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Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review, 3 months later: The uncompromising flagship

When you sell over 20 million units of something, you don't change the formula. You instead try to make it better by tweaking a few elements. That's Samsung's strategy in a nutshell with the Galaxy Note 9.

The phone retains the same basic design aesthetic as the Note 8, with Samsung instead focused on polishing the overall experience, leading to a more vibrant display and finely-optimized software. But this being Samsung, we still got to see cool new features in the form of a Bluetooth-enabled S Pen and a new imaging module with variable aperture.

While we've written about the Note 9 extensively over the last three months, it makes sense to revisit the phone in a full review to see how it has weathered its first quarter. Without further ado, here's how the Note 9 is doing three months after its launch.

Pros:

  • Class-leading AMOLED display
  • All-new S Pen
  • Exquisite hardware
  • Headphone jack
  • Excellent camera

Cons:

  • Still on Oreo
  • Bixby still isn't great
  • Fast charging needs an update

Galaxy Note 9 What's held up

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review

Samsung isn't pushing the boundaries of design quite like Vivo or OPPO, but the Note 9 builds on the company's industrial design. The overall aesthetic hasn't changed much from the Galaxy S9, and while this sounds counter-intuitive, I prefer the larger and thicker chassis of the Note 9 to the S9+. The Note 9 just feels that little bit more refined, and the added thickness makes it easier to hold the device.

I've used the Note 9 on and off over the last three months, switching between the phone and the Pixel 3 XL and Huawei Mate 20 Pro. Those devices also sport great QHD AMOLED panels, but they're not quite as good as the screen on the Note 9. In my usage, the Note 9's screen proved to be brighter and more vibrant than any phone I've used so far.

The sunlight legibility in particular is excellent. I used the phone in the summer in Agra — where it went up to 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit) — and even under the intense heat and glare I was able to see the contents on the screen without any issues whatsoever.

This is the best display on any phone today — Android or otherwise.

The display is complemented by excellent stereo speakers, and viewing HDR10 content from the likes of Netflix is a delight. And with even more manufacturers getting rid of the 3.5mm jack this year, Samsung continues to be one of the few companies that offers the analog jack.

I haven't used the analog jack nearly as much as I made the switch to Bluetooth, and one feature I particularly like on Samsung's flagships is dual audio. The feature debuted last year, and allows you to send audio over Bluetooth to two devices at once. It's one of those features that you don't really use a lot, but once you do, you'll never realize just how good it is. I started listening to audiobooks with my wife, and while we predominantly listen in the car, dual audio allows us to do the same when we're out jogging together and both of us have headphones on.

There's no performance degradation even after three months of use.

I usually see a drop-off in performance from Samsung phones at the two- to three-month mark, but that just hasn't been the case this year. The Galaxy S9+ continues to be just as fluid as it was the day I set it up, and the Note 9 is following in a similar vein. I also had a lot of problems with the placement of the fingerprint sensor on the Galaxy Note 8, but that hasn't been the case on the Note 9. The module sits underneath the camera assembly in its own housing, and the minor depression ensures you don't miss it on the back of the device.

Continuing with the theme of usability, the Note 9 proved to be more durable than it looks. The device took its share of tumbles in the three months I used it, and in one particular instance it fell from five feet onto a marble surface and skidded across the floor. In several instances the impact of the tumble ejected the S Pen from its enclosure. Thankfully, the phone itself didn't suffer any damage aside from a few dents to the metal mid-frame. Crucially, the glass panes came away undamaged.

The Note 9 shares the same camera hardware as the Galaxy S9+, but Samsung has rolled out a set of AI-based features like scene optimizer and flaw detection. And like the S9+, you get great shots regardless of the lighting conditions. There are a few cases where the device loses out to the Pixel 3, but in most scenarios it is able to hold its own next to Google's latest.

There are other Samsung-exclusive features that make the Note 9 great. Samsung Pay continues to lead the way for mobile payments, and it is one of the features I miss the most when switching away from a Samsung phone. Samsung Pay's ability to work over NFC as well as MST gives it a distinct edge, and the fact that it works at nearly all retail outlets makes using it as seamless as possible.

I haven't used the S Pen to a great extent in previous years, but that changed with the Note 9. The stylus picked up a host of new functionality — including Bluetooth LE connectivity — and I had a lot of fun using it as a remote shutter button for the camera. You can also customize a lot of actions for the single button on the stylus, including launching apps, controlling presentations, and for media playback. Then there's screen off memo, which is particularly useful for quickly jotting down things like phone numbers.

The Note 9 is the first Samsung phone I've used that doesn't have any major drawbacks.

