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Review: Samsung Galaxy Note9

Hardware Software Wrap Up Comments  2  

Aug 16, 2018, 6:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

Editor's Choice
Samsung Galaxy Note9

The Galaxy Note9 from Samsung is a powerful and impressive piece of hardware. This Android phone offers a massive screen, a giant battery, and a killer set of cameras. The stylus defines the Note series and Samsung has made the S Pen even more useful thanks to new features. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth review of the Samsung Galaxy Note9.

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Is It Your Type?

The Galaxy Note9 is for those who want the biggest and the best of anything and everything. It's Samsung's technological showcase, stuffed full of the most powerful components and offering the most compelling features. The Note9 is for people who need to get work done, or for people want to be creative, wherever they happen to be.

Body

Samsung has settled into a two-year "tick/tock" cycle for updating its hardware. That means the Note9 is nearly identical to last year's Note8. Samsung included a few key upgrades in order to make the Note9 a more enticing purchase, but the experience remains largely the same.

The Note9 is a slim slab of epic proportions. It deftly merges two curved glass panels with a thin aluminum frame. The glass is silky to the touch, the metal strong and reassuring. New to the Note series this year is a fine chamfer along the front and back edges of the metal frame. It's subtle, but perfectly cut into the aluminum. Samsung has mastered the task of bending glass in a way that doesn't interfere with the display. The curves help make the phone easier to hold, even if only a little.

The Note9 comes in four colors, though only two are being offered in the U.S.: blue and lavender. (Black and copper will be available overseas.) Both the blue and lavender are attractive in their own way. The blue is deep and oceanic, while the lavender is rich and creamy. I like that Samsung decided to color the included S Pen a contrasting yellow for the blue model. It's a small, but appreciated touch.

Galaxy Note9  

At 6.37 inches tall and 3 inches wide, the Note9 is a gigantic piece of hardware. The relatively square corners don't help. Samsung's own S9+ is fractionally smaller and rounder, yet it feels much more manageable to use day in and day out. The Note9 is a two-handed device that will be too much for some people. It strains pockets. I found it uncomfortable to carry around in some jeans. Adding a case only worsens this situation. You have to want a big phone to like the Note9.

You can't call the quality into question. It's a top-notch phone when it comes to the fit and finish. The Gorilla Glass 5 is expertly shaped and fitted into the rigid chassis. Few phones are its equal. The materials are assembled tightly with perfect seams throughout.

The Note9 is rated IP68 against water and dirt. This means it can sit in 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) of water for up to 30 minutes. You can drop the Note9 into the pool, hot tub, or toilet and it should survive the experience. Get it muddy or covered in soup?Just rinse it off under the faucet for a few seconds. I let the Note9 rest at the bottom of a bucket for a while and held it under running water. It's none the worse for wear.

Don't let the Gorilla Glass 5 surfaces fool you; this phone will shatter if dropped onto hard surfaces. Moreover, Gorilla Glass 5 is softer than previous iterations of Gorilla Glass and is thus more prone to scratching.

The "Infinity Display" means you have a phone with nearly no bezels. The display measures 6.4 inches across the diagonal. The thinnest strips of black line the sides of the screen, the chin is kept to a minimum, and the forehead is just big enough to accommodate the user-facing camera and earpiece speaker. There's no notch. It's a clean, immersive look.

Samsung didn't change the Note9's side buttons, compared to the Note8 (and S9/S9+). The screen lock / power button is the only key on the right side. For such a big phone, the button is rather small. The profile is decent and the key has perfect travel and feedback. An identical button on the left edge is the dedicated Bixby key. It can only be used to call up Samsung's personal assistant. (Thankfully you can turn Bixby off entirely, leaving the button inert.) The volume toggle, a long thin strip of metal, offers an excellent profile and pleasing feedback, but it is hard to reach thanks to its position high on the left edge.

Note9  

The combined SIM / memory card tray is tucked into the top edge of the Note9. You'll need a SIM tool to pop it out. Samsung placed the USB-C port, 3.5mm headset jack, and speakerphone on the bottom edge. I'm glad to see Samsung's commitment to the headphone jack when companies such as Apple, Google, and Motorola have given up on it.

The "S Pen" stylus is stored in the far right corner of the phone. Press in until you hear a click and the top of the stylus will pop out. You can then retrieve the S Pen. The Note9 will provide haptic feedback when you remove the stylus and when you put it back. The S Pen itself is a decent length and thickness, and the lone button is placed in an accessible spot along the length of the stylus. The fine tip interacts with the display perfectly.

Samsung corrected the biggest problem with last year's Note: the location of the fingerprint reader. The Note8 featured a reader placed to the right of the camera array, a spot many found awkward. The Note9's fingerprint reader is centered below the camera module, right where it should be. The reader is indented just a small amount, which helps you find it by feel. The camera module itself is a raised rectangle. It houses the two cameras, flash, and heart rate monitor. These are the only physical features that adorn the otherwise smooth piece of colored glass on the back of the phone.

I wish I could tell you that the Note9 is a wholly new and different phone from the Note8, but it isn't. It's a humongous metal-and-glass phone that leaves an impression.

