The Galaxy Note 9 is the most refined phone Samsung has ever made with probably the least number of "new" features introduced on a new Samsung flagship phone. But we're completely fine with that because this is a phone that's been tuned to perfection.
It’s the biggest Android phone that will grab your attention in 2018, with a sizeable 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display, a huge 4,000mAh battery for all-day performance, and up to 512GB of internal storage and 8GB of RAM.
Slot in a 512GB microSD card (which Samsung will gladly sell you), and you can have the first mainstream 1TB phone in your hands. That's more storage than most laptops equipped with an SSD and though we're not quite sure what you'll do with all that storage, it's there for anyone who wants it.
The Galaxy Note 9 doesn’t look or feel much different than last year’s 6.3-inch Note 8, and inherits a bunch of features from this year’s Galaxy S9 Plus features, including camera specs but with added software tweaks.
Exclusive to the Note 9 camera are automatic scene optimizer and flaw detection features that enhance photos. The S Pen now has Bluetooth for remote-controlled shortcuts that, unlike the Bixby button, are customizable. Want to pose for a photo 30 feet away? This S Pen can help you do that and more. It works great, but you may have trouble finding a spot to rest your precious Note 9 for full-body snapshots.
Bad news – the price feels much bigger. Get ready to pay iPhone X-level prices for the entry-level 128GB and 6GB model. It's is meant for power users, according to Samsung – the physical size, storage size, price, and battery capacity all tell us that. It sees Note 9 buyers as people who spend a lot of time on their phone and want the best of the best – they buy the best AV receiver, the best TV, and so forth.
The Note 9 is our top smartphone recommendation – that is, if you want to own a giant, feature-filled phone with a stylus and hate saving money. Ongoing Samsung Galaxy Note 8 deals are the biggest threat to this upgrade that, ironically, is all about going big in a variety of small ways.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 release date and price
- Official release date is August 24
- SAR / AED 3,699 for 128GB/6GB
- SAR/ AED 4,599 for 512GB/8GB
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9's official release date is August 24, sooner than anyone expected a year ago. The Note 8 came out on September 22 in the Middle East last year.
Talking of Samsung chief competition, the Note 9 price rivals that of Apple’s handset, rather than undercutting it as we'd hoped.
The Note 9 price is SAR / AED 3,699 for the phone with 128GB of internal storage and 6GB of RAM, and SAR / AED 4,599 for 512GB and 8GB of RAM.
Yes, that entry-level 128GB configuration does double the iPhone X's 64GB of storage for the same price and is therefore a better value, but it's also a hike of 300 Dirhams over the Note 8 launch price. So it depends on how you look at it.
Note 9 colors in the UAE and Saudi Arabia are Ocean Blue with a yellow S Pen (it also writes in yellow for the ultimate color contrast), Lavender Purple with a purple pen (which writes in purple digital ink) and Midnight Black (which writes in white digital ink). We also really liked the Copper color, though that's not going to be available in the Middle East during launch period and might follow later.
New S Pen magic tricks
- Bluetooth stylus has custom shortcuts
- Great for remotely taking photos, works up to 30 feet away
- Charges quickly while embedded in the phone
The new S Pen this year's big gimmick for the Note, and it's capable of performing Bluetooth-connected magic tricks from up to 30 feet away. Samsung's engineers managed to squeeze a small supercapacitor and tiny Bluetooth Low-Energy antenna into the otherwise unchanged stylus so that it can perform various remote functions. It’s the type of gimmick we ended up liking – sometimes.
What can you do exactly? The best feature is being able to remotely launch the camera app with a long press of the S Pen button, flip the camera to selfie mode with a single short press, and snap a group photo with two presses.
It’s much easier than setting the camera timer, which Samsung hid in the camera settings menu last year, and less awkward than waving your hand in front of the lens to trigger the gesture-initiated camera timer.
