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Samsung Galaxy Note9 review: No compromises

By James Lu - 23 Aug 2018
Prices:

Benchmark Performance, Imaging, Battery life, and Conclusion

Benchmark Performance

As usual, there are two variants of the Note9, each using different processors. The US and China get Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 processor, while everyone else gets Samsung's own Exynos 9810.

Like the 845, the Exynos 9810 is a 10nm 64-bit octa-core processor running on a 4x4 big.LITTLE configuration. It uses four high-power Mongoose M3 cores clocked at 2.7GHz, and four high-efficieny Cortex-A55One cores, clocked at 1.8GHz. The 9810 uses a Mali-G72 MP18 GPU. 

N.B. As previously mentioned, the Note9 is available with both 6GB/128GB internal storage, and 8GB/512GB internal storage. Our review unit is the 8GB version.

  Samsung Galaxy Note9 (512GB) Samsung Galaxy Note8 Samsung Galaxy S9+ (256GB) OnePlus 6 (6GB/64GB) Huawei P20 Pro Apple iPhone X (256GB)
  Samsung Galaxy Note9 (512GB) Samsung Galaxy Note8 Samsung Galaxy S9+ (256GB) OnePlus 6 (6GB/64GB) Huawei P20 Pro Apple iPhone X (256GB)
Launch SRP
  • From S$1728
  • From S$1398
  • From S$1498
  • From S$868
  • From S$1148
  • From S$1888
Latest Price
  • From S$1280
  • From S$598
  • From S$990
  • From S$670
  • From S$800
  • From S$1250
Operating system
  • Android 8.1 Oreo with Samsung Experience
  • Android 7.1.1 Nougat with Dream UX
  • Android 8.0 Oreo with Samsung Experience
  • Android 8.1 Oreo with Oxygen OS
  • Android 8.1 with EMUI 8.1
  • iOS 11.1
Processor
  • Samsung Exynos 9810 octa-core (4x2.8 GHz Mongoose M3 & 4x1.7 GHz Cortex-A55)
  • Samsung Exynos 8895 octa-core (4x2.3 GHz & 4x1.7 GHz), 10nm process
  • Samsung Exynos 9810 octa-core (4x2.8 GHz Mongoose M3 & 4x1.7 GHz Cortex-A55)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Octa-core (4 x 2.8GHz Kryo 385 Gold & 4 x 1.7GHz Kryo 385 Silver)
  • Hisilicon Kirin 970 octa-core (4x2.4 GHz Cortex-A73 & 4x1.8 GHz Cortex-A53)
  • Apple A11 Bionic hexa-core
Built-in Memory
  • 8GB RAM
  • 6GB RAM
  • 6GB RAM
  • 6GB RAM
  • 6GB RAM
  • 3GB RAM
Display
  • 6.4-inch / 2,960 x 1,440 pixels (516 ppi) / 18.5:9 ratio / Super AMOLED Infinity Display
  • Always-On Display
  • 6.3-inch / 2,560 x 1,440 pixels (522 ppi) / Super AMOLED Infinity Display
  • Always-On Display
  • 6.2-inch / 2,960 x 1,440 pixels (529 ppi) / 18.5:9 ratio / Super AMOLED Infinity Display
  • Always-On Display
  • 6.28-inch / 2,280 x 1,080 pixels (402ppi) / 19:9 ratio / Optic AMOLED
  • Always-on Display
  • 6.1-inches 2,244 x 1,080 pixels (408 ppi) AMOLED 18.7:9 ratio
  • 5.8-inch Super Retina HD / 2,436 x 1,125 pixels (458ppi) / OLED
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
  • Rear: Dual 12-megapixel telephoto f/2.4 and 12-megapixel wide-angle f/1.7, OIS, 2x optical zoom
  • Front: 8-megapixel, f/1.7
  • 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
  • Rear: Dual: 16-megapixel (f/1.7, 27mm, 1/2.6", 1.22µm, OIS) + 20-megapixel (f/1.7, 1/2.8", 1.0µm),
  • Front: 16-megapixel (f/2.0, 25mm, 1/3", 1.0µm)
  • Rear: Triple 40-megapixel f/1.8 OIS + 20-megapixel f/1.6 + 8-megapixel f/2.4, Leica optics, 3x optical zoom, phase detection and laser autofocus, dual-LED dual-tone flash
  • Front: 24-megapixel, f/2.0
  • Rear: Dual 12-megapixel, (f/1.8, 28mm & f/2.4, 56mm) with phase detection autofocus, OIS, and quad LED (dual-tone) flash
  • Front: 7-megapixel, f/2.2 FaceTime HD camera
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
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 + 5GHz), 4G+ LTE Cat 16 (up to 1Gbps), Bluetooth 5.0, VHT80, MIMO (2x2), GPS, GLONASS, NFC, Screen Mirroring
  • 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
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, DLNA, WiFi Direct, Bluetooth v5, NFC, 4G LTE Cat 16 (up to 1024Mbps)
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 4G+ LTE-A (3CA) Cat 18 (up to 1200Mbps), dual-band, hotspot, Bluetooth v4.2, A2DP, LE, GPS, GLONASS, USB 3.1 Type-C
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 4G+ LTE Cat 12 (up to 600Mbps), dual-band, hotspot, Bluetooth v5.0, A2DP, LE, GPS, GLONASS, Lightning connector
Storage Type
  • 512GB internal storage
  • microSD expansion (up to 512GB)
  • 64GB internal storage (UFS 2.0)
  • 256GB (MicroSD)
  • 256GB internal storage
  • 256GB (MicroSD)
  • 64GB
  • 128GB internal storage
  • 256GB internal storage
Battery
  • 4,000mAh
  • Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging
  • Wireless charging
  • 3,300mAh
  • Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging
  • Wireless charging
  • 3,500mAh
  • Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging
  • Wireless charging
  • 3,300mAh
  • Dash Charge
  • 4,000mAh
  • 2,716mAh
Dimensions
  • 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8 mm
  • 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm
  • 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm
  • 155.7 x 75.4 x 7.8 mm
  • 155 x 73.9 x 7.8 mm
  • 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm
Weight
  • 201g
  • 195g
  • 189g
  • 177g
  • 180g
  • 174g

