Like clockwork, Samsung releases its Galaxy Note 9 to push the envelope of the whole Galaxy Series 9 for the remainder of 2018. The Galaxy Note continues to be the company’s technologically leading smartphone with an emphasis on things that require more power and battery: productivity, creativity, multimedia and even games/VR.
Months of build-up led to the August 9 launch
The rumors were true, and if you have followed Ubergizmo over the past few weeks, there should be little surprises left, but plenty of confirmations which are good news. In October 2017, Samsung had confirmed that it wanted to improve this year’s S-Pen and most reports already dismissed the in-screen fingerprint sensor. In March, the battery size was rumored to be higher, but it is only in April that we got the correct number of 4000 mAh.
In Late May, performance numbers were spotted on the Exynos version of the handset (in select countries outside the USA) and in the same week, we learned about the 512GB storage / 8GB RAM version and the exact August 9 launch date. In the first week of June, accurate renderings of the new Note 9 design. Earlier this month, the official intro video made its way to the public and finally we learned that Fortnite would be an exclusive Samsung Galaxy game, although we didn’t know that it would only be for a few days.
The Galaxy Note 9 may leverage a lot of the work done on the Galaxy S9 and S9+, but it brings its flavor and innovations. Here are the essential things that we think you should take away if you read nothing else. The Galaxy Note 9 is a superset of the Galaxy S9+, with these key additions:
- 6.4” WQHD display makes the Note 9 a leading “large-display” phone
- 4000 mAh battery reconnects the Note Series with a tradition of pushing for higher capacity
- Up to 512GB storage and a microSD slot could make the Note 9 the first Terabyte smartphone as memory card increase in size this year
- The Note 9 camera introduces Samsung’s new flagship AI Camera
- The S-Pen gets remote control capabilities with Bluetooth LE
- Note 9 no longer needs a dock for a desktop experience powered by Samsung Dex
Price and availability
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 will be available in two colors Ocean Blue and Lavender Purple, in carrier and unlocked versions. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless and Xfinity will carry the 128GB Galaxy Note 9 in stores and online starting from August 24, 2018 for $999.99. The device will also be available at Amazon, Best Buy, Costco, Sam’s Club, Straight Talk Wireless, Target, Walmart, and Samsung.com.
The 512GB Galaxy Note 9 will be available at select retail locations and online at AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, U.S. Cellular and Samsung.com starting August 24, 2018 for $1,249.99.
Perhaps, we can start with what’s most visible. The design of the Galaxy Note 9 is derived from its Note 8 predecessor. The camera and fingerprint sensor have moved to a more convenient
position since last time, but the overall look and feel is close enough and very distinguishable. Samsung introduced ultra-slim bezels to smartphones and does not need a “notch” to reach very high Display to Body ratios. You can decide for yourself, but we think that this new Galaxy Note smartphone is a beautiful 6.4-inch smartphone, no notch required."A BEAUTIFUL 6.4-INCH SMARTPHONE, NO NOTCH REQUIRED"
With a width of 76.4mm (3.01 inches) and a thickness of 8.8mm (0.35 inches), the smartphone feels a bit wide in hand. We use U.S M-size gloves for male hand-size reference, so this will vary from person to person.
The device weighs 201 grams (7.09 oz), and we would consider that weight to be pretty heavy. This industrial design features excellent performance in relation to its size. From another angle, the amount of battery capacity the buyer gets is excellent for a device of this size. The screen display-to-body ratio of 84.0% is also excellent in absolute terms.
The Galaxy Note 9 smartphone has an IP68 IP rating, which means that it is protected to some degree from dust and/or water. Here’s what the IP68 rating means: “Dust-tight, no dust can penetrate. Up to 3-meter immersion waterproofing”. In some cases, waterproofing means that “some” water can penetrate, but without harming the device
Since the design is made of glass in the front and back, the handset has a high premium feel. However be careful because glass is prone to shattering upon impact with a hard surface. Samsung has reduced the amount of glass on the edges, which makes the phone slightly more durable than the Galaxy S8 series, but you might want to consider getting a case.