Every single Samsung phone I've used over the last three years has had a flaw that prevented me from using it for more than a month at a time, but the Note 9 doesn't have any such drawbacks. The Galaxy S9+ was almost close to perfection, but the battery life was a letdown. The phone failed to last a full day even under medium load, making it less than ideal as a daily driver. Thankfully, Samsung's decision to stick a larger 4000mAh battery on the Note 9 paid off, and the phone had no issues delivering a day's worth of use consistently.

The end result is that the Note 9 is the most frustration-free Samsung phone I've used to date. There are absolutely on issues on the hardware or usability fronts, and the phone has just been a delight to use. The AMOLED panel is downright gorgeous, there's no performance degradation whatsoever even after nearly four months of usage, and the S Pen differentiates the Note 9 from the rest of the pack.

Galaxy Note 9 What hasn't aged well

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review

Software updates proved to be Samsung's Achilles heel in years past, and that continues to be the case with the Note 9 as well. We're nearing the end of 2018, and the Note 9 is still running Android 8.1 Oreo. Although Samsung is rolling out the One UI beta for the device, a stable Pie update isn't not going to arrive until Q1 2019.

Updates have never been Samsung's strong suit, but it's frustrating to see the manufacturer make little progress in this area. For what it's worth, Samsung got better at issuing monthly security updates — at least on its flagships — but if you're paying $1,000 for a phone, you'd expect timely platform updates as well as security patches.

Samsung still lags behind when it comes to software updates and fast charging.

Samsung also needs to overhaul its fast charging standard. There haven't been any changes in this front in the last three years, and Samsung continues to offer a 15W charger in the box. Huawei, for instance, offers 40W fast charging with the Mate 20 Pro, which is able to charge the phone from flat to 70% in just 30 minutes. What that effectively means is that you only need to plug in your phone for a half hour in the morning for all-day battery life.

OPPO goes one step further with its Super VOOC flash charge tech. The manufacturer uses a bi-cell system to deliver a massive 50W charge to devices like the R17 Pro, and that allows the battery to go from flat to 40% in just 10 minutes, and a full charge in under an hour. That sort of fast charging fundamentally alters the way you use your phone, and right now Samsung is lagging behind. The Note 9 takes one hour and forty minutes to fully charge, or nearly twice as long as the R17 Pro.

Finally, there's Bixby. Samsung's voice assistant just hasn't been useful — at least for me — and it isn't anywhere as good as Google Assistant. Like the S9 series, the Note 9 has a dedicated hardware button to invoke Bixby, and that was particularly bothersome during the first month of usage as I would end up inadvertently triggering Bixby every time I pulled the device out of my pocket. The worst part about it was that there was no way to disable the voice assistant, but Samsung thankfully rolled out an update to amend the issue.

Galaxy Note 9 Three months on

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review

The Note 9 continues to be a solid choice if you're in the market for a high-end phone. The camera is one of the best out there, as it the AMOLED display. Samsung has done a magnificent job making sure the device isn't lacking when it comes to features; if anything, most users won't end up using all the stuff that's on the device.

There aren't a lot of alternatives to the Note 9. LG is trying to emulate Samsung's strategy with the V40, and while the phone clearly has a lot to offer, it isn't quite as good an overall package as the Note 9. The Mate 20 Pro is incredible and the biggest rival to the Note 9 right now, but the phone isn't officially available in the U.S.

The Pixel 3 is the most credible contender to the Note 9 in the U.S., offering a clean software experience and a fantastic camera. The Pixel 3 is the phone to beat when it comes to the camera, but it does miss out on a lot of features that make the Note 9 great. Simply put, if you want a high-end phone that doesn't miss out on any features, the Galaxy Note 9 is your default option.

4.5 out of 5

The Note 9 offers everything you're looking for in a flagship. The phone combines an exquisite design with the best display on any phone today, and you also get great battery life, top-notch performance, excellent cameras, wireless charging, IP68 water resistance, and a headphone jack. There isn't a high-end phone today that delivers quite the same combination of features. The Note 9 has aged very well in its first three months, and I expect that to continue as we head into 2019.

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.

