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Samsung Galaxy Note9 review: No compromises

By James Lu - 23 Aug 2018
Prices:

Overview, Design, Display, Audio & Software

 

Overview

The latest entry in Samsung's Galaxy Note series is finally here and, while it looks quite similar to last year's model, it does boast some impressive upgrades over its predecessor. 

Samsung has upgraded the dual rear camera to the excellent setup from the Galaxy S9+, which includes the dual-aperture f/1.5 and f/2.4 main lens. The Note9 has also been given a boost in performance thanks to a new top-end spec that boasts 8GB RAM and a whopping 512GB internal storage, and it has a massive 4,000mAh battery, which is the biggest Samsung has ever put in a smartphone. You also get stereo speakers tuned by AKG, a new DeX desktop mode that only requires an HDMI to USB-C adaptor and best of all, a new Bluetooth Low Energy S Pen that lets you use it as a remote control. Here's a quick rundown of some of these features and what's new on the Note9 vs. the Note8:-

Like the S9+, there are now two storage variants for the Note series. The base model has 6GB RAM and 128GB storage and, we're pleased to see, hasn't increased in price from last year's S$1,398 SRP. On the other hand, the new 8GB/512GB model comes with a hefty price hike and will cost you S$1,728, a S$330 premium over the base model that makes it by far Samsung's most expensive smartphone ever.

Is that premium price tag worth it? Let's find out.

  Samsung Galaxy Note9 (512GB)
  Samsung Galaxy Note9 (512GB)
Launch SRP
  • From S$1728
Latest Price
  • From S$1280
Operating system
  • Android 8.1 Oreo with Samsung Experience
Processor
  • Samsung Exynos 9810 octa-core (4x2.8 GHz Mongoose M3 & 4x1.7 GHz Cortex-A55)
Built-in Memory
  • 8GB RAM
Display
  • 6.4-inch / 2,960 x 1,440 pixels (516 ppi) / 18.5:9 ratio / Super AMOLED Infinity Display
  • Always-On Display
Camera
  • Rear: Dual 12-megapixel, dual f/1.5 and 2.4, 26mm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS, LED flash and 12-megapixel f/2.4, 52mm telephoto, 2x optical zoom
  • Front: 8-megapixel, f/1.7
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 + 5GHz), 4G+ LTE Cat 18 (up to 1200Mbps), Bluetooth 5.0, VHT80, MIMO (2x2), GPS, GLONASS, NFC, Screen Mirroring
Storage Type
  • 512GB internal storage
  • microSD expansion (up to 512GB)
Battery
  • 4,000mAh
  • Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging
  • Wireless charging
Dimensions
  • 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8 mm
Weight
  • 201g

Design: Mostly refinements

The Note9 uses basically the same design Samsung has used for the past two years, with a display that curves over the sides like an infinity pool, no physical buttons on the front, and only tiny bezels at the top and bottom. And unlike almost every other phone this year, there's no notch in the display.

The Note9 is slightly bigger and thicker than its predecessor, measuring 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8mm, and it's also a little heavier, at 201g, but comparing the two side-by-side, it's hard to tell the difference.

Compared to the S9+, the only major difference in design is that the curved edges on the side of the Note9's display are slightly steeper, which provides a larger surface area to use the S Pen.

If you look closely, there are some minor differences too. The diamond-cut chamfered bevels actually have a more polished, glossy finish than the rest of the frame, which produces an interesting but subtle two-tone effect.

The back of the device is once again glass and curved at both edges for a more comfortable grip. The camera module is now color matched to blend in with the rest of the phone instead of being black on every model, which gives the back a much cleaner look.

While the camera module has received a significant upgrade, the bump remains minimal - other than a slightly raised bezel, it's basically flush against the back of the phone.

The rectangular fingerprint scanner has thankfully been relocated to below the camera module. On the Note8, it was inexplicably right next to the camera, which meant you were just as likely to smudge your camera lens as unlock your phone.

The new position is still a little high up, and requires some stretching unless you have really long fingers, but it's definitely an improvement. The scanner has also been turned sideways to match the horizontal orientation of the camera module, however this appears to be purely for aesthetical reasons and doesn't seem to affect its unlocking speed or accuracy.

