I tend to say this every year but I always tout the Galaxy Note series as one of my faves in general for smartphones. I have always enjoyed the bigger size, stronger features than the “S” line and occasionally the S-Pen. With Samsung releasing a new flagship every six months between the “S” and “Note” series the lines have blurred a bit. I used the Galaxy S9 over the Spring and wasn’t really impressed compared to its predecessor. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 on the other hand makes some incremental updates that made me give it a longer amount of usage before giving my honest opinion about it. Is it still the productivity phone series to beat?

Style

From the naked eye the Galaxy Note 9 looks eerie similar to last year’s Galaxy Note 8. The Note 9 happens to be a fraction of an inch thicker, heavier and wider. Even putting them side to side you won’t really notice the difference. Samsung thankfully still kept the 3.5mm headphone jack which is on the bottom next to the Type C port. The usual Power button lays lonely on the right side while volume controls and the infamous, unmappable and never used Bixby button remain on the left. I think since Samsung did away with Samsung Pay reward points on Bixby it has decreased my usability all the way down to zero. Besides that I always like the height and thickness of the Galaxy Note and it feels great in the hand to me but possibility too tall for others.

From top to bottom Samsung managed to increase the Infinity Display up one inch to 6.4” while shrinking the bezel which is amazing. You are still getting a Quad HD+ Super AMOLED (2960×1440) display covered in Gorilla Glass 5 comboing for some of the best smartphone glass in the biz. If one thing could keep you coming for Samsung smartphones is their screens. The curved edges help achieve this and they been fine for the most part. I rarely use the edge display features though. I have played tons of games and watched various amounts of content such as “Hot Ones” and “Iron Fist” and been pleased with the results especially since they are created with 4K HDR content in mind for the most part.

Hardware

This is where Samsung has made a good amount of changes under the hood and it shows greatly. Spec wise you are getting a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 , Adreno 630 GPU , 128GB storage with 6GB RAM(512GB/8GB RAM higher SKU) and 4000mAh battery. The Galaxy Note 9 also has a IP68 rating for water and dust resistance. So first thing is Samsung put a 4K battery in their niche flagship which funny enough isn’t unheard of it because they have done it with their Active lines dating back to the Galaxy S7 Active. For a phone this caliber and it being a productivity machine I really see the difference and strive which I can use this phone compared to last year’s Note 8. I also noticed the phone doesn’t get much hot or at all since they put a cooling system inside. I been playing games such as Candy Crush Friends and the heavily favored Fortnite with no stutters or hot hands. The Galaxy Note 9 does have a built-in game recorder which works good except that it relies on the speakers for audio. So it will pickup any background noise including the vibrating of the phone which you will hear in the video below.

S-Pen finally has bluetooth capabilities and it’s not something you will always use but it’s cool to have it. I think I have used in a few scenarios mostly to utilize the rear cameras and that’s it to snap photos. It works with various apps like YouTube to pause, play and navigate content if you need to. S-Pen lasts on BT for about 30 mins and then can be charged right back in its holster. It can still be used for the standard writing and so forth without battery life too.

A feature picked up from the Galaxy S9 is dual speakers tuned by AKG with Dolby Atmos capabilities. As I mentioned with the S9, sound quality is superb compared to many other speakers on the market. They are completely front facing but it will do and the surround sound effect is nice. It’s not just loud but also clean and not tinny.

Software

Out the box you are getting Android’s Oreo 8.1 on the Galaxy Note 9. Right now Google has its latest Pie(9.0) on a handful of devices but not many. Thing is Pie was revealed months before the Galaxy Note 9 and we probably won’t see it hit handsets til sometime in 2019. Looking past that the Note 9 handles its Samsung Experience(formerly TouchWiz) OS pretty good with multitasking, gaming and camera usage without much of a stutter. I do come across some minor instances of where I may of somehow opened an app in a couple of tabs and need to close or trying to use the camera when it’s still open in another app, but a swift open/close has alleviated that.

On the security front while there is iris scanning and facial unlock I have mostly relied on the fingerprint sensor. Moreso since Samsung moved it under the cameras and with a bit of space compared to it next to the cameras on the Note 8 it works far better. No more lenses smushing from accidental swipes.

Camera

With all the smartphones I switch to and use I managed to get some of the best low light shots on the Galaxy Note 9 this year. The Dual 12MP Lens on the rear help achieve this. The F1.5 lens helps with the dark areas while the F2.4 helps with the brighter spots. Of course with Samsung cameras some shots can look slightly over saturated but you can try to dial it down a bit with the various camera options.The Note 9 also has some AI behind it where it can recognize the scenario such as food and tweak the lens so to speak to make it look better. You can check out some of my photo examples in the gallery and my colleague Al has a camera full review focusing primarily on the Galaxy Note 9’s lens.

Availability

You can practically get the Galaxy Note 9 on all carriers ranging from Verizon, T-Mobile or Unlocked at this point. I have mainly been hopping between Big Red and the Magenta network for the past few months. Service has been stellar on each with VZW hitting some areas better than TMO at times. Each has its share of bloatware which can be removed or disabled if needed. Usually the big carrier test is my annual trips to CES in January in Las Vegas.

Verdict

So I been using the Galaxy Note 9 for about three months and I have to say… I really enjoy it. I mean it’s been a powerhouse of a device. The smaller batteries of the Galaxy S9 and the on/off drains I had on the Note 8 have been nonexistent here. Its handled everything extremely well and been my go-to for a smartphone. It’s really only hard to recommend if you are currently a S9+ user as they look mostly identical sans the S-Pen, some hardware tweaks and a bigger battery. Its price tag is hefty retailing at $999 but some carriers have it hovering around $899 and the holidays are coming up shortly so there are bound to be some deals.