The Galaxy Note series has a special role in smartphone history: Samsung opened the door to much larger displays. Initially laughed at by many commentators for these “phablets”, other manufacturers soon followed the trend. The result: Those 5.3 inches, which made the screen of the first Notes still gigantic, are now offered by many manufacturers in the smaller issues of their smartphones. Meanwhile, of course, Samsung smartphones have evolved, and this now leads to a device with once again quite impressive key data: the Galaxy Note 9.
In the hand (more or less)
The first impression recalls memories of previous note experiences. With its 6.4-inch screen, the Note 9 is a bit larger than its predecessor, which still came with 6.3 inches. After all, leading Samsung’s current design line with the rather narrow margins above and below the display to the fact that the resulting size of the device with 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8 mm is not completely out of control, and subjectively can hardly be distinguished from grade 8. Nevertheless, it does not remain just a handy device, which could eliminate it for many at this point. Especially as it comes to a record-breaking weight: Proud of 201 grams brings the grade 9 on the scales.
Generally speaking, it is positive that Samsung is not simply copying the current trend towards display cutouts (“notch”), as is currently the case with so many manufacturers, but remains stuck with its own design approaches. This does not change the fact that this direction is not quite easy. Choosing to use glass as the outermost layer for the case both at the front and at the back makes the Note 9 – in combination with size and weight – slip out of the hand comparatively easily. This is further accentuated by the usual, strong lateral bending of the display. Remains at least the consolation that the new Samsung smartphone below the fragile shell thanks to a metal frame is apparently built very stable, as stress tests show. Another plus: The Note 9 is really well processed, which is not least the buttons with excellent pressure point and stability.
The rest of the design is relatively conservative, although there are only a few differences to discover in comparison to its predecessor – and also to the S9 anyway. The most obvious thing is the repositioning of the fingerprint scanner. This was previously attached to the cameras, which Samsung has brought a lot of criticism. After all, this position is not only difficult to achieve, it also carries the risk that the camera cover is contaminated by fingerprints. With the Note 9, however, Samsung fixes this problem only halfheartedly: The scanner is now indeed under the camera arrangement to find – but only very close. The rectangular and comparatively small scanner surface also does not help to avoid mistakes. And in general you have to have big hands before you can reach this position without reaching around.
The specification list of the Note 9 reads impressively: Samsung delivers pretty much everything you would expect in a top smartphone of the year 2018 – and then a little more. From an absolute high-end display through a nimble processor to plenty of local storage space and wireless charging, this palette is just what you need. And with all this, the manufacturer of course sets the goal of obstructing only the best of the best, after all, it is the Note 9 is the current most highly equipped device from our own production. In reality, the Samsung smartphone largely meets this requirement, even if there are specific weaknesses.
A dream of a screen
An absolute highlight is once again the screen of the Note 9: The 6.4 inch Super AMOLED delivers with its 2,960 x 1,440 pixels a razor-sharp, color-intensive and bright presentation. It is no secret that Samsung is currently simply building the best displays in the industry as a whole, and this underlines the Note 9 once again in an impressive manner. At the same time, however, it should be noted that the changes compared to the previous year’s model are largely in a range that most users will hardly notice with the naked eye.
Camera is familiar
But there is also a very different perspective on the new Samsung smartphone: compared to the S9 there are, strictly speaking, very few differences. This can be seen for example in the camera, whose structure corresponds exactly to that of the S9 +. So there is again a dual camera with two 12-megapixel sensors, which are mainly used for a – well-functioning – pseudo-optical zoom. Since the camera of the S9 + has already been discussed in detail elsewhere, here is just a brief summary: The Note 9 delivers as expected again really good photos, and acts above all very fast and relatively reliable. At the same time, there is now the manufacturer of the pure photo quality, outdo the Samsung, especially Google (Pixel 2). Nevertheless, it should be emphasized that we are talking here of gradual differences on a now – for smartphones – very high level. Especially in good light conditions, the current top smartphones all provide good pictures.
If you can criticize something on Samsung’s camera, then especially that the manufacturer tends to stuff the software more and more with some gimmicks, which is the usability of only very limited beneficial. At the grade 9 there is another new entry with an AI-recognition of scenes. This reads well in promotional materials, but in practice, no relevant improvements were found in the test. There is also a front camera with 8 megapixels, which can produce quite appealing selfies.
