What is the Samsung Galaxy Note9?
As the battery was deemed partly to blame for this tendency to catch fire, and for the serious damage it did to Samsung's reputation, the next model, the Note8 was deliberately pretty timid, with a smaller battery.
Now, the Note9 boasts the largest battery Samsung has ever put in either its Note or S ranges, the biggest screen yet and an enhanced version of that S Pen stylus which partly defines the Note range.
Storage on this phone is off the charts: you can choose one with 512GB built in, and a memory card means you can expand this to an unprecedented 1TB. Now you need to find something to do with all that space.
One other thing: it's also the most expensive Note yet.
That means flagship build quality with every element looking and feeling premium. A display with carefully rounded corners that stretches almost to the top and bottom of the phone - and no notch! - and which slopes down at both the phone's long edges. The Note differs slightly from the S in the steepness of the slope. The Note has a display that's flat almost to the edges and then falls off steeply but still at a curve.
That's because of the Note's S-Pen stylus - a wider flat surface makes it easier to write near to the edges.
That display means there's no room on the front for a fingerprint sensor so that sits on the rear of the phone. Like the S9+, here the sensor is below the dual camera array. This is a definite improvement to last year's Note8, where the sensor was alongside the camera lenses. The previous placement resulted in frequent, by which I mean almost constant, smudging of the lens as your finger sought out the sensor on the back while you were looking at the front of the handset.
Compared to the Note8, the edges of the Note9 are a little thinner, so they feel a little sharper in the hand.
But, as ever with the Note series, Samsung has managed to squeeze so much screen into so little phone that though there's a 6.4in display here, it feels comfortable in the hand. Though I'd say it's still worth feeling it in your mitts before you buy - it will still be too big for smaller fingers.
On the bottom edge of the Note9 is the slot for the S-Pen which fits flush in the right-hand corner. More on this unique stylus later. And the final design point: also on the bottom edge is a headphone jack, something that is becoming a Samsung speciality. Among flagship phones, only OnePlus routinely includes this connector now.
Comparing the Note9 to the S9+ released in the spring, the display here is 0.2in bigger, again pretty similar. In short, unless you want the S-Pen and its features, the S9+ is probably big enough.
It's a beautiful display, extremely high-resolution with 1440 x 2960 pixels on a display with 18.5:9 ratio and 516ppi, which is higher than the iPhone X, for example.
It's OLED, and nobody makes better OLED phone panels than Samsung - after all, they've been doing it longer than anyone else. Colours are vivid and bright without being over-saturated (though they're heading in that direction). Black shades are irreproachably solid and dark. And off-angle colour, when you turn the display away from you is reasonably stable, way better than most rivals.
In recent phones, Samsung has featured an always-on display so that when you're not using the phone, the time, date, battery charge and more information are constantly displayed in grey on a black background and at a minimal cost in terms of battery drain.
So, you never have to pick the phone up or wake the screen to check the time. It's a neat feature that many Android phones now have and is particularly useful now the fingerprint sensor is round the back of the phone.
Which brings us to security, and the ways to unlock the Note9.
So, Samsung has built in other ways to wake the phone. You can set a PIN code or password and if you set neither, which is not advised, you can wake the phone just by pressing the Home icon. This is on the display but correlates to a pressure-sensitive area under the glass - it's a feature unique to Samsung.
But there's also iris recognition on the front of the phone, and facial recognition. The innovation that arrived on the S9 and S9+ and is here, too, is that you can use both iris and facial recognition simultaneously, for an unlock system that’s fast and secure. Samsung calls it Intelligent Scan.
It works moderately well but honestly not well enough to be routinely effective, which is the absolute minimum for it be counted a success, I'd say.
As a result, you may see a message asking you to open your eyes more fully or hold the phone more upright as icons wink back and forth and often result in a failure to unlock. Now, of course, this is better than it unlocking for just anyone, but it definitely needs to improve.
On the plus side, when it works, it takes you straight to the home screen or the app you were last using, which adds to the feeling of intimacy when the phone has recognised you and unlocked accordingly. On the Apple iPhone X, for comparison, unlocking leaves you on the front page, it doesn't take you to the home screen without another swipe of your finger.
Even though Intelligent Scan works (mostly) for unlocking the display, there are still security elements in most apps which need you to unlock with your fingerprint.
