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Samsung Galaxy Note9 Review - Nearest to Perfection so far!

Huawei
Samsung Galaxy Note series has always been about doing "more". Did the mobile giant exceed the expectations of pushing the limits with the Note9? Let’s find out!
Samsung Galaxy Note9 Review - Nearest to Perfection so far!
The new Galaxy Note9


As we mentioned in our initial impressions, there is little that changed externally except for the new colors, the larger display and the new sleeker sexier profile because of a new diamond cut process.

Internally the changes are the latest CPU and GPU with configurations of up to 8GB RAM and 512GB ROM, a new Bluetooth S Pen, a new dual aperture dual rear camera set up from the S9/S9+ and a whopping 4,000mAh battery!

From those specs alone, the Note9 is at the bleeding edge but is it worth it for the PHP 55,990, 6GB/128GB model or the 8GB/512GB model for PHP 75,990? 

Let's find out!

Display Quality

Even under direct sunlight, it is visible!
Even under direct sunlight, it is visible!

The display is a 6.4-inch Super AMOLED Gorilla Glass protected Curved Infinity Display  with 2960 x 1440 resolution at 514 ppi.

At maximum brightness it goes up to 500+ nits which is higher than the Note8 and at first glance, the color, contrast and depth of the images just look so much better than the competition.

The curved glass eliminates the need for side bezels which adds to the immersion and allows for the Edge panels that have been in Samsung's phones with curved display for years.

The only thing that bothered us was when we were typing and when we were picking the characters at the far edges. The curved nature of the displays sometimes makes us tap the wrong character. It would be best if you can resize or remap your keyboard to be on the flat surface only. 

Samsung has yet again made the best display on the market!

It is stunning. Our only gripe is that it is on 1080p default. You have to switch it to 1440p in the display setting.

Like the S9/S9+ it has a mode where you can push/boost the brightness for 15 minutes from the brightness slider on the notifications panel.

There is a light sensor and auto-brightness is on by default while the blue light filter is there and you can set it manually or a predetermined schedule.

It has several color modes. The adaptive is on by default. This detects the content being viewed and adjust accordingly. I switched to basic for color accuracy.

It has full 10 point multi-touch display that is perfect for multimedia consumption and gaming that needs multiple simultaneous inputs.

Audio Quality

One of the two speakers is at the bottom!
One of the two speakers is at the bottom!

The Note9 comes with well loved stereo speakers from the S9/S9+ and it is even better! The volume of the two speakers along with the directional sound adds a huge impact to the experience! The depth of sound is just staggering.

Paano kami nabuhay sa single speaker lang!?

We can't go back now. Streaming audio and video will never be the same!

The Dolby Atmos certification on smartphones is meant for the stereo experience. This makes a dramatic difference in the sound stage and characteristics when we enable it compared to when it is disabled.

The mids and trebles are good with the bass being prominent. The bass however softens a little at at maximum volume.

At maximum volume, the quality of depth, separation, details and sound stage remain to be best in class. The volume was so strong we always dialed it back to 70 to 80 percent.

The Note9 comes with AKG tuned earphones that look like the same model from the S9/S9+. It has the same braided cord and in ear design. It comes with extra silicone ear cups that fit your ears.

It has the same audio signature as the one from the S9/S9+ where the details are well defined with decent separation where the mids and treble are balanced but the bass is a little dominant.

Microphone quality for calls is good. The microphone records sound clearly and is detailed. The noise cancellation works well and it is able to isolate our voice from the ambient sounds which makes it good for telephony.

For audio and video recording it does pick up more of the ambient sound but it is able give focus on the prominent sound near phone.

Battery Life

A huge improvement over the S9+'s battery!
A huge improvement over the S9+'s battery!

Last years Note8's battery was only "okay" while the S9/S9+'s battery wasn't good. It was the one true gripe with that phone.

With the Note9, I am happy to report that it brings back the all-day battery that the Note line was known for years ago. 

Our PC Mark Battery benchmark clocked in at 11 hours and 21 minutes while our real life use was getting us all day battery. This varied depending on the LTE connected workload per day. The average was 12 to 14 hours. 

This is a huge improvement over the 7 hours 33 minutes we got on PC Mark Battery Benchmark with the S9+!

We would unplug the Note9 at 8AM and we would get 30 to 35% battery left at 11.30PM the same evening. (We couldn't believe it ourselves, so look at our screenshot above!)

This was with a whole day mixed with text messaging, calling, e-mailing, social media consumption, Spotify and YouTube consumption and taking photographs with some video recording on LTE and/or WiFi. It drains faster when playing games like Fortnite while connected to LTE.

The new 4,000mAh battery and new Samsung Experience 9.5 have worked together to give a longer lasting battery.

It comes with Samsung's Adaptive fast charging bring with 5V/2A charger that charges the phone for 90+ minutes from 0 to 100 percent.

This is faster than most phones with the same capacity but some of the competition can do the same in under an hour. This is a nitpick though, and most people wouldn't mind the extra 30 minutes.

Camera

The dual aperture camera module is now on the Note!
The dual aperture camera module is now on the Note!

