The Samsung Galaxy Note9 was announced last week at New York. We also have that in our hands and have been using it for quite some time already. While many are saying that the Galaxy Note9 is just a mere incremental upgrade, we think that it is truly innovative and sets a new bar for the industry – especially for smartphones with a stylus.
Thanks so much to Samsung Malaysia for the provisioning a unit of the Samsung Galaxy Note9 for us to review – particularly the Galaxy Note9 in the new and beautiful copper color.
We also took the Galaxy Note9 for our trip to Taipei – click here to read the full story!
Taking a look at the box itself, we immediately noticed something special here. Remember the blue Galaxy Note9 that has a yellow S Pen? Or the different colors of the phone with corresponding S Pen colors?
The new sleeve on the packaging is debossed with the silhouette of the S Pen itself with the corresponding color. If you’re getting the blue Galaxy Note9, the sleeve will have a yellow S Pen instead.
Behind the sleeve lists the storage capacity on the top left corner, then lists down the specs, features, and some accessories that come together with the phone.
Opening up the sleeve reveals the accessories box right away. This packaging layout can dampen the force and prevent damage phone during shipment – which is certainly a smart move. Underneath the accessories box, is where the Galaxy Note9 is found.
Under the phone we can find the whole slew of accessories that Samsung has bundled with their Galaxy smartphones for quite some time.
Here we can find the Adaptive Fast Charging charger, the OTG converter, a microUSB to USB-C converter, the USB-C cable itself, a few sizes of eartips for the included AKG-tuned earphones, and also the tool to swap the S Pen’s tip if it gets worn out.
Digging everything out of the accessories box, we also find the SIM ejector tool, a quick start guide, and an included high-quality TPU case.
In terms of accessories, Samsung has included everything you need even – and more.
In terms of the design, the Galaxy Note9 has the same overall look and shape of last year’s Galaxy Note8 that we reviewed here. However, the Galaxy Note9 is a teeny bit bigger than its predecessor.
Despite having a similar design, the Note9 is a prime example of the idiom “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” – because the Note8’s design is actually working pretty well. Though, a few tweaks were needed – and Samsung implemented those tweaks on the Note9.
We complained that the fingerprint scanner location on its predecessor, and Samsung has moved it beneath the dual-cameras this time around.
While on the subject of the cameras, it’s worth noting that Samsung is not jumping ship to Apple’s vertically-stacked dual-camera system at the corner. Props to Samsung for that. Also, the camera is nearly flushed with the phone itself. No protrusion here.
As the Galaxy Note9 that we have here is in the new copper color, it has a matching S Pen that is in copper color as well.
When compared to its predecessor, the new S Pen in the Galaxy Note9 look identical – and even the size is the same. Of course, the main difference here is in the technology inside.
The included TPU case is made out of high-quality TPU and it’s thick. It also has the little dots inside that prevents direct contact between the case and the back glass to prevent scratches.
[nextpage title=”Connectivity and ports”]
The brand new Galaxy Note9 comes the the latest and greatest connectivity for sure. It supports up to 802.11ac WiFi obviously. Like its predecessors, it has Bluetooth 5.0 and comes with the Dual Audio feature. Let’s not forget that the Galaxy Note9 has NFC and Samsung Pay as well.
As for the card tray, it is once again placed at the top left corner and it has Nano SIM 1 + hybrid card slot. Nothing too fancy here – but I really hoped that Samsung would have dedicated slots for each card since they’re going for larger battery now.
The Galaxy Note9 still has the dedicated Bixby and volume rocket at the left side and the lonesome power button on the right.
There’s nothing at the top other than the card tray and another microphone.
At the bottom is where we can find the 3.5mm audio jack, the USB-C port, microphone, the loudspeaker, and also the S Pen.
I’m really glad that Samsung still retained the 3.5mm audio jack and still have the Galaxy Note9 rated for IP68. This is the type of premium engineering I come to expect and love from Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones.
The loudspeakers (yes, plural) on the Galaxy Note9 are pretty good. The bottom-firing speaker works together with the that earpiece which doubles as a speaker, hence creating a stereo-like audio experience.
