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Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review: Everything you need in one phone
Galaxy Note 9 is available in 128GB and 512GB variants at Rs. 67,900 and Rs. 84,900 respectively.
The 9th generation Galaxy Note 9 is now available in the Indian market. The big and powerful Galaxy Note phablet will sell in two variants; entry-level Note 9 with 128GB built-in storage at Rs. 64,990 and the mighty 512GB built-in storage variant at a hefty price-point of Rs. 84,990. If you are spending such a hefty amount on a phone, the chances are very rare that you would like to make any negotiations in term of features and performance.
- Brilliant display for videos, games, and reading
- Takes care of basics- Massive expandable storage option and 3.5mm headphone jack
- Water-resistant design
- S Pen is now better, smarter and lets you do a lot more
- Good audio performance and best-in-class voice recording output
- Powerful enough to play any game in Google Play store
- Massive and bulky, not fit for one-hand use
- Fingerprint scanner is still inconveniently placed
- Camera struggles in extreme low-light situations
- High price
- Bixby button cannot be remapped
Fortunately, Galaxy Note 9 is a phone that asks for very little compromises in the days when other smartphone manufacturers are forcing you to ditch one or the other important features at the cost of innovation.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 packs in all the latest features without skipping on basics that every smartphone user is fond of using in everyday routine. I am talking about standard mobile features such as a 3.5mm headphone jack, microSD card slot, water-dust resistance, and a long-lasting battery backup. Honestly, I don't care if my handset can create some really cool looking Animojis and AR effects. If it delivers on performance without sacrificing on above-mentioned feature sets, I am through with it.
Having said that, Galaxy Note 9 also sports a brilliant display, flagship processor, capable camera setup and a very durable and premium design. The improvements as compared to last year's Galaxy Note 8 come in the form of a bigger battery, oodles of storage, intelligent S Pen and better overall camera output.
The new Note 9 is also more colorful and packs in so many useful software features that can overwhelm anyone as a smartphone user. You might not even use all of them in your everyday routine but it's always better to have them in your device. This brings us to the question, how's the performance in real life? I am using the Galaxy Note 9 since last two weeks and here's what I have experienced as an end-user.
Unapologetically big and bulky
Samsung Galaxy Note devices are supposed to be big and bulky. It is a well-accepted fact and anyone who is fond of compact mobile phones that can be used with one hand, should not invest in any of the Galaxy Note series phablets. The latest Galaxy Note 9 is no different and is actually the biggest Note phablet ever came out from the house of Samsung. It looks and feels like the last year's Note 8 but is a tad wider, thicker and heavier, thanks to the bigger battery cell, stereo speakers and other newly added components. If you are prepared for a big and bulky device, Note 9's design shouldn't be a problem. It is a phablet best used with both hands while clicking pictures, writing messages and jotting down notes.
As far as aesthetics are concerned, the curved glass (Corning Gorilla glass 5) on both the front and back seamlessly merges into the metal frame. It gives the phablet a seamless look, maintains durability and also helps in ease of use to a good extent. The front is occupied by a gigantic and Samsung's biggest AMOLED display to date. The chin at the bottom is slimmer as compared to the last year's Note 8. The top bezel holds the important sensors, front-facing camera and an earpiece that also doubles up as a speaker unit.
The right side houses a power button whereas the volume rockers alongside Bixby button is placed on the left edge. The hardware Bixby button cannot be remapped to perform any other function, which is a letdown. The hybrid SIM card tray is placed at the top and other important connectivity components such as 3.5mm headphone jack, Type-C USB port, microphone, a speaker unit, and S Pen's slot are positioned at the bottom.
Fingerprint scanner placement is still an issue
I have made peace with the fact that Samsung phablets are not the most ideal devices in the market to use your fingers as biometric security medium. The biometric scanner's placement on the new Note 9 (just like the last year's Note 8) is just not convenient for my liking even though I have pretty big hands. Unlocking the phone via rear-mounted fingerprint scanner is a cumbersome process and is not something I want to repeat every minute. You can block the camera sensor very often and it is better you try out other methods to unlock the phablet. I tried 'face and iris' unlocking which offers slightly better security than face unlocking alone; however, it's a millisecond slower in processing and is not always 100% functional in challenging light conditions. Resultant, I shifted back to the inconveniently placed fingerprint scanner for unlocking the device as it still comes out as the fastest medium to unlock the Galaxy Note 9.
