We can’t say we were surprised by anything Samsung announced on Thursday (okay fine, a $1,250 Samsung phone is a little surprising), but the Galaxy Note 9 is finally official nevertheless. It’s not the most exciting new smartphone out there, but there’s precious little question that it’s the best option in the world right now if you want a cutting-edge Android phone with plenty of power, killer battery life, and a stunning display. And despite the fact that it looks almost exactly like last year’s Galaxy Note 8, Samsung’s new camera smarts and the Bluetooth-equipped S Pen stylus do add at least some compelling new features into the mix.
Will those new features and all that power be enough to help the Galaxy Note 9 avoid suffering the same fate as the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+, which are expected to be Samsung’s worst-selling Galaxy S phones since 2012? That remains to be seen. What we can say for certain, however, is that the Note 9 is a terrific modern smartphone that even manages to outshine the iPhone X — the best-selling smartphone on the planet — in several important ways. In this post, we’ll examine our five favorites.
There is no question whatsoever that the iPhone X has the most beautiful display that has ever been used in an iPhone. It better be… it was built by the best smartphone display maker on the planet: Samsung. With Samsung’s OLED screen tech and Apple’s know-how when it comes to fine-tuning color reproduction, it’s easy to see what the iPhone X’s display is the best in the business. Or should we say, it was the best in the business.
There’s one main problem I have with the iPhone X’s screen, and plenty of people share my opinion. It’s just too tiny. 5.8 inches seems like a great size on paper, but Apple’s awkward 19.5:9 aspect ratio means the iPhone X’s display has much less real estate than it should. In fact, the 5.5-inch screen on the iPhone 8 Plus actually has more surface area than the 5.8-inch screen on the iPhone X.
While the new Galaxy Note 9 has a similar aspect ratio, it also has a much larger screen that measures 6.4 inches diagonally. It’s also the latest Super AMOLED screen from Samsung, so it’s absolutely gorgeous. Apple’s display might have slightly better color reproduction, but I would take the Galaxy Note 9’s screen over the iPhone X’s display every day of the week. Things may change next month when Apple releases a phablet-sized version of the next-generation iPhone X, but for now the Note 9 is the best in the business.
Oh, Apple. Your policies are often so wonderfully pro-consumer. But you’re a publicly traded, for-profit company first and foremost, and nowhere is that better illustrated than with your policies regarding iPhone storage.
Apple sell memory cards. It sells iPhones, and it sells them at incredibly high margins. Margins are even bigger on high-capacity iPhones than they are on low-capacity iPhones, which is why Apple’s smartphones don’t support expandable memory. After all, most people would rather buy an entry-level iPhone an a $40 microSD card than spend an extra $150 on a high-capacity iPhone.
Samsung takes a different approach. Though the Galaxy Note 9 will come with either 128GB or 512GB of internal storage in the US, both models still support expandable storage thanks to a microSD card slot.
That means the Galaxy Note 9 has the iPhone X beat in two different ways. First, it supports expandable storage. Second, it tops out at 512GB instead of 256GB like the iPhone X. So the Note 9 has more available storage out of the box, and then you can toss in a 512GB microSD card for a whopping 1TB of storage.
Steve Jobs famously said, “if you see a stylus, they blew it.” Then Apple made a stylus.
In context, Jobs was talking about smartphones and not tablets, which is what the Apple Pencil is intended for. He was also talking about capacitive versus resistive touchscreen tech. But semantics aside, Jobs was wrong. The Galaxy Note 9 has a stylus and it’s friggin awesome.
Being able to pop the S Pen out of the Note 9 and jot down a note right on the lock screen while it’s still off is awesome. So are the rest of the S Pen features that have been carried over from the Galaxy Note 8. On top of all that, the next-gen S Pen is equipped with Bluetooth Low Energy technology, so clicking the button on the stylus can do things like snap a photo, advance through slides in a presentation, or pause and play music.
New camera features
The dual-lens rear camera on the Galaxy Note 9 uses the same hardware as the one on the Galaxy S9+. There’s plenty of debate as to which camera captures higher-quality photos, and I maintain the cop-out answer I gave in my Galaxy S9 review: it depends. The iPhone X camera is better in some scenarios and the S9+/Note 9 camera is better in others. It’s that simple.
In addition to everything we say on the S9+, however, the Galaxy Note 9 also has some cool new tricks up its sleeve. Here are two great examples from Samsung:
- Scene Optimizer: The Galaxy Note9 camera uses intelligence to identify elements of a photo, such as scene and subject, to automatically classify it into one of 20 categories. It then optimizes saturation, white balance, brightness and contrast based on the category. The result is a stunning, lifelike image with bold colors and dynamic definition.
- Flaw Detection: We don’t always get things right on the first shot, but Galaxy Note9 lets you know if there’s something wrong, so you can take another picture before you lose the moment. You’ll get an immediate notification if the image is blurry, if the subject blinked, if there is a smudge on the lens or if there is backlight impacting the quality of the image.
You won’t find those nifty features on any iPhone.
Samsung’s “DeX” desktop experience feature is one of the coolest and most novel features that have hit the smartphone market in years. I’ve loved it ever since it first debuted on the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ back in early 2017. In a nutshell, a simple Samsung accessory allows you to transform your Galaxy phone into a full-fledged desktop computer with a keyboard and a trackpad. And I’m not talking about mirroring your screen on a monitor. I’m talking about a desktop quality experience with multitasking, keyboard shortcuts, and the works.
DeX on the Galaxy Note 9 gets some important upgrades and the biggest is the fact that you no longer need a special dock or stand. A simple HDMI adapter will let you connect your Note 9 to a monitor, and the phone itself becomes the trackpad. Then you can connect any Bluetooth keyboard and you’re good to go.
It’s awesome, it’s fast, and unless you need specialized software to do your job, you can easily use DeX instead of a desktop or laptop computer.