There’s one thing that Samsung highlighted during the presentation – the Galaxy Note9’s screen is the “largest ever on a Note”. And that’s true – but not by a lot. The new Galaxy Note9 is only 0.1-inch larger than its predecessor.
The Samsung Galaxy Note9 has a 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display with 18.5:9 aspect ratio with the resolution of 2960×1440. As usual, you can scale the resolution down to 2220×1080 to save some battery and gain higher scores in graphical performance.
Just like the Note8, the new Galaxy Note9’s display is HDR10 compliant and since it is using a Super AMOLED display, there’s always-on display feature too. Once again, always-on display is only going to be feasible for OLED-based displays since the black parts of the screen are actually turned off, thus prolonging battery life.
How about the new Galaxy Note9’s cameras? Honestly, in terms of specs, Samsung didn’t change much for the Note9. Compared to its predecessor, only the main rear-camera module’s sensor size was increased by 0.05-inch and added the variable aperture.
- Rear-facing cameras
- 12MP 1/2.55-inch sensor with 26mm f/1.5-2.4 aperture lens; has PDAF and OIS
- 12MP 1/3.6-inch sensor with 52mm (2x zoom) f/2.4 aperture lens; has autofocus and OIS
- Selfie camera
- 8MP 1/3.6-inch sensor with 25mm f/1.7 aperture lens; has autofocus
It’s worth noting that the Galaxy Note9 is actually having the exact same cameras as the Galaxy S9+. And yes, we expect the same quality of pictures. We even brought it the Note9 for our trip to Taipei and it performed admirably well. Check out the full gallery of pictures here.
Samsung’s Galaxy S and Note series are also two out of many smartphones that has autofocus for selfie cameras. Not even the rival companies with “selfie-focused smartphones” have autofocus selfie cameras.
Rear-facing camera pictures
Firstly, there’s a new “scene optimizer” feature. It detects whatever “scene” the camera is trying to take a picture of, then does the enhancements accordingly. You can actually turn it off manually. Since Samsung switched it on by default, we took all of these pictures in full auto mode with the scene optimizer turned on.
First off, some flowers and grass. They look a bit saturated for my taste, but overall still looks realistic enough.
Second scene detected – pets – or animals. Not sure what’s the enhancement here, but presumably the shutter speed is faster to prevent motion blurring. You know, animals can move unpredictably and cause your photos to be blurred out.
We checked the EXIF data – and it indeed has higher ISO and faster shutter.
Third mode – greenery. Pretty self-explanatory and I presume it makes the greens greener. However, I encountered an issue with the white balance initially where the picture appeared blue instead of green.
Then I’m not sure what’s this detected as. Still looks absolutely amazing.
The pictures always appeared sharp and with lots of details in it. Nothing short of magnificent, to be honest. With the 2x zoom, the Samsung Galaxy Note9 can still take pictures with high amounts of details and nice colors. It’s just a fantastic phone to have.
Even in low-light condition, it’s great in 1x or 2x zoom. I actually hijacked someone’s low-light photography test box for these two shots.
… and 2x zoom. Look at the uneven surface on the 3D model.
Selfie camera pictures
As for selfies – like I said, the Galaxy S and Note series remains to be one of the few smartphones in the market that has a selfie camera with autofocus. The selfie photos that it takes are sharp and it looks absolutely fantastic. You can zoom in and have a look at my eyebrows, by the way.
Colors and details captured by the selfie camera is just fantastic. Coupled with the S Pen that functions as remote shutter, the only thing that Samsung has to include in the next Note smartphone is a stand. Then it’ll be a perfect phone for photography.
It’s actually the same as the Galaxy S9 and S9+. Nothing has changed and it’s a direct copy paste – and that’s fine. Samsung’s camera UI is great because they want the experience to be “point and shoot and get perfect shots”. Samsung did this very well.
For the full camera UI experience, check out our Galaxy S9 review here.
Other camera features
I like how Samsung calls things as it is. Scene optimizers. It’s not AI since the software doesn’t self-learn or self-improve. What these “enhancers” really do is that they detect a scene, guess what scene it is, and applies the appropriate enhancement for that particular detected scene.
The new scene optimization feature on the Note9 can be turned on or off – and it’s fairly easy to access the menu as well.
The Galaxy Note9 can now detect 20 scenes as of the time of this review is published. We expect the list to grow, but will definitely take time.
