Samsung first introduced the Galaxy Note series in 2011 with a huge stylus-driven 5.3″ screen and a direct appeal to power users who wanted more than current small-screen devices could offer. Today a variety of smartphones with screens larger than 5.3″ are available bearing a ‘Plus’, XL or other monikers to differentiate them.
However, through the years Samsung has maintained focus on a few key items: large screen, high performance, and functional stylus. The latest iteration features the largest display ever on a Samsung phone, a huge battery, and the best stylus I have ever used.
The Galaxy Note9 was released on August 24th and I have had a few days to work with it, so let’s step through some of the features and see what works and what still has room for improvement.
The Galaxy Note9 is huge, make no mistake: it is larger than the Note 8 in all dimensions – slightly thicker, taller, wider and heavier.
Look – you really need to know what you’re getting yourself into with one of these things. They pack a lot of power into a relatively small space, but this is still one of the largest smartphones available – it needs to be to pack in the huge screen, large battery and powered stylus.
Samsung once again leveraged the 1440 x 2960 pixels, 18.5:9 ratio SuperAMOLED technology used in last year’s Note 8, but this year they increased the screen to 6.4″, meaning that the pixel density actually drops to 516ppi (pixels per inch) – a difference you will never notice.
But aside from raw pixels, what you WILL notice is how incredibly rich and vibrant everything looks displayed on that screen. Colors are saturated, blacks are black, and everything just looks sharp and clear – sure, this is something we have gotten used to in recent years, but I feel that Samsung keeps iterating their OLED manufacturing performance to great effect on devices such as the iPhone X and Note9 in ways earlier devices cannot approach.
The phone is protected with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and rear, with a sturdy metal frame around the outside. This has become common for smartphones with wireless charging, but still means you have a slick fingerprint magnet that should really be put in a case.
If you do not care about the stylus, you really shouldn’t be looking at the Note9. Seriously – while the phone is incredible, it is the stylus that is the ultimate differentiator. And if you DO care – Samsung really delivered!
The S-Pen has graduated from a passive device to powered multi-function controller. You can use it to open the camera and take pictures, control music playback, change slides in Powerpoint and plenty of other functionality – and it is in the hands of developers with the new Pen SDK.
And you lose nothing for the new functionality – it is still precise and comfortable, and the perfect size for using every day. I am excited and thrilled to spend a bunch of time exploring the S-Pen features.
One of my complaints about the Galaxy Note 8 was the battery life – it felt like no matter what I did I ended up with concerns about my battery running down. Switching to the iPhone X that concern disappeared instantly, and I am happy to say that in my first few days with the Note9 I have not seen a problem with quick battery dissipation.
Technically Samsung increased the battery size from 3,300mAh to 4,000mAh, non-removable as has been the case since the Note 5.
How is it possible that in 2018 we’re still even talking about a fingerprint sensor? Because Samsung botched things so badly with the Galaxy Note 8 (and the S8 as well!). The Note 8 had me wondering who actually sat in a decision-making meeting and said: “YES, let’s position the fingerprint sensor in such a way that each of the dozens of times per day a user unlocks the device they can hunt around the back of the phone and smear the camera lenses?” It is every bit as bad as it sounds – suddenly lens cleanliness is something you are micromanaging, and the location makes unlocking inefficient.
So is it safe to assume the Note9 is better? Yes, but …
Yes, Samsung moved the sensor to below the camera array, but only JUST below one of the camera lenses. For me, I have now changed to swiping UP rather than down to try to avoid greasing up my camera for when I need it. Better, but still needs work – for me, they should have moved it at least a half-inch lower.
I have always compared Android phones to Windows PCs – great specs, start off wonderfully, then performance erodes and you are doing TLC and tricks to try to get things back to solid performance. For the Note 8 I never got that feeling in nearly a year of use, and so far the Note9 is just stunning in terms of performance. I have gotten used to split windows and quick-jumping between apps and the Note9 has performed well without a single issue across these first few days.
I found the rear cameras on the Note 8 to be powerful and functional, producing good images in a variety of settings. My first tests of the Note9 show the same – with a bunch of new AI-based features that should help take better shots, but I haven’t put those through the paces yet so cannot comment.
Here are a few shots I have captured so far:
The first is of flowers with a sunny day in the background, where the AI seems to have re-balanced things to make the flowers darker and made the outside light less prominent.