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Review

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review: Undisputed king of the ring

Is Galaxy Note 9 the best Android smartphone that you can buy today?

samsung galaxy note 9 review lead

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 4.5 5
BGR Rating :
4.5/5

Highlights

  • The Galaxy Note 9 price starts at Rs 67,900.

  • It comes with Bluetooth LE-enabled S Pen.

  • The Note 9 is armed with a 4,000mAh battery.

It’s been over seven years since Samsung introduced the Galaxy Note. It was a bold move at the time when consumers were looking for compact smartphones, and the Galaxy Note was considered a phablet. Over the years, big screen smartphones became mainstream, with a 5.5-inch screen becoming standard for most phones. During all these years, the Note-series continued to evolve, and the latest Galaxy Note 9 has a lot riding on it, especially after the dull sales of the Galaxy S9 series.

With the smartphone landscape constantly changing, the cost of premium smartphones has been shooting up. We saw a marginal price hike from the Galaxy S7 to Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S9. But, in case of the Galaxy Note 9, Samsung has managed to retain the last year’s pricing that was for the Galaxy Note 8. The base variant with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage is priced at Rs 67,900. The top end variant with 8GB of RAM and 512GB onboard storage is priced at Rs 84,900, making it the most expensive Samsung flagship smartphone till date.

As is the case with any successor, upgrades are always expected. Yes, you get newer hardware, such as the improved cameras, more storage, latest chipset, bigger battery, and yes, the S Pen is now Bluetooth enabled. But does all of these improvements translate into a worthy upgrade over the Galaxy Note 8? Also, does the Galaxy Note 9 stand out among its competition? Let’s find out.

Watch: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 First Look

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 specifications

Display 6.4-inch Super AMOLED QHD+, 1440×2960 pixels, 516ppi, 18.5:9 aspect ratio
Processor Samsung Exynos 9810 octa-core
RAM 6GB/8GB
Storage 128GB/512GB (expandable microSD up to 512GB)
Rear camera 12-megapixel sensor with a wide-angle lens and dual aperture f/1.5 – f2.4
+
12-megapixel sensor with a telephoto lens, f/2.4 aperture
Front camera 8-megapixel auto-focus, aperture f/1.7
OS Android 8.1 Oreo
Connectivity 4G VoLTE, Dual-SIM, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC
Security Fingerprint, Iris scanner, Face Unlock
Battery 4,000mAh

Design – Familiar, but refined

Aesthetically, the Galaxy Note 9 looks exactly the same as the Galaxy Note 8, albeit with a few refinements. We have seen some interesting smartphones this year, featuring sliding camera mechanism from the likes of Oppo and Vivo, and foldable phone from ZTE to name a few. We have also seen a number of smartphones bearing different types of notches. Samsung, on the other hand, has gone with a simple approach.

Despite continuing with the same design, Samsung has improved on the aesthetic appeal, be it the color choices, the metal frame sandwiched between front and back glass with curves on both sides, the diamond cut chamfered edges, and the relocated fingerprint scanner for easy access. You get a glass back, which is slippery and attracts a lot of fingerprints, but there’s no point cribbing, as it is the problem we face with every phone that features front and back glass.

The hybrid SIM card slot, is placed on the top, whereas the 3.5mm audio socket is at the bottom, along with USB Type-C port. The power button is placed on the right, whereas the left has a volume rocker. And yes, Samsung has retained the dedicated Bixby button too, and it is sad that you cannot remap it for anything else.

The front is dominated with a tall Super AMOLED display featuring 18.5:9 aspect ratio, rounded corners, and curved edges. The screen is a treat to look at, and the colors really pop out, giving you life-like viewing experience. It also includes support for HDR10 video format to let you enjoy lively content. Samsung has also improved the brightness of the screen, and legibility under direct sunlight wasn’t an issue at all.

S Pen – Remote control in your hand

The S Pen is one of the reasons why users buy the Galaxy Note devices. In fact, it is one of the major differentiators of the Galaxy Note-series compared to other smartphones. LG tried the stylus approach with the Stylo-series, but they were the mid-range segment phones. There is no smartphone brand that even comes close to the experience the Galaxy Note-series offers, and this year, Samsung has given a major upgrade to the stylus.