41 Comments
  • You summed it up perfectly.
    I'm on the pie beta with one UI and I can say it makes this phone even better!
  • Completely agree with this and I can vouch for it.
  • Is the note9 on track to receive phone of the year? I absolutely think so. There are many great phones in 2018 but is the note the one?
  • AC needs to take Google's dongle out of its mouth first, otherwise the phone of the year will always be whatever crap Google sells.
  • Well done article. It's nice to read an unbiased article about a really good Samsung product and not just some google fanboy's/pixel lover's perspective on an amazing device but since it doesn't have the latest version of pure stock boring droid then its total crap. I really liked how you mentioned the camera is up to par with the pixel 3 with the exception of a few instances. Of course, the pixel 3's video capabilities leave much to be desired and Samsung's video is absolutely a delight. I don't care its running 8.1; you don't need the latest greatest to get stuff done (heck I still have a laptop running Windows 7 and have no intention of changing what works well). Thanks for the review.
  • "Well done article. It's nice to read an unbiased article about a really good Samsung product and not just some google fanboy's/pixel lover's perspective on an amazing device" LOL. Yeah, because you don't seemed biased at all.
  • Bias that is earned by a solid product...is it really bias? I think it's justified. I had a Note 8 and was very negative about the 9 when it was released as they didn't really change enough to justify the 9. I was given the 9 at work and decided to give it a chance and I have to agree with everything in this review. There are no glaring flaws I can point to...except the price. That's one thing that bothers me about all flagship devices this year. We can all thank Apple for raising the bar as high as they possibly can to teach all manufacturers that the price ceiling is much higher than anyone previously believed.
  • The Note9 camera is amazing. When I was in Key Largo several days ago I took a picture from my waterside table at dusk. It was 98% dark. I don't even know what I thought I would capture but I took the picture anyway, flash off. What I saw in that picture blew me away! It pulled into the picture the 'rest of the sunset' which wasn't even visible to the naked eye! I am happy to send the picture to anyone that doubts me. The camera is truly phenomenal.
  • Excellent write up, I dipped to the OnePlus 6T shortly but quickly came back to the Note9
  • I want to try other devices so bad. But my Note 9 is so good that I can't try anything else.
    And my yearly upgrade from Samsung Financing where I get 50% of my purchase price back makes it the perfect match.
  • Can you expand a little on the Samsung Financing where you get 50% of the purchase price back please? Thinking of going with Samsung and a Note 9 for the first time. Any link on that greatly appreciated
  • I think they pretty much nailed everything. Although other phones may have better performance, or better audio or hardware features, I still think the Note 9 is the most well rounded.
  • Loving the N9, 512gb variant. absolute beast, and a pretty one at that.
  • Yep! I'm running the 512GB and it's lightning fast!
  • I use the s9+ and I really don't have any reasons to use the s-pen. But if I did the note would have been the obvious choice. Samsung as far as I'm concerned has out did themselves with the note9. This is definitely the swiss army knife of phones. It does everything very well. This is a five star phone!
  • Just a question, what are the Pie features that the author is needs/wants that are not haven't been part of Samsung Experience/Touchwiz since 2014?
  • The only thing that comes to my mind is systemwide dark mode.
  • freezing camera still not fixed !!! yay !!!
  • Another happy Note 9 user. I would love to get in on the beta ui though. I thing that surprised me is that I have a Note 8 as a backup, and was using it a bit last weekend and it seemed somehow slower and dimmer. I don't imagine its to any measurable degree, but given that the two devices are so close in design and specs I didn't really expect to feel that way.
  • I am in the same position and noticed the same thing. I also find that the screen surface is smoother/slipperier. I invented a word to describe it. ;) Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that?
  • This phone is amazing. After Windows phone went bust, I start using the Samsung Galaxy S7, s8 and now on the note 9. My wife has had every years iPhone since its inception. she has complained about the iPhone for the past 4 years... I kept saying I am not having issues with my Galaxy phone. It actually does everything it says it's going to do. So when I upgrade to the note 9 I got her one. She had her note 9 along tiger iPhone x. needless to say when she made that hard move she never look back. She was just telling me on a drive-in today how much she loves this phone Does Samsung Galaxy note 9 is just the best phone out there. IOS is always disappointing me waiters on my iPads or on my previous iPhones. the Galaxy note from Samsung pay actually working everywhere to the SPN being extremely useful when I just want to take notes or write on a screen for someone when they send me a screenshot. Whose phone is lightweight battery life is good.
  • Oh man, fantastic to hear that Samsung seems to have fixed the software speed degradation issue. My S6 was basically unusable after a few months of fairly light use. I basically swore off Samsung phones after that, but reading this gives me hope that one day I might be able to dip my toe into the Samsung pool again.
  • Yeah, it used to be a "Feature", and one of the reasons I avoided them. Glad they fixed it.
  • Disk space fills up with cache files and Linux has issues with free space under 15% usually. Newer devices have so much internal storage, this isn't an issue. The S7 is when the slowdowns stopped. Try again with an S8 which is fairly cheap now...
