Samsung’s latest Note flagship smartphone, the Galaxy Note 9, has been out for over a month now and it’s a force to reckon with. The Korean giant has gone ahead and built a beefy device, jam-packed with a massive display, the biggest-ever battery on a Galaxy phone, dual-aperture cameras, and a new souped-up S Pen that can now do more than simply help draw or take notes on the screen.
All of this makes the Galaxy Note 9 (Rs 67,900) sound like the ultimate offering that can give any flagship device a run for their money – that too a lot of it. I have been using the Galaxy Note 9 for the past couple of weeks, so let’s find out whether this is the ultimate offering that everyone has been calling it and the most important question – Is it worth shelling out $1000 bucks on this beast or not? Here’s my in-depth review of the Galaxy Note 9, check it out:
What’s in the Box
As we’ve come to expect from Samsung, the Galaxy Note 9 comes packed in a simple black box with minimal branding. There’s a bunch of stuff inside the box, which isn’t surprising when you consider this is a flagship device – that too Samsung’s best to date. Here are the contents of the box:
- Galaxy Note 9 with the S-Pen
- Transparent protective cover
- SIM ejector tool
- Adaptive fast charger
- USB Type-C cable
- USB Type-C to Type-A adapter
- AKG earphones
- Replacement earbuds
- Extra S-Pen tips
- S-Pen tip ejecting tool
- User guide
Before we jump in and talk about my experience with the Galaxy Note 9, here’s a quick look at the specs sheet of the device:
|Display||6.4-inch Quad-HD+ AMOLED|
|Processor||Snapdragon 845, Exynos 9810|
|RAM||up to 8GB|
|Storage||up to 512GB|
|Primary Camera||12 MP (f/1.5-2.4, Dual-pixel PDAF, OIS) + 12 MP (f/2.4, OIS)|
|Secondary Camera||8 MP, with f/1.7 aperture, 1.22µm, AF|
|Operating System||Android 8.1 Oreo, with Samsung Experience 9.0 on top|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0, aptX, A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO, USB Type-C, 3.5mm audio jack|
|Sensors||Iris scanner, fingerprint accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity, compass, barometer, heart rate, SpO2 (oxygen saturation)|
|Colors||Metallic Copper, Ocean Blue, Midnight Black, Lavender Purple|
|Price||starts at Rs 67,900|
Design and Build Quality
Do I even need to say a lot here? If you have ever held a recently launched Galaxy Note device, be it the Note 7 or last year’s Note 8, let me tell you that Samsung’s latest Note flagship feels the same and doesn’t differ a whole lot on the design front.
You still get a bigger and chunkier device as compared to the Galaxy S9 Plus, which is more curvaceous and easy to grip as compared to the Galaxy Note 9. I did like that the device had some heft to it but I had to uber-careful while using it, so as not to drop it.
Yes, even though the Galaxy Note 9 now comes in attractive new colors, the front has a large display with minimal bezels and no notch (which will make many people happy) along with a shiny glass back that’s a bit of a fingerprint magnet and requires you to grip the device tight such that it doesn’t slip away.
Samsung has stuck with a tried-and-tested design, which isn’t necessarily bad and works in their favor amidst the sea of notches and fancy glass backs.
While we’re talking about the rear, it’s important to mention that Samsung has also fixed the positioning of the fingerprint sensor (which is tiny and works decently fast) on the Galaxy Note 9. It has now been moved under the camera module and I found myself using it more often than not. However, I ain’t too comfortable with the positioning of the volume rockers on the left, which are placed a tad higher for my liking.
The buttons are clicky and a joy to use but you wouldn’t want to invoke the no-good Bixby voice assistant each time you want to reduce the volume.
The Galaxy Note 9 is a complete package, especially when you count in the inclusion of the heart rate sensor, stereo speakers, USB-C port, 3.5mm headphone jack, and especially the new, supercharged S-Pen.
Coming to the highlight of the Galaxy Note 9, Samsung has finally improved the S-Pen to now expand its functionality beyond just being a simple note-taking tool to a Bluetooth remote that makes it look a lot more attractive and functional.
This year’s S-Pen is a bit larger than last year’s (but you wouldn’t notice it) because it now packs Bluetooth Low Energy and a super-capacitor to make it usable in an extended range. The button on the S-Pen is now a lot more useful than it ever was and allows you to control a ton of things around the device via a single, double, or long-press.