The Note9 inherits the S9/S9+'s camera module that has a 12MP (f/1.5/f/2.4) and 12MP f/2.4 telephoto lens with Dual Pixel, Dual OIS, multi-frame, and dual tone LED flash.
Pro mode
Pro mode

The Samsung camera app that has Auto, Pro, Live Focus (Bokeh mode), Super Slow-Mo, Hyperlapse, Slow motion, Panorama, AR emoji.

Most modes are self explanatory. There are new stickers and AR emojis aside from the ones that came with the S9/S9+. It works with both the main and the selfie camera with Snapchat like filters.

The Pro mode allows for manually setting the ISO 50 to 800, Aperture f/1.5 or f/2.4, White balance, Focus and exposure compensation. Even though it can only go up to ISO 800, the f/1.5 aperture more than makes up for it. 

The Super slow-mo has been updated with the choice.

The tap to focus is responsive, quick and accurate but we almost never use it because the Dual Pixel autofocus and face detection is quick and accurate most of the time.

The new AI 20 different scene detection only works for the main camera and is accurate for the most part. We've yet to see any mistaken recognitions in the 300+ photos we've taken with it.

The flaw detection notifies the user whether someone inside the picture blinks or looks blurry. The results looks like the system is relatively new though because it is machine learning, it should get better in time.

The Beauty mode allows for 8 levels of intensity with a lot of filters like basic, natural, sweet, fresh, dreamy, chic, graceful and more! We recommend using up to level 6 only as any more will be too cartoonish.

On paper, they are the same as the S9/S9+ but the performance has improved. We think this is because of software improvements.

The images on rear cameras are razor sharp, vibrant colors with deep contrast and highly accurate white balance. To elaborate, the sharpness is natural and not artificial like past "over-sharpened" images that Samsung was known for but it retains the Samsung signature saturated colors but leans on accurate white balance. 

Unlike the Note8's telephoto images that looked good but with a lot of grain, the Note9's telephoto images are a lot cleaner.

The images come out stunning almost each and every time. The bokeh on automode (not live focus) is pleasing and soft though the bokeh balls have some onionning but it is on par if not better than the Huawei P20 Pro's bokeh balls.

Rear Camera Samples

The detail and reproduction
The detail and reproduction
Indoors 1
Indoors 1
Indoors 2
Indoors 2
Live focus with celebrity blogger FTA's Mark Marcelo!
Live focus with celebrity blogger FTA's Mark Marcelo!
Lowlight 1
Lowlight 1
Normal lowlight
Normal lowlight
Lowlight 2x zoom
Lowlight 2x zoom
No flash
No flash
Flash
Flash

The selfie camera is an 8MP f/1.7 wide-angle lens with AF and screen flash. The camera app has unique modes like the Selfie Focus (Bokeh Mode), Selfie, Stickers, Wide Selfie.
AR Emoji works for selfies
AR Emoji works for selfies

The Selfie Focus or Bokeh Mode improves upon the S9/S9+ with a softer more pleasing bokeh. It still struggles with fine details like hair fibers but it is an improvement. It may need more polishing.

The Selfie mode is the standard auto mode while the Stickers is the same as the main camera. The Wide selfie is a selfie panorama to allow for a wider field of view.

The daylight images from the selfie camera have good resolution or sharpness and it carries the same Samsung saturated colors but is now more color accurate. The sharpness is the more natural sharpness and not the post processed oversharpened that was found previously in older Samsung phones.

The low light selfie images have softened in terms of sharpness over the daylight because of some grain. BUT, the grain is very minor that you only notice it if you zoom in 100 percent.

There is also little discoloration from the noise. It remains mostly color accurate and is able to brighten up the subject even if the situations of the shot were dim.

The AF in lowlight is good. It is able to detect faces accurately and quickly, but not as fast as in daylight.

Selfie Camera Samples

Daylight selfie
Daylight selfie
Selfie bokeh
Selfie bokeh
Selfie face beauty
Selfie face beauty
Pano selfie
Pano selfie
Selfie bokeh
Indoor bokeh
Stickers
Stickers
Lowlight no screen flash
Lowlight no screen flash
With screen flash
With screen flash

The rear facing dual cameras can shoot up to 3840 x 2160 UHD 60 fps with stabilization up to 4K 30fps while the front facing camera can shoot up to 2560 x 1440 at 30 fps but can only be stabilized up to 1080p 30 fps.

The subject tracking autofocus works incredibly well and is able to reacquire subjects that left the frame but it only works up to 1080p 30 fps for the rear cameras.

The video footage from both cameras are clean, sharp, vibrant and smooth. 

In lowlight, the contrast, sharpness and colors are lost because of the grain but it is usable except for situations where there is almost no light source.

Video Samples


Performance

Well done Exynos!
Well done Exynos!

The Note9 is running on the 10 nm 2.8GHz 64-bit Exynos 9810 octa-core processor with Mali-G72 MP18 with up to 8GB of RAM and up to 512GB of ROM. This along with the Super AMOLED display and stereo speakers the best multimedia consumption device out now.

It is one of the best gaming device right now due to its big screen, good audio, and powerful performance!

