The Galaxy Note 9 is official (again) and on initial inspection, it appears Samsung has made very few changes from the Note 8. There’s some truth to this, but look closely and there are significant upgrades beyond the eye-watering asking price…
Displays – Samsung’s Biggest Ever Screen
It may not be a large jump, but the Galaxy Note 9 features the biggest display Samsung has ever fitted into a mass market smartphone.
- Galaxy Note 9 – 6.4-inch, 18.5:9 aspect ratio, Super AMOLED, 1440 x 2960 pixels (516 ppi pixel density), 83.4% screen-to-body ratio, HDR10 compliant, Corning Gorilla Glass 5
- Galaxy Note 8 – 6.3-inch, 18.5:9 aspect ratio, Super AMOLED, 1440 x 2960 pixels (521 ppi pixel density), 83.2% screen-to-body ratio, HDR10 compliant, Corning Gorilla Glass 5
Aside from this, the other takeaways are a fractionally higher screen-to-body ratio (thanks to minimally thinner bezels) and a slightly lower pixel density thanks to Samsung retaining the same native resolution on the larger display. But I doubt anyone will notice either of these changes.
Samsung has not gone into detail about panel upgrades, but expect the display to be even brighter and more colour accurate than the already superb Note 8.
Design & Size – Differences In The Details
Hand someone the Galaxy Note 9 and Galaxy Note 8 and it would be difficult for many people to tell them apart, but they may notice the slight increase in size and weight:
- Galaxy Note 9 – 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8 mm (6.37 x 3.01 x 0.35 in), 201 g (7.09 oz)
- Galaxy Note 8 – 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm (6.40 x 2.94 x 0.34 in), 195 g (6.88 oz)
While it’s surprising for smartphones to get thicker and heavier, these are minor differences. Especially considering the larger display and much larger battery (more later).
Aside from dimensions, Samsung has added some new tricks: finally there are stereo speakers and they have been tuned by AKG with Dolby Atmos branding, though the latter seems silly given stereo speakers cannot truly recreate Atmos audio. The fingerprint sensor is also more sensibly positioned below the rear cameras, a move Samsung made with the Galaxy S9.
The other major change is the bright yellow S Pen. For the first time, Samsung has equipped it with Bluetooth LE which enables far greater functionality, such as remote shutter operation for the camera, a clicker during presentations and music playback control. The new S Pen is also charged automatically from the Galaxy Note via a supercapacitor so it is always ready and drains very little battery from the phone itself. The only thing which remains the same as the S Pen in the Note 8 is its 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, but that was more than enough.
Elsewhere IP68 water and dust resistance remain, as does USB-C charging, a 3.5mm headphone jack (well done Samsung) and a microSD card slot which now supports cards up to 512GB – up from 256GB on the Note 8.
Cameras – Samsung Doubles Down
The Galaxy Note 9 features the same hardware as the Galaxy S9 Plus. This means dual 12MP rear cameras with a primary dual aperture lens which shifts between F2.4 (for more detail in well-lit shots) and F1.5 (for low light) while the Note 8 is stuck with a standard F1.7 sensor. The secondary module remains a 2x optical zoom, though Huawei has managed 3x with its impressive P20 Pro.
Aside from this, Galaxy Note 9 camera hardware is unchanged from the Note 8 (pixel size, the disappointing 8MP F1.7 front camera, etc) so the focus is on the phone’s new image processing. Samsung claims this has advanced even since the Galaxy S9 (there’s a new ‘Scene Optimizer’ which Huawei employed with mixed results), though given the S9 is still easily beaten by Google’s 2017 Pixel 2 there is substantial ground to make-up.
Where Samsung has stepped up from the Note 8, is the addition of the Galaxy S9’s ‘Intelligent Scan’ facial recognition software. It isn’t as fast nor as accurate as Face ID on the iPhone X and its ‘AR Emoji’ is not as polished as Apple’s ‘Animoji’, but it remains a useful addition which has far less weight upon it given Samsung continues to offer a fingerprint reader.