Once you pull the S-Pen out of its cavity in the device, you can take off-screen memos in the same color as the pen (a neat touch, which gets less exciting each time you use it). When you unlock the device, which is now also possible with the S-Pen, it turns into a remote control and can be used to scroll web pages, click pictures, control media playback, and scroll through slides in a presentation or photos in the gallery.
As for the battery life, the S-Pen’s charge lasted around 35-40 minutes on average, but it is consumed a lot faster when it’s breathing its final breaths. I noticed the battery go from the 40% to the 20% mark within just 15-20 clicks and maybe a random sketch before we’d started clicking pictures.
However, you do not need to worry much about the battery life as the super-capacitor takes only 20-odd seconds to charge fully and is good for an average of 275 clicks, which you can read more about right here.
Now, as you can see, the S-Pen has become more useful than being a mere drawing or note-taking tool, however, it’s still finding it tough to shed its image as a gimmick at the end of the day.
The Galaxy Note 9 comes with a larger 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display, with 18.5:9 aspect ratio and 1440 x 2960p screen resolution. This the same beautiful panel that we’ve seen on most previous Samsung flagships and there’s no match for them out there. Even DisplayMate yet again crowned the Galaxy Note 9’s display as the best among the lot, just like the Galaxy S9 series.
Don’t mind me, but this is possibly one of the best displays you currently see on a smartphone.
I’m not in two minds about this display and can certainly say that Samsung’s panels have the best color reproduction (punchy colors and deep blacks), blinding brightness – that too even under direct sunlight. This is a display that will obviously turn heads and sit at top of the list of best panels, without any hesitation, and there’s nothing else for me to add here.
You’ve already heard this statement a lot from me in this review, so get used to it folks – ‘not much has changed’ in terms of the software on the Galaxy Note 9 as well. There may be a few minor improvements here and there, related to the connected S-Pen and Samsung’s AI voice assistant Bixby – nothing else.
I’ve never been a fan of Samsung’s Experience UI and even the Galaxy Note 9 failed to change that outlook. This device runs Android 8.1 Oreo-based Experience UI 9.5 and it looks, feels, and works exactly the same as the Galaxy S9 series launched back in March earlier this year, which is not a bad thing.
Even though the software is completely skinned, it is well-optimized and runs smoothly — at par with other a flagship device and transcends the TouchWiz UI days that were oddly unsatisfying and sluggish. The Galaxy Note 9 comes with recent additions like Intelligent Scan, AR Emojis (which we had previously deduced to not be good enough and they still aren’t), customizable Always On Display, Game Launcher, and a whole lot more.
The Intelligent Scan feature, an amalgamation of Face Unlock and Iris Recognition, which works in an odd order and is still quite slow in recognizing your face and unlocking the device as compared to its recent competitors like the iPhone X, Mi 8, Huawei Nova 3, or even OnePlus 6 (even though it isn’t exactly fool-proof and uses only the selfie camera). Also, the security settings menu is flooded with so many options and registrations, it’s a turn-off.
Intelligent Scan further only suffered under low-light conditions, making me switch to the fingerprint scanner that is finally placed at a reachable position.
The Game Launcher came to be my favorite feature of the bunch, simply because it was easily accessible via the navigation bar and allows you to mute notifications, access a handful of important apps, or record the gameplay. You can not just record what’s on the screen but also choose to switch on the front camera to record your reactions along with the gameplay.
Speaking of the performance, let me first recap the specs of the Galaxy Note 9 to jog your memory. The device is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (which is obvious, but only in the States) and the company’s in-house Exynos 9810 Octa-core processor is backing the device in India. There’s up to 8GB of RAM and up to 512GB of internal storage (with the option to expand it by another 512GB) available on this device.
Well, I may not go gaga over Samsung’s software experience but the Galaxy Note 9’s day-to-day performance is top-notch. The device runs smoothly, with no noticeable frame drops or lag, and sits right there at the top of the Android flagship ecosystem. The transitions feel snappy and quick, along with the device being quick to respond to almost everything.
The Exynos processor, which people usually associate with less power, seems to be doing its job well.
As for gaming, the Galaxy Note 9 was one of the few Samsung phones to get exclusive access to Fornite. Though I am an avid PUBG Mobile player, I’ve taken this funky game for a spin many times – trying to build and protect myself, all while taking down enemies.