Samsung is making S Pen shortcuts customizable. Here are the ideas mentioned:
- Camera: Flip the camera / take a photo
- Camera: Flip the camera / record a video
- Music Player: Play and pause music / skip to the next track
- Photo Gallery: Advance to the next photo / cycle back to a previous photo
- PowerPoint: back and forth through presentation slides
Samsung put a software development kit (SDK) out there for non-core third-party apps to take advantage of this shortcut tool, so you'll see more customizable as long as app developers support the functionality.
The S Pen does need to be charged, but it requires only 40 seconds of charge time for 30 minutes of standby battery life or 200 button clicks, according to our testing.
There's also a helpful S Pen battery indicator in the notification shade at the top, so you won't be kept guessing how much power you have left. And we found the that keeping the S Pen topped up was much easier than charging the iPad's Apple Pencil.
Simply embedding the S Pen inside the phone charges it, and when it’s not in use, that’s where you typically put it. The Apple Pencil has nowhere to hide, and walking around with in the Lighting port is rather dangerous. Samsung’s years of stylus-making experience is obvious here.
The Blue Ocean Note 9 has the more dynamic yellow S Pen for a nice contrast. It writes in yellow digital ink, while the Lavender Purple phone has a purple pen and purple digital ink.
All colors support the same Air Command functionality. You can draw, jot down notes, annotate screenshots, translate foreign text, and send Live Messages (last year's S Pen gimmick), and you can do these actions whether or not the S Pen is charged.
Samsung says the Bluetooth functionality allows for the evolution of the S Pen, but we can’t help but notice another contrast.
Shortcuts like snapping selfies remotely can ‘unlock a whole different level of photography’, according to Samsung, and while that sounds useful for dramatic selfies (the example given is laying tired on the couch and taking a hands-free photo), the business-class Note 9 may not be the right audience for that.
It's fun to get both hands in a shot and strike a full-body pose. But we found it hard to rest the phone and snap a selfie when in front of iconic New York City landmarks. Then we thought back to Samsung's examples. They used a tripod for a group shot, and mimed laying on the couch with a dramatic two-handed pose, without actually taking a photo – something that would be difficult without a tripod, too.
It's a great idea in theory and works sometimes, but often we've found a lack of places to rest the phone and plenty of unflattering angles when trying our best. Slide through to see our photo gallery.
The photo as a normal selfie should look more like this, at a better angle and with proper lighting. However, getting a full body shot at this level with the S Pen remote would require a tripod.
No matter what we did, it looked awkward and the photo looked blown out compared to the normal selfie.
Nope. Not even close.
Just imagine Matt in front of this awesome shot taken with the rear-facing camera. That's what we were going for with the S Pen remote functionality. Things don't always work out as planned.
This shot with DJ Gray Rizzy to promote our Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review was better. Not perfect, but his booth did have a spot where we could rest the Note 9 without resorting to having it on the floor or unfurling a tripod.
One more time for good measure. The point of the S Pen remote camera shutter is to avoid having to ask someone for a photo or whip out a tripod. It's a snap-and-go solution to a full-body selfie. But you're going to have to find a good resting spot for your precious phone.
Enterprise users will find one use case from the new S Pen: running a PowerPoint presentation without having to fetch and pair a Bluetooth remote. Those things are one-trick ponies, so if an S Pen can replace this for you, that alone may be worth it.
Everyone can benefit from the Galaxy Note 9 screen-off memo feature. It's not a Bluetooth functionality or even new (it appeared on the ill-fated Note 7), but it deserves a mention. Pop the S Pen out of the Note 9 when the screen is off and it'll automatically launch a note-taking interface against a black background.
Screen-off memo allows you to jot down notes without the need to unlock the Note 9 and launch a specific app. It makes noting taking much quicker and easier, and while it may be a simple offering we've used it frequently.
We're thankful that all screen-off memos save automatically, but found a bug (or at least an oversight) with the yellow ink exclusive to the Blue Ocean phone: our notes against the black lockscreen background look fine, but save to S Notes, which uses a white background when you open up the app and retrieve your notes.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 S Pen hands on gallery