Reviewing a new Samsung flagship feels a bit like looking at the new Call of Duty or Marvel movie: the fans are going to buy in it regardless and there’s not much to convince the naysayers.
Does the Note 9 buck this trend and doing anything truly innovative? No, of course not. But that’s not a bad thing either. Samsung’s latest devices have been superb and every year they make them marginally better.
If that’s good enough for you the Note 9 is a solid buy if you can stomach the R18 999 price, and if it’s not maybe wait a year or two for those foldable displays or the other bleeding edge tech that’s not in our pocket yet.
For everyone else who isn’t that much of a Marmite person, the Note 9 is a big surprise when you first get it into your hands. That’s because it sits surprisingly comfortably in the hand. It’s much more narrow and thin than you may expect, and the almost flawless build quality makes this a device you’ll enjoy using.
All its bulk seems to come from its massive length. The 6.4″, 1 440 X 2 960 display is ludicrously big and the phone as a whole is a bit awkward even though it has relatively tiny chin and forehead bars. This makes single handed use a bit difficult, but it’s nothing you can’t get used to and it should be expected with a phone of this size.
The upside of this is that content consumption is an absolute joy. Everything you throw up on this big, bright screen looks nice and crisp, and the beefy internals ensure that you’re going between your tasks effortlessly.
The model we have here packs 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and is run on the Exynos 9810 chipset and Mali-G72 GPU. In the synthetic benchmarks you see on this page, it beats out the past offerings from Samsung (aside from a dip in data manipulation and writing in PCMark), and in actual use it absolutely screams. Even when you’re using two apps at once with the dual screen mode, we didn’t notice any slowdowns here. In terms of raw performance, there’s no compromises here.
The camera setup is, similarly, a joyous experience. As other manufacturers bump up megapixel count without the software and stabilisation to make it count, Samsung serves up a quick to launch camera that reliably catches impressive shots.
Even absolute novices will be taking great looking pictures with everything set to auto, and capturing things you would have missed with the impressive slo-mo is always entertaining.
You can see some of the shots we took here, which look fantastic despite our site’s high level of compression and our own lack of skills when it comes to taking pictures.
You’ll find yourself taking more pictures more often here, especially with the new S Pen features. The stylus for the Note 9 has received an upgrade as it can now be used as a Bluetooth remote for certain features, like activating the camera and controlling video playback.
While that sounds great, using these functions became fringe occurrences outside of the core functionality of a stylus. There may be a tiny selection of people who need to present a lot of slideshows off of their phones, but they’re not us.
After using this phone for a while this added functionality felt like a kickstand phone cover – useful once in a while, but not a key feature we’re clamouring for.
What we were hoping for, however, was different pressure sensitivity levels with the S Pen that would have made it perfect for creating art on the go. While there’s a lot of talented artists in the Penup app, we can’t help but think that such an inclusion would have turned the Note 9 into a stripped down, pocketable art tablet which would have been excellent.
Aside from that one small foible, the only other real negative here is Bixby. Samsung’s attempt at an assistant is still kicking and is locked to a physical button on the phone. Are you going to bring it up constantly by mistake because it’s placed just under the volume rocker? Yes. Are you ever going to actually use it over the other choices on the market, like Google Assistant which is also on the phone? Nope.
Being forced into this software is a real sore point in what’s supposed to be a phone without compromise.
But even those two points are supreme examples of nitpicking. The user experience with the Note 9 did not leave us wanting in the slightest and we really had to dig deep to even find something to fault.
With the bigger battery compared to the Note 8 (4000mAh versus 3300mAh, which usually lasted us a full day), the software to tweak power draw for even longer use, the raw performance and brilliant display, the Note 9 really is the complete package.
One last positive to mention here is that Samsung has taken the example of Chinese manufacturers and included a phone cover in the box. Even though the cover is a soft, transparent one that won’t provide much protection when dropped, we love this change. If they also included a screen protector too we’d be over the moon.