Display size matters particularly when using a Pen, that’s why the display size keeps growing as Samsung can increase the surface area, without impacting the rest of the chassis too much. There are flavors of Pen-enabled mid-range phones that solely focus on diagonal size, but the Note’s mix of display and pen quality make it the definitive leader in its category.
Unsurprisingly, the Galaxy Note 9 display has received the highest praises from third party display experts such as Display Mate, and you can read their complete report which is uber-geeky. Their bottom-line is that the Note 9 breaks every record in their scale for display quality, and the data seems completely believable.
The display is capable of reproducing an extremely large gamut of colors, and can do it accurately and predictably (especially in “photo mode”). That contributes to better image quality, and therefore a better user experience in general, but particularly when looking at images or HD video."DISPLAY: THE DEFINITIVE LEADER IN ITS CATEGORY"
The Galaxy Note 9 features a Super AMOLED display. OLED is a completely different display technology (than LCD) that has been widely seen in phones mainly thanks to Samsung. The basic difference between OLED and LCD displays is how light is emitted.
With LCD, there is a small number of white light emitters (1-2 for handsets, 2-100 for TVs) and black pixels are created by “blocking” the white light with a filter. Unfortunately, using a filter leads to “light bleeding” and “black color” that is in fact, dark-gray.
With OLED, every pixel emits its own light. This also means that creating a black pixel means leaving it OFF. As a result, black color is black, and other colors are more straightforward to control without using complex filters and color control technologies such as Quantum Dots and Nano Dots. You can read our complete LCD vs. OLED article which goes deeper into the details.
The resolution of 2960×1440 would be considered to be very high in absolute terms. In the $800+ segment, it is no uncommon to see OLED at WQHD resolutions with pixel density above 500. However, many competitors still use LCD or densities around 400 PPI (P20 Pro, OnePlus 6).
The Note 9 has only ~3% more screen surface than last year’s Note 8, and but features 20.5% more than the iPhone X. It’s too early to know what kind of color-coverage this display is getting, but historically, the Note series had the very best displays Samsung could produce.
Galaxy Note 9 Cameras
The new Galaxy Note uses a camera system hardware which is virtually identical to the Galaxy S9+. This means that it is easily in the top 3 mobile cameras on the market, competing in various aspects with the Huawei P20 Pro and the Google Pixel 2 XL.
To give this camera an extra edge, Samsung has introduced the Scene Optimizer, which is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven camera app. The concept is not new, and it has also been introduced by competitors such as Huawei, and more recently LG.
The basic principle is similar, but there are slight variations from vendor to vendor. The common denominator is that an AI will find a dominant theme in the photo, and map it to a known “type of scene.” It could be “sunset,” “Animals,” “food,” “people” and other types of photos that have very specific styles and desired outcomes."SLIGHTLY IMPROVED CAMERA SOFTWARE OVER THE S9+, WITH AI FOR AN EXTRA KICK"
Once recognized, specific settings that have a higher probability to improve the photo outcome will be set in place. What is not common among vendors is how pronounced the processing is. So far, Samsung seems to have listened to the public’s initial AI camera feedback and made their AI image processing relatively mild — not overdoing it, even less so than LG did with the G7 ThinQ.
It is hard to predict which style customers will like the most, but eventually, we think that cameras will adapt to the tastes of their users. But for now, it’s not the case.
Flaws Detection is also a new software feature of the Camera. It works by analyzing photos and alerting the user if it detects issues such as people closing their eyes, dirty lens, out of focus photos, or other undesirable images.
If it works as proposed, it could be a nice tool because if you don’t use a preview (and most people don’t), it can be tricky to see any of these based on the thumbnail.
The Galaxy Note 9 performs extremely well in daylight photography. It offers a natural style of photos that does not over-process. In our estimation, some competitors increase the color saturation by approximately 30%. This is a matter of preferences, but this is often the default style that people like as it mostly reproduces what they see. If they want to they can add more effects later.
For very detailed scenes and in good lighting, higher megapixel cameras might have a small advantage with small details. However, in our Sony XPERIA XZ2, we found that noise could also be higher. It is not clear cut and Megapixel should never be automatically seen as higher quality.