  • I'm with you on being burned by the S6. I'm still holding off because beyond the slowdown, I was upset how long it took to get Marshmallow back then. I really wanted Doze and didn't think I would have to wait 9 months to get it. Samsung needs to fix this process.
  • My first Samsung phone and I can honestly agree with you. Its the first phone in a long line that I have had 0 problems both out of the box and especially after 3 months use. I am one of the folks that does not use half of the features and still believe the phone was well worth it.
  • I always wait 2-3 months after a phone's release before buying mine . I've had the Note 9 now for 2 weeks. This is the first Samsung(of many) I've bought where all the features actually WORK. In my dreams Samsung puts a 4500mAh battery in the Note 10(because I'll be getting it), increases the number of apps controlled by the S Pen and improves the cameras. (Most people in my city carry 2 phones around. I'm addicted to Galaxy Notes).
  • The Note 9 may not have stable Pie but neither does the Pixel. It's quite buggy still. This is what people don't understand. The Pixel may receive the new OS early but it's not as stable as a Galaxy until like January if ever.
  • I owned a Note 8 and had no intentions of upgrading to the Note 9. But my carrier made a Godfather offer; an offer I could not refuse: trade in my beloved Note 8 for half off of the 9 plus a free accessory. Despite reviewers who advised the Note 9 was not much of an upgrade, I found the refined cameras, more powerful battery, addition of Dolby Atmos stereo speakers and new S-pen features, coupled with the radical discount, great incentives. The Note 9 is a phenomenal device that delivers a boatload of fun and functionality. 3 months down the line it runs like it did the day I unboxed it. I also have the Google Pixel 3 camera software ported to my device, further giving me great photography options and the best of both worlds. The Note 9 is the proverbial smartphone complete package. Hats off to Samsung.
  • Pls send many emails to Samsung requesting them to enable option to change the color of the ink in the off-screen memo. I have a black spen with the black note9, and i REALLY want to write with a YELLOW INK on the OFF-SCREEN MEMO.
    .
    If you have a yellow spen with the blue note9 phone, then tell me how you can write with white ink or any other color(except for yellow) on the off-screen memo.
  • Isn't that under the spen option? I believe in screen off setting. I am to lazy to check
  • You can turn off the pen color feature. I don't think you can change the color but you can get the plain white pen color. Maybe they might add the feature to change the color in the One UI update.
  • You can actually change the color of the pen by buying a different color pen. The yellow pen looks fantastic when writing on the black screen but is awful when the note gets transferred to Samsung notes app because the background is white. I purchased a copper colored pen that is more usable for both situations. You need to put the new pen in the phone and restart the device and it then recognizes the new pen.
  • You are missing the information about note 9 camera freezing issue which has been confirmed by a majority of note 9 users and has lots of YouTube video as proof. Samsung has confirmed the issue but has not confirmed when there will be a fix for it.
  • 63 pages of complaints (so far) and no official acknowledgement of the problem. And of course no solution... https://us.community.samsung.com/t5/forums/v3_1/forumtopicpage/board-id/...
  • Never once have I experienced my camera freezing
  • I can agree with most of the points here,from experience I am pleased with my purchase. I could have waited and picked up a Pixel but the headphone jack and fast charging (which is fast enough for me) plus the added Some pen was a no brainier.
  • Awesome article! I am a long time Samsung fan namingly the notes... i was trying to decide if it would be worth it to upgrade from the Note 8 already or if it was going to be pretty much the exact same phone. I love the idea of being able to use the s pen to snap pics! Genius! Also really loving that the fingerprint sensor is seperate as I also have issues with missing the sensor! The only other thing I wonder what is the button combo to hit for a screen shot? Is it still screen on volume down? All that does half the time is turn my volume all the way down. It would be better to hit screen on and Bixby button because the volume buttons are connected (@ least on the note8) that is problematic for me as it often doesn't work. I realize u can use the s pen pick screen write and just save it. I just wish the would fix the issue curious to know if they have. Thanks for the great review! I have read other articles, but still wasn't sure if i ready to make the switch. Now I'm eager to get my hands on the Note 9!
  • You can use volume down and power but I generally always use palm swipe or ask Bixby to take a screenshot
  • If the GS10 wasn't looking so good I'd definitely grab the note 9. I just wish the note 10 was coming out in 2 months with the GS10 😞
  • I just got my Note 9 yesterday and I have to say I'm a bit disappointed. I wasn't expecting a massive upgrade from my S8+ but what is with the camera? The new camera software sucks (the layout) and where are the modes? It's missing all the modes I normally used (dual camera, sports, surround, etc). Seriously that ticks me off; top of the line Samsung with missing modes. Apparently, according to the Samsung community, those modes are gone for good. Total crap, I'm considering sending it back since I was depending on those features. I don't really care about the quality of the camera; I like the modes. Guess all of android is finally following the Pixel/iPhone route and just dropping features for quality. I am now only 2 steps away from going Apple, thanks Samsung.