The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 was and is a fantastic Note. It marries the stunning design approach that Samsung has become known for since the release of the Galaxy S8 and the all-day power of the Note 5, all while avoiding the misfires (terrible pun) of the Note 7 and Note 8.
From its release day, the Galaxy Note 9 was my main companion — at least until the unveiling of the Huawei P30 Pro. The combination of battery life, sumptuous screen, and overall experience were enough to keep the fantastic smartphone in my pocket at almost all times alongside any other smartphone I reviewed at the time.
An update to Android Pie was a little slower than we’re sure many of you — and myself included — would have hoped but it added a new lease of life that I genuinely didn’t expect. It is partially why I enthused so much during my six-month review of the Note 9 back in February.
A lot has changed since then, the Galaxy S10 and S10+ have hit the market, as have several other stellar devices that have caused me to adjust what I carry in my pockets daily. The question is though, how does the Galaxy Note 9 fair after almost 12 months — and will the Note 10 provide the update we’ve been hoping for?
Design & Hardware
Aged gracefully but somehow looks a little outdated
This is where the Note 9 feels a little “different” to the current crop of top-tier smartphones. I personally love the look of the front of the phone. The nitpickers out there will point directly at the small forehead and chin and say they are too big. I have to disagree though, as they are uniform and a notch often just breaks any sort of symmetry on a phone display.
It’s arguably a strong suit of the Note 9. This is the last Samsung phone to come without any sort of Infinity-O display. Sat directly next to the OnePlus 7 Pro or even it’s stable-mate the S10+, the Galaxy Note 9 does look a tad outdated. Now, I’m being objective as that is just the industry trend. There is no denying that the display is still one of the best on the market without being quite as edge-to-edge as say the S10+ or OnePlus 7 Pro. Another upside coming back to this phone is that this seemingly ‘older’ design almost entirely eliminates random edge touches.
The larger form factor also doesn’t mean a bigger display. The S10+ manages to pack in a larger screen despite having a smaller overall frame and footprint. If you don’t mind side and top bezels to grasp hold of, then we are unlikely to see them come back to Samsung flagships any time soon.
As a big fan of the S-Pen too, I hate to admit it but I’ve found myself using it less and less often. It’s still the best example of a stylus on any smartphone or tablet but I’ve found it less useful recently. However, it is great as a remote control for the camera, coming in useful on a few occasions when I’ve been to visit family and want to grab a large group photo.
The purported removal of the headphone port on the upcoming Note 10 is also bound to be a real heartbreaker for truly hardcore Galaxy Note fans. I can honestly say that I too will be disappointed as without going to great expense, my car stereo system still relies heavily on a 3.5mm input. If I use my OnePlus 7 Pro, then I lose out of podcasts during car journeys unless I remember to leave the dongle in my car. Not having that limitation is, oddly, liberating. I can plug my Note 9 in and listen to any song or podcast without issue. I think I still fall into the camp of “need” for the slowly disappearing audio connection.
Considering how the Galaxy Note 9 feels like it makes no compromises, the removal of the headphone port alone on the upcoming Note 10 and Note 10+ has me feeling that, at least in the hardware stakes, sadly, the Note 9 might be the last ‘everything in one package’ Galaxy Note. In 2019, there really isn’t a single hardware package quite like the Galaxy Note 9 — which puts it in a weirdly advantageous position.
Software & Performance
Much better but for how much longer?
Since my initial review of the Note 9, we’ve seen a massive interface overhaul courtesy of the Android Pie-based One UI. It really made the Note 9 at the time feel like a brand new device. I have since wiped and set up the device fresh since the update was made available and in all honesty, the performance has been pretty excellent.
Coming from the OnePlus 7 Pro, I do find things like opening the app drawer feel a little slower than I remembered. The apparent slouchy performance is arguably the effect of getting used to a 90Hz panel. Luckily, I now have the S10+ and have been able to compare a little more. I’m sad to report that, yes, there are some areas where performance does seem to be noticeably slower when running side-by-side. But would you notice day-to-day? I personally don’t think so. The Note 9 is still a phone that flies through everything I’ve been able to chuck at it.
When the Android Pie update first became available I simply downloaded and installed the OTA. This led to some noticeable lag at times, after performing a full wipe and reset, the phone feels as good as new with arguably better everyday performance. I’m putting that down to app preferences and caches causing issues, and not down to the hardware itself. That said, it has lost a step to the Galaxy S10+, as I’ve found that apps load a millisecond quicker on the newer hardware.
While I do like One UI in general, there are still some flaws and quirks that persist with Samsung and updates. One UI has been designed to help with one-handed usage but it just makes certain first-party apps feel as though they are littered with wasted space.
My only other worry is that the Note 9 may be left behind and without an Android Q update — which I think is a legitimate concern. It took almost six months for Samsung to bring the most recent full Android Pie update to the device. If we work on the same timeline, that means 18 months to go from Android 8.1 Oreo to Android Q. Not terrible on paper, but we’d be within six months of an Android R release — which potentially may never come to the Note 9. One major software update in two years would be a horrendous kick in the face to loyal Note 9 owners.