In our tests, we found the Galaxy Note 9 software produced sightly better results than the S9+ and the Huawei P20. This is probably due to tweaks in the software, and although it is subtle, any improvements on the camera is greatly important given how much we use them. The details of the tree is well-preserved and the photo looks very much like how our eyes experienced it.
Bokeh or Portrait mode photos tries to blur the out of focus areas top make the subject “pop”. In our test, we often tweak the blur effect higher than usual to challenge the cameras and reveal weaknesses. The Galaxy Note 9 performs quite well, and offers agreeable photos with mostly, but not completely, bug-free edges.
Since the blur is performed by software, it is difficult for the Camera app to exactly distinguish the subject from the background. As such, you might sometimes see places that should be blurred but aren’t, or the opposite. To be fair, the Huawei P20 Pro had the exact same edges issue, which probably has to do with the resolution of the Bokeh depth map. However the P20 Pro’s blur quality is higher.
This is what everybody wants to know, and the good news is that despite using the same hardware as the Galaxy S9/S9+, we have noticed small improvements in color balance and image quality. In low-light, the Galaxy Note 9 is facing a fierce competition, with the Huawei P20 Pro, and to a lesser degree the Google Pixel 2 XL. After taking all three phones for a night photo-safari, the Pixel XL 2 was distanced by the Note 9 and P20 Pro, mainly when it comes to low-light sharpness. Take a look:
At first glance, the images look comparable, and there’s a passing vehicle that actually adds a little bit of highlights in the Pixel 2 XL photo, but if you look at this photo on a computer, you may already see the difference in sharpness. A crop makes things easier to observe:
The competition between the Galaxy Note 9 and the Huawei P20 Pro is much tighter, just look:
As you can see, it’s much less obvious and the Galaxy Note has slightly lower noise, and more importantly preserves color better since the street lights actually have a yellow tint which is lost on the Huawei P20 Pro.
I proceeded to a more challenging scene to push the limits of both cameras. I took the shot below, which has very high contrast, and small details at the same time. Again, these two cameras will pull ahead of the competition such as the OnePlus 6 etc… (S9/S9+ should be deemed close enough of Note ).
Both pictures look very good. and is more revealing of the different choices Samsung and Huawei made. The Samsung camera tries to preserve colors (the street lights have a yellow tint) and although it does make the photo a bit brighter than what your eyes perceive, it remains relatively natural."THE GALAXY NOTE 9 IS THE KING OF LOW-LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY"
The Huawei camera attempts to make the image as bright as it can, and you can spot some details in the trees and bushes that may not be visible in the Samsung photo. However, in the process, the photo looks more unnatural, and perhaps slightly over-exposed. Without the knowledge of what the scene looks like, people may prefer one or the other, and you will have to decide for yourself. Many people think that they can filter things later if needed. Others find the processing to be convenient. There is no right or wrong here.
Style aside, we looked at color and detail preservation, along with noise. From that point of view, we declare that the Galaxy Note 9 is the king of low-light photography this time (the S9/S9+ are close enough and behave similarly). Note that Huawei does have a 4-second exposure more that we have discussed in the Huawei P20 Pro Review. However, it is a special mode and makes the photo look even more unnatural. We find it awesome for artistic-style photos, but that is a bit different from straight low-light photography as most people understand it.
Technical analysis of the rear camera system
12 Megapixel has long been an excellent tradeoff between daylight and low light performance. On a sunny day, Megapixel count could be a good metric for photographic detail and sharpness. For example, a nature photo with a higher megapixel count could show finer details. Between 12 MP, 16 MP and 21 MP, differences in details can be noticeable, if printed or viewed on a large and/or high-PPI display.
In dark scenes situations, the high Megapixel count (>12) does not matter as much. Keep in mind that the physical size of each sensor pixel is critical. With higher megapixel counts, sensing pixels (sensels) may have to be smaller. Each obtains less light information, and in dark conditions, it is better for the overall photo quality to gather more light with fewer (but bigger) sensels than the opposite. It is a balance that needs to be struck.
