I’ve been using the Galaxy Note 9 as my daily phone for a little over a week now, and I’m confident this is one of the best phones I’ve used to date.
It combines everything I love about the Galaxy S9, like the gorgeous screen, camera, and design, and enhances it with a large display and an S Pen I’ve only recently come to appreciate.
While everyone can use the Galaxy Note 9, it’s also the second $1,500 mainstream phone to become available after the iPhone X. That particular price tag isn’t for everyone. But the Galaxy Note 9 has a particular kind of user in mind: the power user.
Check out the Galaxy Note 9:
Design-wise, the Galaxy Note 9 is a gorgeous device.
Despite its notchless display and slightly wider side bezels compared with the Galaxy Note 8 and the Galaxy S9, the only other Android phones that come close to or match the Galaxy Note 9 in terms of design are the OnePlus 6 and the Essential Phone.
As is always the case with Samsung phones, the Galaxy Note 9’s display is the best in the business.
While design may be subjective, the quality of the Galaxy Note 9’s display is universally top notch. Its bright, sharp, colours are rich, and dark colours are deep, making for a stunning display with gorgeous contrast. That’s pretty typical for Samsung’s Galaxy line of flagship smartphones, but it’s accentuated by the large 6.4-inch display, which is one of the larger screens you can get on a smartphone.
While I do love the Galaxy Note 9’s large screen, it’s not an easy phone to handle with one hand. It’s a trade-off I’m willing to make for the joys of a large screen. Not only do apps and video look great on a large display, but it’s also large enough that I felt comfortable sharing the screen with two apps for actual, real multitasking. I could easily split the Galaxy Note 9’s screen with the Slack office messaging app and the Gmail app. And when I’m not working, splitting the screen between the YouTube app and Chrome during my commute has been invaluable to pass the time.
Spec-wise, you’re getting one of the most powerful phones you can buy, but it’s still not as fast as the fastest Android phone you can buy, which costs $US530.
The Galaxy Note 9 runs off the latest and most powerful smartphone chip of 2018, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845. Most flagship devices released in 2018 use the same chip, but the Galaxy Note 9 has an advantage with its extra RAM. The base model comes with 6 GB of RAM, and the higher-end model comes with 8 GB of RAM.
Those specs are similar to those of the fastest Android phone you can buy: the $US530 OnePlus 6. And yet, the Galaxy Note 9 still doesn’t feel quite as snappy or smooth as the OnePlus 6.
Don’t get me wrong; the Galaxy Note 9 is no slouch. But the OnePlus 6 just sets such a high bar that no other phone has achieved so far.
The Galaxy Note 9 makes it easy for you to unlock the phone.
Considering how often smartphone users unlock their phones in a single day, I find this to be a pretty important facet in a smartphone. It might seem trivial, but not all phones have good fingerprint readers or face detection.
You can set the Galaxy Note 9 to use three different sensors to unlock the phone, including an iris scanner, face detection, and a fingerprint sensor on the back. With all those options enabled, the Galaxy Note 9 unlocks the phone using whichever part of your body it senses first, and it makes for a nice, easy, and relatively fast unlocking experience.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ve become an S Pen convert …
With the Galaxy Note 9, I made more effort than ever to use the included S Pen, and I’ve been loving it.
I don’t use it all the time, but it’s been better than simply using my finger in certain situations, such as taking notes when a thought suddenly crosses my mind or jotting down a packing list for a coming vacation.
And combined with the Galaxy Note 9’s large display, using the S Pen helped me do things on the phone that I would usually reserve for a computer. The task of booking a hotel for my vacation wasn’t as daunting as it usually is on a smartphone’s smaller display without a stylus. The S Pen also gives me more precision for finer items, like setting the time period I want to stay at the hotel.
Samsung added some nifty features like controlling the camera remotely for better selfie shots from farther away and with groups. The idea is that you can perch the Galaxy Note 9 on something, walk back a few feet, and take a snapshot using the S Pen. I’m not the target demographic for this kind of feature, but selfie takers may actually like this.
The camera is one of the best on any smartphone.