There will be a small little icon at the side of the shutter button whenever a known scene is detected.
[nextpage title=”Software – Samsung Experience 9.5; New S Pen; Dockless DeX”]
For the software part of the Galaxy Note9, most of it are actually identical to the Galaxy S9. It’s using the latest Samsung Experience 9.5 but obviously with the new S Pen features built into it.
We still find the Edge Panel and Edge Lighting feature in the Galaxy Note9 as well – but that’s not the main highlight of this new smartphone.
The new Bluetooth-connected S Pen
The main difference here is gotta be the S Pen itself. Like we’ve stated before, the overall look, feel, and size of the new S Pen is the same as before – but it’s the new Bluetooth connection with the S Pen that makes all the difference.
Having a stylus that’s connected via Bluetooth low-energy, or Bluetooth LE for short, might not sound impressive – but trust me, it changes the way I do things – especially photography. It can function as a remote shutter despite how shaky and unstable the tripods I used are. Yes – I have multiple tripods to cater different dilemmas.
During the launch, Samsung also showed off the new S Pen being used as a presentation slide controller. That actually is a brilliant idea. But for that to work and adopted by Galaxy Note9 users, Samsung has needs to make their desktop experience, or DeX, more accessible and feasible.
As a Samsung Galaxy S9 user myself, the one thing that blocks me from using Samsung DeX is the requirement of a dedicated DeX dock. That dock itself is not cheap. There are uncertified 3rd party DeX docks and searching for a compatible one is difficult.
Enter Samsung’s brilliant solution to increase the DeX adoption rate – being dockless. Well, you can still use the dock – but Samsung has enabled DeX to work by simply plugging a USB-C to HDMI dongle to your Galaxy Note9, and it works right away!
For us to put this to the test, we used the Pioneer USB-C PD Dock that we reviewed here. When we reviewed that dock, we plugged it into the Galaxy S9 and it actually mirrored the the phone to the large screen via MHL.
With much anticipation and nervousness, we plugged in Galaxy Note9 into the Pioneer USB-C PD Dock – and WOW it worked instantly!
That means Samsung has enabled DeX on the Galaxy Note9 to work even with MHL! Of course, we do get some notifications saying that “you should get the original DeX dock”.
Since a dock like the Pioneer USB-C PD Dock works with the Samsung Galaxy Note9’s DeX, that means you can literally go out and get any cheapo MacBook Pro USB-C dongles that has HDMI port and it’ll work flawlessly.
For the dock that we tested with, we can actually play games on the Galaxy Note9 using an external keyboard and mouse while charging the phone at the same time – much like what the upcoming ROG Phone is able to do. Speaking of gaming, let’s take a look at the performance of the Galaxy Note9.
[nextpage title=”Performance and gaming”]
The brand new Samsung Galaxy Note9 uses the same chip that is found in the Galaxy S9. To be honest, it’s a powerful chip but the Galaxy Note9 has something special.
Introducing the water-carbon cooling system and Smart Performance Adjuster. Essentially, from the looks of it, the water-carbon cooling system seems to be a thick heatpipe with what I assume to be liquid inside. Similar to vapor chambers in PC’s CPU coolers. It can pull the heat energy away from the SoC itself – but it still needs dissipate the heat energy elsewhere. The back glass piece wouldn’t help – and how the heat energy is expelled remains to be a mystery.
As for the Smart Performance Adjuster, I also presume that it is just a fancy way of calling it thermal throttling to avoid overheating like the Honor Play. It could also be some sort of adaptive performance limiter to prevent wasted performance.
Here’s the list of specs that the Galaxy Note9 has:
- 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display with 2960×1440 pixels
- Exynos 9810 Octa
- Octa-core processor with 4x 2.7GHz Exynos M3 + 4x 1.8GHz Cortex-A55
- Mali-G72 MP18 graphics processor with 18 cores
- 6GB LPDDR4X RAM
- 128GB UFS 2.1 storage
- 4,000mAh battery with Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging
- Android 8.1.0 with Samsung Experience 9.5
As for benchmarks, let’s take a look at what the Galaxy Note9 has to offer.
