Galaxy Note 9 hands-on review

SINCE ITS LAUNCH last week, many have commented on the Note 9’s similarities to its Note 8 predecessor.

Sure, there are upgrades. The Galaxy Note 9 boasts a slightly-bigger 6.4in screen, a Bluetooth-enabled S-Pen, a beefier battery and, if you’re willing to cough up for a 512GB microSD card, up to 1TB of storage.

However, on the face of it, Samsung’s new flagship – with its curvy AMOLED screen and Gorilla Glass-clad chassis – looks near identical to last year’s model.

So much so that after a bewildered Samsung staffer handed INQ a Note 8 to try out at the firm’s, er, Note 9 hands-on event last week, we were none the wiser. To begin with, at least. 

When we finally got our hands on a Note 9, we weren’t overly surprised about the aforementioned mix-up. Although slightly heavier (201g vs 195g), there are few visual differences between Samsung’s new flagship and its predecessor – albeit for the repositioned fingerprint scanner, which now sits underneath the handset’s horizontally-aligned dual camera system, and the Note 9’s slightly slimmer bezels.

This lack of change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, as Samsung’s tried-and-tested design formula – an aluminium frame sandwiched between Gorilla Glass panels – gives the Note 9 a premium, grippy feel in hand. And it’s worth noting that while the handset is slightly heavier than the Note 8, it features an identical footprint, so it’s no bulkier than its predecessor.

And like the Note 8 before it – and as you’d expect for a phone that’s going to set you back more than 800 quid – the Note 9 is IP68 certified, which makes it both dust and waterproof. We’d like to say we haven’t managed to test this out yet – but after a fumble involving the Note 9 and a radiator, the handset managed to come out unscathed. 

Elsewhere design-wise, you’ll find a power button on the right edge, with the volume rocker on the left, above the infamous Bixby button. On the bottom, you’ll find a USB-C charging port, a headphone jack, and a slot for handset’s S Pen. 

While the design of the handset hasn’t changed, its accompanying S Pen has been given a major rework. It now ships with Bluetooth LE connectivity baked-in, which means you can now use it as a makeshift remote, as well as for drawing obscene images on the Note 9’s display. 

The Note 9’s screen, if Samsung’s marketing guff is anything to go by, is the handset’s main selling point. It’s slimmer bezels allow room for a bigger 6.4in Super AMOLED display, which packs the same 18.5:9 aspect ratio and 2,960×1,440 resolution as before. 

The QHD+ screen, which features the same curved edges as last year’s model, is unsurprisingly stunning and delivers sharp, punchy and vibrant colours. And the AMOLED tech ensures that, just as on previous Samsung flagships, blacks are deep and inky, and brightness levels are off the charts.

Software and performance
Although Android Pie is now official and rolling out to devices, the Note 9 ships with Google’s Android 8.1 Oreo OS. You probably won’t really notice though, as Samsung puts its own spin on Android with its custom ‘Experience’ UI. 

This skin is much less obtrusive than Samsung’s TouchWiz UI of old, and you won’t find too much pre-loaded crap on the device; there’s a bunch of Samsung’s own apps including Galaxy Apps, Galaxy Health and SmartThings; a pre-bundled folder of Microsoft apps; and, of course, a Fortnite installer.

Bixby, of course, is also pre-installed, and Samsung claims that its AI assistant is now more intelligent and “conversational” than before. This, however, was untestable during our hands-on time with the phone. 

Powering everything along is Samsung’s own 10nm Exynos 9810 processor (or Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845, for those of you in the US). And, as an early teardown revealed, this chip is paired with a “notebook-class” water carbon cooling system, which Samsung claims will protect the Note 9 against overheating and allows the smartphone to run at peak for longer periods of time.

Under the hood, you’ll also find a hefty 4,000mAh battery – which Samsung claims will last “all day”, 6GB or 8GB RAM and 128GB or 512GB storage, which can be expanded up to 1TB if you fork out for a 512GB microSD card.

The camera on the Note 9 hasn’t changed too much. Like the Note 8, the handset features a dual camera system on its rear comprising of a wide-angle 12MP f/1.5 lens and a 12MP f/2.4 telephoto lens with 2x optical zoom. 

The only major difference is the new f/1.5 aperture, which should make for brighter shots in low-lighting. This improvement wasn’t immediately evident during our hands-on time with the phone in Samsung’s brightly-lit, sweatbox of a demo space, but we’ll be sure to give the camera a proper rundown in our full review.

Samsung claims that the sensors are “more intelligent” than before, with its AI-fuelled camera app now letting you know when an image is flawed; if someone has blinked, for example. 

First impressions
While, for a brief time, we were unable to tell the difference between the Note 9 and its predecessor, Samsung’s latest flagship does offer some decent upgrades; from its souped-up internals and its bigger screen to its new-and-improved S Pen and camera tweaks. 

However, none of these are major improvements, and we’re not convinced these somewhat incremental updates are worthy of the handset’s £899 starting price. We’ll reserve judgement until we’ve spent some proper time with the smartphone. 

Check back soon for our full Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review. µ

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