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

matthew-miller
Written by Matthew Miller on
26-samsung-galaxy-note-9.jpg
9.5/10

Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Spectacular
$198.99 at Walmart$274.88 at eBay$198.99 at Amazon
Pros
  • Long battery life
  • Gorgeous large 6.4 inch display
  • Fantastic S Pen experience
  • Outstanding RF performance and high call quality
  • Solid DeX capability with no extra hardware required
Cons
  • Launches with Android Oreo
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

Video: Galaxy 9: Why the world's most powerful business phone comes with Fortnite

I've been using the new Samsung Galaxy Note 9 extensively since last Thursday and plan to pick up my own at T-Mobile when it is released next week. Fans of the Note should seriously consider the Note 9 as it fills in the gaps from the Note 8 and takes the S Pen experience to the next level.

Also: Galaxy Note 9 ongoing review: The good and bad so far CNET

The Galaxy Note 9 improves upon the Note 8 with the following:

  • Repositioned the fingerprint scanner to the center back
  • Added Bluetooth to the S Pen, along with more advanced functions
  • Enhanced audio capability with stereo speakers, tuned by AKG
  • Improved the excellent camera experience, adding the features we saw on the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
  • Improved the facial unlock and security experience

I was starting to get bored with smartphones, but after putting my SIM back into an evaluation Note 8, it became clear to me that the S Pen is essential for my daily usage, so I was excited to get some time to use the Note 9 in New York City. After nearly a week with the device, I'm pleased to see that it earns the top spot in my 10 best smartphones list.

Galaxy Note 9 Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 2.35 GHz quad-core
  • Display: 6.4 inch, 2960x1440-pixel resolution Super AMOLED (516 ppi)
  • Operating system: Android 8.1 Oreo
  • RAM: 6GB/8GB LPDDR4
  • Storage: 128GB/512GB internal with microSD expansion card slot
  • Cameras: 12-megapixel rear f/1.5 and f/2.4 super speed dual pixel OIS camera with dual aperture and 12-megapixel telephoto f/2.4 OIS camera; 8-megapixel f/1.7 front-facing camera
  • Water resistance: IP68 water and dust rating
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz), VHT80 MU-MIMO, 1024QAM, Bluetooth 5.0 BLE, ANT+, GPS/Galileo/Glonass/BeiDou, MST, and NFC
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, Barometer, Fingerprint Sensor, Gyro Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, Hall Sensor, Heart Rate Sensor, Proximity Sensor, RGB Light Sensor, Iris Sensor, and Pressure Sensor
  • Battery: 4,000mAh non-removable with Quick Charge 2.0 and fast wireless charging
  • Dimensions: 161.9mm x 76.4mm x 8.8mm and 201g
  • Colors: Ocean Blue and Lavender Purple

The key differences in specifications over last year's Galaxy Note 8 are the new processor, improved manual dual aperture rear camera, increased battery capacity, increased internal storage options, reconfigured fingerprint scanner, and stereo speakers tuned by AKG. The Note 9 is a bit heavier, thicker, and wider than the Note 8.

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The Note 9 will also be released outside the US in black and copper colors.

Also: Samsung Galaxy Watch: Everything you need to know CNET

Hardware

The display is slightly larger, but nothing anyone will notice. It's a Super AMOLED display and in typical Samsung fashion it is stunning, setting new records in independent lab testing. The edges still have slight curves with Edge Panel support too so screen protectors will remain a bit of a challenge to install.

The Note 9 design is not radically different than the Note 8, with the exception of the S Pen with its Bluetooth radio and capacitor. The capacitor builds up a full charge in 40 seconds and then is rated to last for about 200 clicks or 30 minutes. A low charge remaining notification appears in the status bar when it gets low.

Also: Samsung S Pen reflections: A differentiator in a saturated smartphone market

The S Pen is still usable for all of the typical S Pen functions even if the capacitor is fully discharged, but you will not be able to use the remote functions. I've enjoyed using the S Pen to capture images and control media. It will be exciting to see what else developers provide when the SDK is released.

I was pleased to see that the fingerprint scanner was moved to the center of the back rather than off to the side of the cameras, but I still find it a bit too high on the back so am constantly having to consciously move my finger up to hit it. A case should help align my finger and I already have an UAG Monarch on hand for testing. It's a breeze to train the scanner and when you do touch it the response is lightning fast.

Samsung is only releasing Ocean Blue and Lavender Purple in the US at this time. Outside the US you can find black and copper variants too. The blue and purple both look great, but blue is my favorite color so that one is a natural pick for me. I am also a major fan of the yellow S Pen. It looks slick and the color will help ensure you won't easily lose it too.

Samsung is one of the few remaining that includes the 3.5mm headset jack and while my life is filled with Bluetooth headsets, my Bose noise-cancelling earbuds I travel with use 3.5mm. I appreciate having the option to use a standard headset and Samsung even includes wired earbuds with AKG tuning in the retail box.

Also: Samsung Bixby 2.0: Cheat sheet TechRepublic

Yes, there is still a Bixby button on the left side of the Note 9 and while it can be turned off, it cannot be reprogrammed to do something else. Bixby 2.0 is included on the Note 9 so hopefully it has improved enough to justify dedicating a hardware button. I've done some testing, but there is a lot to Bixby so those experiences will have to be shared in a future article.

The battery is 700 mAh larger than the Note 8 and in my week of testing I have been seeing 5-8 hours of screen on time (SOT), dependent on what else I was doing with the phone that day. For my typical day, most phones generally provide about 4-5 hours of SOT with some going as low as 3-4 hours. The battery performance matches what I have experienced the last few months with the Huawei P20 Pro, which also has a 4,000 mAh battery.