One test in particular stood out for me – and that’s Purple Room test in VRMark. It’s a looped VR test to know if the phone can sustain high frame rates over a period of time.
With the help of the new water-carbon cooling, the Galaxy Note9 passed that Purple Room test in VRMark, but the Galaxy Note8 and Galaxy S9 failed.
Gaming on the Galaxy Note9
Mobile gaming is a huge deal these days. Samsung even partnered with Epic Games to bring you Fortnite on Android – exclusively on certain Samsung Galaxy smartphones and Tab tablets for now.
Honestly speaking, the Galaxy Note9 has zero issues at whatever games I throw at it. Honkai Impact 3, Asphalt 9, Fortnite – it handled every game smoothly at the highest graphical settings while running at 2960×1440 pixels in resolution.
I even played Asphalt 9 at the resolution of 2960×1440 pixels while recording a gameplay footage at 1080p with the highest available bitrate – yet my gameplay is still smooth. Take a look at that gameplay here.
Perhaps you should take a look at our review’s Software section. DeX might be an interesting tool for mobile gamers.
There’s no surprise that the Galaxy Note9 can handle all the tasks and games – but I worry the most is the battery life – which we will talk about in the next section.
[nextpage title=”Battery and charger”]
The one big teaser that Samsung did is on the battery life of the Galaxy Note9. Samsung touted “all day battery”. That’s a bold claim. With the Galaxy Note9’s 4,000mAh battery, it is the biggest one yet in the Note series.
While that’s impressive and all, how well does it score in our battery test? We repeated the test twice – one with 2220×1080 pixels in resolution, and another at the resolution of 2960×1440 pixels.
Now that’s an impressive battery life! While running at full 2960×1440 pixels in resolution, the Galaxy Note9 can last a little shy of 12 hours of screen on time while running the battery life test. For the test in 2220×1080 pixels in resolution, the Galaxy Note9 can nearly another hour longer.
I also played Asphalt 9 at the resolution of 2960×1440 pixels in resolution at the highest settings. I also recorded some gameplay footages at the same time while connected to WiFi. With 30 minutes of gameplay, I drained 9% of battery – from 97% to 88%.
That’s truly impressive.
While it’s somewhat of a stretch – the water-carbon cooling could prolong the battery life by pulling heat away from the components. We talked about how a cooler battery can help in prolonging battery life here.
During our trip to Taipei, we brought only the Galaxy Note9 with us – and the battery actually fared out really well in intensive use. Click here for the full story.
As for the charger, I think this will eventually be a problem for Samsung Galaxy series of smartphones. As the Galaxy Note9 paves the path to high capacity batteries for Samsung, the Adaptive Fast Charging is starting to face its limitation.
Here’s what I mean.
It takes quite a long time to charge despite having a 9V 1.67A pumped into the phone. To reach 50% battery, it took 33 minutes. To reach 75% of battery, it took a total of 55 minutes. Though, do take note that the Galaxy Note9 is using a 4,000mAh battery – hence 1% means 40mAh. That’s a lot of juice!
I actually think the current Adaptive Fast Charging is still okay. Samsung is in this catch-22 now, actually. Larger batteries will obviously take a longer time to charge, but lasts way longer with that one full charge – and vice versa.
Personally, I’ll take a large battery that lasts me two days with a single charge, please.
[nextpage title=”Wrapping up the Samsung Galaxy Note9 review”]
I think the Note9 is a great incremental upgrade. Samsung acknowledged customers’ complaints about the Note8 and improved it for the Note9. The new S Pen is fantastic. The new DeX is more accessible and feasible in day-to-day use.
This is how a manufacturer should do incremental upgrades. Though the changes might seem small, but these small differences make a huge difference – especially in daily usages.
The 3 changes that impacted the most are the larger battery, new S Pen that is connected via Bluetooth LE, and the “dockless” DeX. With these combined, I don’t see why students will need to take their laptops to lecture halls do to their presentations. Just plug in your Note9 via a simple dongle and control your presentation slides via the S Pen.
For the price of RM3,699 for the 6GB RAM + 128GB storage variant, it’s a great buy. The Note9 is great for mobile gamer, photographers, and even students or anyone who wants to use a smartphone as a laptop replacement.
And the new copper color just looks classy. 😉