I tested the Galaxy Note 9’s camera against the Pixel 2’s, which is widely viewed as the best smartphone camera, and the Galaxy Note 9 comes pretty close. That’s to say the Galaxy Note 9 has one of the best available smartphone cameras.
New to the Samsung’s Galaxy phones, Samsung added some camera smarts that let the Galaxy Note 9 recognise certain objects or scenes you’re taking a photo of and adjust the camera settings that best match them. And it does seem to help in taking better photos.
It comes with an incredible amount of storage that a lot of people probably don’t need, and it most likely drives up the cost of the Galaxy Note 9.
You can’t get a Galaxy Note 9 with less than 128 GB of storage, which is massive. That’s far more storage than I’d ever need.
And should you want more storage, you can add a 512 GB microSD card to the Galaxy Note 9. Add that to the 512 GB model of the Galaxy Note 9, and you have a 1 terabyte smartphone. I suppose it’s nice to have, but I’ve never met anyone who uses that much storage on a mobile device.
I didn’t really notice any extra battery life from the Galaxy Note 9’s massive battery.
The Galaxy Note 9’s large 4,000 mAh battery didn’t really give me a noticeable boost in battery life compared with phones that have batteries in the 3,000 mAh range. That’s most likely because of the Galaxy Note 9’s large screen.
As with most Android phones these days, a fast charger is included with the Galaxy Note 9. But I have to say, charging is actually pretty slow on the Galaxy Note 9 compared with even the Galaxy S9. That probably has something to do with the size of the Galaxy Note 9’s battery.
There’s also wireless “fast charging,” which really isn’t fast compared with its wired alternatives, and you need to buy separate accessories.
You won’t notice that it’s not running the latest version of Android.
Oddly, the Galaxy Note 9 runs on Android 8.1 Oreo, even though Google released Android 9 Pie a few days before the Galaxy Note 9’s announcement. You won’t really notice that it’s an older version of Android, as Android 9 features like Adaptive Battery are more under-the-hood improvements than anything else.
Still, running on an older version of Android feeds into Android’s fragmentation problem that Google can’t seem to shake off. Overall, it would be better for security if Android phones all ran the latest version of Android, not to mention benefits from Google’s latest Android features, whether or not they’re noticeable.
I actively dislike how Samsung is trying to get you to use Bixby.
The Bixby button on the left edge of the Galaxy Note 9 summons Samsung’s artificial-intelligence assistant. At the moment, it’s not possible to change what the Bixby button does, and it’s not even possible to turn off the button, which is a poor move on Samsung’s part. Hopefully it’s something that will change in updates.
I accidentally press the Bixby button several times a day, which interrupts what I’m doing. It’s incredibly frustrating that Samsung is forcing this button and Bixby down your gullet in this way. I don’t use smart AI assistants on smartphones very often, so this is a particularly irritating aspect.
I also couldn’t change the Bixby Home screen when you swipe right. It’s either Bixby or nothing. Bixby Home is meant to show me things I’d be interested in on apps like YouTube and Twitter and a variety of other apps that can link to Bixby Home, but it does an astoundingly poor job at showing anything relevant to me. I found myself yearning for the Google Assistant Feed from the Pixel 2.
Should you buy it?
If you’re comparing the $US1,500 Galaxy Note 9 with the $US1,500 iPhone X, I’d say the Galaxy Note 9 is the superior phone.
With the iPhone X, you’re just getting a fancy iPhone. With the Galaxy Note 9, however, you’re getting a little more than just a phone. The Galaxy Note 9 is a more complete all-in-one kind of device that makes it comfortable to do more on the phone because of its large screen and the S Pen. It is, indeed, designed with the power user in mind, and it’s priced as such. But I understand the appeal.
The Galaxy Note 9 is the only $US1,500 smartphone I’d consider actually worthy of its price tag, at least for power users who would benefit from the Galaxy Note 9’s large display and S Pen. Regular smartphone users should do fine with smaller, S Pen-less smartphones like the Galaxy S9 or other top Android phones. For those users, I’d recommend the OnePlus 6.
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