Reinforcement for the battery
However, there is another really pleasing hardware upgrade elsewhere: The Note 9 houses a battery with a capacity of 4,000 mAh. This is a proud 700 mAh more than the direct predecessor – where, of course, due to the disaster with the retired because of fire incidents grade 7 in this regard was deliberately conservative. The test resulted in a screen-on-time around the 6 hours, the vast majority of users should therefore easily through the day. As always, of course, such value depends heavily on your own usage behavior and the chosen (brightness) settings. In this respect, they are difficult to generalize.
The well-known there are, however, again in processor issues: Samsung attacks as in the S9 to Exynos 9810 from our own production. This is characterized by eight cores. For those who want to know exactly: It is 4 x 2.7 GHz Moongoose M3 and 4 x 1.8 GHz Cortex A55, the first part is responsible for high-performance tasks and the second with less Demanding tasks are used to save energy. The RAM is also very generous with 6 or 8 GB (depending on the model).
Good performance with a little “but”
In everyday life, the Performance of the Note 9 can be little exposed: The device reacts nimbly, even well-known problems with the Touchwiz interface, which have previously led to performance deficits, have since been adjusted. At the same time, Samsung does not live up to its own claim of delivering the best of the best, because the Exynos 9810 seems to have had a few glitches. As Anandtech has now highlighted in a comprehensive series of articles, the chip is plagued by specific hardware and software deficiencies, which cause the performance does not come close to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845. Samsung responds to this problem by giving the Note 9 an extra heat pipe to cool the processor. And in fact, this shows some improvements over the S9, especially when it comes to longer loads. Nonetheless, the performance level of the competition is not fully approached, as confirmed by benchmarks that focus on realistic workloads rather than purely synthetic calculations. For example, PCMark Work 2.0 scores a score of 5,263, with a Pixel 2 XL – a device with Qualcomm’s last-year high-end chip, the Snapdragon 835 – reaching a value of 7,233. Even more astounding, the Note 9 is slightly weaker than the Pixel 2 XL (3,636) even with the graphics benchmark Slingshot Extreme (by 3DMark) with a value of 3,406.
But to emphasize this once again: In everyday life, most users will hardly ever notice these differences. Conversely, all of that means of course that even devices that are available at half price, such as the OnePlus 6, offer a similar, if not slightly higher performance level.
In the test, only one area noticed, where the Note 9 is really much slower than many other current Android smartphone: The boot time. Here are probably the numerous software enhancements by Samsung noticeable. They also leave their mark elsewhere: The permanently pre-installed software – ie operating system and apps – inherently occupy an impressive 20 GB of internal memory, and thus more than twice as much compared to devices with pure Android. This incidentally, although Samsung does not even use Google’s seamless update system, where central partitions are duplicated to easily install updates in the background, and also to reduce the risk of damage.
Nevertheless, Note 9 shoppers need not worry too much in this regard, as Samsung solves the problem by simply making the internal memory extremely generous. Even the smaller model offers 128 GB of local data storage, the larger one even accommodates 512 GB. And then the whole thing can also be expanded via microSD card, which currently adds another 512 GB can be added.
The other key data read similarly impressive: The Note 9 is waterproof to IP68, in contrast to many other manufacturers, Samsung insists on the classic headphone plug and dual-SIM support is also there. Of course, there are only the latest WLAN, Bluetooth and LTE technologies, and the USB-C port supports the nimble USB 3.1. In terms of location, there is support for A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS and GALILEO.
And then there’s the one component that sets the Note 9 apart from the S9: the pen. With the new version, this now for the first time to a Bluetooth device, which means that it can also be used as a kind of remote control. This can then be about control the camera to trigger selfies, as Samsung emphasizes. That actually works fine. Whether this type of control prevails is, of course, a completely different question. Nevertheless, the whole thing is a nice extra. The fact that the S-Pen now supports Bluetooth, however, means that it now has to be charged regularly, but this is done when plugged into the device within a few seconds – a very well thought-out solution. Even otherwise, the use of the S-Pen in terms of its high precision and thought-out control is positive, which will delight fans of pen control.
However, a smartphone is not characterized by hardware alone, especially in times of ever-decreasing innovation leaps in processors and Co., the software is increasingly important. Samsung delivers the Note 8 with Android 8.1, an update to the current Android 9 is announced, but does not name a date the manufacturer. Given the experience of recent years, it can be expected that it will hardly be that far before February or March 2019.
