Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review: Hands-on impressions

Like clockwork, Samsung has launched the Galaxy Note 9, the big-screen, stylus-toting cousin of the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus. It looks a lot like the Note 8, but after we spent some time with the phone, we think the upgrades could warrant some justifiable excitement.

While headline changes are the yellow S-Pen with Bluetooth and improved cameras, the general look, feel and performance of the Note 9 suggest this could well be Samsung’s most refined phone to date. 

We’ve had time to use the phone, so here are our hands-on first impressions.

Galaxy Note 9: Price and availability

As expected the Note 9 was unveiled at Unpacked in New York on 9 August.

It’s available to pre-order now ahead of its release date on 24 August and the phone starts from £899. Find out what the best Note 9 deals are here.

That price will get you a 128GB model but you can opt for 512GB if you can afford £1,099.

Galaxy Note 9: Design and build

Key points:

  • New colours
  • No notch
  • Keeps headphone jack
  • Heavier
  • New fingerprint scanner placement

The Note 9 is a stunner right out the box. Yes, it’s a big phone, but you should expect that by now with the Note range. By slimming the bezel ever so slightly Samsung has stretched the screen up from 6.3in to 6.4in, but the dimensions of the phone are practically the same as the Note 8.

The Note 9 comes in Midnight Black or Lavender Purple with matching S Pen, and Ocean Blue with a yellow S Pen. There’s also a Metallic Copper option in some countries. 

You’re going to want the blue one with the yellow pen, but we also really like the purple, which is a light metallic hue and looks great. Samsung continues to use Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back. The back of the blue and purple models shimmer beautifully, while the black version remains duller. 

We were hoping for an in-screen fingerprint scanner as phones like the Vivo NEX already have this tech. It seems we’ll have to wait for the Galaxy S10 to get it from Samsung, though. 

If you’re keen, you can already start looking at the cases available for the Note 9 – see our round up of the best cases so far. 

The Note 9 still has all those familiar Samsung curves with the so-called Infinity Display, but it has put on weight. It’s 205g and we generally don’t like it when a phone feels like carrying a brick, but there’s a good reason for it here, and the phone is slight enough to feel oddly manageable. 

A larger 4000mAh battery, up from 3300mAh, is the main cause for the weight increase. If there’s something we don’t might extra weight for, it’s longer battery life. 

The phone feels even more premium than the Note 8, with grippier metallic edges to the chassis and a better oleophobic coating to the back of the device meaning noticeably fewer fingerprint smudges – hooray! 

It’s interesting to note (ha) that Samsung continues to buck two major trends in the phone world. The Note 9 has a headphone jack but doesn’t have a notch in the screen compared to the iPhone X and many other Android phones this year. 

We’re very happy with both these things and hopefully signals that notches will go away, seeing as Samsung can deal so elegantly without them. 

The phone feels even more premium than the Note 8, with grippier metallic edges to the chassis and a better oleophobic coating to the back of the device meaning noticeably fewer fingerprint smudges. Its sides are graced by a speaker, USB-C port, S-Pen silo, volume and power keys and a pesky, unmappable Bixby button.

Galaxy Note 9: Specs and features

Key points:

  • Better S Pen
  • New processor
  • More RAM
  • Up to 512GB storage

Although the Note 9 might look pretty similar to the Note 8, it comes with a number of upgrades and new features. 

The screen is bigger at 6.4in but that’s only marginally different to the 6.3in size used before. The level of detail, brightness and clarity is stunning. 

The familiar Infinity Display means curved edges with a Quad HD+ resolution and the best brightness in direct sunlight of any phone on the market. 

It’s top-notch specs without the actual notch, and Samsung has gone one further by improving the already excellent S-Pen. By adding Bluetooth Low Energy, you can now use the stylus as a remote to take photos and selfies, click through presentations and more. 

It’s also fully customisable (unlike the Bixby button on the left edge of the phone) so you can use it how you like. 

Developers will also be able to make use of this in apps. The S Pen only takes 40 seconds to charge once slotted into the phone and lasts for 30 minutes. You can still use the old direct-to-screen functions when it’s dead, though.

The new model also gets a specs boost in the engine room. Samsung has stuck with a split strategy for processors in different markets, so many countries will get the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 while the UK and others will get Samsung’s own Exynos 8910. 

We’ll be fully reviewing and benchmarking the latter version at Tech Advisor, so hopefully there won’t be any compromises compared to the Qualcomm silicon.

The phone will also go up to a whopping 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, matching the OnePlus 6 for RAM. The standard model comes with 6/128GB, and will by no means be a slouch in comparison.

We used the Note 9 extensively and it was faultless for performance and finally feels as fast as a Pixel 2 – but it was fresh out the box, of course and without any apps loaded.

Samsung calls the Note 9 ‘1TB ready’ as you’ll be able to add 512GB via the microSD card slot. That’s some serious media management.

This phone has everything you’d hope for considering the price. There’s the usual set of high-end specs like fast charging, wireless charging, IP68 waterproofing and speedy 4G LTE.

Like the S9 Plus, the Note 9 has dual rear cameras with dual aperture and OIS. New technology for the Note 9 specifically includes Flaw Detection and Scene Optimiser, which in simpler terms tell you if you’d taken a blurry photo and selects the best scene mode for the shot.

Samsung also launched the Galaxy Watch at the same time, which can be charged alongside the Note 9 on the below Wireless Charger Duo, which is a neat accessory (photo via Gizmodo).

Samsung Wireless Charger Duo

Galaxy Note 9: Software and apps

The Note 9 ships with Android 8.1 Oreo and we hope it will get an upgrade to Pie at some point. But Samsung tends to drag its heels somewhat with software updates and the Note 8 will probably get Android P after OnePlus and even Sony phones. 

The software is largely the same as on the S9 phones but as well as the S Pen features mentioned above, the Note 9 has DeX built-in like the Galaxy Tab S4.

This means you don’t need to buy a separate docking station to run Samsung’s desktop experience on a monitor. You just need an adapter to plug the phone into a monitor and the Note will display its software like a Windows desktop.

Of course, you also get other Samsung things like Bixby and AR Emoji, and in recent years Samsung has become better at pushing Google apps to the user rather than doubling up with Samsung alternatives. 

But the software skin is quite heavy compared to stock Android, and we found the Note 8 slowed down a tad over the course of a year. Hopefully the Note 9 will be a different story.

The Note 9, along with other Galaxy phones, is also the first to get Fortnite on Android

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