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Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review

A big, brilliant but slightly baffling phone

4.5 stars

A power user's delight

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is the Korean brand’s smartphone big-hitter. It’s not a mainstream flagship option – that would be the S10 – but it’s the phone Samsung is using to really flex its muscles. And boy, is the Note 9 impressive. It has heaps of power, an amazing screen, and that unique stylus. It’s not for everyone, but then again, not everyone needs this much phone.

4.5 stars

A power user's delight

Design

4 stars

Camera

4.5 stars

Ease of use

3 stars

Value

3.5 stars

Performance

5 stars
Buy the Note 9 from Verizon

Pros

  • Incredible display
  • Fantastic cameras
  • Unique S Pen stylus
  • Remarkable battery life
  • Notch-free design

Cons

  • Daunting size makes it tricky to use one-handed
  • Very expensive
  • Samsung bloatware can be an irritant

Read our review of the new Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus

Samsung markets the Note 9 at the consumers that need their phone to do everything. It combines an enormous 6.4-inch screen, a powerful processor, a stylus, and the capability to connect it to a myriad of peripherals.

While it has competition from other big phones, such as the Google Pixel 3 XL, iPhone XS Max and Huawei Mate 20 Pro, none of these phones offer the same level of versatility as the Note 9. The Note 9 is perfectly capable of working as a business phone for on-the-go workers, as a gaming phone, or as a dedicated camera phone.

This versatility makes the Note 9 a great phone on paper, but in the real world, it can be tricky to know exactly what the Note 9 is supposed to be. We’ll explain why in the rest of this review:

Click for full overview

StarRatingScore

Summary

Overall Verdict4.5 starsIf you're after a powerful, extra large phone that can knock out almost any task with ease, the Samsung Note 9 is an outstanding choice. With the new Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus on the scene (and a Note 10 coming soon), you can expect the Note 9 price to drop, too.
Design and Screen4 starsThe Note 9 isn't, arguably, the most beautifully designed phone around – it's a little boxy and plain. But, the SuperAMOLED screen is a thing of beauty, making colours pop and showing off brilliant detail.
Performance5 starsThis is powerhouse of a smartphone, and you'll be able to run pretty most any app without breaking a sweat. It's fast and snappy when switching on, loading apps, or changing between functions.The phone also benefits from a phenomenal battery that will easily power you through the day.
Cameras4.5 starsThe Note 9 packs in some exceptional cameras, which are among the best we've tested on a smartphone. Low light shots are very good, though bettered by those from the Google Pixel 3 XL.
Ease of Use3 starsWe have some reservations, here. The shape of the Note 9 makes it a touch uncomfortable in the hand, and the tiny bezels actually make it easy to touch the screen unintentionally. Plus, the Bixby assistant is still no match for Google Assistant or Siri.
Value for money3.5 starsThe Note 9 certainly isn't a cheap Samsung phone, and it's aimed at power users, rather than those after a low cost handset. With the new Samsung S10 and S10 Plus on the scene, the Note 9 already has newer rivals from the same stable. If the price falls (especially when the newer Note 10 arrives) it could prove more of a bargain.

 

Also in this guide:

How Much Does the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Cost?

The Note 9 used to be Samsung's most expensive phone, but since the launch of the S10 range, the Note 9 has received some price cuts.

Sim-free and unlocked, the Note 9 will now set you back $799. It’s expensive, sure, but compared to similarly-priced Android handsets, you’re getting more phone for your money (and a lot more phone when you compare it to the iPhone XS Max).

With the exceptional display, fantastic cameras, unique S Pen, powerful processors, notch-free design, headphone jack and SD card support, it’s genuinely difficult to think of a phone that offers the same amount of features and functionality for a similar price.

Of course, that leads to the question of whether you need this much phone. If you’re the most demanding of phone users, you may very well do. However, the vast majority of people don’t – and for them, there’s a strong chance the Note 9 would be overkill.

The Note 9 also comes bundled with a pair of AKG in-ear headphones. With strong bass and an accurate, clear midrange, they’re certainly a step-up from Apple’s ubiquitous bundled white earphones, and they sound better than those offered with the latest Google Pixels. However, the cable bangs about a lot when you have the headphones in, and they don’t fit as well as Google’s offering, either.

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Designsamsung galaxy note 9 in hand stylus small

The first thing you’ll notice about the Note 9 is its sheer size. Standing at almost 162mm (6.37-inches) tall, it’s noticeably larger than most other phones on sale. However, as with most phones these days, it’s over twice as tall as it is wide, so while you’re unlikely to be able to reach all of the Note 9’s screen with one hand, you’ll be able to comfortably get one hand around it.

The Note 9 – again, like most premium phones – uses glass on the front and rear, with a metal frame connecting the two. The glass rear panel is used to allow for wireless charging, and functions with any Qi-certified charger. However, the glass is a magnet for fingerprints, particularly in the Midnight Black color we had for review.

