Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Samsung's Best Phone Yet

9 out of 10
Pros Intelligent camera with dual-aperture lenses, loads of memory and a great battery life, with an improved S Pen. Cons Similar specs to the Galaxy S9, with a bigger price tag. Bottom Line Overall a gorgeous display and smart smartphone that improves over the Note 9, and will inspire photographers and anyone who needs a hard-working device.

Samsung’s phones have been some of my favorites for a long time, and the Note series stands out above all others because it’s not just versatile and easy to use, it’s also big and the S Pen is seriously useful on a daily basis. The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is the latest and greatest of the Notes to date, and further develops one of my favorite things about the devices: the user experience.

There are a lot of phone options out there, and some even come close to Samsung’s in their specs, but the big difference between the Note 9 and their competitors is that Samsung has an incredible user experience, including DeX, and even in day-to-day elements that you use all the time.

From photos or calling, to layout and gestures, the Note 9 simplifies a lot of actions, and with its big screen, gorgeous graphics, plus new S Pen features, and a big battery upgrade, the device is built to be a crowd-pleaser.

See my photos and video shot on the Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

Design, Display & Experience

Samsung Galaxy Note 9

If you’ve handled the Note 8, the Note 9 will seem instantly familiar since they’re nearly identical, from size to shape, with the Note 9 coming in at 6.4 inches of display, versus the Note 8’s 6.3 inches. The biggest difference is really that the fingerprint reader has been moved to below the cameras, making it a lot less likely that you’ll smudge up the lenses when you go to unlock your phone.

Otherwise, the device has the same rounded sides on the screen, volume rocker on the left with the dedicated Bixby button below it, and the power on the right. And at the bottom of the phone, the Note 9 still has the 3.5mm headphone jack too, for those out there who don’t want to switch to wireless or USB-C headphones, beside the USB-C port and speakers.

And then there’s the display. The Note 9 has a gorgeous Quad HD+ Super AMOLED display featuring 2960×1440 pixels, at 516ppi, and it’s bright, vibrant, crisp, and clear, and it looks great in any lighting conditions. Considering the size of the display, this is essential for the Note 9, and once again Samsung gets the display just right.

The user experience is, as I said above, also exceptional. Samsung has tweaked the overall user experience over the years, improving it and making the whole interface feel simple to use, and it only seems to get better, from extras like the Apps Edge, where you can add important apps or contacts, to additions like the new SmartThings app that gives you control over smart home devices and other smart Samsung products, from TVs to speakers.

As well, Samsung DeX returns on the Note 9, which means that you can plug the phone in to a monitor using an HDMI adapter to experience a desktop-like computer display, letting you work or play on any HDMI screen. For some, the features are robust enough that you may not even need a laptop or computer with you, if all you need is email, a web browser, or basic apps like Microsoft Word, which is optimized for DeX.

Cameras

The Note 9 improves on the Note 8 with the arrival of dual-aperture lenses for the rear-facing cameras, which means that the 12 MP cameras perform better in low-light environments, while also working better in normal lighting conditions.

For low-light conditions, the Note 9 uses f/1.5, which gives a narrower focus range, but allows more light into the picture to make it brighter. And then, in normal lighting, the lenses switch to f/2.4, which helps make sure bright spots in the photo aren’t overwhelming.

Much like the Note 8 and the Galaxy S9, the Note 9 also features one wide-angle lens, and a 2x optical zoom lens, which the device uses together for Live Focus mode, the equivalent of a portrait mode on other phones. The pair of cameras work so you can adjust the level of bokeh, or the amount of blur behind your subject in Live Focus mode.

For portraits, especially outdoors or in well-lit areas, that offers some really stunning results, but the fun thing is that the Note 9 also lets you change the amount of blur so you can bring the background into sharper focus if you want later on.

The intelligent camera, with Flaw Detection, will also warn you if the lens is dirty, or even if someone isn’t smiling when you are about to take the picture. It’s a little warning system so you can get the best possible photos the first time around.

And thanks to Samsung’s Scene Optimizer, the camera will recognize up to 20 different types of scenes, subjects, or environments to adjust the settings and get the best possible photo, no matter what you’re capturing.

Paired with the improved S Pen, you can also take some awesome group photos that you can now be part of. The S Pen now includes Bluetooth connectivity, so it can act as a remote control for the Note 9. This works best with a phone tripod setup, but you can aim the rear camera at your subject, and go stand in position with the S Pen, and hit the button on it to trigger the photo.

For selfies where you’re holding the phone far away, this also means you no longer need to shout at it, to give it voice commands, to take the picture, making it a really handy feature. Probably one of my top 5 favorite features on the Note 9, actually.

On the front-facing, selfie side of the Note 9, the camera performs almost identically to previous models, but there is the AR Emoji, that creates an emoji character of you, that you can use to respond with on messages or social media. The main catch that I had here was that I couldn’t really find a way to make my emoji look anything like me. Others have had better results, but the results do vary, and I have a hard time faulting Samsung for that considering the challenges of creating an emoji from a photo. Hopefully though the feature can be tweaked down the road to work a little better.

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 - Live Focus mode
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 – Live Focus Mode

Memory, Battery & Processor

Under the hood, as it were, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 features an  impressive 128 GB of storage, or 512 GB for a bit more. Combined with the ability to add up to 512 GB of storage space with the microSD card slot, that’s enough to store a lot of photos, videos, and documents.

The 128 GB model includes 6 GB of RAM, while the 512 GB model includes 8 GB of RAM.

For battery life, the Note 9 has a 4,000 mAh battery, which should last most users an entire day. For light users, that may even last you into two days, and the battery charges up quickly with the supplied fast charger, or using a supported wireless charger that you can buy separately.

And the Note’s 10nm processor means that it’s very fast, whether you’re gaming or working. No matter if you’re playing Fortnite or editing a video on your phone, the smartphone is quick and efficient.

Lastly, the Note 9 is rated at IP68, so it’s dust and water resistant up to 1.5 meters in fresh water for a short period of time. Singing in the rain never looked so good, if you really want to get that selfie.

Price & Availability

The Galaxy Note 9 comes in Midnight Black, with matching S Pen, in Canada or Ocean Blue, with the S Pen accented in yellow. You can get the 128 GB Note 9 for $1,299 at full price, or the 512 GB model for $1,629.

Depending on your data plan, Bell offers the Note 9 on a 2-year plan at either $269.99 or $549.99, however Rogers, Telus, Freedom Mobile and Videotron also carry the phone in Canada with different plan options.

I love the Note 9, and I think it’s easily the best smartphone out there right now. It’s a great device for a wide range of users, and it’s well worth the investment.

W. Andrew Powell lives, sleeps, eats, and breaths movies and entertainment. Since launching The GATE in 1999 Andrew has enjoyed being a pest to any publicist who would return his calls. In his "spare time," Andrew is also an avid photographer, and writes about leisure travel and hotels around the world.

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