At the bottom of the phone there's a port for the S Pen, a USB-C port, a headphone jack, and a downward firing speaker. Like the S9 and S9+, the Note9 has been upgraded with stereo speakers custom tuned by AKG with the earpiece doubling up as the second speaker. Unfortunately, they are not front facing stereo speakers.

The power button can be found on the right-side, while the volume rocker is once again on the left. Below the volume rocker there's a dedicated Bixby button (Samsung's AI assistant), which unfortunately still can't be remapped (at least not without some help).

On top, you'll find the dual SIM card tray, with the second slot doubling up as a microSD card slot. The Note9 is compatible with microSD cards up to 512GB in capacity, so if you get the 8GB/512GB model, you can have up to a whopping 1TB storage! If you dread backing up your media files when you run out of space, with this phone, Samsung hopes that you don't ever need to worry about storage concerns.

Like last year's Note8, both the phone and the S Pen are IP68 rated.

The phone is available in four colors: Midnight Black, Metallic Copper, Ocean Blue, and Lavender Purple, however Lavender Purple is not currently available in Singapore. Each color comes with a color-matched S Pen, except for Ocean Blue, which has a yellow S Pen.

If you'd rather have a color-matched Ocean Blue S Pen, Samsung will actually be selling one separately. The yellow S Pen will not be sold separately, so if you like that color, the only way to get one is to buy an Ocean Blue Note9 - just make sure you don't lose it, because you won't be able to buy a replacement!

 

Display: Bigger and better than ever

The Note9 has a slightly larger display than the Note8, measuring 6.4-inches. That sounds huge, but in hand, it doesn't actually feel that big, and is about comparable to a 5.7-inch phone with a 16:9 aspect ratio display.

The Super AMOLED display has a 2,960 x 1,440 resolution (516ppi) and an 18.5:9 aspect ratio, and is absolutely gorgeous. This is probably the best display I've seen on a smartphone so far: it's bright, with natural but rich colors, deep contrast, and perfect blacks. Quite often I find myself having to adjust the default color balance of smartphones I'm reviewing, but the Note9 display is perfect right out of the box. And unlike some other OLED panels, there's no graininess or off-angle color shifting.

The display supports HDR10 and it's Mobile HDR Premium certified too, so it looks fantastic when you're watching HDR movies in wide-screen format. The lack of a notch also lets you enjoy a full widescreen experience without any content being cut off:

In fact, the display is so good that the gurus over at DisplayMate have given it their highest A+ rating.

As usual, the display is an always-on panel, so you'll see the time, date, battery life and any notifications when you're not using the phone. Like last year, the display has a spot of pressure sensitivity right over the virtual home button. This spot lets you push harder on this part of the screen to wake the display or return to the home screen at any point, even when you're using a full screen app that doesn't have a home button displayed.

 

Audio: The Note finally gets stereo speakers

The Note9 is the first Note smartphone to feature stereo speakers - a feature that's long overdue. The speaker setup is the same as the S9 and S9+, which means you get one speaker on the bottom of the phone, and the earpiece doubles up as the second speaker. The speakers are tuned by AKG and boast a surprisingly rich and full sound.

Like the S9 and S9+, the Note9's speakers also support Dolby Atmos surround sound imaging. Dolby Atmos works best when paired with a good set of headphones, but it actually also works with the onboard speakers. The experience isn't as good though, as the maximum volume is noticeably lower with Dolby Atmos turned on, and I wouldn't really describe the sound stage as '360-degree surround sound'. While there's more left-right separation, I didn't feel it was more immersive. Personally, I would recommend turning Dolby Atmos off if you're using the onboard speakers, and only switching it on when you have headphones plugged in.

Finally, if you prefer wireless audio, you'll be pleased to know that the Note9 has the same extensive support for high-quality Bluetooth audio codecs as the S9+, including SBC, AAC, aptX, LDAC, and Samsung HD.

9.0
  • Design 9
  • Features 9.5
  • User-Friendliness 9
  • Performance 8.5
  • Value 7.5
The Good
Most complete feature set available on a phone today
Gorgeous bezel-less AMOLED display
Stereo speakers
Excellent camera
Long battery life
Massive internal storage (512GB model only)
Remote control feature adds even more functionality to the S Pen
The Bad
Benchmark performance could be better
Very expensive
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