Just half a month ago, Samsung revealed the Galaxy Note 9 to the world on the back of much speculation and unsubstantiated rumours: that the phone was not set to be a game-changing device, but merely an incremental step-up over last year’s Note 8.
The actual announcement—for me at least—never settled that debate. On one hand, most of what makes the Note 9 better than the Note 8 is very much performance-based, with the new flagship king boasting top-of-the-line specs in every nearly single department you can name. Nothing unexpected, nothing absolutely game-changing.
But on the other hand, a few new additions as well as thoughtful integrations of these new features held plenty of promise in terms of making it a device that would become the gold standard in terms of what a proper flagship—in every sense of the word—should be.
So when the chance to review the Note 9 came along, I grabbed at it with both hands, anxious to see just how the latest South Korean flagship would fare in the wild.
|Display||6.4 inch Super AMOLED panel, 1440 x 2960 pixels, 18.5:9 aspect ratio|
|Dimensions & Weight||161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8 mm (6.37 x 3.01 x 0.35 in), 201 grams|
|Camera||Dual Rear Camera: 12MP primary shooter with OIS + 12MP secondary camera with 2x optical zoom
Front: 8MP selfie camera
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 845|
|Memory||6GB or 8GB RAM|
|Storage||128GB/512GB, expandable storage up to 512GB|
In the hand, the Note 9 looks and feels exactly like the class-topping flagship you’d expect from a brand like Samsung. A 6.4 inch Super AMOLED display in the front is complemented very nicely by an all-glass enclosure, all of it weighing comfortably in the palm with just the right amount of heft.
There are of course the standard fare trappings of the modern day flagship—USB-C connector port, a stereo speaker setup, a dual SIM tray with that will also accept an extra SD card, a fingerprint scanner, and of course a dual rear-facing camera setup that’s safely in ‘world-class’ territory. Not to mention the 3.5mm headphone jack that Samsung sensibly chooses to retain for its flagships.
But in addition to all of these, the phone has of course a few additions that make it distinct from other flagships in the market, namely the S-Pen—the accompanying stylus that has become symbolic of the Note series over the years.
As far as special features go, the S-Pen is undoubtedly the one component that makes a Note 9, a Note 9.
Unlike previous iterations, the accompanying stylus now goes beyond just being a writing tool—this version comes with a built-in battery and runs on low-energy Bluetooth, allowing it to act as a remote for a bunch of tasks including taking photos, flipping through presentation slides, and controlling media playback on apps like YouTube and Spotify.
The S-Pen also works amazing as a tool for art and writing. The on-screen detection is flawless and the actual movement of the pen tip on the screen is accurate and comfortable to use, with the bundled art creation app PENUP a particularly fun way to kill the time.
Real World Usage
In terms of everyday use, I can safely say that there is very little to complain about the Note 9. Going a full week testing out the phone in various situations—gaming, photography, watching videos, work stuff—I found there to be absolutely no compromise in performance, mainly due to the beefy processing power of the Snapdragon 845 and its generous amount of RAM. Considering the test unit I used had 6GB of RAM, I’m willing to wager that the model with 8GB of RAM will provide an even better user experience.
Gaming on the Note 9 was particularly nice, with it now also boasting a special water-carbon cooling system inside that helps keep temperatures low even during demanding tasks.
Now while I’m not sure just how much this feature factors into the overall experience, or whether or not it actually makes a difference at all, I found that playing demanding games like Fortnite and Asphalt 9 a smooth-sailing experience nonetheless.
Add on the huge AMOLED display, gaming as well as other types of media consumption just becomes enjoyable on a whole different level, with the curved edges of the Infinity Display, vibrant colours, and lack of a notch all contributing to a very immersive viewing experience.
On the camera side of things, the Note 9 also exhibits a strong reminder of just how good Samsung’s have become. On both the dual rear cameras as well as the selfie camera, photos taken were always par for the course, with there being very little to fault.
Without going into too much technical detail, photos taken were full of detail and colours very accurately represented, with Samsung’s new scene recognition capabilities hitting it on the money nine times out of ten.
Also, taking selfies was especially fun with the Note 9, with the S-Pen’s remote control capabilities making things easier for someone with shaky hands like me. For example in photo below, instead of having to hold on to the camera for a selfie, I simply placed the phone on a stool and gathered my friends into the frame before firing away with the S-Pen as the shutter trigger.
In the long run, while I don’t see this feature being used every single day, just knowing that the option is available to me is a real plus point.
A Few Misses
Now having talked about all the good, it’s also important that some cons be mentioned as well.
While there aren’t that many with the Note 9, there are still the usual complaints as far as Samsung devices in general are concerned. For starters, Bixby—Samsung’s answer to Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri—isn’t quite at the level of its competitors yet.
While Samsung are trying to push its integrated assistant software heavily by launching Galaxy Home and Galaxy Watch, it’s still quite apparent that Bixby can’t yet match the industry standard that is the free-to-use Google Assistant—not in results, not in intuitiveness, and not in user experience.
And with that comes my complaint about the dedicated Bixby button on the side of the phone—it would be great if it could become remappable, but unfortunately Samsung’s insistence otherwise makes it a bit of a bummer.
Then there’s also the subject of Samsung’s very own reskin of Android, the Samsung Experience UI, with it notorious for containing bloatware and unnecessary features such as its own app store and internet browser.
Thankfully, most of these apps can be uninstalled, but with there already being ready-made solutions by Google, I wonder if these were at all needed in the first place.
Even with there being some flaws, the Note 9 is a beast of a performer that will do nearly anything you ask of it with aplomb and then some. Its high-end internals mean that it’s a terrific multi-tasker and productivity workhorse, the huge and vibrant 6.4 inch display makes it an excellent media-consumption machine, its camera setup makes it so that you’ll never feel wanting in the photo department, and its 4,000 mAh battery means that you can enjoy all of the features for longer.
And all of this is complemented by the S-Pen that—while not a complete game-changer—just makes sense of a lot of things just with its remote capabilities alone.
The only sticking point with this phone is of course its heavy price tag. With the base model coming in at RM3,699 and the massive 512GB-storage model coming in at RM4,599, the Note 9 definitely isn’t for everyone.
But for those in the market for a device with serious performance, this phone is at the very least one that you must consider.
Here are my observed pros and cons at a glance:
|Great display for media consumption||Some bloatware included|
|Enormous battery lasts you a full day and more||Bixby still isn’t great|
|S-Pen works very well||Samsung is known for slower updates|
|Camera setup is rock solid||Price may be a stumbling block|
|Very fast performance|
You can find out more about the Note 9 at Samsung’s official website.
VP Verdict is a series where we personally try and test out products, services, fads, and apps. Want to suggest something else for us to try? Leave a comment here or send the suggestion into our Facebook page.