At its release, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 was almost totally unrivaled. The problem is that since August 2018, we’ve seen a ton of flagships release which tackle the Note 9.
Quite a few have even come close to beating the best phone of 2018, however, how does the Note 9 hold up in early 2019? Let’s dive in.
Now on the market for six months, has the Note 9 managed to fend off a few of the biggest contenders? Well, it’s still arguably one of the best smartphones on the market and now it finally has Android Pie to add to that massive list of quality hardware.
After what seems like a year of incremental changes, the Galaxy Note 9 could be considered the ultimate hurrah for fans who often deride decisions to remove features, functions and popular hardware. The pricing and software were of course two of the biggest sour points with the Note 9 at release.
With the Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10+ on the horizon, the Note 9 will no longer be the top-tier offering from the South Korean stable. It really is a much easier device to recommend now and we’re already seeing prices drop —hopefully even further over the next few months.
Design and Hardware
How much can hardware and design change in six months? Well, obviously, it can’t! This is naturally a problem with any device, no matter the age. One industry change is how it can be deemed outdated nearly overnight.
Samsung decided to opt against the notch on the Galaxy Note 9, which was a superb decision in my opinion. With teardrop notches and the emergence of the punch-hole camera display cut-out, the design will no doubt seem dated in a lineup of phones. That said, I dig the style and I think it shouldn’t massively affect your purchase decision.
- Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review: Incremental changes make it the finest Android device on the market — at a cost [Video]
It almost feels ridiculous to even suggest that a six-month-old smartphone has seen its design become dated, but it’s part and parcel of the smartphone churn we’re all entrenched within.
Like any phone that has a glass sandwich design, scratches, scuffs and scrapes can pose a risk without a case. I have personally kept my phone in a case for almost the entire six months I’ve owned it; so it’s in mint condition. Without a case, I would worry somewhat about how it will hold up in the long-term.
I personally think Samsung absolutely nailed the design with the Note 9. The edges, the curves and the corners all make for a phone that feels exceptional in the hand. It took what made the S8 and Note 8 such attractive devices and then tweaked where necessary for a look and feel that is familiar at first glance but different when grasped, touched and actually used.
The S Pen was something that I didn’t use a great deal on the older Note 8. I have found myself using the Note 9 S Pen quite a bit more, even if I just use it to scroll or sign documents every now and again.
I’ve yet to mention the headphone port and although I’m doing my utmost to migrate to the wireless world of Bluetooth headphones — I just still haven’t found any that I’ve really stuck with consistently. That means that I still use the wired AKG earbuds that come with the phone almost exclusively. Because of that, I’m yet to test the dual Bluetooth audio feature, which I am told works superbly and something I’m itching to try out in the near future.
We can’t have a review of a Samsung device and not mention the display. There is no doubt that the Note 9 display is still the best on the market by some margin. Having used a wealth of smartphones since release, coming back to this phone screen is just an absolute joy. It’s brighter, more vibrant and richer than anything thus far and will only likely be superceded by the upcoming Galaxy S10 and S10+.
Viewing angles are insane. The peak brightness is also exceptional, this will be especially if you live in a sunny part of the world — unfortunately, I do not. I’m not too fussed about the curved edges on the front of the screen to be completely honest. It doesn’t do any harm having them there but it doesn’t really add a great deal to the usability experience in my opinion.
Software and Performance
This is one area that has had the biggest shake-up on the Note 9. I could argue that the Samsung Experience version of Android means that technically — due to the insane amount of extra features — doesn’t always need to be as up-to-date as some other devices. That isn’t exactly true though. Samsung does really need to fix their update schedules and start pushing OS updates much quicker.
Although it has taken around five months, we now have Android Pie and the brand new One UI on the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. It’s a full remodel of the older Samsung Experience and it really feels like a brand new device now this update is available.
Even with that said, I can’t honestly say that I like the way Samsung has implemented the gesture-based navigation method. That is partly because it feels decidedly less slick in practice than it should be. I have come to love gesture navigation since using the Pixel, even with the numerous faults it has but I just find the way it works in One UI is janky in a slightly different way.
Beyond that I genuinely think the Android Pie update irons out a few flaws that have plagued Samsung phones for quite a long time. The look and feel are much more refined and cohesive for a start. I find the animations to be a lot cleaner than there were on Oreo and the new icon set is a massive improvement over the older style too.
Menus have been overhauled and there is the welcome addition of a native system-wide dark mode. I switch this on and haven’t looked back. It’s whet my appetite for a native dark mode coming to stock in Android Q — whenever that is.
