Samsung Galaxy Note 9: Full, in-depth, Australian review
Go Big Or Go Home
Camera - How Does It Compare To The Competition?
With rivals like Google and Huawei blazing ahead in the smartphone camera space, the Note 9’s dual-lens setup can sometimes feel a bit antiquated. However, in fairness, this year’s Note does actually see Samsung take some important steps towards closing this gap.
Spelling it out: the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 uses more-or-less the same photographic configuration found in the Galaxy S9+. It’s got a dual 12-MP rear camera with one variable aperture lens that switches between f/1.5 and f/2.4 and a second wide-angle sensor that allows for 2x lossless zoom.
However, unlike the S9+, it’s also equipped with new ‘Intelligent Camera’ features that cover everything from scene recognition to letting you know when someone blinks at the moment the image is captured.
This is really cool addition, particularly the alert the camera app sends you when it detects that you’ve taken a blurry or otherwise-undesirable shot. It’s essentially a rehash of what Huawei introduced with the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro that can be found in most mid-tier and flagship smartphones released this year. But it’s cool.
Across the board, images taken with the Note 9’s camera look like what you’d expect to get from a flagship phone in 2018. They’re bright, colorful, crisply detailed and easy to share on Instagram.
That’s kinda the problem though. The Note 9 meets expectations - it doesn’t redefine them in the way that other flagship devices this year have and it certainly doesn’t redefine them in the way that you’d want a phone that costs this much to.
As with the S9+, low-light performance is quite exceptional but, not quite as exceptional as what you’ll get out the Huawei P20 Pro.
The dual-optical image stabilization, variable-aperture camera, super slow-motion video support and new intelligent post-processing features make the Note 9’s camera a compelling package. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for the phone that dethrones Huawei’s P20 Pro, this isn't it.
Performance - Software, Performance and Battery Life
The only part of the Note 9 equation that’s not cutting edge is the operating system. At launch, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 run on Android 8.1 Oreo. As usual, Samsung say that Android Pie will come to the device later down the line - but it’s a real shame it’s not already here.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s maybe one of the biggest missed opportunities for the Note 9. Usually, major Android updates come with a few smart changes and a couple of bells & whistles. A delay on those additions is an irk but not a huge loss. Samsung's a big company, they'll get around to it.
However, Android Pie’s introduction of navigation gestures are a radical change to the status quo of the Android experience. Having them here would have helped the Note 9 feel more distinguished from its predecessors and the competition in a big way.
As for the performance of the device itself, the Note 9 absolutely delivers what you’d expect from its high-end spec-sheet. Apps, multitasking and games all load and run with almost-supernatural smoothness. Though, as always, it’s frustrating to see Samsung opt to offer Australian customers a version of the Note 9 that runs on their Exynos processor over the Snapdragon-powered model found in the US.
In terms of benchmarks, the Note 9 scored high but tended to trail the other 2018 flagships - most of which happen to run on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845. Still, the Note 9 did come out on top when it came to the Geekbench Multi-Core CPU test.
Meanwhile, when it came to battery life, the Galaxy Note 9 offered significant improvements over its immediate predecessor. That said, it fell short of the two-day mark that Samsung and others have been been bandying about since the device launched. We suspect this might be down to the absence of the Snapdragon 845 found in the US Note 9 devices.
In terms of everyday usage, we’d easily make it through the usual 9-5 work day and often well into the evening as well. We’d still have to charge our device back to full overnight - but if we accidentally forgot to do, we’d usually still have a little bit to go on until we found a power source.
We’re talking eleven or twelve hours of average use here, though - as always - your mileage may vary. Particularly, if you watch or film a lot of video content.
The Galaxy Note 9 supports fast charging both through Qi wireless charging and USB Type-C.
The Bottom Line
For better or worse, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is more of an encore than a fresh verse. It’s definitely better than last year’s device. But in all the same ways that device was better than the one preceding it. In addition, the Note 9 doesn’t do a whole lot to ease the tensions that haunts it.
Who is this actually for?
People who want to spend over a thousand dollars on a status smartphone? Power-users who can really get the most out of the Note’s signature S-Pen? Galaxy Note 5 owners looking upgrade? It feels like if you don’t fall into one of these three niches, the Note 9’s starting price of $1499 is going to be a difficult, almost-insurmountable, ask. It’s one thing to spend over $1000 on a smartphone, it’s entirely-another to spend almost $2000 on a smartphone.
This is a device that offers the world. It’s got one of the best displays you can get on a smartphone. It’s got one of the best camera systems you can get on a smartphone. It’s got one of the best processors you can find in a smartphone. But so does the Note 8. And while the Note 9 is definitely the better device, savvy customers are probably wanna gonna opt for its discounted predecessor or wait for whatever comes next.
The Galaxy Note 9 is one of the best smartphones you can buy right now. But whether you should buy it is another question entirely.
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