Samsung Galaxy Note 9: The best smartphone of 2018 continues to impress

A lot of smartphones pass through the hands of ZDNet reviewers and a few stand out from the masses. The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 remains active on a regular basis and continues to confirm its greatness.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

I started using an evaluation Galaxy Note 9, see my full review, on 9 August with yesterday marking four months with the phone serving as my primary daily driver. Several other phones have passed through my hands and served as a daily driver for some time, but I keep going back to the Note 9.

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The Galaxy Note 9 is not perfect in every way, but it's closer to perfect than any other smartphones available today. It is back at the top of our 10 best smartphones list and will end 2018 in this top spot. Let's take a look at why it continues to beat out phones like the Google Pixel 3 XL, Apple iPhone XS Max, OnePlus 6T, and others.

Also: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review: Big battery and superb S Pen experience power productivity

Things to love about the Note 9

  • S Pen: The S Pen has always been the key differentiator for Note fans and with the Note 8 I was using it quite a bit for easy navigation and text entry, hovering over email to preview the content, screen off memos, enjoyable browsing with hover scrolling, fun and personal Live Messages, quick magnification, and much more. The Note 9 extends that functionality even further with Bluetooth remote control capability. There is even more to come too as Samsung will be opening up the S Pen SDK to developers so the S Pen will truly be something unique in the smartphone world.
  • Display: The Infinity Display is the killer feature of the Galaxy Note 9 and even though most smartphone makers are now using OLED on flagships, the 6.4 inch variant on the Note 9 continues to be one of the best. We also don't have to deal with any notches on the Note 9.
  • Galaxy apps: While Google offers core apps in Android, I would argue that Samsung's own apps are better for productivity, efficiency, and functionality. Some argue against anything but stock apps, but in this case using the Samsung apps on a Galaxy Note 9 is a better choice.
  • Dual rear cameras: The Samsung cameras have been excellent the last couple of years and the Note 9 extends what was started with the Galaxy S9 Plus. In addition to the dual camera setup, intelligence has been added to the cameras to help you take even better photos. The Note 9 is the phone I grab for taking review photos as it has one of the best macro shooters available today. I also use Moment lenses on the Note 9 for even better results.
  • Wireless performance: I've tested several smartphones over the past year during my typical daily routine and while the Huawei P20 Pro just eeked out the Galaxy Note 9 when it comes to RF signal strength, running speed tests on both revealed that the Note 9 blew the doors off of the P20 Pro. Samsung devices are known for outstanding reception and performance, both extremely important for the best smartphone experience. Too often, signal strength and performance are overlooked.
  • Monthly security updates: While OS updates lag on Samsung smartphones, it continues to show a solid record for the monthly Android security updates. My T-Mobile variant has the November 1, 2018 update and I expect the December update soon. This is much better than I have seen from LG, HTC, and others.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is about as perfect of a smartphone as you can find. I honestly cannot think of a single thing it is missing, which is not something I can say about other recent flagships. The Note 9 has a 3.5mm headset jack, microSD expansion card, amazing dual camera, and much more. I carry it around as my only device and thanks to the big battery, I don't even have to worry about trying to find a charger throughout the day.

Also: Seven new ways to use Samsung's Galaxy Note 9 Bluetooth S Pen

Areas for improvement

I don't think you can find a single phone that is perfect in every way so here are a few areas for improvement.

  • OS updates: The Note 9 is still running Android 8 Oreo a few months after the release of Android 9 Pie. ZDNet's Jason Cipriani has take the One UI Beta with Android Pie for a spin on a Galaxy S9 Plus and the beta is starting to open up for Note 9 users so we will see this update soon. However, it would still be preferred to see Samsung release these OS updates closer to Google's release.
  • Newer fast charging technology: While we have charging options such as fast wireless charging on the Note 9, Samsung is still using older Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 technology. I read that this was related to support on Samsung's Exynos chips, but with Qualcoom Quick Charge 4.0 available on some of todays devices and OnePlus having its own super fast charging technology, this is one area where Samsung could improve.

I purchased my Galaxy Note 9 through the new Samsung Upgrade program so plan to keep the Note 9 for a full year and then move on up to the Note 10 in late 2019. Until then, I'll be pleased to continue using the Note 9 as my primary daily driver.

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