6.4-inch Super AMOLED display is full of life
The new Note 9 sports the Samsung's biggest ever AMOLED panel. The screen measures 6.4-inches diagonally and comes in 18.5:9 aspect ratio format. The first thing you will notice is the no-notch form factor that looks and feels refreshing in the days when every other smartphone looks the same when seen from the front. The display has a QuadHD+ resolution churning out some best-in-class numbers- 1,440 x 2,960px and 516ppi.
Samsung's AMOLED screens are brilliant for gaming, video playback, reading and everything else you plan to do with a big-screen device. The sunlight visibility is good and the content is easily visible outdoors. I mostly kept the screen on ‘Adaptive display' mode as it automatically optimizes the color reproduction, saturation, and sharpness according to the surroundings and content played.
Immersive gaming and video playback experience
Galaxy Note 9 can be the best smartphone in the market for video playback and gaming if you like big-screen devices. If you prefer compact handsets with similar display output, you can go for LG G7+ ThinQ, which is priced at Rs. 39,990 and is also an excellent mobile phone for multimedia tasks. The AMOLED screen on Note 9 comes with HDR 10 support and is very vibrant. The colors are produced beautifully and viewing angles are also very good. Combined with the stereo speakers that throw loud and clear audio, the smartphone is simply a delight for multimedia usage. If you spend a good amount of time on watching videos on YouTube, Netflix, etc. and playing the most graphically intensive games, look no further than the Galaxy Note 9.
Galaxy S9+ camera hardware with some notable refinements
The camera is undoubtedly the most important feature for me in a smartphone as most of my time is spent on clicking pictures, shooting videos and just evaluating the camera features in every possible scenario. I have tested the camera setup on Note 9 to limits and I can say that it is one-of-the best camera on a smartphone in today's time. Compared to last year's Galaxy Note 8, the dual-lens rear camera on the new Note phablet is a huge step up. It is the same camera hardware that was spotted on Galaxy S9+; however, Samsung has optimized the software and added some new useful features. As a result, the dual-camera better understands the light and captures stunning images in almost every situation.
The camera uses two 12MP sensors. One of the two 12MP sensors is a wide angle lens and the other is a telephoto lens with 2x optical zoom. The camera setup uses dual-aperture technology that automatically lets in more light when it's dark and less light when it's too bright. In daylight, the camera works at F/2.4 aperture settings and as it gets dark; the setup switches to brighter F/1.5 for well-lit images. The camera setup is equipped with dual OIS to maintain sharpness even when you are not taking images in ideal conditions. Samsung has also modified the camera software on the new Note 9 to deliver even better images than the Galaxy S9+. I know that's a lot of camera tech to digest and that's why I will now head straight to the picture output.
Excellent camera output in daylight
When it comes to real-world performance, Galaxy Note 9 will rarely disappoint you. The phablet is able to deliver impressive results in ideal and even in challenging light conditions. There's a lot of dynamic range to see (thanks to auto HDR) in shots captured on a sunny day. Images show punchy colors and just the right amount of sharpness. The camera software is very well optimized and the overall image output is crisp and pleasing to the eyes. Check out the above camera sample for better understanding. You would be able to see natural colors, an abundance of details and just the right amount of contrast levels.
Portrait image output
The Live focus mode has improved a lot since it first came out in previous generation flagship Galaxy devices. The mode on Note 9 is snappier and is able to deliver some of the best portraits captured on a smartphone. Be it a human subject or a non-human, the camera hardware is capable to differentiate the subject from the background to create a realistic bokeh effect. For instance, check out the above image in which the camera has kept the subject at center in focus and has pleasingly blurred out the foreground and background to create the desired effect.
The only problem with the Live Focus mode on Galaxy Note 9 and even with all previous generation Galaxy S and Note devices is the fact the telephoto lens needs a good amount of light to create effective results. The portrait images show noise and look dull in the low-light situation. I think Samsung can improve the performance by tweaking the hardware and software, which is why I have my fingers crossed for the upcoming Galaxy S10. I want to see some drastic changes in the way telephoto lens work on the Galaxy S10. Let's wait and watch if Samsung can deliver on it or not.
