In the Field with the Samsung Galaxy Note9

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Ironically, what makes the new Samsung Galaxy Note9 such an excellent smartphone is also perhaps its biggest criticism: It looks and acts a whole lot like the Note8. With the Note9, Samsung eschewed major innovation and instead decided to bolster the specs of what was arguably one of the best phablets on the market. The question is: Are these upgrades enough to keep the Note9 at the top of the class? We definitely think so. To find out why, read on.

An improved rear camera system is one of the many upgraded features of the Galaxy Note9.

Level Up

As posited, Samsung’s approach with the Note9 seems to have been to fine-tune everything that made the Note8 so great. Starting with the screen: The Note9 has a 2960 x 1440 Super AMOLED display, just like the Note8, only this time it’s 6.4", as opposed to 6.3", so you get even more pretty picture. The storage, too, has been dialed up. The base Note9 ships with 128GB of storage, twice the amount of the Note8, and goes up all the way to 512GB—with a microSD slot that theoretically could allow you to expand its memory up to 1TB. The battery jumped up from 3300mAh to 4000mAh, allowing the Note9 to support all-day use. The rear camera system, which we’ll dive into later, has also been tweaked so that it is basically the same setup as the Galaxy S9+. The new processor is better, so is the sound quality from the AKG-tuned stereo speakers; and so on. All told, these enhancements culminate in what is essentially a case of the best getting even better.

The S Pen now features Bluetooth connectivity for remote control functionality.

In Stylus

Perhaps the Note9’s biggest upgrade is to its defining feature: the S Pen. Although dimensions-wise it looks nearly identical to the Note8’s stylus, this year’s S Pen now has Bluetooth connectivity, which adds a bevy of new features to the already useful tool. At its live event, Samsung showed off how the new Bluetooth S Pen can now be used as a remote for selfies or to control a PowerPoint presentation, but what I found most useful was the ability to launch different apps with a button press. Why this particular feature was so endearing to me I can’t really say, only that the convenience of it, coupled with S Pen’s overall usefulness, really had me considering jumping ship from Apple to Samsung. In addition to the remote control features, all the same stylus functionality that came with the Note8 is there, so you can take notes, draw pictures, etc. Honestly, there are way too many features and use cases to list, but suffice it to say, fans of the S Pen will not be disappointed.

Three photos I snapped while on a hike

Camera Performance

The Note9’s upgraded camera setup is roughly the same system used in the Galaxy S9+: two rear 12MP cameras with a dual-aperture feature and an 8MP selfie camera on the front. Similarly, the camera app and interface are essentially the same—with the exception of some added “smart camera” features that are designed to detect potential flaws and automatically optimize settings for best results. How well these features work, I am not totally sold on, but I thought the shots I took turned out well, considering I let the phone make all the adjustments. In addition to automatic aperture switching and settings optimization, the Note9 also comes with plenty of other camera modes and features, including a Pro mode that allows you to adjust ISO, shutter speed, and white balance manually, choose between the two different apertures, and more. The list of photog-friendly features goes on, but the main thing users should know is that the Note9’s system is almost identical to the Galaxy S9+’s, which means it’s the most advanced camera setup Samsung has ever put in a smartphone.

The Note9 runs the latest Samsung Experience firmware over Android 8.1 Oreo.

Software, User Interface, and Performance

Currently, the Note9 ships with Samsung Experience 9.5 running over Android 8.1 Oreo, both of which are newer than any operating system or UI on any other Galaxy smartphone—though not the most current Android OS on the market (that would be Pie). The user experience is familiar enough, with everything looking and behaving very Android-y—that includes all the security unlocks, gestures, edge panels, and multi-window operations (to name a few) previously used in the Galaxy Note8 and Note8 series. Despite the familiarity of features, the Note9’s graphics and CPU performance is anything but derivative. Thanks to bolstered chipsets, it significantly outperforms the Note8 in every single benchmark test and is much closer to the performance you see in Samsung’s current premier flagship, the Galaxy S9+.

The Verdict

Last year I made the mistake of saying, “Wow, the Note8 is a pretty perfect phone for phablet users. Not sure what else Samsung could do to make this better.” Having received a very thorough and convincing answer in the Galaxy Note9, I am less inclined to make a similar statement—though I’m tempted to. For phablet users and fans of the Note series, it’s really hard to imagine how Samsung could have made a better phone. Yes, it could be cheaper, and if I’m really nit-picking, I could say that I wish it had Android Pie, but, if we’re being honest, the price seems absolutely fair considering what you get, and I’m pretty sure an update to Pie is on the way. Now, if you already have the Note8 and you want to hold off until next year’s device, I could understand waiting, but if you’re in the market for a new phablet, and it’s within your budget, I’d say the Galaxy Note9 is the best large-sized smartphone on the market.

What are your thoughts on the Galaxy Note9? Any questions? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

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