Screen

Samsung boosted the size of the Super AMOLED Infinity Display a smidge from 6.3 inches to 6.4 inches. It maintains the quad HD+ (2,960 x 1,440) resolution and offers a pixel density of 514ppi. It's an incredible display; the best I've seen. The clarity of the screen is unmatched. Colors are boosted perhaps a bit, but not as unrealistically as previous Samsung AMOLED screens. The Note9 puts out plenty of light, ensuring you can see the display clearly in even the brightest lighting conditions. The glass manages to keep fingerprints at bay thanks to an oleophobic coating. Viewing angles are fantastic, with no color shift or brightness loss. It's impressive to the Note degree.

Most modern flagships allow you to adjust the behavior of the display and the Note9 is no different. It offers owners several color modes to choose from as well as now-standard features such as a blue light filter for nighttime reading. You can also adjust the resolution if you wish, which has the benefit of saving battery life.

Display  

Signal

The Note9 is being sold by all U.S. carriers, as well as unlocked by Samsung directly. The Note9 packs a Cat 18 LTE modem, which permits (theoretical) speeds up to 1.2 Gbps. It supports every single frequency band currently used by U.S. carriers — including band 71 — though it's worth noting that carrier-branded models may not have all the bands turned on for other carriers.

I tested the unlocked Galaxy Note9 on AT&T and Verizon in and around New York City. The phone delivers fantastic wireless performance. The Note9 always remained connected to the network, whether the signal was strong or weak. The Note9 was able to connect all calls on the first dial. It maintained calls over long distances at highway speeds, and didn't drop any calls while I tested it.

The phone delivered zippy data speeds, allowing me to upload photos to Instagram or Twitter in a few blinks. Streaming high-quality music from Spotify and high-definition video from Netflix over LTE didn't cause the Note9 to stutter or lag. The Note9 is among the fastest phones I've tested.

Sound

The Note9 is the voice phone we should all expect to have in the year of our lord 2018. Phone call quality is excellent. The earpiece delivers clear, loud sound with a warm tone. I had no trouble hearing calls when on city streets, at home, or in the car. People I spoke to through the phone said I sounded very good.

The HD Voice calls that I connected via AT&T offered clarity beyond what I've ever heard before.

The speakerphone is similarly good. I was able to keep the volume set at about 50% most of the time. You may need to turn it up when in a moving car. I'm pleased that the Note9 doesn't suffer from distortion when cranked all the way up.

The Note9 includes stereo speakers. Like we've seen from Apple, HTC, and others, the Note9 uses the earpiece and bottom-firing speaker to create stereo sound. The earpiece produces more treble-y tones, while the bottom speaker produces more bass-y tones. Samsung did a fine job ensuring that the effect is relatively even when you hold the phone sideways. I was very pleased with the quality when listening to music or watching video. Moreover, it's loud enough to provide an average-sized room with a soundtrack.

Ringers and alerts were more than loud enough to get my attention, and the vibrate function always did its job. I like that the Note9 allows you to control the intensity of the vibrate alert as well as select from a range of alert patterns.

Battery

The Note9 is 1mm wider and 0.2 ounces heavier than the Note8, in part to accommodate the larger battery. Samsung crammed a huge 4,000mAh battery into the Note9, a power cell that's 25% bigger than last year's phone.

Over a week of testing, I found the Note9 consistently handled a full day of heavy use with power to spare. I pushed the phone intensely, taking scores of pictures while checking email, tweeting, browsing Instagram, and watching Netflix. The phone nearly always had 20% battery left at the end of the day. The Note9's battery won't leave you stranded.

The Note9 also includes three special modes to help maximize battery life, should you need that.

The phone supports Quick Charge 2.0 and Samsung's rapid wireless charging. When plugged into the included wired charger, I found the Note9 charged from 0% to 50% in 30 minutes. It took another 45 minutes to go from 50% to 100%. Bottom line: even 15 minutes on the charger will give you hours of uptime.

Battery  

Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi

The Note9 packs all the best radios. Bluetooth 5.0+LE leads the way. The Note9 worked perfectly with all of the Bluetooth devices I tested, such as headsets, speakers, and my car. The Note9's software made pairing/connecting a mostly painless process. Phone calls sent to Bluetooth headsets sounded very good, while calls pushed to my car's hands-free system were excellent. With aptX HD on board, music streamed to stereo Bluetooth headphones also sounded excellent.

The Note9's GPS radio worked flawlessly with Google Maps. Maps was able to pinpoint me in a blink of an eye, and location was as accurate as 10 feet. The Note9 makes for a fine, real-time navigation device.

The NFC radio means the Note9 supports both Samsung Pay and Google Pay for making tap-and-go mobile payments. The Note9 also supports MST (magnetic strip) payments in Samsung Pay. Further, the NFC radio enables quick pairing with certain Bluetooth accessories.

The phone's dual-band WiFi radio was fantastic when it came to downloading HD movies over my home WiFi network.

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Comments

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bluecoyote

Aug 16, 2018, 10:45 AM

Where do they find these ugly colors?

Samsung has always been a loser but what's up with these ugly colors? Puke pastel isn't a good look.
What a dumb comment...Samsung has always been a loser? How so? Samsung has been a Fortune 500 company for almost a quarter century and is currently #12. #1 cell phone, TV, semiconductor and chipset maker by a long shot. Apple buys their displays a...
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