OIS helps to achieve better image clarity and higher low-light performance by offsetting tiny hand-shaking motion. This is of particular importance in zoom situations.
OIS makes it possible to leave the shutter open longer to capture more light (more prolonged exposure). Optical and digital stabilization are absolutely different, with digital stabilization suitable to help video recording smoothness
This handset supports Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS), which is specifically designed to stabilize video recording from excess motion induced by hand-holding, walking, running. Road vibrations or drone flight turbulence could also be offset by this technique. EIS does NOT help with still photography and is not meant to replace OIS. Certain video formats such as extreme resolutions or frame-rates may not be compatible with this device EIS capabilities.
The auto-focus of the Galaxy Note 9 camera is based on Dual Pixel Phase Detection technology. Dual-Pixel AF sensing is an awesome type of Phase Detection hardware. It has all the Phase-Detect advantages in terms of speed and efficiency but has better auto-focus sampling points. This is made possible by splitting sensing pixel (sensels) into two small sub-pixels.
By comparing what they “see” from a slightly different point of view, it is possible to know if the image at that pixel is focused (in-phase) or not (out of phase). You can read our detailed Dual-Pixel AF article if you want to know more. Dual-Pixel AF is currently the best and fastest way to perform autofocus on handsets. It was originally integrated on certain high-end DSLR cameras.
The battery capacity of Galaxy Note 9 is 4000 mAh, which is awesome, even within in its category. Only the P20 Pro can match it. Another interesting fact is that the Note 9 is 4% larger than Note 8, but it has 17% more battery capacity.
Battery life is one of the most sought-after features of a smartphone. A key factor is undoubtedly the battery capacity — especially within the same ecosystem (Android, iOS or other). Battery life can be affected by a great many factors, but the main ones are the main processor aka SoC, display and wireless radios (LTE broadband, WiFi, the cell towers location and more).
It is not possible to accurately estimate through synthetic tests how much energy drain YOUR unique needs will generate. However, two things are surely always good:
- A larger battery capacity
- Faster charging
The S9+ didn’t particularly impress us with a charging speed of 42 mAh/mn, and neither does the 45 mAh/mn of the Galaxy Note 9, which is considered normal for high-end phones. Competitors can go as high as 62 mAh/mn (Huawei P20 Pro) or 67 mAh/mn (Oneplus 6) which is quite extraordinary.
It is generally not possible to predict real-world battery life by running synthetic benchmarks. Things such as display brightness, (LTE/WiFi) radio usage and distance to access points will change too much. Also, the number of apps installed and their usage is unpredictable. Battery capacity is the most important battery-life indicator for YOUR usage.
The Galaxy Note 9 has a very large battery, but if that’s the main thing you are looking for, keep in mind that you can get a lot of battery for your money with other models.
Wireless charging can be very handy, and the Galaxy Note 9 comes with an integrated wireless charging. This charging method is ideal for users who are a lot of time at a desk. It is also convenient for overnight charging, and it is even possible to install a wireless charger in your car. You can add wireless charging via add-on cases if it does not come integrated into your handset but it is not the option we recommend.
This product does not have a removable battery, which is the norm for handsets these days. Fixed batteries cant be swapped or easily repaired, but they do allow for more compact designs and slightly larger battery size within the same product volume
Since this phone has a very large screen, keep in mind that larger displays tend to utilize more energy due to the larger surface area to illuminate. It depends on the brightness levels screens are being used at, but the potential for higher energy is there, so greater battery capacity is better.
This device has a very high-resolution display (2960×1440). This is great to show extremely crisp images, but handling 2.19M pixels more than a 1080p/FHD (2M pixels) screen will require a bit more power from the battery. Fortunately, it is possible to reduce the rendering resolution.
This main handset processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (8 Cores, 2.8 GHz) which has access to 6 or 8 GB of memory (RAM). By now, people know how fast this processor platform is for all kinds of apps, including games and VR.
The amount of RAM is paramount for heavy users who have many apps/services installed on the handset. If the memory is tight, the system may become less responsive if it has to read/write from the slower Flash storage instead. This used to be one of the differentiators between low and high tiers of phones, but this line is blurry now.
