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Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review: Very New, Somewhat Familiar And Still Very Brilliant

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (Image for Representation)

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (Image for Representation)

Familiarity is usually a good thing when getting people to upgrade to a newer device. However, in the world of a smartphones, a newer phone looking like an older one doesn’t always impress the potential buyers. But the Galaxy Note 9 has multiple other tricks up its sleeve.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is about a lot of new stuff. It is more powerful than any other Galaxy Note series phone before it. The S-Pen stylus is more capable than any Galaxy Note phone before it. The camera is better than any Galaxy Note phone before it. And it also has the largest ever display seen in a Galaxy Note smartphone. You might then say that this has all the ingredients for perfection. Which it has. But there is one slight potential problem. The looks. No, there is nothing wrong at all with the looks. In fact, the Galaxy Note 9 looks great, whether you pick up the black, blue or the copper variant. However, it is hard to shrug the feeling that it looks a lot like its predecessor, the Galaxy Note 8. Mind you, familiarity with design language is generally a good thing when it comes to retaining recall value. But in the world of Android phones, things tend to work a bit differently.

Why we say the similar design could be a problem is because of the data Samsung shared with us a few weeks ago, in the quarterly report. As it turned out, the brilliant Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ didn’t sell as well as Samsung expected, which honestly, was unexpected. But one of the reasons for this year’s Galaxy S9 phones not doing too well is that they looked too similar to the Galaxy S8 phones, from the year before. Maybe it was too late for Samsung to change a lot around with the Galaxy Note 9 which would have been in the works for a considerable amount of time, but this could buy Samsung time for something truly refreshing for 2019. But we shall not dwell too much on the past or speculate too much about the future, and instead look at the present. And we hold the blue Galaxy Note 9.

The Galaxy Note series continues to pioneer the genuinely large phone experience ever since the first phone in 2011. The benchmark has just been reset by the latest Note 9.

The design bit aside, the Note 9 is ticking off all the boxes in terms of the user experience and performance. Samsung is selling the Galaxy Note 9 in India with its own Exynos processor under the hood. There is 6GB RAM on board. In terms of performance, this is extremely powerful and that shows all through, be it while gaming, multi-tasking and more. Graphics are smooth during gaming, except that the Galaxy Note 9 tends to heat up just enough that you notice something different on your fingers as you hold the phone while navigating the launch ramps in Asphalt 9: Legends (free on Google Play Store). However, that isn’t a problem at all in the long run, except that battery drain while the phone heats up more than usual, will be a tad more.

With a 4,000mAh battery packed into the Galaxy Note 9, battery performance turns out to be something that heavy users would appreciate. It’ll now get through a day with absolute ease—you aren’t asking your colleagues for a charger by late evening, safe to say.

This is the largest display ever in a Galaxy Note smartphone, measuring 6.4-inches and a full 0.1-inch more than the screen on the Galaxy Note 8. It retains all the brilliance needed to make this a truly stand-out smartphone screen. Brightness levels are excellent, and this being a Super AMOLED screen, colours are rich too. That does not impact how well the colours are distinguished, and it’s a delight to binge watch Netflix and Amazon Video content on this. This display is HDR10 compatible as well, and whatever content on streaming services is created for this high dynamic range (HDR) standard, will look even richer. We are quite impressed by the inky blacks on this screen, and the great viewing angles despite some reflections. Incidentally, place the Galaxy Note 9 next to a Galaxy S9+, and the display size difference doesn’t seem too much.

Many of the genuine updates are not visible, but truly make the usage experience better. The S Pen, the good old stylus, remains the unique proposition with the Galaxy Note 9. This is what differentiates it from the Galaxy S series of phones, and also the other Android phones. The S-Pen can now act as a full-fledged wireless remote control—you can customize the single click to open the camera to take a photo or double click to do another task, for instance. The existing S Pen capabilities of scribbling, drawing, making notes and more remain as robust as ever, and the accompanying apps that Samsung preloads on the Galaxy Note 9 are quite feature rich as well. The only aspect where Samsung still needs to work on the S-Pen is getting third party apps to support it. Chances are, your favorite apps would not support the S-Pen by default, and that can be a problem in terms of getting people to use it more frequently.

Samsung has persisted with the Intelligent Scan feature, first seen on the Galaxy S9 series of phones. This mixes face recognition and iris detection for a potentially more accurate and faster phone unlocking experience. However, we noticed that face detection often failed if the lighting was behind the person whose face the Galaxy Note 9 was attempting to detect, and the iris scans often didn’t work well because the phone was either too close or too far from the eyes. Nevertheless, these are largely software issues that can be solved with minor tweaks in future updates.

As far as the cameras go, this is pretty much the same setup as the Galaxy S9+ camera setup. That, we know from extensive experience, is an excellent smartphone camera. This means the Galaxy Note 9 has two 12-megapixel sensors, first being a telephoto lens and the other being a wide-angle lens. The telephoto camera has the Dual Aperture feature which opens up to f/1.5 to let in more light, and Samsung describes it as similar to how the human eye works. Expectedly, the camera performance remains excellent, all through. The AI feature can detect up to 20 different scenes, such as food, landscape etc., but we have to say that the improvements it makes to the images are very subtle, unlike a lot of other phones that have AI camera features that cannot even be turned off.

It is a bit disappointing to know that Samsung is shipping the Galaxy Note 9 with Android 8.1 (Oreo) with the Samsung Experience 9.5 interface wrapped around it—this at a time when Android 9 Pie is now available. There is no clear guideline on when users can expect the newer Android version to be available as an update either. ‘

And speaking of disappointments, Bixby artificially intelligent virtual assistant is still around, but isn’t entirely the reason why you would want to buy a Samsung device just yet. It still feels quite limited in many ways, and is yet to come close to the definitions set by the Google Assistant, for Android phones.

With the Galaxy Note 9 perhaps embodies the adage of the ‘more things change, the more they remain the same’. It is more powerful than its predecessor, definitely has better cameras, the S Pen is more useful if you use it regularly, and the display remains perhaps the best in the world of Android phones. All this is fine, if you can move on from the fact that it doesn’t look too different from its one-year elder sibling. The Galaxy Note 9 will be available in India in two variants—the 6GB RAM and 128GB storage variant will be priced at Rs67,900 while the 8GB RAM and 512GB storage variant is priced at Rs84,900. Needless to say, the genuinely big screen smartphone experience doesn’t get much better than this.

Also read: Samsung Galaxy Note 9: The Balance of Innovation And Ambition, With One Eye on 2019