The S Pen now comes with Bluetooth LE connectivity, allowing you to use it as a remote for media control, change slides of a PowerPoint presentation and much more. You can even use the S Pen as a remote shutter for camera, allowing you to click photos from a distance of up to 20-30 feet.

The new S Pen has the same size and form factor as the older one, and it is commendable how Samsung has managed to pack a tiny battery inside it. On full charge, the S Pen can run in Bluetooth mode for up to 30 minutes, before needing a charge again. And thanks to the supercapacitor, charging is really, really quick. It takes just 40 seconds to charge the S Pen, and then it can run for another 30 minutes. And once the battery is drained, you can continue using it as a stylus, just that the Bluetooth remote control features won’t work.

Cameras – Dual aperture mode with AI optimizations

Everyone is doing it, and this time around, Samsung has also added AI chops to the camera app with a feature called screen optimizer. It can recognize 20 scene types – food, pets, text, greenery, flowers, and more, and optimize camera settings to help you capture better photos.

Samsung has also added blink and blur detection features. For instance, if someone in the photo blinked their eyes, you will see a small notification prompt recommending to click the photo again. Also, if the image is blurred, due to the shaky hand movements while clicking the shutter, you get a prompt to click again.

The performance is simply top notch, and the smartphone undoubtedly has one of the best cameras in the market today. I have already written about the photo quality in my camera review, and below are few more camera samples I shot on the Galaxy Note 9.

DeX – Turn your smartphone into a computer

I’ve already spoken about the improved DeX feature on the Galaxy Note 9. Unlike previous smartphones where you needed a DeX Station that is priced around Rs 8,500, the Galaxy Note 9 works on improving the overall experience. All you need is a USB Type-C to HDMI cable, that’s it. You can get one for as low as Rs 500, or a branded one that goes up to Rs 5,000, or more, the choice is yours.

The moment you connect the smartphone to a TV or monitor using the Type-C to HDMI cable, the DeX desktop mode starts. It supports most smartphone apps that you would need, right from browsers, to social networking apps, to Office Suite such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel. If you want to input text, an on-screen keyboard appears on the smartphone, or you can connect a Bluetooth enabled keyboard to make things easier. Same goes with the mouse as well. Alternatively, you can use your screen as a touchpad as well, by enabling it from the dropdown menu.

The best part is, you can multitask. Say, you have a Chrome browser and Microsoft Word or Google Docs open in DeX mode, you can lift your Galaxy Note 9 and make phone calls, send text messages, click photos and more, without disturbing the DeX mode, sounds cool?

Now, I know you must be wondering if it can really replace your desktop or laptop. The answer is no. But, this is clearly the best implementation I have seen so far. I used DeX mode to write the Galaxy Note 9 camera review story without any issues. I was able to comfortably load six tabs on the Chrome browser, access WordPress, book a train ticket on IRCTC, and some casual surfing on travel sites looking for air fares and hotel stay. And no, the phone doesn’t get warm, and battery drain in DeX mode is about five percent in 20 minutes, which is not bad.

Performance – The beast in your pocket

The Galaxy Note 8 was a great performer, same goes with Galaxy S9 series. The Galaxy Note 9 also comes with the same hardware as on the Galaxy S9, and performance wise, it is a beast. I absolutely had no issues over the past 10 days that I have been using the Galaxy Note 9. I’ve been addicted to Asphalt 9 Legends, PUBG, and a bit in Fortnite, have been playing them continuously for over 45 minutes per session.

The Galaxy Note 9 offers great graphics, there is no stuttering, and thanks to water carbon cooling, even after intense sessions, the phone barely gets warm. I love playing games on the Galaxy Note 9 as there are multiple things that support this – the fantastic large display, the smooth performance and a powerful battery that offers enough juice for longer sessions.

Battery Life – Lasts full day, and some more

Most smartphones have this one major concern with the battery life. With the Galaxy Note 7, Samsung tried to incorporate a bigger battery, but it was plagued with issues, leading to the recall, followed by the unfortunate demise of the otherwise great phone. Now, leaving the nightmare behind, the Galaxy Note 9 comes with a massive 4,000mAh battery, which is 700mAh bigger than the Galaxy Note 8, and 500mAh bigger than the Galaxy S9+.