SunSpider Javascript

SunSpider JavaScript measures the browsing performance of a device when processing JavaScript. It not only takes into consideration the underlying hardware performance, but also assesses how optimized a particular platform is in delivering a high-speed web browsing experience. 

Samsung phones always perform well on this benchmark and the Note9 is no different, losing only to Apple's iPhone X. However, in actual browsing performance, the Note9 feels just as fast and responsive as the X.

 

Basemark OS II

Basemark OS II is an all-in-one benchmarking tool that measures overall performance through a comprehensive suite of tests including system, internal and external memory, graphics, web browsing, and CPU consumption.

Unfortunately, even with the extra RAM Samsung's Exynos processor still trails behind both Qualcomm and Apple on this benchmark.

 

3DMark Sling Shot

3DMark Sling Shot is an advanced 3D graphics benchmark that tests the full range of OpenGL ES 3.1 and ES 3.0 API features including multiple render targets, instanced rendering, uniform buffers and transform feedback. The test also includes impressive volumetric lighting and post-processing effects. We're running this benchmark in Unlimited mode, which ignores screen resolutions.

Like Basemark, the Exynos 9810 can't keep up with either the iPhone X or 845-powered OnePlus 6. This is a little disappointing considering how much effort Samsung has put into optimizing the gaming experience on the Note9.

It's worth noting that benchmark performance doesn't always reflect real world experience. I tried out a few games of Injustice 2 and Need for Speed: No Limits no the Note9 and both ran perfectly.

