There’s a line in rapper Logic’s single “Everybody Dies” off his album, YSIV, that resonated with me during my review process of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9. The line is as follows: “It’s what you’ve all been waiting for, ain’t it?” The lyric pays homage to the artist’s alter ego, Young Sinatra, which promises heavy boom-bap tracks mixed with fast raps and clever word play, much like the hip hop of two-and-a-half decades ago. For 2018, YS made a gracious return for fans of old-school boom-bap after a lengthy break. And now that there’s an entirely new album to enjoy, fans can’t seem to get enough.
That’s how I feel about the new Note 9. After Samsung went literally under fire for its 2016 Note 7, it managed to bounce back and enjoy the spotlight with the Note 8. But the Note 8 wasn’t the same beast of a phone we were used to seeing from the Note line. Understandably, Samsung had to play things conservatively last year in hopes of regaining consumers’ trust. Now, though, it seems they’ve done so, and it’s time to push the envelope once again by shoving everything you possibly can into a metal and glass sandwich.
The $1,000 Galaxy Note 9 is an absolute beast, and it’s the beast fans of the smartphone series have been waiting for.
Samsung is cutting no corners when it comes to the design of the Note 9. The company utilizes its traditional metal and glass design language which involves glass on the back and front and a metal rail along the sides. It’s IP68 rated in case you drop it in water or get it dirty some how, and it utilizes Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and back. Opposed to last year, this year’s Note 9 has a polished aluminum rail without a glossy coating on top, making the device easier to grip which is nice considering the large footprint of the device.
Let me make this clear: this is a big phone. It measures in at 6.37 inches by 3.01 inches and 8.8mm thick. The Note 9 is by no means chunky, but it’s definitely a surfboard in its own right. Luckily, Samsung was sensible enough to move the fingerprint scanner to below the camera sensor this generation and, therefore, make it easier to reach. But for some reason, the volume buttons crept up near the top left edge of the device, making them more difficult to press. Just know for around 60 to 70 percent of the time, you’ll be using this phone with two hands.
If you don’t feel safe handling this all-glass device, you probably wanna get a case. I’ve been using UAG’s Monarch case for the Note 9 and love it. It offers a ton of protection in a form factor that’s thinner than, say, an Otterbox. It’s made of premium materials that feel substantial enough to handle any slight tumble or waste-high drop with ease.
On the front, you’ll find a large 6.4-inch 2960×1440 Quad HD+ Super AMOLED display with an 18.5:9 aspect ratio. It isn’t very much different over last year’s display, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t impressive. It’s always a pleasure to review Samsung’s phones because of how good the screens are. Colors are super vibrant and punchy, brightness is consistently great (fun fact: the Note 9 clocks in at 1,200 nits which is ridiculous), and viewing angles are pitch-perfect. You also don’t get a notch, making this one of the few flagships left without one.
In this case, Samsung also uses its famous curved edges along the left and right which makes content pour off either side while navigating the UI. It also enables a suite of functionality called Edge Sense which Samsung has been using for years. There are some useful tools in there like screenshot capturing utilities, but there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about.
What really stands out on the Note 9 is, obviously, the S Pen. Samsung’s Galaxy Note series has capitalized on a large screen and stylus combination ever since its inception, and this year’s iteration is the best one yet. Not only can you do the normal S Pen stuff like doodle, draw, write notes, and navigate, but you can also use the S Pen as a remote control. This year’s stylus comes with Bluetooth LE onboard which lets you use the button on the pen as a shutter button, a control for music playback, and more. It charges while docked inside the phone and takes less than an hour to go from zero to 100 percent.
This feature alone makes the S Pen much more appealing to a mainstream audience. Normally, the pen is much more useful for users such as artists or those who wanted more precision to control their device. But with these new Bluetooth-oriented features, I can see lots more people using the S Pen much more often. I personally enjoy taking selfies with the pen so I don’t have to reach across the screen to tap the shutter button while holding my phone high in the air, but other use cases such as music and presentation control are also handy.
Speaking of the S Pen, you’ll find it docked inside the Note 9 on the bottom of the device where the USB-C port, loud speaker, and headphone jack are. Yes, folks, you can still use wired headphones with this handset and charge your phone at the same time. In addition, the loud speaker offers clear and loud sound output, especially when paired to the earpiece which provides stereo separation and extra bass. I have to say, these are some of the nicest speakers I’ve heard on a phone, particularly since they aren’t easy to block.
Similarly, call quality is also great on the Note 9. We used Verizon’s network in and around South Jersey and had great reception. No, Verizon didn’t sponsor this review, but they did provide the review unit which we’re very thankful for.
Okay, on to performance. If you saw the price tag I included near the top of my review, you know the Note 9 has to live up to expectations when it comes to specs. In most ways, it does. You get a Snapdragon 845 processor coupled with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of baseline storage. There’s also a microSD card slot for expanding even further up to an additional 512GB. So if you opt for the 8GB RAM/512GB storage model that’s available from Samsung, you could be looking at 1TB of storage in your pocket so long as you max everything out. That’s pretty insane to think about.
Alas, I wasn’t given this luxury. However, I have no complaints about the Note 9’s performance. Everything from light to extremely heavy use, the Note 9 can tackle it all. Switching between apps is quick, games load up fast and don’t drop frames virtually at all, and multitasking is a pleasure thanks to the large screen. In the same breath, the OnePlus 6T I just reviewed offers very similar performance and, with the right trim, better everyday speeds for half the price. Still, though, you’ll be satisfied by the quick and snappy experience provided by the Note 9.