In my time alternating between PUBG and Fortnite, both of which work at their highest settings, I did not notice any considerable lag or stutter in the gameplay. Both of these games ran smoothly, however, the Galaxy Note 9 did get heated up quite a lot after a couple of games. The temperature usually sat around the 41 degrees mark, which isn’t quite high but the water carbon cooling system seems to be a bust – well, at least during gaming.
To sum everything up, the Galaxy Note 9 seems like a winner in this short testing period, however, I’d have to take one step back here because we know that Samsung phones usually slow down and start feeling sluggish with time. We’ll continue to test the same and update this review if we notice any decline in performance.
Also, if you’re someone who gives a tonne of weight to benchmark scores, then you can find our AnTuTu and Geekbench results attached below:
Samsung had already integrated a stunning camera module, with a 12MP primary camera with dual apertures of f/1.5 and f/2.4 and a secondary 12 MP f/2.4 telephoto lens, on the rear of the Galaxy S9+. Thus, the Korean giant decided to copy-paste the ‘exact same’ setup onto the Galaxy Note 9 and sprinkle some AI magic into the mix.
As you can obviously see in the camera samples attached below, the Galaxy Note 9 clicks some awesome photos- which in true Samsung fashion may be a little over-saturated (at least it makes the photos social media ready and many people like it) but the device also appears to handle the lighting well, preserve the details and sport an impressive dynamic range. You can check out some sample right here.
You may also be able to notice in the sample above that the Galaxy Note 9 dials up the color saturation even further in some cases, thanks to the addition of AI scene optimizer and flaw detection. While the colors appeared punchier in some cases, I found that the AI is also helping the device maintain some balance and click better pictures.
Speaking of low light conditions, the dual-aperture lens (jumping to the wider f/1.5 lens) helps the Galaxy Note 9 capture ample lighting and hence, detail to produce some good photos. Even when you think that the camera will falter and won’t be able to click those low-light shots (like the second sample below), the Note 9 powers through, with the AI working at night too. There’s little to no noise in most conditions, you can check out a collection of camera samples right here:
The portrait mode (or live focus mode, as Samsung likes to call it) works just the same as the Galaxy S9 Plus — for both the front and the rear camera. The edge detection is still pretty good, the background blur looks quite natural but the details in some photos are well-preserved while other looks a tad bit softer, which may in part be due to Galaxy Note 9’s new flaw detection feature.
Finally, coming to video capabilities, the Galaxy Note 9 can shoot 4K videos at 60FPS but it disables dual-OIS stabilization in this mode, so I would suggest you shoot 4K videos at 30 FPS, and see the pretty colors, fast focusing, and overall pretty stable video. It also comes baked with a super slow-mo video recording feature, that lets you capture 0.2 or 0.4-second burst videos and it looks something like this:
The Galaxy Note 7 had become an explosive disaster about a couple years ago and it was a tough time for Samsung. However, the Korean giant is no longer haunted by the ghosts of its past and the Galaxy Note 9 is known to pack a massive 4,000mAh battery, which is 17.5% bigger than its predecessor’s 3,300mAh battery.
The 4,000mAh battery pack is ‘finally’ ample for the Galaxy Note 9 and its Quad-HD screen, which I found to be true in my day-to-day use.
The device lasted me an entire day on low to medium usage, delivering roughly 6 hours of screen-on time at 50% of brightness and that’s really impressive.
It’s that super-bright and high-res screen that eats up the battery rapidly and makes the device heat up a little while playing games, like Fortnite or Asphalt 9, for long hours. The device only lasted me close to 3-4 hours during heavy use, which isn’t bad but the Note 9 was as good as paper-weight by the end of the day.
The Galaxy Note 9, however, comes with Quick Charge support and it helps completely juice up the device from 10% to 100% in just about 1 hour 35 minutes, which is similar to what we had witnessed with the Galaxy S9 Plus earlier this year.
The Galaxy Note 9 comes equipped with all of the necessary connectivity options that you expect to see in a flagship smartphone, inclusive of a 3.5mm headphone jack. The device features a hybrid dual nano-SIM card tray, enabling you to use a 4G SIM card in one and a microSD card (up to 512GB) in the other. It also supports NFC to allow you to buy good or fulfill transactions via Samsung Pay.
Then, there’s also the usual connectivity options, including the Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0 (enables you to connect up to 3 devices simultaneously), USB Type-C 3.1, and more. But wait, while we’re on the subject of connectivity, let’s also talk about yet another major and important upgrade – accessory-free DeX support.