In games, it is able to play both PUBG and Fortnite at high graphics settings smoothly without hiccups. It is now just up to your internet speed.


We were getting consistent smooth frame rates and it would get only slightly warm after 30 minutes of gameplay.
Looks haven't changed much from the S9/S9+
Looks haven't changed much from the S9/S9+

It is running on Android 8.1 with Samsung Experience 9.5. It is a heavily modified Android operating system that carries all of the features that Samsung has developed over the years. The huge difference between this version over the 9.0 in the S9/S9+ is that it now adds all the new features added to the Note9 like the support for the Bluetooth S Pen and full support for the latest version of Bixby.
Reverse charging with OTG and S Pen features!
Reverse charging with OTG and S Pen features!

It feels and looks faster and lighter than the 9.0 version but there is very little difference in appearance. The settings menu is still hard to navigate where I always use the search bar just to get to simple settings like the battery or display settings.

Related: Samsung One UI 1.0 Review - Was it worth the wait?

The one-handed mode, finger gestures, quick launch camera, multi-window support returns. The difference is that now you can pair more apps together when launching the multi-window. A good example is pairing Waze and Spotify when you are driving home or a predetermined destination.

We mentioned before that we love that when you purchase a Samsung product in recent years that you get to sign up for a Samsung account that saves all your settings, contacts, messages and etc in the cloud. This means you can retrieve all of it if you reset your phone or if you get a new Samsung Phone. (This is convenient for us because we get to try a lot of Samsung phones.)

The new Bixby is a huge improvement over the S9/S9+'s version where in it now accurately recognizes each word I speak in english even with my Filipino accent.

It is able to give answers to questions, it can set alarms, it can control Spotify and it can even call you an Uber (in countries that support it).

What it has difficulty in is in contextual follow up questions where in I ask a question or have a previous request and I add a follow up question or request.

It has yet to be able to do this but given the vast improvement over the one in the S9/S9+, I will not be surprised if it improves even faster next time.

The new S Pen is now constantly connected to the phone via a separate Bluetooth module that does not interfere with the usual Bluetooth the phone uses to connect to other Bluetooth devices. It is powered by a super capacitor that allows for 200 clicks or 30 minutes of continuous use. It charges the same way the pen pairs with the phone by inserting the S Pen in the slot.

All of the features from all of the previous S Pens retain so if you loved it before, you will still love it now. The difference is that with the new Bluetooth, you can use the S Pen as a remote for a variety of different apps. Our favorite is that you can take selfies from up to 10 feet away. This is exceptionally useful when you want to take a selfie but do not want to bother other people to take your picture.

The fingerprint scanner has been moved under the camera module and makes it easier to reach. (It still may be a little difficult if you have smaller hands than ours because the Note9 is a tall phone.)

The Intelligent Scan where it uses both the Iris Scanner and the Face recognition works a lot better here. It is faster and a lot more reliable. It does still struggle in low light though or when your face is facing your phone from a weird angle. I decided to switch to a fingerprint scanner only as it was a lot faster to just tap the fingerprint scanner than to make sure my face was in the proper angle.

In terms of speed and accuracy, the scanner on the Note9 is quick, responsive and accurate. We've never had a misread once we've set up our fingerprints. (Though it will struggle when your hands are soaking wet.)

The telephony experience is good. WiFi, 4G LTE+, Bluetooth, GPS are all fast, responsive and stable while the calling, texting and data are reliable in most conditions.

There is an LED notification, light sensor, and gyroscope though and it has a robust OTG is support that aside from connecting to external storage and displays, the Note9 can charge other devices.

Pros - Polished design that makes it sexier and easier to hold than the Note8, unbeatable stunning display, all-day battery life, powerful and life changing stereo audio experience, S Pen adds Bluetooth remote functionality, it can charge other devices
Cons - EXPENSIVE, 90+ minute charging time, settings menu remain hard to navigate, Iris scanner still needs to be at a good angle

Verdict

The Note9 is the phone that is nearest to perfection that we've ever had a chance to try.

It is one of the few phones that delivers in nearly all pillars. It has the best display because of the large Super AMOLED display.

It has the best audio experience from a smartphone because of the powerful stereo speakers. It has a large 4,000mAh battery that can last all day and though it takes more than 90 minutes to charge, I barely reach 30 percent at the end of the day anyway.

The camera is able to take stunning photos each time and can stand toe to toe with the Huawei P20 Pro.

The combination of the Super AMOLED display and the Stereo speakers make this the best multimedia consumption device on the go!

The new S Pen remains to be one of the best stylus on a mobile device with the new bluetooth functionality that allows for remote control of apps like PowerPoint and cameras!

It has addressed nearly all of our gripes with the Note8 and S9/S9+ and is the most polished version of the Note series yet.

No other phone can do all of this consistently and reliably so well like the Note9. This however comes at a cost that may be expensive for most people.

We highly recommend the Note9 but only if you can afford it or if you can get it at a deal with your local telco of choice!

Build/Design - 4.75
Display - 5
Audio - 4.75
Battery - 4.5
Camera - 4.5
Performance - 4.75
Average - 4.66/5
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