Given how big the changes were from Samsung Experience UI to One UI, we don’t expect the same level of alteration with 2.0. I’m hopeful that it will arrive in good time though as Samsung has been improving with security updates and patches over the past six to eight months. They do still need to get up to speed with full OTA releases though.
Great for most scenarios
Over the past couple of years, low-light performance is where we’ve seen the biggest improvements in smartphone cameras. To Samsung’s credit, they are just starting the rollout of a dedicated Night mode for the S10 line and even the Note 9 — although I am yet to receive the OTA that enables this standalone mode on either handset.
The Pixel has Night Sight, Huawei phones have Night mode, and even OnePlus phones have Nightscape. From what little I’ve seen of the Night mode on the S10, it seems to be a good first attempt but it needs a little more work to truly compete with the best in the business.
It would be nice to have some more tweaks and a wide-angle lens but overall the Galaxy Note 9 camera really does stack up well against the best on the market. You get punchy, vibrant images that have great dynamic range and are pin sharp in almost all settings. Yes, there are better still shooters on the market but the Note 9 just gets the job done, and done well.
In video modes, Samsung has few rivals — save the iPhone in my opinion. The stabilization is exceptional, as is the overall quality. Colors can be a little bit more saturated than I would personally prefer but overall there are very few smartphones that can match the quality of the Note 9 in video — especially at 4K.
It also helps that you are given so many shooting modes right at your fingertips. It makes me want to use the myriad of Note 9 video modes all the more regularly. From super slow-mo to silky smooth 4K at 60fps, you can do it all.
Still powering through a day
I am so glad that Samsung upped the battery size to 4,000mAh on the Note 9, as it really does make all the difference in heavy daily usage. I never have to worry about finding a charger even on a particularly busy day. I will say that my battery has deteriorated a tiny bit as I expected it would. It’s not a massive issue, it just means that I’m no longer able to get the truly extensive two-day lifespan that I did back at launch but I do get superb longevity all the same.
A full-day of usage is more than possible with a tiny bit of headroom left towards the end of the day. I no longer get more than six hours of screen on time but that is more than enough in my own use-case. How you fare will depend on what is the most prominent portion of your own smartphone usage.
The biggest disappointment for me is is that you can only charge at 15W speeds. That is far less than many of the 2019 class of flagship smartphones and one area the Note 10 will improve upon drastically. I will say though, that I have found myself using a wireless charger a lot more. My reasoning is that Note 9 has wireless fast-charging, plus it’s actually easier to just stick the phone on the charging pad when I’m not using it during the day.
The bottom line
Still one of the best overall packages on the market
Honestly, there is very little that the upcoming Note 10 and Note 10+ look set to bring to the table that would have me telling anyone with the Note 9 to upgrade. While the new design does look pretty good in renders, it’s still very subjective as not everyone likes the Infinity-O display.
The Note 10 is set to make so many compromises that I just don’t feel are present in every area with the Note 9. We’re going to get three distinct Note models for the very first time, which introduces even more issues as to which one people should buy. The smaller Note 10 is set to be comparable to the S10+ in size but will actually come with a smaller battery than the Note 9 and the S10+, would you be willing to give that up?
There is also the somewhat controversial removal of the headphone port. I’ve seen Samsung fans explicitly state that they would never buy another Samsung flagship if the port was removed in comment sections and on blog posts across the internet. Samsung knows that this will really annoy and anger hardcore fans but looks set to proceed with cutting it out anyway.
Like I said at the top of this re-visit, the Note 9 feels like the very last of its ilk. A phone that makes almost no compromises, and because of that, still goes toe to toe with the best available 12 months after it launched. It also feels like the last Galaxy Note to truly live up to its name.
Should I still buy the Samsung Galaxy Note 9?
Now, this is the million-dollar question. While the Note 10 will undoubtedly be the best Samsung device to come out in 2019, will it be exponentially better than the superb Galaxy Note 9? My gut says no. Do, I think it will be better? Yes, but it will make compromises that I’m sure hardened Note fans will not be happy with.
Also, you have to consider the price. The Galaxy Note 10 will start at around $1,000 for the base model, on paper, the differences might not be enough to warrant the extra cost or upgrade. When you consider just how much phone you get with the Note 9 and how far the price has dropped, it offers an exceptional value proposition.
Of course, I want to hear your reasoning. Will you drop the Note 9 (or older Note) in favor of the Note 10? How are you getting on with your own device? Let us know in the comments section below.
Where to buy the Samsung Galaxy Note 9?
If you are still looking to pick up the fantastic Note 9, you can get the device for as low as $650 on Amazon unlocked. Alternatively, if you’re happy to buy refurbished, the Note 9 can be had for as low as $420 on eBay — which is an absolute steal. B&HPhoto has the lowest unlocked price at just $599. Verizon is offering the Note 9 with a free Galaxy S10e or $750 off another Galaxy device with Unlimited lines.
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