Last year’s Galaxy Note 8 was a totally solid phone, but it wasn’t very exciting. With a screen that was the same size as what you get on a Galaxy S8+ or S9+ and a battery that was actually smaller, it felt like Samsung played it safe. But on the new Galaxy Note 9, it seems Samsung is back to its old, component-cramming ways, and despite looking basically the same as last year’s handset, the Note 9 is packing a lot more muscle inside, which is exactly what I’m looking for in Samsung’s high-end plus-sized phone.
Today Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note 9 — the latest in its flagship big-screen phone series. Like its predecessors, it comes with a stylus, which has gotten a refreshing makeover. Samsung also added an AI photography feature, updated the dual cameras and threw in some compelling performance improvements that power users will appreciate.
Samsung has slimmed the bezels surrounding the screen ever so slightly on the Note 9, allowing for a larger 6.4-inch screen as well as a tiny drop in height. The Note 9 is still a little wider and thicker, but it’s tough to notice. There’s a bit of bezel on the bottom, and the sensors in the top bezel don’t stick out like a sore thumb anymore. The power button is on the right edge, with the volume rocker on the left, above the infamous Bixby button. They’re incredibly clicky, and all the buttons are easy to access. A headphone jack sits on the crowded bottom edge, next to the USB Type-C charging port, bottom-firing speaker, and S Pen. The speaker works with the top earpiece to produce stereo sound, and you just push on the S Pen to pop it out. We’ll get to the new features with the stylus later.
The edges of the Infinity Display curve into the rear, making the phone feel comfortable to hold, and the flat edges on the sides help with maintaining a tight grip. It feels like you’re holding an expensive remote control. The Galaxy Note 8 measured 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6mm and weighed 195 grams. The dimensions of the Galaxy Note 9 are 161.9 x 76.8 x 8.8 and it weighs 201 grams.
The 6.4-inch Super AMOLED screen will keep you glued to the screen. Its 2,960 x 1,440-pixel resolution is brilliantly sharp, and colors appear to vibrate with inky blacks. Samsung makes the best smartphone displays, and we certainly think this one might be its best. The fingerprint sensor is now in a more sensible place below the dual-camera module — it’s much easier to reach. Like almost all high-end Samsung phones, the Note 9 is IP68 water- and dust-resistant, so it will be able to survive underwater up to 1.5 meters for about 30 minutes.
That was the second biggest surprise Samsung had for me during my Note 9 briefing earlier this week. The first was the price: $1,000 for the 128GB base model and an eye-popping $1,250 for the 512GB version. That’s $100 more than the top-of-the-line iPhone X (which only has 256GB of storage) for those keeping score. So Samsung’s Note 9 brings another first for the Android world sticker shock.
The biggest thing I keep thinking about with the Note 9 is the battery life. The 4,000 mAh battery embedded inside of the Note 9 is another thing that we rarely see in a mainstream smartphone. The last Note was at 3,300 mAh, and the closest we really see to this total in a “mainstream” device is Huawei’s flagships.
The dual-lens module on the rear is comprised of two 12-megapixel lenses with dual optical image stabilization, and one lens has mechanical disks that enable variable aperture. That means the primary lens can switch between f/1.5 and f/2.4 aperture, which will allow the Note 9 to excel with low-light photography. We’ve already seen it in action with the S9 Plus, and the results are fantastic. The second lens has a f/2.4 aperture, and it can handle 2x optical zoom. It’s also used for Samsung’s portrait mode, also known as Live Focus. From the brief tests we ran, the camera shutter reacts quickly, and photos look great. Does it stand out from the S9, though? Yes, and it’s all because of artificial intelligence (A.I.).
The 8-megapixel front-facing camera has a f/1.7 aperture, and it should take good selfies. You can also access AR Emojis here, in case you want to turn into a Disney character, or someone else.
The S Pen now has Bluetooth for remote-controlled shortcuts that, unlike the Bixby button, are customizable. Want to pose for a photo 30 feet away? This S Pen can help you do that and more.
Finally, there’s the price tag. Phones approaching or even surpassing $1,000 isn’t uncommon, but it still just feels wrong. The last Note already felt overly expensive at $930, but the Galaxy Note 9 starting at $999 and going all the way up to $1,249 is pretty ridiculous.