Low-light and extreme low-light performance
I was really eager to test the low-light and extreme low-light camera performance on Galaxy Note 9. Luckily, I also happen to have LG G7+ ThinQ with me at the same time. During a recent trip to the hills, I used both the phones at side-by-side to test the camera performance in challenging lighting and the results were pretty fascinating. Interestingly, the dual-pixel camera on Galaxy Note 9 is better when you are taking shots in low-light in Auto mode. The camera app also has a pretty capable Pro mode that allows you to tweak almost everything you want as an experienced photographer. I found that Galaxy Note 9 can deliver better results when there's low-light or if you are shooting a light source in extremely dark environments with Auto mode enabled. However, if you enable Pro mode for extreme low-light situations, the camera fails to meet expectations. LG G7+ ThinQ is the complete opposite.
It will offer noisy and unappealing shots in low-light; however, the handset performs far better in extreme low-light with Pro mode enabled. LG's flagship handset offered better pictures in extreme low-light situations keeping the frame, and other important elements constant. The images shot through Galaxy Note 9 came out soft and lacked details. The results were also a bit on the warmer side and demanded extreme care of the white balance. For most of the users, the camera's auto mode will suffice in low-light situations. It keeps noise in control, and bring out a lot of details even when there's very little light to enter the camera setup.
Smart Scene Optimizer is a value addition
To further improve the camera performance on Galaxy Note 9, Samsung has added a smart ‘Scene Optimizer'. The program scans the elements of a photo, such as a scene and subject and modifies the camera settings to deliver the best possible image output. The optimizer can recognize 20 types of scenes. It amplifies the colors, contrast levels and other elements in a scene to deliver pleasing results to the eyes. As far as video quality is concerned, Galaxy Note 9 is a good device to shoot videos. You can shoot 4K videos (60fps), super slow-motion at 960 fps, time-lapse, regular slow-motion, 1080p at 60fps, 720p, etc. The output is crisp but Samsung needs to work on the stabilization as the video output is mostly shaky even with stabilization enabled at UHD and 1080p at 60fps.
New S Pen is smart and fun to use
The all-new S Pen indeed sets Galaxy Note 9 apart from all other flagship smartphones. It now supports Bluetooth connectivity that makes it smarter from previous generation S Pens. For instance, you can use the S Pen to capture images and perform other useful tasks without touching the Note 9. S Pen settings allow you to customize the stylus for actions effective in apps such as Gallery, Media, Chrome, Powerpoint, and even Snapchat. For instance, single press the button to take a picture and double press it to switch between the front and rear camera. If enabled for PPTs, a single press will change the slide and double press will take you to the previous slide. I used the new S pen to capture pictures while the phone was fixed on a tripod. The feature comes handy if you cannot find anyone around you to capture a family/group picture. These extended functions are very useful only if you intend to use them in everyday routine.
S Pen is a great tool to create digital notes
I mostly used the S Pen for jotting down notes, which is extremely useful in my daily routine and it works wonderfully on new S Pen. And while the Screen off memo is a wonderful feature to have on a phablet, I believe it can use some improvements. For instance, if you are in the middle of jotting down an important note in screen-off mode, an incoming call can prove havoc. The incoming call sends the screen-off note in the S note library and the phablet does not allow you to continue the same note in screen-off mode. You have to open it from the S note app to make changes or additions in regular screen-on mode. I couldn't find a way to edit the same note again in the screen-off mode. The best you can do is to pin the screen-off mode on Always-on-screen and double tap the display to start editing it. However, it still does not solve the incoming call issue.
Hardware and Software performance
The new breed of Samsung devices (Galaxy S9/S9+, Note 8 and now Note 9) are snappy and very responsive. Thanks to Samsung Experience version 9.5 on top of Android 8.1.0 Oreo, there's hardly any instance when I was stuck on a screen while executing any task on the new Galaxy Note 9. As it goes with Samsung's phones, the Note 9 is backed by Exynos 9810 processor instead of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 chipset. The Exynos 9810 is also paired with an integrated Mali-G72 MP18 GPU for graphical related tasks.
The phablet did not stutter and maintained an optimal temperature even while running the most graphically intensive games like Fortnite and Asphalt 9. Samsung has equipped the new Note 9 with a water-carbon cooling system that helps prevent overheating. I guess it is working just fine to ensure smooth performance during number crunching tasks. The Galaxy Note 9 is also fitted with an AI-based performance adjuster that as per Samsung ensures smooth gameplay and lag-free overall performance. I don't want to go deep how it works; however, it ensures that Galaxy Note 9 is always there for you when you want to edit a video, play a game or stream a video in highest resolution that the handset's display can support.
