Now, while the Note 8 was about being better than everything else, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 is simply about offering more – more screen, more battery, more impressive specs, more power and, obviously, more features.
The Galaxy Note 9 comes with an array of productive technologies, but at a price. In simple words, it’s quite expensive – starting at Rs 67,900 and Rs 84,900 for 128GB and 512GB variants, respectively. But then, this phone is targeted towards a very specific demographic.
Unlike previous Note models, the Galaxy Note 9 doesn’t offer anything new except for the Bluetooth powered S Pen – a first of its kind – that helps users get the most out of their time with the phone. However, what it lacks in terms of innovation, it makes up for by taking everything that Samsung’s been doing with its past few models up a notch.
Design and display
The Note 9 looks identical to Note 8. It has the same overall design – curved glass on the front and back and a metal frame. It certainly is a big phone, so if you are looking for something that can be easily managed by one hand, the Note 9 isn’t for you. One welcome change is the positon of the rear fingerprint scanner. Instead of being near the camera, it’s now below it, which makes it much easier to reach with your index finger.
The 6.4-inch screen of the Note 9 is slightly bigger than 6.3-inch panel of the Note 8, but Samsung has further shrunk the top and bottom bezels on their new offering, making the Note 9 not larger in any meaningful way, despite its bigger display. And yes, it’s notch-free – something that will make Note loyalists and some users happy.
The Galaxy Note 9’s 6.4-inch Quad HD+ Super AMOLED screen gives you more space to watch, read and draw, making it the ultimate multi-tasking smartphone. Samsung is known for launching phones with the best display, and Galaxy Note 9 is no exception. The HDR10 compliant 6.4-inches Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen with a resolution of 1440 x 2960 pixels and a wider colour gamut is one of the best on the market. The Always-On Display is another appealing feature. The colours produced, while watching videos and playing games, are simply incredible and unrivalled.
In terms of storage, it’s ahead of any other Samsung phone – the basic variant offers 128GB of space, while the more expensive version has a huge 512GB. Both versions have micro-SD card support, allowing you to further extend the storage up to 1TB. For comparison, storage of the Note 9 is twice as much as that of the iPhone X at each price point.
If you have seen or used S9 Plus’s camera, then you’d find the Galaxy Note 9’s camera quite familiar. The rear camera packs the same variable aperture feature, which can physically switch between a very bright f/1.5 aperture and a smaller f/2.4 aperture. The front camera has 8MP of resolution and auto-focus. And since it’s the same camera as the S9 Plus, images captured by the Note 9 are very similar to those captured by the S9.
The Note 9’s camera app includes AI-powered auto scene detecting feature. Just point it at something, and the camera will automatically try to identify what that object is and optimise the camera settings for it. According to Samsung, the camera can recognise 20 different types of scenes, including food, portraits, pets, landscapes, beaches, sunrises and sunsets. During my time with the phone, the Note 9 did a good job identifying animals, food and plants and did it quicker than other phones with similar feature.
However, the Galaxy Note 9 still suffers in low light. Every time it detects low light, a message pops up, and quite often I must add, saying that ‘there is not enough light to generate Live Focus’. To give you some perspective, the Google Pixel 3 XL seamlessly performs even at night.
The image on the left is from Note 9 where portrait mode could not be appied due to insufficent light conditions. On the other hand, Pixel 3XL on the right wonderfully captured the same image and with more details.
The images captured by the Note 9 have that typically Samsung effect to them, meaning that they are warmer and very saturated.
Sample daylight shots taken from Note 9.
We found the image quality to be different than what Apple’s or Google’s cameras produce. To elucidate further, Note 9 does nothing to change Samsung’s image processing, so, if you didn’t like it in previous models, you won’t like it now.
Like every other flagship Android phone this year, including Samsung’s own Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus, the Note 9 uses octa-core processor paired with either 6GB (in the base model) or 8GB (in the expensive version) of RAM. During the test period, it performed seamlessly. The phone is highly and efficiently responsive – apps open quickly and multi-tasking is a breeze.
Samsung has also updated the DeX feature in Note 9, which now gives you the freedom to plug the phone into a computer monitor and use it like a desktop with a simple USB-C to HDMI adapter on the Note 9 – no need of a special dock now. But DeX is still DeX, and to really get the most out of it, you need an external display, a keyboard and a mouse.
At 4,000mAh, the Note 9’s battery is the biggest in the entire Note line-up – 500mAh bigger than the S9 Plus’s battery and 700mAh bigger than the last year’s Note 8. Even for the heaviest of users – I happened to be one – the Note 9 will offer nearly seven hours and 30 minutes of on-screen time with typical use that includes Instagram, YouTube and working with other productivity apps. The Note 9 is designed for moderate to heavy users, but if you are an average user, the phone could easily last for two or maybe even three days between charges. The Note 9 supports both fast wired and fast wireless charging.
On a not so positive note, the issues with Samsung’s software continues to remain, including duplicate apps, two gallery apps, two browsers and two app stores. The phone ships with Android 8.1 Oreo, and till now there’s no word from Samsung as to when the device will receive Android 9 Pie, which has been released publicly. So, Samsung again disappoints as one of the worst OEMs in term of delivering new versions of Android.
The Note 9 has an updated version of Bixby, with an adjusted user interface and deeper integration with third-party services. But like DeX, Bixby still has the same problems – it’s slow, not accurate and generally not as good as Google Assistant, which conveniently is also on the phone.
The Note 9 does separate itself a little from the S9 with its S Pen stylus. The enhanced S Pen in Galaxy Note 9 now has a larger 6.4-inch ‘Infinity Display’ to work with, offering new ways to write, draw and interact with the phone and communicate with friends. Plus, it has the ability to use the button on it as a remote to click a picture, change music tracks or advance slides – something you won’t get on any other phone right now.
It’s lucrative and neat, but for an average user, it's not very useful – in my opinion at least.
The Galaxy Note 9 isn’t for everyone, but then you can say that about all Note devices. On the plus side, unlike other ‘big’ phones on the market – and there’re a lot of them – the Note 9 uses its size to its advantage and quite effectively too. The Note 9 improves over most of the shortcomings of the Note 8, making it a much better device in all sense of the word. It feels a much more complete handset as a result.
S-Pen, battery life, display