Even though it’s not stock Android, to be honest, Samsung has done well to tone down much of the problems that we’ve all criticised for years with older version of TouchWiz and Samsung Experience UI. It’s just fantastic to see Samsung pushing themselves in just the right direction. Maybe one day it might become my favorite third-party skin.
I can’t mention the software on any Samsung smartphone and not speak about Bixby. The problem is that since the Note 8, I’ve simply stopped using the system, partly as I’m so deeply ingrained into the Google Assistant ecosystem. I’ll definitely give it a test drive again in future. When though? I’m not entirely sure.
A few months back Samsung also introduced a beta program for Linux on their DeX system, which opens up yet another powerful desktop replacement tool. As far as I am aware, this is the only phone currently able to run a version of Linux with a desktop environment and be able to dual boot into Android as normal. Something definitely worth considering if you are a) a Linux user already or b) interested potentially using Linux in future.
At the point of release, the Note 9 had one of the best cameras on the market. It’s amazing to think where we are now. I now genuinely wouldn’t consider it in the Top 5 for smartphone cameras at this early part of 2019 — unless it’s solely judged on daytime photography or selfie-taking.
The Pixel 3 still reigns supreme over all smartphone cameras, the iPhone XS/Max and even the iPhone XR all supersede the Note 9 — in my opinion. I’d also say that Huawei Mate 20 Pro too offers better overall camera flexibility and includes that stellar wide-angle lens and a Night Mode that stacks up against Night Sight on the Pixel.
Even with a limitation in overall camera flexibility, the Note 9 does have an exceptional camera when used in a variety of different conditions. I will say that I think the dual-aperture is a complete gimmick and unless you are solid with the Pro Mode settings and really isn’t anything special. The selfie camera too was awarded DxOMark’s highest score along with the Pixel 3, which is high praise indeed but a portion of the device I honestly rarely use.
It’s a shame there is no Night Sight equivalent on this model, even with the One UI update, there is no extra night shooting modes. Of course, we will see the S10 launch with a new nighttime photography mode that we believe will be called “Super Night Shot.”
Now I have had this phone since release day, so the battery life isn’t quite what it was during the first few weeks of using it — absolutely insane by the way. Even so, it still powers me through a day and is my go-to device if I know I’m going to be away from home for a while and want a no-compromise handset.
I tend to get around six plus hours of screen on time from a full charge. I guess you could stretch that even further with a spell in the battery-saver mode should you want to really push your Note 9 battery life.
The charge speed though is one area that feels almost pedestrian when you compare to newer flagships. When we have things like Warp Charge 30 on the OnePlus 6T Mclaren edition that can give you 50% battery in less than 35 minutes the slightly slower charging speed of the Note 9 becomes really evident.
Again, we expect this to be remedied with the release of the Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10+. That’s great news for anyone willing to drop nearly $1,000 on a new device but not exactly great for anyone looking at this particular device. My personal preference is to stick my Note 9 on a wireless charge stand on my desk and simply top it up throughout the day rather than rely on one long, full charge overnight.
Verdict – 6 Months Later
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is still — at least until the S10 launch — Samsung’s top tier device. It packs in an astounding amount of features and very little compromise apart from the software — which has improved exponentially from Android Oreo.
Hardware wise it’s really hard to beat, even more so if you are not a massive fan of notches or in-display cutouts. My biggest worry is that we genuinely might not see an Android Q update if we’ve already had nearly six months to wait for Android Pie.
Even with that concern, the entire package is almost unrivalled by any other phone on the market. In my opinion, the real contender that includes as many useful features out of the box is the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, but that has arguably a much poorer UI, software experience and no S Pen.
Truthfully, the S Pen features are actually really good too. I have used the remote shutter feature more than a few times when taking group photos with friends and family, which helps get everyone in frame without the need for an embarrassing selfie stick. The camera, despite not having any awesome night shooting modes, is up there with the best during the day but when the sun goes down it gets floored by a few newer flagships.
If you factor in that the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is now much more affordable than at any point since release — and just $740 brand new on sites like Amazon — the price gets you so much phone for your money it almost has to be considered even with the S10 is on the horizon.
I’m dying to hear your thoughts, are you unwilling to look back when picking a phone? Would you consider the Note 9 even though the S10 is merely weeks away? Let me know how your device is holding up too if you have one already. Let’s start a discussion down in the comments section.