Perhaps, the vapor-cooling system of the Note 9 could help lift performance slightly because higher sustained performance. The cooling system works by trapping a liquid inside a carbon-heatsink. Carbon is great because it is non-porous and doesn’t trap hot pockets of air. As the liquid turns into vapor, heat is taken away and the vapor is evacuated in another part of the heatsink where it becomes liquid again. Think of it as a mini liquid-cooling system.
CPU and Graphics performance
As a handset that is released later in the year, the Galaxy Note 9 will tend to slightly outperform devices equipped with the same excellent Snapdragon 845 SoC / Processsor platform. The main reason behind this is better drivers, that other phones may get at a later date. Most of the improvements seem to come from 3D graphics, which still counts a little in a CPU-heavy test like Geekbench 4, but shows much more in the gaming-like test GFXBench.
Wireless Broadband performance
The Galaxy Note 9 has a CAT18 (1200 Mbps ⇣ / -1 Mbps ⇡ ) LTE modem. This level of performance is exceptional and represents the best you can get today.
Wireless networks (3G/4G) performance is often thought as peak download/upload speeds, but it is the average speed that counts. These days 4G/LTE is the primary network of interest, but 5G is coming. The higher the peak LTE performance and the better the average true experience. Note that, wireless providers have better and more efficient wireless networks to lower their own costs.
The biggest software evolution from the S9+ is Dex. Introduced in previous years, Dex gives the ability to a handset (or tablet) to power a Windowed computing experience, like a desktop computer.
In previous iterations, Dex required a Dock or a Pad, which was nice in many ways, but it was also relatively expensive, so we assume that most people didn’t use it. This time, all you need as a standard USB-C to HDMI converter. Samsung has an adapter which is tested, but in theory standard ones should work too, although Samsung can’t vouch for them.
Upon connecting to an HDMI monitor, Dex can either transform your Galaxy Note 9 into a trackpad and virtual keyboard or you can use it normally with Android if you want to have both your Dex desktop applications and your Android applications available at the same time.
Huawei introduced something similar with the Mate 10 Pro, and we’re glad to see that Samsung is willing to compete and lower the price of entry for Dex. It is likely that many more people will be tempted to use their Note 9 as a small computer for PowerPoint presentations, but also for slideshows, and basic productivity apps — or games!
Although the Galaxy Note 9 features a couple of twists such as the 4000 mAh battery and the BT enabled Pen, it’s fair to say that it came out more or less as expected. As the final handset of the Series 9 line, it is evident that it would feature mostly the same strengths with a few extras to make it Samsung’s technological tip of the spear.
As such, the Note 9 enjoys a relatively comfortable position in a segment that it had created many years ago (remember when people said that big phones would never work?). The mere presence of a high-performance Pen and a leading 6.4” display would make it already tough to compete with."NOTHING CAN BEAT THE GALAXY NOTE 9 ON ITS TURF. NOTHING CAN REPLACE A GALAXY NOTE 9"
But when you add the best Qualcomm processor, the largest battery capacity in its class, the best low-light camera and a neat industrial design, there aren’t many competitors left. Did we mention that it could be the first Terabyte handset? Perhaps, the biggest change for the Samsung Series 9 since its launch in March is the competitive landscape. With the OnePlus 6 and the Huawei P20 Pro, the competition is getting hot for S9 and S9+.
But it’s not that simple for competitors: OnePlus competes well in value and user experience (Pure Android) but the display and camera still need more efforts. The formidable P20 Pro is even better than the Note 9 for battery life because it charges much faster. Its camera had broader capabilities in some ways. However, the display and performance is noticeably behind the Note 9.
The Note 9 is designed first and foremost for loyal Galaxy Note users. It wouldn’t be surprising if Note 5 and Note 8 users were to be the primary “switchers,” but we have no data about this. In any case, if you like very large-display phones, and if you can afford it, nothing can beat the Galaxy Note 9 on its turf. Nothing can replace a Galaxy Note 9.
(A shorter version of this review is also available in French)