Samsung has finally simplified how users can turn their Galaxy Note 9 smartphone into a PC-like experience and the answer is by removing the DeX Pad we needed to connect the device to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Now, you only need a USB-C to HDMI dongle, an HDMI cable and you’re good to go.
My experience with Samsung DeX has been fairly decent. I like the fact that I could be working on my phone one second and the PC in another but using the Galaxy Note 9 as the trackpad and keyboard is a chore. Most of the apps and games are supported in DeX, along with multiwindow support, notifications, and everything, but it would take too long getting used to it. And you’d still dislike the overall experience, well, at least I did.
Audio and Telephony
Having used the Galaxy Note 9 with my Reliance Jio SIM over the past couple of weeks, I found that the phone calls were crisp, loud, as well as clear. I haven’t come across any issues during calls, where both callers were able to hear each other perfectly fine – even when I was traveling home in an autorickshaw.
However, the biggest addition to the Galaxy Note 9 also came as the biggest surprise, i.e the stereo speakers. They’ve been tuned by AKG and deliver Dolby Atmos surround sound, adjustable via the equalizer and plethora of settings available on the device. These stereo speakers, which includes a bottom-firing and front-firing speaker, are definitely good but could have been better – when one considers its enormous price tag.
I’m not saying the speakers on the Galaxy Note 9 are bad. They’re better than average and feature decent volume steps as well — very important for an avid music listener like me. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Troye Sivan’s croon on Bloom, the cryptic new Twenty One Pilots tracks, and Bryan Adams after a tiring day at work on the Galaxy Note 9.
Playing Fortnite on this device is yet another joy ride because the stereo speakers made everything from collecting materials or loot to shooting enemies a worthwhile experience. You can distinctly hear the footsteps and gunshots, along with game markers, to locate enemies and pin them down before they could build and protect themselves.
The Galaxy Note 9’s Infinity display and AKG-backed audio experience make it the best Netflix-watching station, while also giving it a slight edge over the competitors in this department.
Additionally, the Galaxy Note 9 still boasts a 3.5mm headphone jack and comes bundled with premium AKG earphones, which is a fabulous touch and should be expected from a flagship device.
The sound quality, as my fellow writer Tushar Mehta puts it, is balanced and “doesn’t emphasize any one frequency and surprise you with how immersive the experience is.” Yes, these bundled earphones are that good, not too bass-heavy, and offer a balanced soundstage.
Galaxy Note 9: Is it Worth Spending Those $1000 Bucks?
Earlier last year, there was a time when the debate about pricing smartphones over the $1000 price tag became a heated topic because of the iPhone X. Well, it appears like it’s the same with Galaxy Note 9, which is the first note-worthy (pun intended!) smartphone that has breached this limit and joined the four-comma club. So, you must be itching to know whether it’s worth spending a $1000 bucks on this device?
Well, the Galaxy Note 9 is simply one of the best flagship phones I’ve tested out in a long while and that says a lot about the device. It checks all of the right boxes, all keeping in mind the needs of the users as well (thanks for the 3.5mm audio jack still being here) or upgrading the features to finally step away from being a gimmick (S Pen remote control).
While there sure are some oldies, the iPhone X (starts at Rs 91,000) and Samsung’s own Galaxy S9 Plus (starts at Rs 64,900) that comes close to the Galaxy Note 9 in terms of both price and features, however, the Galaxy Note 9 easily pushes them out of water if you’re someone who has utility for the S Pen in your daily routine. It is then I’d suggest you do not think twice and shell out $1000 bucks to pick up this flagship device.
- That gorgeous display
- S Pen remote control
- Beastly storage and battery
- AI camera works pleasantly well
- Fornite compatible
- Exuberant price tag
- Water cooling is a bust
- Bixby is still worthless
Galaxy Note 9 Review: Makes You Take Note!
Samsung may have been hesitant with the Galaxy Note 8 after its infamous and explosive Note 7 debacle, however, the Korean giant has grown comfortable and ironed out most of the kinks to build an ‘ALMOST’ perfect flagship smartphone in 2018. The Galaxy Note 9 should definitely take a bow for packaging most hardware and software feature that one could expect from a smartphone but you now have to shell out an exuberant $1000 to get one.
So, does the Galaxy Note 9 look like a convincing buy to you? Let us know your opinions down in the comments section, and let’s discuss.