Samsung is promising all-day battery, and yes, even with heavy usage, the smartphone does deliver full day worth juice. If you are an average user, the battery may last even more. The maximum screen-on-time I managed to get on the Galaxy Note 9 was six hours, which is not bad. But it keeps fluctuating daily, based on your usage. But on an average, I didn’t get anything below five hours.

The Galaxy Note 9 supports fast charging and wireless fast charging feature. You get the usual adaptive fast charger that delivers current of 2Amps, and charging from empty to full generally takes about 100-110minutes, which isn’t bad considering the battery capacity. I have not got a chance to try out Samsung’s wireless fast charger, so can’t really say how fast that is. But in general, wired charging is usually faster.

Security and Extras – A complete package

For biometric authentication, the Galaxy Note 9 comes with iris scanner, which is fast and works near flawlessly in any lighting conditions. You have the fingerprint scanner at the back, which is easy to setup, and unlocks device very fast too. And like all other smartphones, you also have the intelligent face unlock, which combines face and iris techniques, but as in case with the Galaxy S9, it is very slow and inaccurate. I prefer iris and fingerprint scanning, as it works without any issues.

The Galaxy Note 9 also comes with IP68 certification for water and dust resistance. The S Pen is waterproof too, and can be used when submerged under water too. For cashless payments, you have Samsung Pay with MST technology, just like you have seen on the other flagship Samsung phones.

Samsung has also included AR Emojis, like we have seen in the Galaxy S9, it is decent, but implementation could have been better. And for enhanced audio listening experience, the Galaxy Note 9 also comes with Dolby Atmos and Stereo Speakers that are not only loud, but offer a good experience when playing games, watching movies or listening to music.

Software – Android 8.1 Oreo with Samsung UI

This is one area where Samsung is always left behind. It takes ages to rollout major software updates. The Galaxy S9 series supports Project Treble, yet, it is still on Android 8.0 Oreo, whereas the Android 9 Pie has recently been released. And another sad part is that Samsung did not reveal anything as to when one can expect the new software update.

That being said, the Experience UI on top of Android 8.1 Oreo is well refined. You have bloatware apps, but most of them can be removed. One of the interesting bits about the interface is the multi-window mode where besides the default Android implementation, you can also resize the screens for supported apps, and have desktop-like multitasking experience, and seen in the screenshot below.

Bixby 2.0 – I’m a little disappointed

I had really liked the Bixby voice implementation on the Galaxy Note 8. It may not be as smart as Siri, Google Assistant or Alexa, but there is one thing that it does better – it can control most aspects of your smartphone. Like, click a selfie in 1:1 aspect ratio, open gallery and delete last photo, or open gallery and post last photo on Facebook or Twitter with a caption. It can event send photos to your contacts on WhatsApp, change nearly all settings on your smartphone, like brightness, volume level, clear recent apps, download apps from Play Store, and more.

With the Galaxy Note 9, I was expecting a better Bixby, at least the demo on the stage at the global launch even in New York was impressive. However, I was disappointed as Bixby didn’t work as expected on the review unit. One clarification – Samsung had preloaded the preview version, and not the final one, so bugs are bound to be present. But I would have expected at least basics to work. I had to say “Hi Bixby” about 6-7 time for the voice wake to work once – a frustrating experience. I hope the final version after the smartphone goes on sale should bring some improvements.

Verdict: Should you buy the Galaxy Note 9?

So, the question on everyone’s mind – is the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 worth buying? Well, it is a fantastic smartphone, even though few things could see some improvements. It’s got great cameras, vivid display, good battery life, gorgeous design, and color options (at least the Ocean Blue one).

The S Pen, which is the heart and soul of the Note-series shines bright here, and you will find it very useful. The DeX platform is the hidden gem, and, then you have water and dust resistance, Samsung Pay, Iris scanner – all making the Galaxy Note 9 a complete package. In all, the Galaxy Note 9 is the phone to buy if you are looking for the best Android smartphone out there.

If S Pen doesn’t excite you, there is the Galaxy S9+, which is “sort of” the Galaxy Note 9, minus the S Pen. And, if you don’t mind buying a phone that is a generation older, the Galaxy Note 8 at Rs 55,900 is not a bad option either. And, of course, if your budget is between Rs 35,000 to Rs 50,000, the OnePlus 6T, Huawei Nova 3 or the Vivo NEX are options you can look for.

  • Published Date: August 22, 2018 1:56 PM IST