The front and rear glass slopes towards the sides to make the Note 9 comfier to hold. The sloping sides also serve as the home for the Edge Panels feature (which works like a slimmed-down app tray for quick access) and for selecting which S Pen feature you’re after.

However, the metal frame doesn’t sit flush with the sloping glass and pokes out slightly into your palm, meaning the Note 9 isn’t quite as comfortable as it should be. While it's not something that should stop you buying the Note 9, it’s something that certainly became a slight irritant during our reviewing period.

We also felt the Note 9 looks a bit, well, plain. Its corners are much squarer than most of its competition, and its monotone black rear panel is fairly forgettable. Even the square fingerprint sensor and camera housing look a bit overly serious. In the Midnight Black color we tried, we found the Note 9 to be a bit austere looking with black glass front and rear with a black metal frame. You can get the Note 9 in Ocean Blue or Lavender Purple, which lighten the mood significantly.

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Displaysamsung galaxy note 9 display small

The Note 9’s display is one of the device’s highlights. It’s a big 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display with a 2960×1440 resolution.

Individual pixels are almost indistinguishable on screen, even up close, and the contrast between colors is fantastic. This makes any content you watch or play on the Note 9 really pop, and the sloping sides help make it especially immersive.

The lack of a notch on the Note 9 also makes it stand out. You don’t feel robbed of screen space, and again, it makes everything feel more immersive.

Interestingly, you can adjust the default screen resolution on the Note 9. You can opt for 1480×720, 2220×1080 or 2960×1440 – we’re not sure why you’d want to do this, but you can.

The display is also incredibly bright, and you won’t come across any issues when using the phone in bright outdoor settings.

All in all, the Note 9 has one of the best displays of any phone on sale, with exceptional clarity, contrast and brightness.

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Performance

The Note 9, thanks to its powerful Snapdragon 845 processor and 6GB Ram (or 8GB Ram in the 512GB storage option), is able to handle anything you could reasonably throw at a phone.

You can run two apps in split screen to help improve your productivity, with no noticeable slowdown in performance.

It makes light work of most games, although we did notice some frame rate dips on Fortnite Mobile (though this may have been due to the connection, not the phone’s hardware limitations). And, thanks to a water-filled heat dissipating panel, we didn’t notice the phone heating up during full-on gaming sessions.

The Note 9 has profiles designed to improve performance in a range of tasks, including a Game mode for smooth performance, an Entertainment profile that ramps up audio quality and enhances images, and a High Performance mode which somehow manages to improve the display quality further. It’s a neat trick, and helps the Note 9 meet whatever demanding requirements you might have.

We must also discuss Bixby. Samsung’s smart assistant rival to Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri gets a dedicated button below the Note 9’s volume rocker. Samsung is keen to talk up the ways Bixby can improve your life, with a range of machine learning and AI features to provide you with contextualized, helpful information. However, it’s simply not as good as Google Assistant, and even Siri puts it to shame.

Bixby isn’t bad, necessarily, but it’s not useful enough to avoid being an annoying — especially when you accidentally awaken it with the side-mounted button.

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Ease of Use

As a top-of-the-line smartphone from one of the best phone brands, the Note 9 is a slick, user-friendly piece of equipment. The software runs quickly and Samsung's take on the Android operating system is smooth and intuitive.

There is, however, the issue of Samsung bloatware. The “doubling up” of apps continues to be an irritant, with a Samsung and a Google mirror version app for too many tasks. If you've ever used a “pure Android” phone from the Google Pixel stable, you may be confounded by the extra Samsung tools at your fingertips.

We must also discuss Bixby. Samsung’s smart assistant rival to Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri gets a dedicated button below the Note 9’s volume rocker. Samsung is keen to talk up the ways Bixby can improve your life, with a range of machine learning and AI features to provide you with contextualized, helpful information. However, it’s simply not as good as Google Assistant, and even Siri puts it to shame.

Bixby isn’t bad, necessarily, but it’s not useful enough to avoid being an annoying — especially when you accidentally awaken it with the side-mounted button.

While the big screen certainly helps make this a simple phone to use, there are some downsides to its design. We found that the sloping sides and tiny bezels make it all too easy to accidentally press the screen, particularly if you’re holding the phone horizontally when gaming. Again, it’s not a big gripe, but considering Samsung took pains to show off its exclusive Fortnite deal with Epic Games, it feels a touch sloppy.

Similarly, when the Note 9 is in your pocket, we found the S Pen has a tendency to pop out slightly – not enough so it falls out the bottom of the phone, but enough that you have to push it back in every so often. This is not a major failing, but a minor irritant you wouldn’t expect from a grand’s worth of phone.

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Camerassamsung galaxy note 9 cameras small

In a word, the cameras on the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 are excellent.

