Samsung has gone big with its latest Galaxy Note 9: bigger screen, bigger storage, bigger battery.
With the return of the S-Pen stylus (with Bluetooth powers, plus more refinement and responsiveness) thrown in the mix, the Note seems set to continue to appeal to the more serious tech aficionado. The Note 9 is also Samsung’s priciest Note - and smartphone - yet, but is it worth it? And what's changed from the previous Note 8 and current Galaxy S9+?
We get our hands and eyes on the Note 9 to find out…
Build and design
The biggest change in the Note 9 is the screen size. It’s now a mammoth 6.4 inches, up from last year's Galaxy Note 8’s 6.3in screen.
This means the physical handset has had to size up a few millimetres, too, but it doesn't feel comically oversized when we hold it in our hand. You won't be able to use it one-handed, and those with petite hands may struggle but, if you're used to larger screens, you'll find the Note 9 easy to get along with instantly.
As before, the Note 9 uses Gorilla Glass panels at the front and back, with an aluminium frame on the sides giving it a sleek, premium feel. It’s the slightly curved edges that stop the Note 9 from feeling too ungainly to use – it sits comfortably in our hands.
It looks elegant, too, in finishes of midnight black, lavender purple or ocean blue. Sadly, the UK doesn't get the fourth, metallic copper, finish.
Samsung has thankfully heard our complaints, as the fingerprint sensor – which was too closely placed right next to the rear camera in the Note 8 – has now moved just below the lens. It’s a more sensible location, meaning you won’t smudge the lens with mucky fingers every time you unlock your phone.
The other big talking point? Big storage. The Note 9 has a potential 1TB of storage – which is more than most laptops. How? There are two variants of the Note 9: a 128GB model, and a 512GB version – which is already huge by any smartphone standards. You’d think that would be enough on-board storage, but you can double that up to 1TB thanks to a microSD slot that supports 512GB.
You’ll never have to delete a photo or app ever again. If you want to keep a library of downloaded movie files and multiple hi-res albums in your pocket, the Note 9 makes a pretty great portable harddrive.
So much of the gigantic Note 9 is taken up by the massive 6.4in screen, it’s important that the screen itself is of a high quality.
The Note 9 sticks with what it knows works best: a 2690 x 1440 resolution (the same as the Note 8) on a super AMOLED panel that tends to deliver super-sharp, punchy and vibrant colours. With nothing changed in the picture stakes, we're expecting a similar level of quality as the S9+ and Note 8 - which is no bad thing, as both handsets are five-star performers. We look forward to seeing how it fares against its iPhone and S9+ rivals when we get a full review sample.
As on the Galaxy S9+, you can select four different screen tones, from a very vivid and punchy 'Adaptive display' to a more neutral 'Basic'. The screen also supports HDR10 – the standard HDR – across YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Are there any plans to also support the Samsung-developed HDR10+ variant? Samsung declined to comment on that, which we'd take to mean 'watch this space'.
Using the phone is a speedy experience thanks to Android 8.1 (Oreo), with every action feeling instantaneous and apps launching without stutter.
More after the break
Samsung is fully taking advantage of its acquisition of Harman and its associated audio brands, and a good thing it is too. Just like the recently announced Tab S4, the Note 9’s speakers - now in stereo - are tuned by AKG.
You also get AKG earphones bundled in with the handset, the same as those found in the S9+ box. While the overall sound isn't perfect – the treble can be a bit harsh, the bass a bit boomy – they’re an upgrade on the more usual no-brand earphones bundled with most phones. The handset comes with an active noise-cancellation feature, too.
We’d recommend levelling up to great headphones, such as the Beyerdynamic Byron, AKG Y50 or Sennheiser Momentums. Happily, unlike some of its rivals Samsung has continued to fit a 3.5mm audio jack, so you can use your favourite pair of headphones without needing a silly adapter.
Hi-res audio support is on the cards, with the Note 9 capable of playing 32bit/382kHz audio files – should you have any files with such high sampling rates. Suffice to say, it’ll play all popular file formats (apart from DSD). Like the Tab S4, there's support for Dolby Atmos too, which Samsung says should enhance the stereo speaker performance.
Unfortunately we couldn't test any music at our hands-on demo, but we expect broadly the same sound quality as the S9+ through the headphones as the internals haven't changed.
Is a Note a Note without its S-Pen? Nope. One of the biggest draws for Note fans: the trusty S-Pen with the Note 9 now has Bluetooth.
That means you can use the updated S-Pen as a remote control. Click the side button to take a selfie at awkward angles or without using the timer, launch apps, pause and play YouTube videos, even control presentation slides. The functions for each single click, double click or long press can all be configured, too.
Bluetooth integration means there’s a tiny battery in the S-Pen, which lasts for 30 minutes. The really good bit is that you only need to slot it back into the Note 9 for 30 seconds to get it up to full charge. You can of course still scribble on the Note 9’s screen just as you always would, even when the S-Pen is out of charge.
Samsung says third-party developers can add more functionality to the S-Pen’s Bluetooth powers - play, pause and skip music on Spotify, please.
For the first time, the S-Pen also comes in four different colours, coordinating with Note 9 model you buy. You get black, copper or lavender S-Pens to match the corresponding smartphone finishes, while the ‘ocean blue’ model gets paired with an eye-catching, contrasting yellow S-Pen.
The Note 9’s camera is pretty much identical to the one seen on the Galaxy S9+, which is completely understandable as its dual-lens results (also found on the Note 8) delivered bright, sharp and (sometimes overly) punchy pictures.
The main rear camera has two 12MP lenses (one wide angle, one telephoto) with 2x zoom and optical image stabilisation, and the front camera is an 8MP lens.
The Note 9’s cameras are smarter, though, with the ‘intelligent camera’ software automatically picking the right settings according to your surroundings or subject matter, and even alerting you if the photo you just snapped was too blurry or someone had their eyes shut. It’s a neat way to make sure you (re)take the perfect picture.
Don’t worry about running out of juice by taking so many pictures, though, as the Note 9 has a whopping big 4000mAh battery life. It’s 21 per cent up from the Note 8’s 3500mAh, and considerably larger than Apple iPhone X’s suddenly puny 2716mAh.
Samsung has claimed the Note 9 will last an entire day without needing to reach for the charger – music to the ears of smartphone addicts. We’ll see how it fares when confronted with our hours-long music and movie binging sessions.
All that tech doesn’t come cheap. We've already mentioned the Note 9 is Samsung's most expensive phone yet - the 128GB model costs £899, and the 512GB version set you back an eye-watering £1099.
That's £50 cheaper than the 256GB Apple iPhone X, but it's still a lot of money for a smartphone, especially when the picture and audio performance hasn't really had any significant updates.
Whether it's worth parting with your hard-earned cash when the handsets go on sale on August 24th is something we'll find out when we get a proper review sample of the Note 9 to test very soon. But we have to admit: it looks good.
Read all our Samsung smartphone reviews