Performance – Storage King
Samsung also lifts the Galaxy S9’s boosted internals for the Galaxy Note 9, giving it a meaningful upgrade over the Note 8 in both its US and international variants:
- Galaxy Note 9 (US) – Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 octa-core chipset (4x 2.7 GHz Kryo 385 Gold & 4×1.7 GHz Kryo 385 Silver CPUs), Adreno 630 GPU
- Galaxy Note 9 (Europe and Asia) – Exynos 9810 (4x 2.8 GHz Mongoose M3 & 4×1.7 GHz Cortex-A55 CPUs), Mali-G72 MP18 GPU
The Note 8 used Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 which is 20% slower and 30% less power efficient than the new 845. Samsung has also boosted RAM from the Note 8’s 6GB to 8GB, but only if you buy the (hugely expensive) top-of-range option (more below).
Interestingly, Samsung has added a ‘Water Carbon Cooling system’ to the Galaxy Note 9 to stop it throttling under pressure, such as when playing games. Given the Galaxy Note 9 will launch with a (very) short Fortnite exclusive, that’s going to be put to the test.
In terms of connectivity, the Galaxy Note 9 has LTE Cat.18 compared to Cat.16 on the Note 8 which means it is theoretically capable of 1.2 gigabit (1,200Mbit) 4G speeds, though this isn’t of great relevance given its never attainable in real-world scenarios. Bluetooth 5.0 (2x speed and 4x range of Bluetooth 4.2) is also present in both phones.
One nice aside: the Galaxy Note 9 can connect to a monitor to create a desktop-style PC. The phone’s screen works as a touchpad and virtual keyboard meaning there’s no need for the company’s separate Dex attachment. I’ve long argued, if you can afford a premium Galaxy smartphone you can afford a dedicated computer for the Chrome OS-style environment Samsung offers, but it’s still likely to be handy in some situations.
Battery Life – The Big Selling Point
Having gone backwards in recent years following the exploding Galaxy Note 7 debacle, Samsung is finally on its game again with the Galaxy Note 9 and this upgrade could be a deal-maker for many buyers:
- Galaxy Note 9 – 4000 mAh
- Galaxy Note 8 – 3300 mAh
Yes, Samsung has increased battery capacity by over 20% and the company promises not just full day but multi-day use from a single charge.
Furthermore, the Galaxy Note 9 retains quick (though not the quickest) wired charging, wireless charging. The phone has passed Samsung’s ‘8 Point Quality Check’, the most rigorous in the industry, which was introduced after the Galaxy Note 7 was recalled. It also means Galaxy Note 9 batteries should degrade only 5% in two years, versus over 20% from most rivals.
Price And Storage – Big Increases, Everywhere
Now here is where Samsung might lose you:
- Galaxy Note 9 – 128GB – $999 / £899
- Galaxy Note 9 – 512GB – $1,250 / £1,099
Both these prices are likely to make you wince. The Galaxy Note 9 now starts at the same price as the iPhone X, while its top-tier model is the most expensive mass-market smartphone on the market.
In its favour are enlarged 128GB and class-leading 512GB storage options (the latter also gives users 8GB of RAM), but with a 512GB-compatible microSD slot I suspect many users would’ve liked a 64GB $899 option. That was the storage and approximate price bracket of the Note 8 when it launched.
There’s no doubt that Samsung has packed a lot into the Galaxy Note 9. The question is whether the upgrades are in the right places and if they do enough.
The obvious negative is the price, but Samsung has also fallen behind smaller handset makers like Oppo and Vivo who have delivered true bezel-less, notch-less designs this year for less money.
That said, there’s no doubt the Galaxy Note 9 lives up to its Note heritage. Everything about this phone is big: the display, battery life, expandable storage and price. And Note fans know there is nothing quite like this stylus-totting phone on the market which gives Samsung a rare case of a captive audience.
The bigger question, however, is whether the Galaxy Note 9 can win over a new audience. In my opinion, Note 8 owners have no need to upgrade and with Samsung widely expected to cancel the range if Note 9 sales don’t exceed expectations, I fear this beast might be the last of its kind…
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