Samsung's Galaxy Note series is one of the best smartphone ranges out there. It's the device that made phablets so fashionable that no one even bothers to call them phablets anymore.
Two years on though and the Galaxy Note 9 is here to re-confirm once again what the Note series is made of.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 design and build
- 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8mm; 201g
- Metal and glass design
- Integrated S Pen stylus
- IP68 water and dust resistance
Samsung has been an advocate of a metal core with a curved glass front and back design for a while now. It works and it works brilliantly so there's been no reason to take a different path.
The Galaxy Note 9 therefore is an evolution of the Note 8 and a clear relative of the Galaxy S9 and S9+. It isn't a big design year for Samsung, as we saw in March with the S9 and the S9+, so only seeing slight variations in design will come as no surprise to many.
The Note 9 remains the largest Galaxy model, though only just, incorporating the 6.4-inch Infinity Display on the front with a minimal forehead and chin, squeezing in the speaker, iris sensor and camera at the top, but ditching any branding on at the bottom. It's no small device, but despite its 76mm width, it's very easy to grip and manage one-handed as its predecessor was.
The Note 8 was a little squarer than the Galaxy S8 and S8+, with a flatter display and more standard colours, but while the Note 9 retains a slightly stockier look compared to the S9 and S9+, it has upped its game in the colour department. The Ocean Blue and Lavender Purple colours are fabulous and much more exciting than standard black.
Improvements have been made to the rear of the Note 9 too, with a repositioned fingerprint sensor, following in the footsteps of the S9 and S9+. The fingerprint sensor now sits below the dual camera arrangement, which although may not be as neat and tidy as the Note 8, it's a much more more ergonomic position.
The Note 9 retains the 3.5mm headphone jack, being one of the few flagship smartphones left to do so, and the integrated S Pen stylus is present too, differentiating the Note series from the S9+. We'll dive a little deeper into the S Pen in a minute, but it's now Bluetooth enabled giving it a whole range of new functions.
Both the Note 9 and its new accompanying S Pen are IP68 water and dust resistant too, so you can use them in the rain or the shower without any worries.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 display
- 6.4-inch AMOLED (18.5:9 ratio)
- 2960 x 1440 pixel resolution (516ppi)
- Dual curved edges
- Mobile HDR Premium
The Galaxy Note has always been about a big display. It used to be the thing it did so much better than other smartphones back when big displays weren't the norm.
Thankfully Samsung hasn't dropped the ball on the big screen front, despite the Note no longer monopolising them. The Note 9 sports a 6.4-inch AMOLED display with a 18.5:9 aspect ratio and a Quad HD+ resolution. The eagle-eyed among you will notice this is 0.1-inches larger than the Note 8, but the ratio and resolution remains the same. There is Mobile HDR Premium on board too.
Being an AMOLED panel, the colours are punchy and vibrant, while blacks are deep, something we've come to expect from Samsung flagship devices. Fortnite looks fantastic on it and our initial experience suggests the Note 9's display will impress, as the Note 8, S9 and S9+ all do, but we will confirm once we have reviewed it in full.
As we mentioned above, the display isn't as curved at the edges as the S9 and S9+, making it a little less striking than the Galaxy S devices, but the flatter design is more practical for the S Pen and the Note is a lovely-looking device, but a practical device too.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 performance and hardware
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 or Exynos 9810, 6GB/8GB RAM
- 128GB/512GB storage, microSD card slot up to 512GB
- 4000mAh battery, quick charge support
- Stereo speakers, tuned by AKG
Practicality and performance go hand-in-hand and the Note 9 has both, or at least it does on paper. Under its hood, you'll find either the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 or the Exynos 9810, depending on which region you live in. The UK will likely get Exynos, while US will probably get Qualcomm, not that it will really matter as both should deliver plenty of power.
In terms of RAM and storage, there are two Note 9 models to choose from. The first offers 6GB of RAM as the Note 8 did and 128GB of storage, while the second has 8GB of RAM and 512GB storage. Both have microSD support for storage expansion up to 512GB, which means the 8GB model will be 1TB ready - quite impressive really.
There are also stereo speakers on the Note 9, tuned by AKG and capable of supporting Dolby Atmos, as we have seen on the Galaxy S9 and S9+, and with a bit of luck they will be as brilliant, though we haven't had a chance to find out just yet.
Additionally on the hardware front, Samsung has also said it has improved the facial unlock and security experience and the Note 9 can also now connect to a desktop PC with just a HDMI connector, rather than requiring Samsung's DeX.