There is one area of the phone that isn’t quick or snappy, and that’s battery life. In fact, the 4,000mAh cell on board is the perfect amount to achieve all-day endurance after taking the phone off the charger at 7 a.m. and going to sleep at 11 p.m. So long as you don’t listen to as much audio as I do in the background, I could totally see someone achieving six hours of screen-on time. I never did because I’m not on my phone that often during the day, but if you are, you’ll be pleased.
A bit of a side note: Verizon didn’t provide one of Samsung’s fast chargers in the box so we couldn’t test how fast the phone could charge. Luckily, my LG V40’s charger was enough for the device to say it was fast charging when plugged in, and sure enough, it could charge to 50 percent in around 35-40 minutes which isn’t bad. There’s also wireless charging in this case if you’re a cable cutter.
Software-wise, Samsung has greatly improved over the years when it comes to UI design and useful features. Instead of crowding the experience with gimmicks and weird waterdrop sounds, Samsung’s Experience UI on top of Android 8.1 Oreo provides genuine usefulness for the Galaxy Note 9.
In the same breath, there are some aspects of Samsung’s software that aren’t too pleasant. For one, the company is still duplicating Google’s apps with its own like a secondary calculator, calendar, clock, phone dialer, messaging app, and more. I get Samsung wants to have its own experience for its phones (that’s what makes Android so great, after all), but honestly, just let Google do its thing because it does it all better.
This is especially true with Bixby, Samsung’s voice assistant. During my review period, I simply couldn’t be bothered with the assistant so I had it disabled on the home screen during my testing. I kept the button enabled in case I wanted to give it a try, but I never did that either. In fact, I only used the Google Assistant during my review time. This should give you an idea of just how bad Bixby is. I love testing new technologies, but Bixby is so awful I just don’t want any parts of it. Hopefully, Samsung will shut it down and just replace it with the Google Assistant.
This is probably the last time I’ll ever review a phone with Samsung Experience. Starting with Android 9 Pie, the company will switch over to its One UI which simplifies its UI even further to make using phones with taller aspect ratios easier. The Note 9 will get it in February next year and the Galaxy S10 should launch with it out of the box. Therefore, it should be interesting to see how much it’s improved over Samsung’s current interface. But for right now, Samsung’s software is good.
If you’re gonna spend $1,000 on a smartphone, the cameras have to be really good, if not great. Luckily, Samsung doesn’t disappoint in this area when it comes to the Galaxy Note 9. The device includes a main 12MP sensor with a variable aperture, ranging from f/1.5 to f/2.4, and a secondary 12MP telephoto f/2.4 lens. Both ship with OIS, autofocus, and 4K 60 frames per second video recording.
I’ve always enjoyed how Samsung processes images, and photos that come out of the Note 9 are very aesthetically pleasing. Colors pop, contrasts aren’t too harsh, shadows are usually left as they are, and sharpness is on point. With the variable aperture, you get better nighttime photography since more light can be let into the sensor. Overall, these cameras are great and slot right next to the iPhone XS and Pixel 3 as one of the best phones to take pictures with.
Of course, with the telephoto camera, you also get portrait mode (a.k.a. Live Focus) and lossless zoom capabilities. The former works pretty well and is good at edge detection, while the latter helps with micro shots that are perfect when you have a ton of Christmas decorations up in your home.
New for the Note 9 are a few features. For one, the device can now detect when someone may’ve blinked or you captured a blurry photo using flaw detection. The feature will alert you when you’re viewing your photo and ask if you’d like to take another one. There’s also an AI setting which can detect up to 20 different scenes and adjust things like exposure, color balance, temperature, and contrast based on what you’re looking at. Personally, I couldn’t decipher between a normal photo and one taken with the AI mode enabled. It automatically turns on when it thinks it should, but it doesn’t make much of a difference.
As always, the Note 9 is also great for video capturing. I still think the iPhone is the best when it comes to recording video, but the Note 9 definitely makes a name for itself.
Like I said, you can capture up to 4K at 60 frames per second with the Note 9. What’s also cool is the ability to shoot slow-motion video at 720p, 960 frames per second which is seriously epic. I mean, just look at what you can film with the Note 9. It’s sick.
Up front sits an 8MP f/1.7 selfie camera that’s perfectly acceptable in the world of poor-quality selfie shooters. In fact, it’s one of my favorites I’ve ever tested with sharp, noise-free photos in well-lit areas and decent performance in low light.
As some final tidbits, the Note 9 still packs an iris scanner if you want a poor quality way to unlock your phone with your eyes; there Bluetooth 5.0 for all of your wireless needs; Samsung Pay still works with all credit card terminals (not just ones marked with the NFC logo); Samsung DeX now works with any average USB-C to HDMI adapter; and the vibration motor is one of the best on the Android market, slotting underneath the LG V40.
There’s no denying the Galaxy Note 9 is the complete package. It’s everything you need in a phone and then some. It offers a complete list of flagship specs, great cameras, long battery life, a headphone jack, wireless charging, a premium build, and a big, beautiful screen. What more do you need from a phone?
Of course, in order to have all of this premium-ness, you’ll need to fork over $1,000+. Whether the Note 9 is worth that cost is up to you, but personally, I think it’s worth it. It’d be better if the phone started at $900, but to be honest, since you get 128GB of storage by default, the extra $100 shouldn’t be too hard to hand over for most people.
The Note 9 is the Note we’ve all been waiting for. It jams every premium aspect of a smartphone into a single device that’s well worth considering. Sure, you can get most of the same features in a phone that costs half as much (I’m looking at you, OnePlus 6T), but Samsung built a great product here that’s, for a change, worth its high price tag. It’s an absolute beast, and you’re really gonna like it.