The relocation of the fingerprint sensor is brilliant - it sits lower than on the Note8 (better) and higher than on the S9+ (also better, actually). It's fast and works pretty much every time.
The wide-angle of the two cameras has a dual aperture, which gives it greater flexibility in low light - it chooses which aperture it should use automatically.
Shooting together means you can achieve that elegant bokeh effect where your subject is in fiercely sharp focus, the background charmingly blurred.
The lenses and sensors are the same as on the S9+ but there is a refinement here with the addition of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Samsung's not the first manufacturer to include this capability and it can have strong effects: the Huawei P20 Pro shoots differently depending on whether it's taking a photo of a dog (it emphasises the fur) or a cat (look at those eyes!) and makes the adjustments it sees fit automatically.
Extra features in terms of AI include a blink warning, letting you know that the photo you're taking will have closed eyes in it. I found this to be a bit hit-and-miss.
The AI maybe adds a little extra to the camera but not much. That doesn't matter because the Note9, like the S9+ before it, has a powerful, fast, versatile camera that delivers great results.
There is much else to like. You can set it so the whole screen becomes the camera viewfinder. This looks fantastic and works brilliantly - though it drops the resolution to a still-acceptable 7.9MP. For full 12MP resolution you'll need 4:3 picture format which doesn't look quite as dazzling onscreen (though the photos may look better later).
It's fast and effective, though sometimes adding features like the flash can lead to some shutter lag.
It shoots 4K video and super-slow motion (at a lower resolution). That means as much as 960 frames per second, which only the Sony Xperia phones can match. What's especially good here is an auto setting. This means it will start the slo-mo when it sees movement in an onscreen area. After all, if it's that fast, you may not be quick enough to press the trigger yourself.
Along with the cameras on the Huawei P20 Pro, Apple iPhone X and Google Pixel 2, this camera is in the very top rank of best smartphone cameras.
But in fact, it's quite different from before thanks to improved connectivity using Bluetooth. This means it needs recharging, but, don't worry, it charges every time it's in the phone and 40 seconds of charging gives 30 minutes of use, Samsung says, and which sounds about right.
The button on the S Pen's side is very useful. Tap it to remote-trigger the shutter on the camera, switch to the next slide in a presentation and so on.
As you withdraw the stylus it launches a series of S Pen-friendly apps Not everyone needs a stylus, but if you do, there's much to like about the S Pen, though personally I still find it a little too slender for easy use.
However, since you can write notes on the Note9 screen, even if it's in standby mode, it's worth mentioning that Note9 is an excellent, stable surface thanks to the nearly flush camera unit: you couldn't do this on the iPhone X which, because of the protuberant lenses, rocks when you press on it!
You can control pretty most actions on the phone using your voice, instructing Bixby to open apps, there's Bixby Vision which can recognise things in photos and so on, but it still feels like a technology in its infancy.
Then there's DeX, Samsung's system that turns your smartphone into a desktop computer. Well, almost. You need a separate monitor, a mouse and external keyboard for this to work, and a standard USB-C to HDMI cable. It's an interesting and still strange use case, that you'll find yourself with an accessible monitor, keyboard and mouse rather than a hotdesking computer, but you never know. Perhaps Samsung is ahead of the curve and this kind of way to use your phone will become more prevalent.
Samsung uses fast processors in its phones, as you'd expect for a handset at this price. The Exynos 9810 Octa, an own-brand chip, is certainly speedy.
Maybe it could be even faster and even more of a performer, if it had the latest operating software. After all, if you have a Google Pixel 2, you can already run the latest OS, Android Pie. Samsung's phone is, of course, technically capable of handling the latest software but will have to wait for an update, instead running on the previous version Android Oreo 8.1.
- Glamorous design
- Outstanding camera
- Wireless charging
- Fast processor
- Great battery life
- Useful S Pen
- Too big for some hands
- Not everyone needs a stylus
Samsung Galaxy Note9 Review
It looks great, and works tremendously, offering fast, reliable performance whatever you throw at it, handling video playback, demanding games and power-hungry apps with ease.
The S Pen is very useful, though not everyone will need one. As styluses go, it's the best yet from Samsung.
Well, that stands for the whole phone, though there are issues.
The facial recognition is not great, Bixby is best avoided and, oh yes, it's a heck of a price.
Call and Signal Quality
Email, Browsing, Calandar, Contacts
App support and functionality
Value for Money
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.