 

 

Imaging: Still one of the best dual rear camera setups out there

The Note9 uses exactly the same front and rear camera setup as the Galaxy S9+. That means on the back you get a 12-megapixel wide-angle main camera with a dual aperture f/2.4 and f/1.5 lens, paired with a 12-megapixel, f/2.4 telephoto camera, both of which have OIS. On the front, you get a single 8-megapixel, f/1.7 selfie camera.

The camera has received a few software improvements, which includes wider HDR range, better background blurring in Portrait mode, and improved AI-powered scene recognition software - it can now detect up to 20 different scenes and optimize the snap you intend to take.

Flaw detection has also been improved, and can now recognize four problems: eye blink, image blur, lens smudge, and too much backlight. If your photo has one of these problems, a pop-up will warn you to retake the shot. Check out the first video embedded in this review to see it in action. All of these software improvements should also be rolled out to the S9+ at some point, however Samsung hasn't been able to confirm when that will happen yet.

Image quality on the Note9's rear camera is excellent with great detail retention, sharp focus, natural colors, and no noticeable artifacts or graininess. Even at 100% crop, details remain fairly sharp and there's no over aggressive processing or smoothing typical of most smartphone cameras. 

For an in-depth look at what this camera is capable of, check out our review of the S9+'s camera.

Click for full-size image.

The telephoto lens isn't quite as good as the main wide-angle, but is still very good. In fact, I would say it's better than a lot of smartphone main cameras.

Click for full-size image.

 

 

Battery Life

Our standard battery test for mobile phones has the following parameters:

  • Looping a 720p video with screen brightness and volume at 100%
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
  • Constant data streaming through email and Twitter

The Note9 has a 4,000mAh battery, the largest Samsung has ever put in a smartphone. Despite this, while battery life was good, I expected it to be better. The Note9 lasted nearly 13 and a half hours on our video looping benchmark, meaning it was only slightly better than the S9+, which has a 3,500mAh battery.

The Note9 is compatible with Samsung's Fast Adaptive Charging, which will charge the phone to about 50 percent in around 30 to 40 minutes. The Note9 is also compatible with Qualcomm QuickCharge 2 chargers.

It's worth noting that Samsung hasn't made any changes to its Fast Adaptive Charging in a number of years now, while other fast charging standards have continued to evolve. For example, Huawei's Super Charge will get the P20 to around 65 percent charge in just 30 minutes, and Oppo's new Super VOOC standard claims to be able to fully charge a phone from 0 to 100 in just 15 minutes. While Fast Adaptive Charging does provide faster charge times, it's probably about time Samsung made some improvements here.

The Note9 is also compatible with wireless fast charging through the Qi v1.2 standard. This is the most widespread wireless charging standard available, so there are plenty of wireless charging pads out there that should work, just make sure they deliver at least 7.5W (if not more) power.

 

Conclusion

No phone has a more complete feature set than the Note9.

Yes, it's very expensive, but for that price, you get the best display on a smartphone, arguably the best dual camera setup out there, a gorgeous and unique curved display design, an IP68 build, stereo speakers, fantastic battery life, and the unique feature set that comes with the S Pen. If you opt for the 512GB version, you also get the most internal storage available on any smartphone. Is it worth the extra S$330 to get that? That depends on if you need it, but it's worth remembering that internal storage is always going to be faster than a microSD card.

The only real argument I can make against the Note9 is that it's not a game-changer. It doesn't really move the needle in any way, and there's a sense of déjà vu that comes from using it if you're already familiar with the Note8 or S9+. It looks just like the Note8, and its cameras and UI are basically identical to the S9+.

If you're looking for the next big thing, the Note9 isn't it (for that you'll have to wait for the rumored Galaxy X smartphone, which should be unveiled sometime next year). What the Note9 is though is the ultimate refinement of a design Samsung has been perfecting since the S8: a big, beautiful, no compromise device that is without a doubt the best smartphone of 2018 so far.

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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