Samsung S9 Review

Posted by Hans Kuenzel on

Summary

Bigger than previous Note phones in every way, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 has a larger 6.4-inch screen, heftier 4,000mAh battery, and a massive 1TB of storage option. The already good camera is slightly better, the stereo speakers are a first for the Note, and the Bluetooth-connected S Pen can activate fun customizable shortcuts remotely. But its price matches (and even tops) what you’ll pay for an iPhone X.

FOR

  • Beautiful 6.4-inch Infinity Display
  • Superb camera, even in low light
  • Battery and storage last and last
  • Bluetooth S Pen shortcuts are fun

AGAINST

  • Expensive
  • A lot of small upgrades
  • No HDR video recording
  • We hate the Bixby button

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is a little bigger, a little more colorful, and a little more powerful than all prior Note phones, but be warned: it’s a little more expensive, too.

It’s the biggest Android phone that will grab your attention in 2018, with a sizeable 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display, a huge 4,000mAh battery for all-day performance, and up to 512GB of internal storage and 8GB of RAM.  

Slot in a 512GB microSD card (which Samsung will gladly sell you), and you can have the first mainstream 1TB phone in your hands. That's bigger than a lot of laptops.

Good news – the Note 9 doesn’t actually feel any bigger than last year’s 6.3-inch Note 8, and it inherits a bunch of this year’s 5.8-inch Galaxy S9 and 6.2-inch Galaxy S9 Plus features, including camera specs. 

The camera is better than the Note 8, with a dual 12MP rear setup that has dual-aperture technology, and can record Super Slow Mo videos. There are stereo speakers, and AR Emoji is back with some finer avatar customizations, but rest assured, it'll still look nothing like you.

Exclusive to the Note 9 camera are automatic scene optimizer and flaw detection features that enhance photos (though, Samsung has a habit of rolling these features out to older phones later on). 

The S Pen is still a handy tool for jotting down notes, but it now has Bluetooth for remote-controlled shortcuts that are customizable (unlike the annoying Bixby button that you can't even turn off anymore). Want to pose for a photo 30 feet away? This S Pen can help you do that and more. It works great, but you may have trouble finding a spot to rest your precious and expensive Note 9 for full-body snapshots. We ended up with a lot of shots at bad camera angles, so it's a good idea on paper, but doesn't always work out like we first envisioned.

Bad news – the price feels much bigger. Get ready to pay iPhone X-level prices for the entry-level 128GB and 6GB model. Ouch. It's meant for power users, according to Samsung – the physical size, storage size, price, and battery capacity all tell us that. It sees Note 9 buyers as people who spend a lot of time on their phone and want the best of the best – they buy the best AV receiver, the best TV, and so forth.

The Note 9 is our top smartphone recommendation – that is, if you want to own a giant, feature-filled phone with a stylus and hate saving money. Ongoing Samsung Galaxy Note 8 deals are the biggest threat to this upgrade that, ironically, is all about going big in a variety of small ways.

Talking of Samsung's chief competition, the Note 9 price rivals that of Apple’s flagship handset, rather than undercutting it as we'd hoped from an Android phone.

What can you do exactly? The best feature is being able to remotely launch the camera app with a long press of the S Pen button, flip the camera to selfie mode with a single short press, and snap a group photo with two presses. 

It’s much easier than setting the camera timer, which Samsung hid in the camera settings menu last year, and less awkward than waving your hand in front of the lens to trigger the gesture-initiated camera timer.

Samsung is making S Pen shortcuts customizable. Here are the ideas mentioned:

  • Camera: Flip the camera / take a photo
  • Camera: Flip the camera / record a video
  • Music Player: Play and pause music / skip to the next track 
  • Photo Gallery: Advance to the next photo / cycle back to a previous photo
  • PowerPoint: back and forth through presentation slides

Samsung put a software development kit (SDK) out there for non-core third-party apps to take advantage of this shortcut tool, so you'll see more customization as long as app developers support the functionality. 

The S Pen does need to be charged, but it requires only 40 seconds of charge time for 30 minutes of standby battery life or 200 button clicks, according to our testing.

There's also a helpful S Pen battery indicator in the notification shade at the top of the display, so you won't be kept guessing as to how much power you have left. And we found that keeping the S Pen topped up was much easier than charging the iPad's Apple Pencil. 

Simply embedding the S Pen inside the phone charges it, and when it’s not in use that’s where you typically put it. The Apple Pencil has nowhere to hide, and walking around with it in the Lighting port is rather dangerous. Samsung’s years of stylus-making experience are obvious here.


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