Snappy and feature-rich Samsung Experience UI- version 9.5
Samsung's new UI is not like the old and laggy TouchWiz. It is fast and full of useful features that enhance your mobile user experience on a big-screen phablet. Some of my favorite software features from Galaxy Note 9 includes Edge panels, Always-on-screen, Multi-window, pop-up view action, fingerprint scanner gestures, etc. The device maintenance is also another useful tool which offers extensive measures to keep the overall device's health in a good shape. You can examine battery, storage, memory and security from one single app.
Bixby Home is expanding its reach and can now access a number of apps that you use in the everyday routine. It was able to offer some good suggestions in various everyday tasks such as news, music, food, travel etc.; however, I don't find any good reason to switch to Bixby Home from Google Assistant. I want to give Bixby Home some more time before I make a final judgment on its performance.
Storage that trumps even premium notebooks
The kind of storage and battery life Galaxy Note 9 brings to the table makes it the first phablet in the series that actually makes sense for power users. I am using the entry-level variant that offers 128GB inbuilt memory and is priced at Rs. 67,900. Combined with a 256GB microSD card, the amount of storage I have got in my phone is way more than what I need in everyday routine. With Galaxy Note 9, I am not forced to delete important apps but willingly downloading the apps that I don't intend to use in daily routine. You can store movies, heaviest games available on the Google Play store, music, uncountable high-resolution images, and even 4K videos shot from the phone and still there will be ample space for smooth operations. The maximum you can touch is 1TB if you go for the higher variant which offers 512GB built-in memory and can take in another 512GB via microSD card. That's more than what I have in my PC. It's crazy and that what users demand from flagship devices if they are paying a hefty amount.
Long-lasting battery life
As far as battery is concerned, Galaxy Note 9 can easily last for a day and even more with moderate usage. If it can survive till late evening with my kind of usage, it can definitely touch a 24-hour mark with one single charge in normal use cases. The phablet takes around 1 hr 52 minutes to get fully charged and the 4,000 mAh battery is safe and long-lasting. There are two very important issues that Samsung has addressed wonderfully with the new Note 9.
Flagship smartphone in 2018 with a 3.5mm headphone jack
For connectivity, you get to use everything that is expected from a flagship smartphone in the year 2018. And when I say ‘From a flagship smartphone in the year 2018' I don't mean lack of 3.5mm headphone jack. Samsung is still ensuring a comfortable mobile user-experience by not ditching one of the most important connectivity features in a smartphone. Galaxy Note 9 has a 3.5mm headphone jack, a bigger battery unit, and even stereo speakers. So if a manufacturer says that we removed the audio jack to increase the battery power or to add some other components, they haven't used the Galaxy Note 9. Other than this, Galaxy Note 9 offers Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, USB Type-C (v3.1), GPS, GLONASS, NFC; Bluetooth 5.0 and wireless charging.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is the company's best smartphone to date. It has everything that Samsung is proud of and has developed in the last few years, right from the days of very first Galaxy smartphone. Samsung has created a perfect hybrid by combining the best of Galaxy S9+ and Galaxy Note 8 features. The company has also added some noteworthy improvements in the form of a smarter S Pen, bigger battery, better storage and one-of-the best rear camera setup in the market to make Note 9 a complete phone for power users who want everything good (if not perfect) in one single smartphone.
However; I am afraid that Note 9 will not come out as an entirely new product to users who already own a Galaxy Note 8 or Galaxy S9+. They can wait for the upcoming Galaxy S10 and Note 10, which I believe will offer some massive upgrades. But if you are a loyal user of Galaxy Note series and upgrade to every new generation, rest assured that you will not be disappointed with the Note 9. Everything on the new Note phablet feels better, faster and more intelligent than the previous Galaxy Note 8. This phablet is fast, clicks stunning pictures, plays videos and most demanding games on a beautiful and big AMOLED screen, lets you expand storage like crazy, lasts a day and can even survive water and dust. There's hardly any other flagship smartphone in the market that addresses all such requirements.
Summing up all, Galaxy Note 9 is a flagship phablet that delivers on performance, features and also takes extreme care of basics, which is something very hard to find in one device.