The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 was Samsung’s return to the phablet after the failure of the Note 7, which went up in flames due to battery issues. The Note’s comeback was fantastic, with a class-leading camera, good battery life, an improved S Pen and that massive HDR 10 compatible QHD+ Super AMOLED display. This was good for September 2017, but plenty has changed since then.
Dual cameras are now the norm (even in the budget segment), with the likes of Xiaomi offering AI-enabled portrait modes that do a pretty good job considering their low price. Huawei’s triple-camera P20 Pro wowed the world with its low-light photography features and even managed to topple the Galaxy S9 Plus launched earlier this year. Smartphones like the Oppo Find X showcased no bezels, with a full-screen display that runs from edge to edge, beating the Galaxy S9 Plus and the iPhone X when it comes to design and elegance. And let’s not forget that the Find X also features a 3D face unlock authentication system that reduces the need for a fingerprint reader, a feature that's yet to be replicated in the Android world.
With so many improvements since the start of the year, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 will surely appeal to a few.
But after using the Galaxy Note 9 for a day, it’s clear that the biggest smartphone by Samsung has even bigger shoes to fill, all thanks to the competition.
Build and Design
The newest Galaxy Note is the biggest Note smartphone yet made. With that said, it’s even bigger than last year’s Note 8 that packed in a massive 6.3-inch Infinity Display. The new model moves to a slightly bigger 6.4-inch one with reduced bezels at the top and the bottom, but slightly thicker ones on the sides.
The new smartphone could be easily mistaken for the old one, especially in the Midnight Black finish. As for the other colours, its easy to spot the new matte finished frame (instead of the chrome-finished frame of the Note 8) that now has a slightly boxy look with sharper edges as opposed to the more rounded, seamless and narrower design of the Note 8.
It’s heavier as well, at 201 grams as opposed to the Note 8’s already hearty 195 grams, and is large enough, at 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8 mm, to pop out of my jeans pocket, although it's not as humongous as the Xiaomi Mi Max 2.
There are now two speakers, with the earpiece unit pulling double duty as a speaker, the other is of course, at the bottom, alongside the USB port.
The placement of the fingerprint reader has changed as well. It’s now more sensibly located below the camera setup, which makes it a lot easier to locate and authenticate, unlike with the Note 8.
Since the Note 9 is now marketed as a productivity device, it now also packs in a larger heat spreader that increases thermal conductivity, channeling heat away from the processor, which ends up keeping the smartphone cool. This is a feature that will be welcomed by gamers and the presence of Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney on stage announcing Fortnite for Android is a big deal as it shows that the Note is ready to move on beyond its productivity roots.
It seems like the only piece of hardware that has been redesigned on the Note 9 is the S Pen. The handy stylus now comes with its own supercapacitor (for rapid charging) that works with Bluetooth LE and charges mighty fast in just 40 seconds. The S Pen can be used for up to 30 minutes once charged, with the button acting as a trigger for the camera shutter, for transitioning to the next slide in a presentation and even for unlocking the smartphone.
Overall, not much has changed with the Galaxy Note 9 in terms of design, save for the addition of a new S Pen, but the finer points are well appreciated and should add up in my review.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 features a QHD+ Super AMOLED unit that measures 6.4-inches diagonally. The display is HDR10 compatible meaning you will be able to enjoy viewing HDR video content providing a wider range of colours and wider dynamic range. The display has grown from 6.3-inches on the Note 8 to 6.4-inches on the Note 9. It also appears brighter than the previous model.
Chipset, RAM and Storage
Samsung’s Exynos SoCs have always been welcomed with open arms and this year’s update with the 9810 have also been appreciated with the earlier Galaxy S9 models. The same SoC now makes it to the Note 9 with some enhanced cooling which should make it ideal for gaming (big display + big battery + good chipset= to a great gaming experience).
The device will be available in India in two flavours. A 6 GB RAM base model comes with 128 GB of internal storage and is priced at Rs 67,900. The second, top-end variant packs in 8 GB RAM coupled with a massive 512 GB of internal storage. You can also add a 512 GB microSD card and get up to 1 TB of internal storage, which should be good enough for storing all of those 4K 60 fps video clips that you can shoot with the 12 MP dual OIS camera.
Software and OS
Software is pretty much the same story as with the Galaxy S9 and the Note 8. You get Android 8.1.0 with the Samsung Experience UI v9.5, which hasn’t changed much since the last Note.
Indeed, those into Samsung devices will not be surprised that the latest serving of Android 9 Pie is not yet available. Hopefully, Samsung hurries up with this. Still with my initial usage, I did not notice any lag or stutter despite running the smartphone at QHD+ resolution. There’s the usual bloat that comes with every Samsung flagship, including the duplicate set of apps that have been made by Samsung but basically copy their respective Google counterparts.
Not much has changed when you consider that Galaxy Note 9 packs in similar camera hardware as on the Galaxy S9+, which was launched not too long ago. The device features a dual camera setup with includes a 12 MP + 12 MP rear camera and gets the new dual aperture system as seen on the earlier Galaxy S9+ model with one variable (f/1.5 - f/2.4 aperture) lens and a second fixed (f/2.4 aperture) lens. The front facing camera features an 8 MP sensor and autofocus.
Battery and Connectivity
Another area where the device sees an upgrade is the battery. The Note 9 gets the biggest battery in Samsung's smartphone range with a 4,000 mAh unit. While I am a bit doubtful about the bump in battery life because of the bigger display, the jump in battery capacity is big enough and should be able to pull off better numbers this time around.
Connectivity options on the Galaxy Note 9 include Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2.4G+5GHz, Bluetooth v 5.0 (LE), NFC, GPS and a USB Type C port for charging and data transfers.
We are gone past the days when smartphones were designed to cater to a specific set of customers. No more will you find a smartphone that offers just a great camera or just the best battery life. Every smartphone on the market today is solely separated by price and with that, all of them have to be all-rounders.
With that said, the Samsung Galaxy Note in its latest iteration is no longer a productivity or business smartphone aimed at executives, nor is it aimed solely at artists who just buy it for its S Pen. The new Note is aimed at everyone who wants a premium smartphone that packs in a good camera, a quick processor, a big battery and one that even stays cool while gaming.
Indeed, Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney showing up on stage at the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 launch now shows that the Note series will continue to evolve as per customer needs. So let's hope that all of these small changes add up to a positive impression in my full review, which should be out in a week's time.