The Galaxy Note line has established a reputation for being the bleeding-edge phone in Samsung's lineup. It was the first to offer a big screen — before phablets became in vogue. It was the first with multiwindow software for running two apps side by side. And it was the first to do a curved edge screen.
The new Galaxy Note 9 (starting at $999) packs some firsts of its own, including an S Pen that doubles as a remote control. But after spending some hands-on time with Samsung's new flagship, most of the key the highlights this time around feel more like refinements of a great phablet than bold steps forward.
- S Pen is a remote control:
- Huge battery:
- AI camera:
- DeX without the dock.
- Water cooled.
The 512GB Galaxy Note 9 will cost $1,249 and will be sold through select retail locations and online via AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, U.S. Cellular and Samsung.com.
is a tiny bit heavier than the Note 8 (7.1 ounces versus 6.9 ounces), but I couldn’t feel the difference when holding both devices.
The biggest change is the fingerprint sensor, which Samsung wisely moved from beside the dual-lens camera to beneath it. This makes it easier for those of us with small hands to easily unlock the phone without straining our stubby fingers. Just be aware that the back of the new phone smudges easily.
OLED panels are now rivaling LED screens when it comes to brightness, at least when in direct sunlight. That’s definitely true of the Note 9, which hit 604 nits on the light meter in our lab tests. That easily beats the Pixel 2 XL’s 438 nits and the iPhone X’s 474 nits, though the S9+ edged out the Note 9 at 630 nits, and nothing really approaches the , which can clear 900 nits when you max out is brightness settings.
The Note 9 is also incredibly colorful: It reproduces 224 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is better than the Note 8 (204.8 percent), the Galaxy S9 (220 percent), the Pixel 2 XL (120 percent) and the iPhone X (128.6 percent). But the S9+ proves it has the panel to beat, covering an eye-popping 231 percent of the color spectrum.
Other tricks include the ability to page forward in presentations with your S Pen (when you're outputting the Note 9 to an external monitor) and controlling music playback from up to 30 feet away. These features worked well in my early testing, and an S Pen settings menu lets you customize what the button presses will do for other Samsung apps, such as Voice Memo. Samsung says it will open up this feature to third-party developers via an SDK.
and flagships both have intelligence baked in for automatically configuring the camera settings depending on what you’re shooting. The Note 9 recognizes 20 scenes, including snow, sunsets, beaches and backlit subjects, and adjusts the contrast, brightness, saturation, white balance and other settings you’d normally have to manually configure in the camera’s Pro mode. You can turn off Scene Optimizer if you’d rather take photos without its intervention.
The good news: The Note 9’s Scene Optimizer takes your photos to the next level compared to images shot without the feature turned on. In each photo we took, Scene Optimizer increased the contrast and saturation significantly, which made almost every photo look better.
For instance, a dimly lit shot of the gold clock in the center of Grand Central Station looked more vivid with the AI setting, which categorized the train station as nighttime. (An icon appears on-screen in the camera preview to tell you when the Note has recognized the scene type.) The gold clock gleamed in contrast to the window behind it, like a scene out of a Harry Potter film.
In a photo of foliage in Bryant Park, Scene Optimizer brought out the details in the leaves cascading over the planter. The pink petals were more sharply contrasted against the shrubbery in the AI-assisted image.
In a photo of me taken using Pixel’s Portrait mode and the Note 9’s version of Portrait mode, called Live Focus, the Pixel picked up the freckles on my shoulders and the detail in my face more than the Note 9, which smoothed out my skin but made it looks cooler than it is in real life.
In terms of how that translates to performance, our test results prove the Note 9 is indeed a powerful phone, though not the fastest Android device around. We ran Geekbench 4, which measures a phone's general performance, on the 6GB version of the Galaxy Note 9 and came up with a multicore score of 8,876. That's a definite improvement over the Note 8 and its Snapdragon 835 processor, which produced a 6,564 score, and the Note 9 outperformed the Galaxy S9+ (8,295) as well.
But the Note 9 didn't match the OnePlus 6 model with 8GB of RAM remains the fastest Android device, with its 9,098 scores. We haven't tested the 8GB model of the Note 9, which comes with 512GB of storage and costs $1,249, but it's possible the more expensive Note can rival the OnePlus 6.
on 3DMark's Slingshot Extreme 3.1 benchmark with a score of 4,639 compared to 4,634. However, the Note 9 lagged behind the iPhone X (4,994) and the OnePlus 6 (5,124) with 8GB of RAM.