The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is one of the biggest and best performing phones money can buy. It’s also one of the priciest, starting at $1000. Samsung promises that with the Note 9 you can do what you can’t. Thanks to Verizon, I’ve had time to see just how well the Note 9 delivers on that claim. Here’s a look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 9.
NOTE 9 | DESIGN
The Note 9’s design hasn’t changed much since the Note 8. In fact, they’re pretty easy to mistake for one another.
The Note 9 is still a big phone with a slightly bigger 6.4-inch “infinity” screen. This is still one of the best and brightest phone screens available. It hasn’t grown a chin or notch around the screen. It still has stereo speakers and dual cameras. Like all the cool phones, it still rocks a shiny glass unibody look that constantly slides off of my couch. It also still includes an S Pen, though that’s now powered by Bluetooth LE. The Bixby button continues to be a permanent fixture whether you use it or not.
The biggest design change to the Note 9 is the placement of fingerprint sensor. It’s back underneath the dual cameras.
What makes the Note 9’s design unlike every other phone that’s not made by Samsung is its headphone jack and microSD card slot. It sounds crazy to say (write) that, but these are the types of design choices that let you do what you can’t with today’s premium phones.
For example, you can listen to music via the headphone jack and charge the battery at the same time. You can also increase your storage space without buying a whole new phone.
Three or four years ago, you could do these things with a lot more phones. Today, you can’t.
NOTE 9 | PERFORMANCE
To help you “do what you can’t”, the Note 9 comes with the latest and greatest technology for fast and powerful performance.
Thanks to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 processor and 6GB of RAM, the Note flies through tasks. It easily keeps up with graphic intensive games like Asphalt 9 and memory hungry apps like Adobe Lightroom Mobile. When switching apps, the Note doesn’t leave me waiting for them to reload. It picks up right where I left off.
An improved internal water-carbon cooling system keeps the Note from running uncomfortably hot. In fact, the Note didn’t break a sweat while I gamed for 2 hours or binged on my favorite shows.
Storage on the Note 9 starts at a whopping 128GB and there’s a 512GB option that comes with 8GB of RAM. Combined with a 512GB microSD card, the Note 9’s storage maxes out at 1TB. That’s enough space to fit a backup of your laptop. In fact, this is as close to “unlimited storage” as you’ll get with any phone.
The battery on the Note 9 is bigger than ever. With moderate usage, it powers through a full day and then some. I didn’t need to charge the battery until halfway through my second day of use. The only downside to the bigger battery is the longer charge times: nearly 2 hours (even longer when wirelessly charging)
NOTE 9 | SOFTWARE & S PEN
The Note 9 is a little lackluster when it comes to new features. This is partially because it doesn’t come with Pie, the latest version of Android. However, it is beginning to roll out.
Until then, the bulk of the Note’s new features are aimed at the new Bluetooth LE powered S Pen. With 1-2 clicks of the S Pen’s button, you can play and pause songs, take pictures and record videos. Business users and students can now use the pen to navigate presentations played from the Note.
The pen’s button can also be programmed to open specific apps when long pressed or execute app specific actions. You can even unlock the Note 9 with the pen and write “off screen” notes in the pen’s signature color.
These are nice, but basic features for the S-Pen. They don’t let you do what you can’t nor any faster than you currently can.
NOTE 9 | CAMERA
The Note 9 has an 8MP camera on the front and dual 12MP cameras on the back. The front camera is about what you’d expect from any front camera that’s not on a Google Pixel. Personally, I don’t like how soft and over processed photos look and tend to skip this camera altogether.
On the back, the wide angle camera now has dual apertures to let in more light when in dim settings. The telephoto lens remains the same and optically zooms in at 2x to get closer shots without moving.
Outdoors, both cameras take bright and colorful photos. Sometimes photos show an odd blur effect in the corners as if they’re being stretched. Photos can also look soft and mushy when a lot of trees are present or there isn’t enough light.
That’s not to say the Note 9 can’t take decent low light and night photos. In fact, I was pleased with some of the results. Unfortunately, you can’t use the telephoto lens if it’s too dark. Instead, the Note will digitally zoom in at 2x with the wide-angle camera, which doesn’t capture as much detail.
In the Note 9’s camera app you’ll only find two improved settings: Scene Optimizer and Flaw Detection.
Scene optimizer expands on the Food mode from previous Samsung phones. Using AI scene recognition, it adjusts photo settings according to what you’re taking a picture of. It recognizes over 20 scenes ranging from sunsets to animals.
Flaw Detection expands on the Note’s ability to detect if you might need to clean the lens. Now, it also tells you if someone blinks or if a picture looks blurry.
What the Galaxy Note 9 offers over other phones is a mix of power and compatibility. It has more storage, battery life and ports than the competition. It’s also compatible with accessories you already have and comes with adapters for even greater compatibility.
I have to hand it Samsung for consistently making phones that don’t abandon the past just to keep up with the future. The Note 9 holds the best of both worlds so well, but at a steep price.
At $1000 the Note 9 is expensive, though cheaper than the iPhone Xs Max. Buying the Note 9 through a carrier like Verizon (and trading in a 2017 phone) can knock off $100-$300. Alternatively, the Galaxy S9 Plus is cheaper and offers a similar experience to the Note — minus the S Pen, huge screen and crazy battery life.
If you have the Note 8, stick with it. The upgrades on the Note 9 are incremental and any software changes will likely make their way to the Note 8 in time.