Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is a fine flagship, but not a giant leap for Note-kind

On paper, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is a dream flagship phone. Let’s just take a glance at the spec sheet- Snapdragon 845, 6 GB or 8GB memory, dual aperture cameras and a 1TB maximum combined storage capacity. At a starting price tag of $1000- and a price cap of $1250, the Note 9 is also the priciest premium flagship on the market.

Is it worth an upgrade from a Note 8 or an Apple iPhone X? Short Answer: No. Long Answer: it depends on how long you are ready to wait for a more meaningful upgrade. But if you are looking for a first buy instead of an upgrade? It’s a no-brainer. There are few machines out there that can compete with this, unless you want to wait for the Pixel 2 and iPhone X successors.

Bigger and Better

The physical differences between the Note 8 and Note 9 are very subtle. The new Note’s slightly larger- 6.4 inches compared to the 2017 version’s 6.3 inches. The bottom bezel is also a smudge lower, and the fingerprint sensor now sits comfortably below the cameras. Instead of the traditional blue and black colors, the new Note 9 comes in blue and lavender colors for the US market and black and copper colors for the international market.

The Note 9 inherits the S9+’s dual aperture feature, letting in more light than its predecessor. Low light photography is also likely to be noticeably better. The Dual Pixel autofocus makes capturing sharp shots more convenient.

Another new feature, called the Scene Optimizer, is Samsung’s counter to Huawei’s and LG’s AI photography features. Once you point your Note 9 camera at a scene, it will detect the objects and adjust brightness, contrast, saturation and other settings to get you a filter-ready image. There is another new trick called Flaw Detection, where the camera detects frequent mistakes such as blinking subjects or smudged lens and asks you to retake the photo.

While the camera system is a definite upgrade over the Note 8, it will be hard pressed to beat Pixel 2’s cameras, which are still considered the market best. On the hardware front, Huawei also changed the game by launching a triple camera system with the P20 Pro. At any rate, it won’t be unreasonable to expect this year’s Pixel upgrade to trump the new Note as well.

More Bang for Your Buck

The major touted upgrade, this time around, is the revamped S-pen. The stylus can now act as a remote control for the handset. Some example use cases for this are changing slides during presentation and remotely controlling the camera. The S-pens are also colored- the lavender models are paired with a purple stylus, while the blue models come with a neon yellow stylus.

Battery life is one major area where Samsung has consistently lagged behind Apple. I am using a Note 8 as my daily driver since last December, and the battery drain increased considerably after the Oreo software upgrade. Although it’s Snapdragon 835 chip is great at multitasking, the phone frequently overheats, though not to the degree of older gen phones like the Note 5.

With the Note 9, Samsung has fit in a larger 4,000mAh battery into a frame that has increased only slightly in comparison to the Note 8. What makes this possible, in part, is the new “water carbon” cooling system, whose thermal spreader is three times larger. While this sound promising, I will hold my praises for the Note 9 until it’s been more properly tested under CPU-intensive conditions over time.

The performance bumps- a faster Snapdragon processor and a higher maximum memory- do make the pot sweeter for Note enthusiasts. Smartphone gamers will also receive an additional incentive- Fortnite for Android will be Note 9 exclusive for its first month of release.

Buy or Pass?

If you have yet to experience the joy of using a Samsung Galaxy Note device, then Note 9 is a fine device to lure you onto the stylus bandwagon.

However, if you are still satisfied with your Note 8, or would rather experiment with alternatives, then I suggest waiting until later this year, when the new iPhones and Pixels come out.

And of course, if nothing picks your fancy, there’s always the S10 and the Note 10 for next year.

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