As usual, Samsung is making massive changes to the Android interface. Whether all this is really necessary and useful, is an open question, but at least one has the core user interface now pretty well under control. Over the years, many inconsistencies have been eliminated, and in fact, Android is also being expanded by one or the other useful feature. Nevertheless, the desire quickly stirs when using Samsung, that once again roughly clears up its software equipment. Over the years, many things have been added here that are of dubious nature and can be found in the Gimmick category. This starts with the setup with a seemingly endless series of dialogues, which want to push you to use all sorts of services – and in addition extremely verbose, so you just quickly just want to click away everything. And that continues with lots of extra buttons and gestures that stand in the way rather than being really useful.
All of Samsung’s activities around Android paint a clear picture: you want to be more than just a hardware manufacturer. Someone who runs his own app and service ecosystem that can be used to tie customers in so they can not easily switch to the competition. This is strategically quite understandable, but has a tiny problem: So far, Samsung has failed with each of these attempts, as evidenced by a long list of discontinued apps and services. Of course, Samsung is not beaten that easily.
The current bearer of hope is called Bixby and is Samsung’s version of a digital assistant. The hardware manufacturer considers this development so central that he even donates her own button on the side of the device. That was already the case with the S8 and Note 8, but now – after massive criticism of the first version of Bixby – everything will be better. The assistant has learned a lot in the meantime, says Samsung. The tester says: Does not he have. No matter how you turn it, Bixby just is not good. The answers are often erratic, the range of possibilities far removed from what the Google Assistant offers, and Alexa can not compete in many ways either. And then comes the simple reality that such an assistant just works the better, the more data the manufacturer has about its users – and here Samsung is simply missing back to Google comparable – and really used – services. But even if Bixby were better than he is, the decision to block his own button would be dubious. After all, the use of such wizards on the smartphone is generally still a peripheral issue. But instead of facing up to this reality, Samsung even adds: At the Note 9, the Bixby button can not be deactivated – on the S9 it was still possible. Cynical natures might suspect a plan to increase usage numbers. But – presumably – the unintentional call on the hardware button a significant part of the Bixby use.
It has already been mentioned that the software configuration of the Note 9 is more extensive than that of many other smartphones. However, there are good things to mention in this regard: in the meantime, many of the less important Samsung apps are no longer preinstalled by default. Already during the setup of the device, the installation of a variety of apps can be prevented, the range extends from the Samsung Internet browser to your own mail client and the calculator. Also interesting is the handling of Google Apps: Part of it will also be installed during setup, including Duo, Google Play Music or Google Photos. This means that they can easily be completely uninstalled afterwards by the users. A development that is quite gratifying, but is also implemented by Samsung in an amazingly inconsistent way. For example, a whole series of Microsoft apps are permanently pre-installed. Including the various office apps and OneDrive meanwhile also LinkedIn. But after all, development is going in the right direction.
Samsung now recommends a mix of face and iris recognition to unlock the device. At least in good light conditions that works reasonably well. But that does not change the fact that a fingerprint continues to work faster and more reliably – and the Samsung solution can not come up with comparable levels of security to Apple’s Face ID.
A device for all tasks: This vision is pursued by Samsung with DeX, a desktop mode for its top smartphones. At Note 9, the whole thing works for the first time without its own dock, so it’s enough to connect via monitor cable with a monitor and you’re ready to go. At least in theory. In practice, of course, you need an external keyboard and a mouse as well as the appropriate USB-C to HDMI cable for productive work to connect to the screen. And that’s exactly where the basic problem of this idea comes from: in the end, it’s usually easier to take a laptop with you when traveling and automatically sync the data instead of packing peripherals and then messing around with a hotel’s wiring. DeX is, like similar solutions from other manufacturers before, simply a nice-sounding thing in theory, but in practice has hardly found any followers.
There remains one crucial question: What is the fun? And here many a prospective customer will have to swallow: The smaller model with 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of local memory is priced at € 999, while the larger model with 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage space costs € 1,249. Variants in the colors black, blue and violet are available, whereby the availability varies with different providers. A variant in “copper” is also announced.
Two points of view
The Galaxy Note 9 is the dream of any true Samsung fans: There is little to nothing to complain about the hardware, the manufacturer packs practically everything in a case, which one can expect from a smartphone so currently. If you have the necessary budget and big enough hands, you can confidently access it here. And pen fans barely get around the note series anyway.
And yet: the great enthusiasm may not be in the test. This is less due to the discussed software deficits, but they can be easily bypassed and disable unnecessary services. No, it’s another fact that makes the difference here: Compared to the S9 – or especially the S9 + – there are just barely relevant differences. As a result, the Note series is more and more like a secondary use of the S series – just expanded by a pen. And one that really only addresses the right hardcore fans who are willing to pay a decent premium for all of this.