How the Note 9 will perform remains to be seen for now but it certainly has what you would hope for (and probably more) in terms of the spec sheet, including a huge 4000mAh battery that supports Quick Charge and wireless charging. We'll let you know what the day-to-day experience is like when we come to review it in full, but we're not expecting to be disappointed.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 S Pen skills
- Bluetooth Low-Energy enabled
- 106.4 x 5.7 x 4.4mm, 3.1g
- IP68 water and dust resistant
As we mentioned a little higher up this initial review, it's the S Pen that differentiates the Note from the Galaxy S devices. The Note has cemented itself as the best stylus-equipped device out there, not that there is a huge amount of competition but nevertheless.
The S Pen offers superb functionality and it is the main reason the Note series is so practical. Just as it was in the past, the S Pen is perfectly integrated into the body of the Note 9, clicking neatly into the bottom corner as it has done previously, only this time it offers even more.
The S Pen is now Bluetooth Low Energy-enabled with its own battery, which is claimed to charge through the Note 9 in just under a minute. This Bluetooth connectivity means the S Pen is no longer just for writing and drawing, even though it continues to do these effortlessly.
The Bluetooth functionality means the S Pen can now act as a remote control for the Note 9, allowing you to perform features such as take selfies and group pictures, pause and play music and present slides, among others. You'll still get the other S Pen features, like off-screen memo, smart select and translate, but being Bluetooth-enabled adds a whole new level. It might even make those who weren't S Pen people in the past consider it.
We'll need to spend more time with the Note 9 and its S Pen to deliver our full verdict on it, as well as test out the battery life, but for those who have been a fan of the S Pen in the past, chances are you'll be impressed with its new skills.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 camera
- Main: 12MP Super Speed Dual Pixel AF, f/1.5/2.4, OIS
- Zoom: 12MP AF, f/2.4, OIS
- Video at 960fps with motion detection
- Front: 8MP AF, f/1.7
Samsung has said previously that one of the main reasons people buy a Note is for the camera and while this may or may not be the case for everyone, the camera on any flagship smartphone these is an essential part to get right because the competition is fierce. Huawei P20 Pro we're looking at you - clap clap.
The Note 9 takes no chances in this department though, bringing the fantastic camera setup from the S9+ and adding a few extra features such as scene optimiser and flaw detection.
The main camera is a 12-megapixel Super Speed Dual Pixel sensor with autofocus and a dual aperture of f/1.5 and f/2.4, while the secondary telephoto camera is also 12-megapixels with a f/2.4 aperture. Both offer dual optical image stabilisation and if the results are anything like the S9+ delivers, we can expect great things, especially in low light conditions.
On the front of the Note 9, there is an 8-megapixel sensor with an aperture of f/1.7. Like the S9+, the Note 9 is capable of 2x optical zoom and up to 10x digital zoom, as well as super slow motion 960fps video with motion detection. AR Emoji also comes to the Note series in the Note 9, but we won't say whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.
We will test the Note 9's camera properly when we review the device in full but we are expecting great things so fingers crossed it performs as it should.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 software and Bixby
- Android Oreo 8.1 with Samsung Experience UX 9
- Bixby Voice
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 launches on Android Oreo 8.1 with the re-branded Samsung Experience UX 9 over the top. Samsung's re-working of Android is still one of most aggressive but it is also very accomplished and much better than the likes of Huawei's EMUI in terms of usability.
You get a lot of choice with Experience UX (previously known as TouchWiz), from how you want your navigation bar to what you want the always-on display to show. There are some great additions, and some unnecessary ones, but ultimately the Note 9 has a very similar software experience to the S9+ and that's a good thing.
You of course get the additional S Pen features with the Note 9, some of which we mentioned previously, but you'll also find the likes of Samsung Connect for managing your connected devices, SmartThings hub for Samsung's answer to Google Assistant's smart home skills and of course there is Bixby, Samsung's version of Google Assistant and Apple's Siri.
Bixby 2.0 launches on the Note 9 bringing several improvements to the personal assistant and there is still a dedicated Bixby button on the Note 9, as well as a Bixby Home screen, though these can both be disabled. We'll be diving much deeper into the Note 9's software when we come to review it in full, but for now, you can read our S9+ tips and tricks for an insight into what the software experience will be similar to.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is everything you'd expect it to be, based on first impressions. Sure, we might find some things that aren't perfect when we come to review it in full, as is the case with all devices, but it certainly holds a lot of promise.
The Note 9 offers a premium build quality, what appears to be an excellent screen, a mature software experience, all the power you could ask for and a camera that should, in theory, deliver brilliant results. Couple all of those with that new Bluetooth-enabled S Pen and you have the cherry on top of a pretty scrumptious cake.
Is the Note 9 worth its £899 asking price though? We'll let you know when we review it in full.