The Note 9 incorporates Samsung's 8-Point battery safety check. This is the most rigorous in the industry with battery capability also validated by UL and Exponent. Samsung clearly applied lessons learned from the Note 7 and it is nice to see them pushing ahead with large capacity batteries on the Note series.

I have taken quite a few photos with the Note 9 and I am seeing performance similar to the Galaxy S9 Plus since they share the same hardware. There are improvements in the software and the AI seems to be much more subtle when compared to the very aggressive changes found in the Huawei P20 Pro.

Software

While Google just named the latest version of Android Pie, it has only rolled out to those devices included in the Android P beta program. The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 launches with Android 8.1 Oreo and Samsung Experience 9.5.

I went through the list of improvements in Android Pie and as we have seen in the past Samsung is always ahead of Google's official software releases with features and functions specific to Galaxy devices. This is the case again as we see that Samsung includes Pie features such as adaptive brightness, hotspot timeout, magnifier pop-up during text selection and more on the Galaxy Note 9.

Also: Samsung Galaxy Tab S4: A cheat sheet TechRepublic

Samsung will eventually update the Note 9 to Android Pie, but check out the device and buy it based on the way the software currently runs. You should never buy a device that relies on a future software update to make it functional as Google and Apple are the only ones you can rely on for an aggressive update strategy.

Thankfully, Samsung continues to include its own Gallery app so you can manage photos right on your device and perform advanced editing of your camera content. Google Photos is fine for many things, but I cannot stand it for editing. The Gallery is needed to take advantage of some of the unique things Samsung does with the camera, such as the super slow motion video creation.

As always, there are Samsung apps and utilities on the Note 9, including Samsung Internet browser (my preferred browser on all Androids), Samsung Health, Samsung Notes, SmartThings, file browser, calendar, email, Samsung Music, Samsung Pay, Samsung Gear, Samsung Pass, and more. Most of these enhance the Samsung experience and I don't consider them to be bloatware. Unfortunately, US carriers may add additional apps and utilities that corrupt the overall Samsung experience.

For some reason, the current version of Galaxy Wearable app (new name for Samsung Gear utility) does not show Samsung Pay on the info screen so Samsung Pay is currently not available on my Gear S3 Frontier. It looks to be a software issue due to the different versions of handsets and watches currently available and I know Samsung will fix this eventually.

The phone has performed well over the past week with good performance when playing Fortnite, watching video content, listening to music, and more.

Price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 launched last year in the $950 range and we heard last week that the Note 9 would be reasonably priced. Carrier pricing is the same as Samsung pricing; 128GB Note 9 at $999.99 and the 512GB model at $1,249.99. These are the highest prices we have seen of any Samsung phone to date, but ZDNet's Larry Dignan presented a few reasons that this price be considered reasonable.

As a T-Mobile customer, I can exercise my Jump On Demand option by trading in my iPhone X for the Note 9. T-Mobile charges $279.99 as a down payment at the time of purchase and then charge $30 per month for 24 months. $529.99 is required for the 512GB model with the same monthly payment. T-Mobile is also offering up to $500 credit over 24 months when you trade-in a compatible device and I may try this with an older Galaxy S7 I have in a drawer.

Also: New and upcoming phones: Google Pixel 3 and others

Preorders for the Galaxy Note 9 started on Aug. 10 with availability Aug. 24. The 128GB Galaxy Note 9 will be available at Amazon, Best Buy, Samsung, Target, Walmart and other retailers. The 512GB Galaxy Note 9 will be available at AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, U.S. Cellular and Samsung.

Daily usage experiences and conclusions

After spending nearly a week with the Note 9, there is no doubt it is the best Note ever and Note fans are sure to enjoy the experience. The Bluetooth S Pen was a surprise to me since I didn't think it was possible to get a stylus with a Bluetooth radio and ability to hold a charge in such a slim piece of kit. This is one of the most exciting features of the Galaxy Note 9 and I can't wait to incorporate it into my daily life.

Galaxy Note 9 event: First look at Samsung's new phone, Galaxy Watch, and Galaxy Home

The hardware and design of the Note 8 was nearly perfect. I prefer that it is a bit flatter than the S series, so the Note 9 follows with its minor design improvements. The camera now matches the S series, with more intelligence too. There are some nice third party lens options available too so you can make the Note 9 your primary camera.

Call quality has been outstanding on both ends of conversations. RF performance has matched the dBm readings I've recorded for the Huawei P20 Pro and beat out the HTC U12 Plus, LG G7 ThinQ, BlackBerry KEY2, OnePlus 6, and all other phones I've tested recently. When running speedtests on the P20 Pro and Note 9, the Note 9 more than double the speeds in most every location.

The advancements in DeX and the ability to connect and use this desktop experience with nothing more than a cable are exciting. As the office starts to move to remote work, functionality like DeX are enabling smartphones and providing the tools to make your phone serve as a computer a reality. Make sure to check out the new Samsung DeX Executive Guide.

note-9-dex-setup.jpg

I connected the Note 9, a Samsung mouse, and a Microsoft Wedge keyboard to my Dell touchscreen monitor by simply removing my Pixelbook from the AUKEY dongle and plugging in the Note 9. DeX appeared without special Samsung accessory in line and performed flawlessly. I'm loving this DeX experience and look forward to diving deeper into this functionality.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is fantastic and it's been a while since I've been this excited about a phone. I plan to use the Note 9 as my daily driver for months. Stay tuned for a future post on long term usage.

Galaxy Note 9: Nine ways it beats the iPhone

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