The dual 12 Mp rear cameras pack the same variable aperture technology found on the S9, meaning that the Note 9 is able to take stunning pictures regardless of the lighting conditions.

Daytime shots are highly detailed, with sharp contrast between different colors and textures. At high zoom levels, images can appear smoothed out, but they’re remarkably noise-free. Thanks to some strong AI tech, the Note 9 is capable of adjusting the picture settings to your subject, ensuring you get the optimal shot. For example, it will adjust the contrast if you’re in a grassy area to make the individual blades of grass stand out.

Nighttime and low light shots are equally impressive at packing in detail, although the images are slightly noisier. These low light shots aren’t as impressive as the ones the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL can manage thanks to the recent Night Sight update, but they’re still remarkably strong.

The Note 9 also offers a variety of shooting modes, including Live Focus (which can blur the background to create the illusion of a bokeh effect from a full frame camera), Hyperlapse for timelapse videos, and Super Slow Mo for, well, slow motion videos.

Round the front, there’s a single 8 Mp camera. It’s not quite as impressive as the rear cameras, with a tendency to smooth textures, though the contrast is still impressive. It also offers a trimmed-down version of Live Focus, losing the ability to control the level of background blurring. If we’re honest, it’s a less impressive implementation of the similar features offered by the Pixel 3 XL or iPhone XS.

There’s also the perennial issue of Samsung bloatware. You get access to Google Photos and Samsung Gallery for viewing and editing your shots, but you’re forced to choose between the two. You also get Google Lens and Bixby Vision for scanning your surroundings for contextual information. Samsung’s apps are typically better integrated with the phone, but Google’s apps are smarter and offer more advanced functions.

The S Pen also doubles as a Bluetooth camera remote: Press its single button once to take a shot, or press it twice to flip from front to rear camera. It’s a great trick for getting that perfect group shot.

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Battery Life

The Note 9 comes packing a huge 4,000mAh battery (the Pixel 3 XL, for reference, has a 3,430 mAh unit). Despite the fast processor, big screen and the amount of Ram, it’ll easily see you through almost two days of regular usage.

Throw in a couple of hours of gaming or watching videos, and you’ll get closer to a day and a half’s worth of battery life.

The Note 9’s longevity is really impressive. If we’re honest, unless you’ve always got the Note 9 in-hand, you’ll never to have to worry about running out of juice before you make it back to a charger. If, somehow, you manage to find yourself caught short without access to a charger, you can always fire up Samsung’s battery saver, which can extend your battery life by up to five days.

When you do make it to a charger, though, you’ll be able to take advantage of the Note 9’s fast charging tech. The bundled charger will give you 33% battery from a 25 minute charge, or 70% from around an hour’s charge. This speedy charging will extend your battery life by a good few hours, even if you can only manage the 25 minute charge.

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 vs Samsung Galaxy S10 vs S10+

If you’re in the market for a new Android phone, you’re likely to be taking a long, hard look at the Note 9 alongside Samsung’s new S10 range – and we don’t blame you. Both are excellent phones.

When it comes to the specs, the Note 9 almost seems to sit between the S10 and larger S10+. However, with the recent price drops, the Note 9 is actually cheaper than both of the newer phones.

Samsung Galaxy Note 9Samsung Galaxy S10Samsung Galaxy S10+
Price$799$899$999/td>
Screen size (in)6.46.16.4
Screen resolution1440×29601440×30401440×3040
Dimensions (HxWxD mm)161.9×76.4×8.8149.9×70.4×7.8157.6×74.1×7.8
Weight (g)201157175
Operating systemAndroid 8.1 OreoAndroid 9 PieAndroid 9 Pie
Front camera (Mp)81010 + 8
Rear camera (Mp)12 + 1212 + 12 + 1612 + 12 + 16
 Battery (mAh)400034004100
Buy from VerizonVisit siteVisit siteVisit site

The newer S10 and S10+ seem to have the Note 9 beaten in almost every category. The S10 and S10+ have improved cameras, sharper screen, run the latest version of Android out of the box and have the latest Snapdragon processors.

However, the Note 9 is $100 cheaper than the S10 and $200 cheaper than the S10+. But the Note 9's extra heft might make you think twice. It's significantly taller and heavier than even the S10+, despite both phones having a 6.5-inch screen.

We would probably choose the S10 over the Note 9. But if we really needed to have a 6.4-inch screen, we'd choose the Note 9 over the S10+ and save ourselves $200.

Samsung Galaxy Note 9: The Verdict

Put simply, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is an incredible phone, and a technological tour de force from the South Korean tech giant. It’s expensive, sure, and it can be hard to work out exactly who the phone is aimed at, whether it’s business people, gamers, photographers or all-round power users, but that doesn’t make it a bad phone.

Its imposing size and typical Samsung quirks mean that this phone won’t be for everyone. But, if you need a phone that can do everything from gaming to photography to Excel spreadsheets, the Note 9 is the only choice.

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